Microsoft is deeply invested in two key technologies for building web apps: its Silverlight runtime, which requires a plug-in to work in web browsers, and HTML5, which has many of the same key capabilities, but is plug-in-free, is friendlier to mobile devices and will be heavily supported in the next version of Internet Explorer.
Tech blogger Tim Anderson has written a couple of posts Thursday speculating how Microsoft should “sell” the Sliverlight story to developers who are excited about HTML5 and the coming advancements in Internet Explorer 9.
The first post has some candid remarks from former Microsoft Silverlight product manager Scott Barnes, where he says, in somecryptictweets, that there’s “a faction war” happening inside Microsoft over HTML5 and Silverlight.
The Silverlight team has been on the defensive recently, with Microsoft’s head of developer platforms Brad Becker arguing last week that Silverlight does indeed have a place on the HTML5-powered web, where it’s used to power rich apps like games, teleconferencing apps, and DVR-like streaming apps. There is no doubt, though, that the web is catching up.
You can now turn on a special layer in Bing Maps that displays maps from OpenStreetMap, Microsoft has announced.
OpenStreetMap is an open source mapping project that keeps an editable map of the entire globe. Anyone can make edits to the map — it’s been nicknamed the “Wikipedia of maps.” The open source model has proven especially effective in regions of the developing world where very little solid map data exists, and in areas where highly detailed, editable maps are critical for natural-disaster response efforts, like the recent Haiti earthquake.
Microsoft’s adoption of the open source mapping project follows a similar move by MapQuest, which began adding OSM layers last month.
To run layers in Bing Maps, you’ll need the latest version of Microsoft Silverlight and a supported browser. It doesn’t work properly in Google Chrome (at least on the Mac), but IE8, Firefox and Safari had no problems. If you’re using the Ajax controls to view Bing Maps (instead of Silverlight), then you won’t be able to see the OpenStreetMaps layer, but Microsoft says this is something that may make its way into the non-Silverlight version eventually.
Use the map view switcher at the bottom to change layers.
To add OpenStreetMaps to your Bing, go to the App Gallery. Look for the new OpenStreetMaps app in the gallery. Click on it, and your alternative OpenStreetMaps view should launch within Bing Maps.
You can switch back to any of the other standard views in Bing Maps by clicking on the layer control at the bottom of the map window. You’ll notice Bing Maps is using the Mapnik build of OpenStreetMaps for its map layer. You can switch back and forth between the OSM layer and any of the other standard Bing maps layers using the same control.
Microsoft has been quickly adding some innovative features to Bing, especially on its Maps website. In June, Bing Maps added the ability to browse parts of the world in 3-D, and in February it demonstrated indoor panorama views and location-specific videos that are accessible within Bing’s street-side imagery.
Microsoft also ran its King of Bing maps challenge for developers last month, asking them to create innovative apps for the mapping platform. For the contest, a developer named Ricky Brundritt built an app for Bing Maps that estimates your taxi fare within most major U.S. cities.
Still, it’s heartening to see Bing adding to the momentum OpenStreetMaps is currently enjoying. Anyone can edit the OSM maps, and now that the project is getting some attention — thanks mostly to its efforts in Haiti — edits are coming in more quickly.
According to the latest stats, the project has over a quarter of a million participants and over 1.8 billion uploaded GPS points. Dedicated users are getting creative and finding ways to add even more detail to the existing maps by doing offbeat things like tagging wheelchair ramps, mailboxes and trees in their neighborhoods.
Mozilla has released Firefox 3.6.6, an incremental update which tweaks the way the browser handles misbehaving plug-ins, giving Flash and other plug-ins 45 seconds to respond, or else get shut down.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Firefox 3.6.4 was released. It included a new Crash Protection feature that keeps plug-ins like Flash and Silverlight isolated into separate processes. If a plug-in hangs or crashes, it won’t cause the entire browser to crash with it. Firefox only lets the plug-in remain unresponsive for 10 seconds, then it shuts the process down. (This feature is only available in the Windows and Linux version of Firefox, Mac users will have to wait for a future update).
Firefox 3.6.6 extends the amount of time Firefox will wait before terminating unresponsive plug-ins. Mozilla upped the limit to 45 seconds. Apparently, the 10-second timeout limit proved too short for many users — Flash routinely hangs for more than 10 seconds without crashing.
Isolating plug-ins is actually just the beginning. Mozilla’s larger plan is to apply “out-of-process” handling, as the more general feature is known, to all add-ons and even tabs, making Firefox considerably more stable. Once that feature is enabled, each web app would be cordoned off inside its own tab. If one page or app crashes, that single tab simply closes and the rest of the browser keeps cooking along as usual.
Isolated tabs won’t arrive until Firefox 4, which is slated for later this year.
This feature was popularized by Google Chrome, and it’s now being added into other browsers. It also started becoming a standard feature across browsers just as Flash began feeling the renewed heat over performance issues. Even though Adobe recently released a new version of its Flash Player software specifically to address many of these issues, it remains under scrutiny thanks to Apple’s decision to ban Flash from the iPad, and its campaign to get web developers to build rich apps using web standards instead of Flash.
Firefox 3.6.6 was released over the weekend, and it should be an automatic update. If your copy of Firefox hasn’t automatically applied it yet, you can force Firefox to update using the “Check for Updates” menu item, or head to the Mozilla downloads page and grab the latest version.
Microsoft may be a few lengths back in the race to win the online mapping prize, but you can never count Redmond out. The company released an SDK for Bing Maps on Monday, allowing developers to create their own Map Apps for submission into Bing Map Apps gallery (Silverlight is required for that link).
When Microsoft first launched the Bing Map Apps gallery (say that three times fast) a few months ago, it featured interesting geodata mashups from partners like Foursquare, Twitter, Weather.com and TrafficLand.com. These maps provide one or more data layers over whatever map you’re currently looking at, so you can see things like restaurant reviews, geo-tagged tweets, weather camera images and temperature readings or traffic cams. My favorite is the Urban Graffiti tracker from virtualglobetrotting.com which pinpoints places where you can see some cool street art.
Now, anyone can make one of these apps. With the new SDK, developers can create their own geodata overlays using any data set they can get their hands on, then submit their creations to the Map Apps gallery. Microsoft will feature the best submissions and present them to everyone using the Bing search tool. The company says it will also allow advertising in the Map Apps and split the revenue with the creators. There’s a testing tool included in the launch.
The goal of Monday’s release appears to be two-fold: increase interest in Bing Maps, and speed adoption of Silverlight 4, the latest version of Microsoft’s rich media and streaming video platform, and it’s alternative to Adobe Flash.
Everything built with this SDK needs to be done in Silverlight 4. You’ll also need the Silverlight plug-in to view any of Bing’s mapping features — at least version 3 is required for the bing.com/maps website.
Silverlight is currently installed on around 60-65 percent of internet-enabled PCs. Around half of Silverlight’s users are running version 3, with around seven percent running version 4, according to riastats.com.
According to Microsoft’s latest Silverlight announcement, Apple shows little to no interest in installing either Silverlight or Adobe Flash on its iPhones.
Thanks to the open source nature of Google’s mobile operating system Android, on the other hand, Silverlight on a Google-enabled phone is a prospective possibility for Microsoft — one they’d be eager to jump on.
“Basically where we’re at right now is we have talked with Apple,” Microsoft Vice President Scott Guthrie admitted. “We are very interested in being able to run [Silverlight] on the iPhone. At the end of the day, Apple ultimately controls what software runs on the iPhone. To date, what they’ve said is that at this time, they’re not looking to enable browser plug-ins like Silverlight or Flash to run on top of it.”
Microsoft’s perspective mirrors Adobe’s. However, according to Guthrie, Apple apparently hasn’t completely slammed the door to third-party vendors yet.
“They might in the future, but right now it isn’t an option for any vendor and so if they let us we’ll definitely come. Until they open it up to third-party plug-ins, like Silverlight and Flash, we’re both prevented from running there.”
The story is radically different for Google’s Android, the increasingly popular mobile operating system. T-Mobile has already sold out of its 1.5 million G1 phones, the first to run the OS, even prior to its release later this month. Thanks to Android’s open source license, third-party vendors will be welcome to build on top of the operating system and even contribute to the underlying technology. This means third-party applications like Silverlight and Flash will be welcomed on the mobile phone.
“[The] Google phone is slightly different.” Guthrie said. “It’s more of an open platform, that is something we’re going to continue to look at. Certainly as it’s gotten deployed and if sales are good we’ll definitely keep our eyes out and look at that in the future.”
In fact, because the Android mobile browser is based heavily on Google’s Chrome desktop browser, it may be sooner rather than later that we’ll be able to see fully operable Flash applications on a mobile phone. Flash already runs on Chrome, and Silverlight works on the latest developer build.