Tag Archives | Browsers

Microsoft Nudges Internet Explorer 8 Closer to Release With RC1

Internet ExplorerIt’s been almost eleven months since Microsoft first released a preview edition of Internet Explorer 8. It’s still not shipping in final form, but it looks like we’re getting close: Microsoft has given me a heads’ up that it’s unveiling a Release Candidate 1 version–that is, a nearly-final one–today. Internet Explorer General Manager Dean Hachamovitch tells me that IE 8 will go final when it’s ready, but he doesn’t expect this final stretch before release to be long and arduous.

Here’s the download page for the Windows XP version. Here’s the 32-bit Windows Vista version. And this one’s for 64-bit Vista. So far, there’s no Windows 7 one.

More soon, including some thoughts on the state of Microsoft’s browser…

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Opera on the iPhone? Maybe. Someday.

operaiconSome of the reports today on Apple’s approval of new browser-related iPhone apps make it sound like the company has opened the floodgates for Safari rivals to make their way onto iPhones. Not true–the new apps all use Safari’s WebKit rendering engine and are therefore piggybacking on Safari rather than trying to replace it. But I happened to have a meeting scheduled today with Christen Krogh, Chief Development Officer at Norway-based browser company Opera, which has talked in the past of the possibility of releasing a real Safari alternative for the iPhone. And so I asked him the obvious: Does today’s new affect the company’s interest in the iPhone?

“We’re absolutely positive we could produce a fantastic version of Opera for any platform, including the iPhone,” Krogh told me. But he said that the company would have to have a compelling reason for doing so–it wouldn’t do so just to prove it could. So I asked him if it did have any compelling reason to want to be on the iPhone. “Right now, it doesn’t matter,” he said, since it still appears that Apple wouldn’t allow a competitive browser into its App Store.

So there you go: We seem to be in a vicious circle in which it’s pointless for Opera (or other companies like Mozilla) to invest any attention or effort in iPhone versions until it’s clear that Apple will permit them to distribute their browsers. And even if Apple does decide to loosen up, it probably won’t release a press release trumpeting that fact.

One way or another, I’d love to see multiple browsers on the iPhone. We know what it’s like when a browser has no viable competition–you get the calcification of Internet Explorer that happened from the late 1990s until Firefox showed up and started the browser wars anew.

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Apple Lets Alternative Browsers Onto the iPhone. Sort of!

iphone4The single worst thing about Apple’s capricious iPhone App Store policies has probably been the fact that it’s rejected some applications on the grounds that they compete with Apple’s own offerings–including third-party browsers. Now the company is approving some alternative browsers, including Edge Browser (a browser without space-hogging navigation bars), Incognito (private browsing), Shaking Web (which compensates for shaky hands by adjusting the display), and WebMate:Tabbed Browser (which queues up links in new tabs). The one thing all these apps have in common is that they’re really reskinned versions of Safari, Apple’s own browser. I suspect that it’ll be a long time until Apple allows Firefox or Opera or any other true Safari rival onto the iPhone; I’d love to be proven wrong, though…


Google Ships Chrome 1.0–Now For the To-Do List

chromebox1Well, that was quick! Yesterday, my colleague Dave Worthington wrote about the news that Google planned to take its Chrome browser out of beta soon. Soon, it turns out, is right now. The little “BETA” label is gone from the Chrome logo, and you can download version 1.0 from the Chrome site. Assuming, that is, that you’re using Windows.

And unless you’ve got an inexplicable aversion to cool new software, I recommend that you do spend some time with Chrome. I wouldn’t have guessed that it was possible to bring so much new thinking to a Web browser circa 2008–especially without adding much in the way of new features. But Chrome is fun, zippy, and practical. If it were a car (I hate automotive metaphors in tech journalism, but can’t help myself) it might be something like this.

When I met with one of the people in charge of Chrome a month ago, he told me that Chrome would ship when it displayed Web pages properly and was sufficiently reliable, not when Google had added every feature on its to-do list. Chrome in its 1.0 version reflect that: It’s got far fewer features than Firefox, Flock, IE, Opera, or Safari, and I’m sure some folks will come away disappointed simply because it’s ultimately pretty basic. The Google blog post on today’s news mentions two upcoming features: form autofill (I’m a little surprised the browser came out of beta without it) and RSS. And it reaffirms its intention to release versions for Mac and Linux versions without revealing a timetable.

Google says it has plans to add lots more stuff to Chrome; that’s good news, although the browser’s streamlined, no-muss-no-fuss personality is so pleasing that the company will have to work hard not to bloat it up over time. I do, however, have a little list of new features that I hope are on Google’s Chrome agenda.

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Report: Google Polishes Off Chrome

chromelogo2The browser was are heating up– again. Google vice president Marissa Mayer said that company’s Chrome browser is on the verge of coming out of beta, according to a report by TechCrunch. Chrome made its debut as a beta on September 2nd; for Google, a beta period of only a few months is a surprisingly short one.

Google’s applications are a likely vehicle for distributing Chrome, with Apple having paved the way for more aggressive bundling by tethering distribution of Safari to iTunes. There is also plenty of potential for high-profile promotion of Chrome at Google’s wildly popular Web properties, and the company has several hardware partners that could pre-load the browser on PCs.

Chrome is the bedrock for Google’s whole Web application platform. Its pillars are speed and stability: Chrome’s zippy JavaScript engine is at the top of the class, and its use of separate processes for browser tabs and windows can make browsing more reliable.

The arrival of Chrome has also pressured other browser makers such as Firefox to accelerate the performance of their JavaScript engines–making Google’s applications perform better across the board.

Google will be leveraging Chrome to deliver the open source Native Client project, a plug-in that permits Web applications to directly access hardware resources. Let’s hope that Native Client is effectively sandboxed so it can’t be abused by hackers, so we don’t revisit the bad old days of the ubiquitous ActiveX exploit. The more Google can blur the lines between client applications and Web applications, the more competitive it will be against entrenched software. CPU intensive software will no longer have to run on the desktop. The concept of what type of application a Web application can be would be drastically changed.

Chrome is based upon the WebKit open source project, making it easier for developers to make their sites and services Chrome-friendly, because it is not something entirely new. Google is likewise providing a framework for the development of secure Firefox-like extensions for Chome. Developers could very well fall in love with Chrome, but with technologies and tools from Adobe, Microsoft, Sun, and others in the mix, not to mention HTML 5, they may have to pick their side of the battlefield. You can see why it’s in Google’s best interest to release a Chrome that’s ready for prime time sooner rather than later.


Google’s Latest Browser Venture: Yet Another Plug-In?

Flash…Java…Silverlight…Google Gears…Yahoo BrowserPlus…it seems like the list of additional stuff you need besides your browser just to use the Web keeps on growing. For better or for worse, Google’s latest project announcement adds another contender.

Native Client is Google’s latest plan to change the Web, and this time it comes in the form of a browser plug-in. Admittedly, as a technology, there’s nothing incredibly interesting to the average web surfer, but, like many Google projects, the project’s promise is where this development becomes interesting. The best description I have found of Native Client is on the Google Code Blog post describing the project. The post defines Native Client as “a technology that aims to give web developers access to the full power of the client’s CPU while maintaining the browser neutrality, OS portability and safety that people expect from web applications.” In other words, Google is trying to make a platform for Web developers that does what Java aimed to do back in its heyday. Like Java, Native Client will be completely cross platform and work in almost every browser, with the major difference being that Google’s plug-in will run at native processor speeds, giving programmers access to even unprecedented resources on your computer.

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Firefox Goes Private, Kills Fancy Tab Switching

firefoxlock1The Mozilla folks have released beta 2 of Firefox 3.1, the next version of the world’s favorite open-source Web browser. It includes a bunch of technical refinements and fixes, and one significant new feature: private browsing. And it removes one feature from beta 1 which I kinda liked.

Mozilla’s implementation of Private browsing (which Apple’s Safari already has and which is also in Google’s Chrome beta and Microsoft’s upcoming Internet Explorer 8) couldn’t be much more straightforward. It’s a new option in the Tools menu:


Choose it, and you get this page:


Like the text above says, Private Browsing eliminates all the traces you’d otherwise leave of your Web wanderings: They won’t show up in Firefox’s history; searches and downloads aren’t kept in their respective histories; and Web form data, cookies, and temporary Internet files aren’t preserved. (When you leave Private Browsing mode, Firefox returns to normal operation and restores whatever tabs were open when you entered it.)

The browser’s dialog for clearing your history has undergone some related changes: You can now restrict the data you clear to stuff collected in the past hour, two hours, four hours, or day. It’s effectively a form of retroactive private browsing:


So what’s Private Browsing good for? Mozilla thoughtfully suggests you use it when doing online holiday shopping for family members. It’s also handy whenever you use someone else’s computer and log into e-mail or other services such as Facebook, since it prevents the browser from relogging your buddy into your accounts later on. And it wouldn’t be a bad idea to use it whenever you’re at a public computer that’s running Firefox 3.1.

But I refuse to demean Private Browsing by calling it “porn mode.”

As for the feature which was new in beta 1 and is now gone in beta 2, it’s the flashy pop-up thumbnails that let you shuffle through open tabs in much the same way that both Windows and OS X let you tab through apps.


Mozilla says it removed it “based on feedback from Beta 1 users.” (<Ctrl><Tab> still lets you move from tab to tab, but without a preview.) I’m mourning the new approach to tab-switching’s loss, and I’m not sure what the beta testers disliked about it. Or, for that matter, whether its absence is permanent, or temporary while Mozilla tweaks it.

Anyhow, it’s still exciting to see Firefox 3.1 near completion. As I mentioned in this recap of all the Chrome, Firefox, IE, Opera, and Safari betas, 2009 is going to be a great year for browser fans.


State of the Browser Betas: A Technologizer Cheat Sheet

cheatsheetI’m hesitant to make any bold predictions about what 2009 will hold for technology, but this one seems profoundly safe: a lot of Web browser upgrades will ship. That’s because new versions of the current big five–Chrome, Firefox, IE, Opera, and Safari–are all in various stages of progress. And prerelease versions all except Safari are available for download right now. After the jump, a quick guide to what’s up with each of them. If you’ve been using any (or all!) of them, let us know what you think…

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Opera’s Browser Hits the Big 10.0

operaiconOpera, the Norwegian browser company that’s focused its attention on phones in recent years, has released an alpha version of Opera 10.0 for Windows, OS X, and Linux. Despite the epochal-sounding version number, Opera 10 doesn’t look to be a great leap forward compared to Opera 9.6, the current version. Opera says it’s faster, scores a perfect 100 on the Acid3 Web standards test, can auto-update itself, has inline spell-checking, and lets its e-mail client delete old mail off the server. All of which sounds either incremental or like it’s playing catchup with other browsers such as Firefox.

(I’ve been playing with the Alpha, mostly because I’m curious whether the speed boost is perceptible: It does feel faster than Firefox 3.0. On some pages. But not others. Basically, I think the speed of my Internet connection has far more impact on how snappy the Web is than the speed of my browser.)

Opera 10.0 may not be a huge whoop, but Opera is still worth checking out–even 9.6 is a solid browser, and an underappreciated one. (Browser market share studies show that it has less than one percent usage; it’s 1.68% here on Technologizer.) Compared to IE, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome, Opera feels like more of a power-user tool out of the box, with built-in e-mail, a cool speed dial feature which shows bookmarks in thumbnail form (replicable via Firefox add-on), and a pretty sophisticated architecture for running widgets that live outside the browser window. (I’m listening to Pandora via one such widget right now.) If you’re a browser junkie like me and haven’t revisited Opera recently, it’s worth a look.

It’s striking, though, how hard it is for a browser–or any application–to introduce truly striking new features by the time its version number nears or reaches double digits. Opera isn’t alone: Internet Explorer 8.0 and Firefox 3.0 are also upgrades to venerable products that have more in the way of technical improvements than groundbreaking functionality. (If Firefox counted all the versions of Netscape and Mozilla that it builds on, dating all the way back to 1994, its version number would be a lot higher.)

And of all the major browser companies, Opera seems to have the least things working in its favor. Microsoft gets to put IE on every Windows PC, making it the planet’s dominant browser (even if its share is slowly degrading). Firefox is the work of a huge open-source community, and its massive add-on library is reason enough for many people to use it. Apple gets to put Safari on every Mac. Google has huge incentive to pour effort into Chrome, and an awesome distribution pipeline if it chooses to use it. Flock, which remains my primary browser, has a well-defined niche.

Opera? Well, it’s widely used on phones, so the company has an opportunity to do interesting things involving tying the desktop and mobile experiences together. But aside from Opera Link, a bookmark-syncing utility that isn’t supported by all versions of the browser, it hasn’t done much to date.

Still, I love the fact the Web circa late 2008 has room for so many browsers. And tell you what: I’m going to switch to the Opera 10.0 alpha as my main browser for the next few days, and report back on my experiences.


Firefox Simplifies Browser Customization

firefoxFirefox’s extensibility is the primary reason why I have stuck with it. The browser extensions I’ve installed do what I want and significantly improve my Internet experience. The folks at Mozilla are playing to that strength with a new browser customization Web site called “Fashion Your Firefox.

The site simplifies Firefox add-on discovery by having users select from a menu of nine categories that are geared toward various browsing scenarios such as “Shutterbug” for photo aficionados and “Rock Star” for music lovers. Users simply check the box next to add-ons that interest them, and install them as a batch.

For Firefox, add-ons are a good hedge against a reinvigorated Microsoft Internet Explorer and new competition from Google Chome. (I was tempted to switch to Google’s Chrome browser to get a good feel for it, but found myself missing my add-ons.)

Microsoft has revamped its own add-on Web site to coincide with the launch of IE 8, but I do not know anyone that uses IE for its add-ons. Google also supports some add-ons, but like Microsoft, it lacks the depth of choices that Firefox has to offer.

The Mozilla Foundation is wise to showcase its add-ons to differentiate Firefox. In doing so, it also keeps its base of developers happy and firmly in its camp.