Tag Archives | Web browsers

Chrome for the Mac: Still Waiting!

Chrome IconIt’s been seven months now since Google released its Chrome browser for Windows and said that versions for OS X and Linux were in the works. In the time since then, Chrome has become the browser I turn to first when I’m using Windows. And when I’m using a Mac? Well, I spend a fair amount of time brooding about the absence of Chrome, not to mention the absence of any reliable information on when it might show up.

Charles Arthur of the Guardian did more than brood–he downloaded a developer build of Chrome for the Mac, and found it to be a work in progress. And it sounds like a lot more progress has to be made before the browser is ready for mass consumption–many basic features aren’t in place yet.

On one hand, it’s reassuring to know that Chrome for the Mac isn’t in limbo, but I’m now recalibrating my expectations for when it might arrive in a form that anyone’s going to use as a primary browser. I’m thinking it’s going to take months, not weeks, and I’ll be relieved if it’s ready before Chrome for Windows celebrates its first birthday.


Opera Turns 15, Claims Title of World's Oldest Web Browser

Opera LogoThe folks at Opera are celebrating the fifteeth anniversary of their Web browser today. They’ve got some fun celebratory items up, including memories from cofounder and CEO Jon von Tetzchner, a secret origin in comic-strip form, some predictions for the future, and a list of fifteen reasons to use Opera.

The company’s saying that Opera is the oldest browser that’s still extant, and while that’s a defensible interpretation of history, it’s subject to debate. It’s marking its fifteenth birthday not on the anniversary of the first public release of the browser–that didn’t happen until 1996–but on the anniversary of the beginnings of coding on the first version, which was a research project at Norwegian telecommunications company Telenor. If you determined the oldest remaining browser based on general availability, Internet Explorer, which was released in 1995, would predate Opera. And IE was originally based on code from Spyglass Mosaic, the commercial version of NCSA Mosaic, the first graphical browser–but I don’t know if there’s any Mosaic code kicking around in today’s IE 8.

Firefox, meanwhile, is a descendant of Netscape Navigator (which first appeared in late 1994 and was officially discontinued in 2007). But work on Netscape began in mid-1994–after Opera development was already underway, apparently.

Meanwhile, there’s at least one dark-horse candidate for the title of Oldest Browser Still Standing: Lynx, a text-only browser which I used myself back in the early 1990s. Here’s an OS X version posted at Apple’s site a little over a year ago, and here’s source code from 2007 with a note that a new version is under development.  Lynx supports neither graphics nor JavaScript, and I suspect that most modern sites are simply unusable in it–let’s not even talk about Flash here, folks–but it’s a browser. And if it’s gone to browser heaven, it did so only recently.

Anyhow, Opera is one of a handful of popular Internet apps of the mid-1990s that’s still with us, still evolving, and still doing interesting things–especially on alternative devices such as phones and gaming consoles. Long may it wave…


Cooliris: Finally, 3D Browsing That Really is Cool

Cooliris LogoFor years, folks have been trying to harness the power of 3D graphics to improve Web navigation. (Here’s a review of a 3D browser I wrote almost eight years ago; here’s another that’s currently on the market.) And for years, such products have failed to change the world, or even attract many users at all–to such an extent that I wondered if browsing was meant to remain a basically two-dimensional activity. I’m not the only one, apparently–an imaginary 3D version of Chrome was part of Google’s April Fool’s extravaganza week before last.

But starting today, a browser add-on called Cooliris (formerly known as Piclens) is available in a new version, 1.10. It brings flashy 3D effects to browsing, and it is, indeed, cool–mostly because it’s useful. Cooliris works with Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari, and runs on Windows, OS X, and Linux, and lets you browse massive quantities of images and/or videos from an array of sources–Google Images, Flickr, Facebook, Hulu, Picasa, your own computer, and many other venues–by zipping through a full-screen wall of tiny images that flies around in 3D space. (Its extremely reminiscent of the video-wall imagery Apple uses to promote Apple TV.)

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Attention: Everybody. Your Browser is Insecure. Deal With It.

War GamesYesterday’s most significant browser-related event wasn’t the release of Internet Explorer 8–it was the upshot of day one of the Pwn2Own browser-hacking contest at the CanSecWest security conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. The competition offered cash and hardware incentives to attendees who could exploit zero-day vulnerabilities in Chrome, Firefox, IE 8, and Safari.

The results? Chrome was the only browser that escaped unscathed, apparently because of the way it sandboxes Web code to prevent it from doing damage. (Chrome has, however, been shown to be insecure in the past.) Yup, IE 8–which Microsoft says its “safer than ever”–didn’t even get through its first day on the market without being hacked.

Which wasn’t a surprise in the least–really, it would have been more startling if a bunch of enterprising hackers with money, prizes, and publicity dangled in front of them weren’t able to break into the majority of browsers they tried to attack. Every browser company has smart folks working on making software safe, but it’s painfully obvious that the people who want to show that software is insecure are just as smart.

I don’t look at the people who enter Pwn2Own as white knights–they are, after all, tampering with products to get a chance at monetary reward, and bad guys can and do learn from their attacks. But ultimately, the contest and similar stunts do the world a favor: It’s important that browser companies know about the holes in their products, and if it takes a contest to find some of them, that’s okay. (Pwn2Own’s organizers turn over information on the vulnerabilities that are discovered to the companies in question so they can fix them.)

And the results of day one of Pwn2Own are also a useful reminder to all of us who use browsers: There are less secure browsers and more secure browsers, but there’s no such thing as a fully secure browser. (Even houses with deadbolts on all the doors and pricey alarm systems get broken into.) Remember that when you hear browser companies brag about their safety measures.

Day two of Pwn2Own, incidentally, included a competition to bust into mobile-phone browsers: Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, Symbian, and Windows Mobile. They all survived, apparently–mostly because almost nobody even showed up to try and attack them. Betcha phone browsers come under a lot more scrutiny from Pwn2Own contestants in years to come…


IE 8 Web Slices: Great Idea! Mediocre Execution!

Internet Explorer 8 LogoNow that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8 has officially launched, I wanted to take a look at the final incarnation of what may be the browser’s most strikingly new feature: Web Slices, which let you add buttons to your Favorites bar that provide little snippets of Web content when you click them. Here, for instance, is one that lets you peek at your Hotmail inbox:

Internet Explorer 8 Web Slice

Back when I reviewed the RC1 version of IE 8, I said that Web Slices were an intriguing idea, but that they didn’t live up to their potential–in part because there weren’t enough of them, and those that did exist were poorly explained. The good news is that Slices have launched with a bunch of examples that weren’t there when IE 8 RC1 appeared. The bad news is that they still don’t come anywhere near living up to their considerable potential.

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Internet Explorer 8 Arriving on Thursday

Internet Explorer LogoWalt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal has published a lengthy review of Internet Explorer 8 that says the final version of Microsoft’s new browser will be available for downloading on Thursday at noon ET. Walt likes it quite a bit, except for the fact that he found it slow in some instances. (He did some speed tests which didn’t agree with the ones that Microsoft itself recently published.)

Back in January, I reviewed the RC1 version of IE 8 that’s still the current version of the new browser as of the time I write this, and found it to be..well, a significant improvement over IE 7 and a good browser overall, but one that still feels a tad cluttered, interface-wise. Unlike most of its rivals, it feels like a browser that’s been around for a decade and a half and built up some cruft. And its marquee features, Web Slices and Accelerators, still need to be widely embraced by developers to live up to their potential. Still, any user of any earlier version of IE who doesn’t want to jump ship to Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, or (whew!) Flock should move to IE 8 for its improved security, compatibility, and–at least compared to earlier versions of IE–speed.

Me, I’m basking in the riches of the most competitive browser race ever–it’s not uncommon for me to use Firefox, IE, Safari, and Chrome in the course of one day. (I’m taking a break from Flock, which was my default browser for quite awhile, but I could be back.) I don’t think any browser is a runaway winner at the moment, and every browser has something to recommend it. Like I said in my IE 8 RC1 review, that’s good news for consumers and a challenge for browser developers.

More thoughts on IE 8 once I get my hands on the final version.


Microsoft Research Envisions Leap in Browser Security with "Gazelle"

GazelleMicrosoft Research has re-imagined the Web browser to include its own operating system. In a technical report published on February 19, researchers argued that a radical change in browser architecture is necessary, because Web sites have evolved from static documents into dynamic Web applications that draw content from multiple sources.

Their proposed solution is a browser, code-named Gazelle, that is designed with a multi-principal operating system at its core. The researchers explained that Gazelle would be more secure than traditional Web browsers, because its OS would manage the protection of system resources and better isolate Windows from the Web.

“Our prototype implementation and evaluation experience indicates that it is realistic to turn an existing browser into a multi-principal OS that yields significantly stronger security and robustness with acceptable performance and backward compatibility,” the researchers wrote.

Gazelle blazes a path that no modern browser has followed, including Internet Explore 8 and Google Chrome, they added. However, it might not be entirely necessary to go back to the drawing board: Microsoft has managed to make the current incarnation of Internet Explorer safer over the years by taking measures sucvh as restricting what system resources the browser may access and limiting application privileges through User Account Control in Windows Vista. It is also attempting to create a new standard to isolate Web content for greater security.

Ultimately, the Gazelle project does not necessarily mean that Microsoft is coming up with a replacement for Internet Explorer; Microsoft research projects do not always become products. Nonetheless, some industry watchers, including Mary Jo Foley, believe that the company may give Gazelle greater exposure at its TechFest ‘09 research fair this week.

(Gazelle photo by Erik A. Drablos from Wikipedia.)

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