March 2009 Archives
The awesome team that brought you the AwesomeBar have a new project going to optimize how Firefox stores and handles bookmark and history items.
If you've been looking for a way to get (more) involved with Firefox, to have a material impact on a product that reaches hundreds of millions of users, head over the Places Stats Project and donate your Places stats to science :-)
The first alpha release of the Theora 1.1 encoder, codenamed Thusnelda, has just been released. I've been playing with it for about a week (in ffmpeg2theora) and the quality to bitrate ratio is definitely better. I don't have any hard numbers, but some people are already reporting 20% improvement in the size with no loss in quality.
update Just to clear up some possible confusion. There are three frames displayed over at Verbal Diaryer. The first is the h.264 input. The comparison he is making is between the second and third frame to show no loss in quality between Theora 1.0 and Theora 1.1 alpha 1, with the big gain in compression. Of course the h.264 frame looks a bit better, it's the source file and it's three times the size :-)
Deanna and I have been dreaming of a small home on a few acres of land for about as long as we've been together. Until very recently, that meant moving pretty far away from where we are now on the San Francisco Peninsula because prices here were completely unreasonable.
Over the last two or three years, we've been seriously considering buying our first home somewhere up in north Northern California, probably somewhere in Humboldt County in or around Arcata. It really did take going that far north to get the climate, the house, and the land we were after.
The last year has changed things quite a bit and today buying closer to where we live now is not out of the question, so we've been cautiously optimistic that we might just find our home and a perfect bit of land somewhere on the Peninsula.
We've never wanted to buy as an investment, so we're not chasing the bottom of the market -- who knows when (if?!) we'll even see it. We have a set of wants for our house and the land it sits on and we've always said that if we can find it and we can afford it, we're going to get it. Another piece of or thinking is that we'd be first and last time home buyers. We want a home that's about how we live, not about making money.
Well, it looks like things might be coming together for us. If all goes well, we'll be closing on our dream home sometime in the next month.
It's a wonderful log cabin on several acres of redwoods with some open spaces and a pair of nice little creeks creating two of the property boundaries.
Daver Winer has a couple of reasonable (but far from novel) suggestions over at his blog for browser developers.
I know that few people have the time or energy to track browser development so it's not at all odd to me that someone like Dave wouldn't know what's actually happening in browser development.
For that reason, I don't fault him for missing out on the last couple of years of work that smarter Web minds than his have already put in to designing and building the HTML 5 specification (lead by Firefox, Safari, and Opera.)
Sure, some people might expect famous Web pundits and top-notch Valley scensters to be totally on top of the new developments in Web capabilities, but I'm more forgiving than that. It turns out that making browsers and moving the Web forward is a bit more complicated than the occasional wishlist blog post.
The good news for Dave is that even though his ideas are far from novel, they're not too far off from some of what's already been deemed important to the people building browsers and building the future of the Web.
There seems to be a little bit of confusion of what it means when a browser does or does not get exploited at Pwn2Own that I think warrants some clarification.
First, the people winning at Pwn2Own are professionals, extremely talented and dedicated professionals. They have the time and the smarts to find and exploit holes in probably any Internet connected software. They're not amateurs. They get paid for this difficult work.
Because the work is often time-consuming, difficult, and takes a very specific set of expertise, they don't go after every hole and every exploit in every piece of Internet connected software. They work in a marketplace that prioritizes, through personal and company fame, and through cold hard cash, which exploits are most valuable.
In practice, that means that some exploits are worth a lot more than others. A really good IE exploit can fetch tens of thousands of dollars. A Firefox exploit is also worth a lot but probably somewhat less than an IE exploit. A Safari exploit is certainly worth less and it's hard to know if a Chrome or Opera exploit is worth any cash at all.
So, if you're a security researcher and you're picking a target you're going to weight the difficulty of the task and the cash payout (or in the case of Pwn2Own, the marketing/promotional value as well.)
Second, finding and exploiting security holes in browsers is not childsplay. It takes a lot of hard work by some very very talented people.
If, for example, there's no money to be had from Opera, OmniWeb, Epiphany, or Netscape exploits in the exploit marketplace, these skilled researchers won't be spending any time learning those browsers and trying to come up with exploits. (And the Pwn2Own contest doesn't even offer prizes for those browsers.)
So, Opera for example might be really really secure or really really insecure or somewhere in the middle and we just can't tell from the number of known exploits or from this contest because none of those people care about Opera.
Third, if they want to win, these security researchers don't come to the contest armed with only their wits. They bring exploits that they've already discovered and perfected and that they're willing to "give up" for the prize machine, the money and/or fame.
This all means that whether or not a browser "falls" in the Pwn2Own contest is really not a test of the browser's comparative security. There are a lot of factors at play and reducing something as complex as user safety online to the results of a contest like Pwn2Own or the number of disclosed flaws would be a huge disservice people who are already having a difficult time understanding online security.
update: I'm not singling out Ryan at Ars, I actually think he wrote a fine article. It's a lot of the surrounding posts and commentary that's most confused and or confusing.
Dave Winer has mentioned Firefox in about 100 posts. I've mentioned Dave Winer in fewer than 10 posts. So, it's a bit of a stretch for Dave to claim that when ever he writes about Firefox I flame.
But, as he's given me a nice cameo in his post, I think it would be impolite to let Dave Winer down so here's my flame.
(update: Dave edited his post to remove the parts about me.)
Dave is a scenester who doesn't understand shit about the other the 1.3 billion regular people who engage with the Web. If he did, he wouldn't write the kind of mindless, bubbled-in crap he so regularly does. The amazing progress of the Web, thanks to browser innovations led by Firefox, is quite obvious to normal people living outside of Dave's geekscene and that's precisely what Dave's missing.
Just a few examples:
The Awesomebar has changed the Web. IE implemented a variant of it, Opera implemented something similar. Chrome seems to have done the same. It really has changed how people navigate the Web in a fundamental way. Maybe not for Dave, but for several hundred million "normal" people, it has.
Web protocol handlers have changed the Web and allowed Web applications to become first-class citizens in the minds of normal users. That you can click a mailto: link and have it open a Gmail message compose window is fucking huge. Firefox did that.
Firefox's Web feed discovery and handling has done more to popularize and mainstream Dave's precious RSS than just about anything else in the last decade, including all of Dave's software efforts. If Web feeds matter today it's in large part because Firefox made them accessible to regular people.
7,000+ add-ons for Firefox have made scores of new Web products viable and compelling (and profitable) as well as giving an unprecedented level of customization to tens of millions of Web browser users. Ignoring Firefox's (yes, that community exists because Firefox exists) extension community that's served more than 1 billion downloads and fundamentally changed what a Web browser is, that's more of what Dave's apparently missing.
Finally, that Dave can conclude security and privacy is boring and unimportant is only precisely because we've decided to make it a priority at Mozilla. That's how it works. If we hadn't decided it was important, Dave would be fucked online and he'd be begging for help with a completely broken Web.
As for moving forward in interesting and fun ways, I'm gonna assert that Dave doesn't know what constitutes fun and interesting for normal people. I've traveled the world for the last 7 or 8 years talking to people outside of Dave's geek-elite scene and almost all of them are pretty damned impressed with how much more capable and enjoyable the Web's become thanks to Firefox.
There are three browsers with any appreciable market share and ability to influence what's fun and interesting about the Web. IE and Safari both have OS bundling to thank for pretty much their entire share and they would mostly be sitting on their asses the way that Microsoft did from 2001 through 2006 if it wasn't for Firefox's assault. If the Web is a more interesting and fun place than it was in 2001, Dave should be thanking Firefox for pretty much all of that. If the Web is more interesting and fun because of renewed browser competition, Dave should be thanking Mozilla for that.
Yes. It will be very cool when putting a video on a page is as easy as putting an image on a page. For sure.
It's a good thing that no one is on XP any more ;-)
Word to the wise: Installing IE 8 on Windows XP is a huge test of patience. After downloading the installer, you'll be asked to verify Windows through Windows Genuine Advantage, then install additional components and numerous updates, then reboot, then check for malicious software, then install more updates, then reboot again. The whole time, you're never shown a progress bar, told where you are in the process or given any indication of how much longer the installation might take. Expect the full installation to take as long as 30 painful minutes.
Firefox: installs in less than a minute -- even on Windows XP :-)
Seriously, does anyone think that getting an upgraded browser should take 30 minutes and several reboots? WTF?
Oh, and what the F is up with all these Chrome ads. For several of months now, I can't find a tech site that isn't running Chrome ads. Pretty much every single article I read about IE 8 was accompanied by a Chrome ad. Crazy times.
(I wonder if the Chrome team is happy with the return on those ads. I mean, it's been more than six months since their release and they're still hovering just barely above 1%.)
Safari and Chrome are absolute failures when it comes to exposing ARIA roles through MSAA. Accessibility isn't an afterthought at Mozilla. It's core to what we do. Apparently it's not even that at Google and Apple. At least Opera and IE are trying.
update: Building a fully-functional Web browser is not an easy task and building one that is accessible to everyone is that much more difficult. If Apple and Google don't care about users who require assistive technologies, that's a real shame.
From where I'm standing, it looks like they're not really even trying. Chrome gets a zero and Safari is only a tiny bit better. Maybe they're going to improve, but it tells you something about their priorities when users with disabilities don't make the cut for a 1.0 and a 4.0 release.
If you're an add-on developer or want to become one, the just now published draft of the Firefox Add-ons Developer Guide is for you. Go check it out and if you're so inclined, help make it better.
I've never really been interested in owning movies. From the days of my first VHS machine, through several years of DVD players, renting or waiting for cable and my TiVo to catch it has been a fine combination.
But with Blu-ray quality, a PS3, and a decent Panasonic plasma TV, I'm starting to think about actually purchasing some films and starting to build a collection.
When I think about what I'd actually like to own, movies that I know I could watch a hundred more times, it's a rather small album, but maybe I'm missing some gems. If you can relate to my favorites and you've got suggestions for additions, please let me know.
In no particular order, the movies I think I'd like to own:
The Shawshank Redemption
2001 A Space Odyssey
Rashômon (though "Dreams" sure is beautiful)
The Wizard Of Oz
The Godfather Part 2
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
The Good, The Bad & the Ugly
Down by Law
It's a Wonderful Life
The Deer Hunter
I have no doubt that I'd still love any of these movies after another 10 or 100 viewings. I've scoured my memory to try to come up with another three or four so I could have an even 20, but nothing else is coming to mind. Feel free to make suggestions.
update: Deanna reminds me that there are several non-movie programs that would be high on my list. Here's a quick rundown:
The Living Edens
Pee Wee's Playhouse
A Charlie Brown Christmas
I've still got some details to add and some wording improvements, but if you're looking for instructions on how to export your QuickTime or iMovie media to Open Video, take a look and let me know if this tutorial is helpful.
The Kepler Space Telescope is lifting off.
T+5:30 and looking very good.
T+7 minutes and all events within 1 second of nominal.
T+9 minutes, 16,000 miles per hour, 103 miles up, everything looking good.
T+12m now we wait about 40 minutes for Dongara to pick up the signal.
T+1 hour and things are still nominal.
T+62 minutes, confirmed separation successful.
Hugs and handshakes all around. The Kepler team has a live craft. Goldstone will acquire the signal in about 15 minutes and confirm craft health.
update: someone on IRC just asked me "so what's Keplar?" Well, you could visit the link at the top of this post or just know that it's a space camera that's got a ~100 megapixel camera for taking photographs of Earth-like extra-solar planets.
IE slips again
Internet Explorer's share of Web browser usage fell from 68 percent in January to 63 percent in February, marking a new recent low. The big winner, again, was Mozilla Firefox 3, which saw its share rise to 24 percent in February. But the figures get more interesting when you break out IE by version: IE 7 is the number one browser overall, with 41 percent usage share. But Firefox 3 is now, for the first time, number two, thanks to IE 6's fall to third place with just 22 percent. Firefox 2 is in fourth place with 3 percent, while other browsers--such as Opera, Apple Safari, and Google Chrome--don't really amount to much. Most alarming for Microsoft, perhaps: IE 7 actually peaked in December with about 42 percent usage share. It's been declining somewhat each month since then. Looked at over the past year, we see IE 7 being flat, IE 6 and Firefox 2 nosediving, and Firefox 3 gaining.
IE 6 is quickly falling away and Firefox 3 is mounting a serious challenge from a solid second place.
If you're just someone using a Web browser to go online, you may not experience a huge difference between different versions of Firefox or different versions Internet Explorer. But if you're someone building the Web, they're quite distinct products. So, to a Web developer, IE 6 and IE 7 are not the same browser, and Firefox 2 and Firefox 3 are not the same browser. There are enough differences "under the hood" that Web developers have to treat them differently.
If we ignore the versions and treat all of the different versions of a browser as a single product, then Internet Explorer commands a whopping 67% of global Web browser usage while Firefox is under 22%.
But this isn't how Web developers see the world because when they're building the sites you visit, they have to treat each of the major versions somewhat differently. So, there are really three major browsers, not two. Internet Explorer's share is actually split between IE 7 and IE 6. (But because Firefox users can migrate much faster, its share is already well consolidated in Firefox 3.)
Through that lens, IE 7 is the leading browser, but pretty stalled out around 47%.
Firefox 3 is the browser in second place with a steadily increasing share that broke 19% in February and will probably hit 20% by the end of this month.
Behind Firefox 3, and falling into third place for the first time since its release way back in August of 2001, Internet Explorer 6 continues on its downward trend.
This is great news for Web developers who can start to examine their own traffic stats and hopefully soon, abandon IE 6. Mozilla's Chris Blizzard has called on the global community of Web developers to declare December 31 of this year "end of life" for IE 6 support.
Unfortunately :-) IE 8 will also soon be out and will split the IE share again. Actually, IE 8 will be a much easier browser for Web developers to deal with than IE 6 was so it'll be a fine trade and it can't come too soon.
But that does offer an interesting possibility. With IE 7 share topped out around 47% and IE 8 right around the corner, there will be some month in the not too distant future when the IE 7 falling line crosses the IE 8 rising line somewhere around 23%. Depending on the timing of that, we may have a month where Firefox 3 or Firefox 3.1 is the most used browser on the planet. Even if that doesn't happen, we will no doubt see some months where the top three browsers all have around 23% share and there is no run-away leader in usage.
There's more and more free and open video content hitting the Web all the time. If you see something cool, please do let me know.
Yesterday and today, much of the "browser" news has been dedicated to this "discovery"
What I don't understand is how is this different than what you could already do with Windows XP Control Panel > Add Remove Programs > Add/Remove Windows Components > Internet Explorer ?
Oh, and what does this have to do with the EU charge, which is essentially that Microsoft abused its monopoly position in PC operating system to gain an unfair distribution advantage for I.E.?
While Safari is supporting the <video> tag, they're doing it with patent-encumbered codecs brought to you through QuickTime. This means that Safari doesn't support the open video technology that Firefox does which today includes Theora video, Vorbis audio and the Ogg container (and will likely include Dirac and other codecs and containers in the future.)
The good news is that QuickTime is pretty extensible with plug-ins called QuickTime Components. The guys over at the Xiph Foundation (stewards of Ogg, Theora, and Vorbis) have built something appropriately named the Xiph QuickTime Components which when installed on your machine will bring Ogg, Theora, and Vorbis support to any of your QuickTime-enabled programs. This not only makes Safari compatible with Firefox's open video technology, it also brings Ogg/Theora/Vorbis encoding and decoding capabilities to iMovie, iTunes, QuickTime Player, Final Cut, and other QT-enabled programs.
I wrote a quick little howto doc over at Air Mozilla for installing the Mac decoders which will allow Air Mozilla playback in Safari. If you want to install the marginally larger full package for Mac to enable encoding (export from iMovie, Final Cut, QuickTime Pro, etc.) or you need the Windows package, you'll want to head over to the main Xiph QT Components page.
I'm also working on a short QuickTime movie/screencast that describes the simple process of adding the Xiph QT Components that can be used as an extra
src= in your
<video> element to help out your Safari users. Stay tuned for updates on that.
Apple's got a pretty consistent reputation for exaggerating their marketing claims right up to the very edge of fraudulent but never over the line enough to get penalized. Safari 4's claims are right there on that line.
This is the JS engine performance benchmark suite that the WebKit/Safari team built, and which most people credit as a reasonable set of tests -- as run by the good folks over at c|net.
I'm not one to get into pissing contests but I'd say that Safari 4's time of 967 milliseconds and Firefox's time of 969 milliseconds are a lot closer than 3x.
The difference in the c|net run of the SunSpider JS test suite is literally 2/1000ths of a second. By my math, that's Safari winning in the JS performance test by approximately 1.002x -- which, if my arithmetic skills haven't deteriorated too far, is a pretty long ways from 3x.
update: Ahhh, I see. Wasn't that clever of Apple. They compared their beta of Safari 4 to the shipping Firefox 3 rather than to Mozilla's beta of Firefox 3.1. See what I mean about Apple marketing? It's really bordering on fraud.
update2: And just to make sure we don't miss the forest for the trees, and to point out the further absurdity of any comparisons between Safari, Firefox, (and Chrome) performance, we shouldn't forget that the real performance slug holding the Web back is Microsoft.
IE 7, which accounts for roughly 47% of Web usage, is simply a joke, coming in about 10x-20x slower than the rest of the released browsers today. IE 6, which still accounts for about 19% of Web usage is even worse. They've done a somewhat better job with IE 8, but with that browser nearly done and shipping very soon, it's a real shame that it will lag by 5x-6x compared to the other browsers shipping in 2009.