All posts tagged ‘Software’

Microsoft Touts New ‘Windows Cloud’ OS, Set to Arrive Next Month

windows logoMicrosoft CEO Steve Ballmer has announced that the company is working on a new OS designed for “cloud computing.” Although he offered few details, he did say that the official announcement would happen later this month at the company’s Professional Developers Conference (which will also see the first demo of Windows 7).

So how does Windows Cloud fit with Windows 7? Well, Ballmer says they’re different projects, and reading between the lines we suspect that Windows Cloud (which is not an official name) is much closer to Amazon’s Web Services (AWS) offering than the consumer OS you normally associate with the Windows brand.

Speaking at a Microsoft-sponsored conference in London, Ballmer said that the new operating system is targeted at developers writing cloud-computing applications — think Microsoft Live Mesh on steroids, perhaps with some new APIs and other tools for designing and building web-apps.

So why would Microsoft be interested in competing with AWS? Well, the company has long dismissed software-as-a-service tools like Google Docs, preferring to pursue what it calls “software plus services.” That is, Microsoft’s approach is not to the replace current desktop apps, but to augment them with web-based services.

To get the kind of tight web-desktop integration the company is after will likely require a new platform that gives developers a way to hook into existing desktop apps. And we suspect that’s what “Windows Cloud” will be.

Of course, for now, it’s just speculation, but Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles, kicks off October 28 so we won’t have to wait too long. We’ll be sure to update you when the official announcement is made.

[via Computer World]

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File Under: Software & Tools

Firefox Update Patches Critical Security Flaws

FirefoxMozilla has pushed out a new version of Firefox with fixes for a number of security flaws, two of which were rated as critical. The new version also includes some accessibility improvements.

If you’re running Firefox 3, you should download this update now. At the moment, you’ll need to grab it by hand from the Mozilla site. According to Mozilla, there’s no evidence that either flaw has been exploited in the wild, but we recommend upgrading just to be on the safe side. Otherwise, Firefox’s auto-update feature should kick in within a few days and prompt users to install the latest version of the browser.

The update brings Firefox to version 3.0.2 and patches two critical security flaws: a memory corruption bug and a privilege escalation bug, which involved the XPCnativeWrapper component of Firefox. This privilege escalation bug is of particular note, as an attacker could use the exploit to run scripts inside your browser. Users running NoScript, or those surfing with JavaScript turned off aren’t likely to find themselves compromised, but this update contains a good number of fixes, so we’d recommend downloading it anyway. For a complete list of all the bug fixes, see Mozilla’s release notes.

If you haven’t made the leap to Firefox 3, be aware that the same two critical flaws affect Firefox 2, and Mozilla has released Firefox as well. The Thunderbird e-mail client uses the same page-rendering engine as Firefox, and it could be exposed to the same vulnerabilities if JavaScript is enabled in e-mail. Mozilla strongly discourages users from reading e-mail with JavaScript enabled, and it’s not a default setting.

The latest version of Firefox 3 also includes a couple of significant accessibility improvements — Firefox 3.0.2 is now compatible with JAWS 7.10 and should also work with the JAWS 10 beta. For more details check out Marco Zehe’s accessibility blog.

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File Under: Software & Tools

Firefox to Embrace Porn With New ‘Private Browsing’ Mode

FirefoxMozilla is jumping on the latest privacy bandwagon, with developers already working hard to ensure a new private browsing feature ships in Firefox 3.1, due to arrive at the end of 2008.

Private browsing, or “porn mode” as it’s often referred to, since that’s one of the more obvious uses, restricts the information that your browser gathers as you visit websites. Cookies are rejected, URLs are kept out of the browser history, forms are not auto-filled and pages are not cached.

The result is a browser session that — from the browser’s point of view — never happened.

While the cynical might claim that the major use for private browsing is porn, there are some other times it comes in handy — on public computers, for instance, where you don’t want the browser tracking your banking or e-mail logins.

Apple’s Safari browser pioneered the idea, shipping with a private browsing mode nearly three years ago, but more recently the Internet Explorer team announced that IE 8 will ship with “InPrivate” and Google’s new Chrome web browser offers an “Incognito” mode, which both behave similarly to Safari’s original idea.

That leaves Firefox as one of the only major browsers without a privacy mode. But fear not my porn-browsing Webmonkeys, Mozilla is on the case. In fact, private browsing mode was planned for Firefox 3, but dropped due to what Mozilla called, “more pressing issues.” Luckily, developers have already outlined their goals for a privacy mode in Firefox 3.1, which means it will most likely make the beta code freeze scheduled for the end of September. According the Mozilla wiki, Firefox 3.1 private browsing mode will offer the following features:

  • Any cookies acquired during the private session will be stored only in memory and flushed when the session ends.
  • Visited sites will not be stored to the browser’s history and visited links will not be colored as such.
  • Autofill features will be disabled and Firefox will not prompt you to save any new passwords.
  • Any downloads will be flushed from browser’s download manager.
  • All authenticated sessions will be logged out when you enter and leave private mode.

For more details on how each of the features will be handled, check out the Mozilla wiki where developers are hashing out the particulars. Gregg Keizer of ComputerWorld also has more detail on the backstory.

One very nice feature in both IE 8 and Google’s Chrome browser is the ability to have private mode tabs alongside normal mode tabs, something that currently isn’t possible in Safari and isn’t in the plans for Firefox 3.1 either.

Of course if you don’t want to wait for Firefox 3.1 to get your private browsing features, there are some Firefox add-ons that can handle the job in Firefox 3 right now. The Stealther add-on is one possibility, but Distrust offers some extra controls like per-session preferences.

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File Under: Software & Tools

Firefox 3.1 Alpha 2 Offers Cutting-Edge Web Standards Support

Firefox logoMozilla has released a second Firefox 3.1 alpha preview, incorporating some new under-the-hood improvements like HTML 5 video tag support, more CSS 3 properties and improved performance.

Firefox 3.1 alpha 2 is still rough around the edges though and is intended for developers, not everyday users. Alpha 2 also lacks some of the standout features scheduled to land in the final release of Firefox 3.1, like the TraceMonkey JavaScript engine.

Among the features that did make the alpha 2 cut, perhaps the most important are the increased CSS 3 and HTML 5 support. The support for HTML 5′s new video tag offers web publishers an easier and better way to embed video in their page, though with Internet Explorer potentially years away from including similar support, you might not want to convert your site just yet.

Firefox 3.1 also adds some more CSS 3 properties like border-wrap, text-shadow, box-shadow and several more. With the CSS3 spec still not set in stone, Mozilla has packaged the properties within the -moz-property namespace.

So far there’s no specific date for the first beta of Firefox 3.1, but Mozilla’s roadmap calls for beta 1 to arrive in late September or early October 2008. In the mean time you can download and test alpha 2, though for everyday use we recommend sticking with Firefox 3.

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Firefox 3.1: Speeding Up the Web With Supercharged JavaScript

Ff31jsThe upcoming release of Firefox 3.1 will make many of your favorite, complex web-apps, like Gmail, run considerably faster thanks to some much improved JavaScript tools in the browser.

While many still see JavaScript as an awkward way to validate forms or add a little spice to otherwise dull web pages, some sites are using JavaScript to go far beyond its humble beginnings. In fact, many developers see JavaScript as the future of the web.

To help JavaScript along, Mozilla says Firefox 3.1 will give JavaScript a much-needed shot in the arm with its new TraceMonkey JavaScript tool. According to Mike Shaver, Mozilla’s VP of Engineering, the new tools in TraceMonkey allow JavaScript code to render on par with native code.

“The goal of the TraceMonkey project — which is still in its early stages,” cautions Shaver, “is to take JavaScript performance to another level, where instead of competing against other interpreters, we start to compete against native code.”

While part of the gain will be for Ajax-heavy web apps, the new code will also improve Firefox itself since extensions and other Firefox tools are written in JavaScript.

Apple’s Safari has already been experimenting with its own new JavaScript engine, SquirrelFish, which uses similar techniques to achieve impressive new rendering speeds. SquirrelFish is scheduled to arrive in Safari 4.

The new JavaScript engines in both browsers use a technique called “trace tree” to improve JavaScript performance. The idea, based on a technique developed by researchers at UC Irvine, uses a tracing mechanism to record the execution path at runtime and then generates compiled code that can be used next time that a particular path is called.

The result is much better performance in the browser. How much better? In some cases Mozilla says the new tools can make JavaScript 20 to 40 times faster. To demonstrate TraceMonkey’s potential, Mozilla’s Mike Schroepfer put together demo app and found that even now, with many planned optimizations not yet available, the real world performance is about seven times faster than Firefox 3. Check out the video on Schroepfer’s blog, which shows a nightly build running alongside Firefox 3 — the improvements are quite dramatic.

As the benchmarks at the top of this post indicate, the speed improvements may be even higher by the time Firefox 3.1 is released at the end of 2008.

For now TraceMonkey is only available via the Firefox nightly builds (Safari’s SquirrelFish Engine is also only available via nightly builds), but when the first betas of Firefox 3.1 arrive, they’ll bring TraceMonkey — and potentially a much faster web — with them.

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