Chrome still shines, 10 versions later

Posted by Harshad

Chrome still shines, 10 versions later

Chrome still shines, 10 versions later

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 05:13 PM PDT

Google Chrome (download version 10 for Windows | Mac | Linux) took the browsing world by storm in 2008, pushing its fast page-load speeds and minimalist interface. Two and a half years later, the browser has grabbed 10 percent of the browsing market share by doing more than just getting faster and keeping the stripped-down look. Chrome 10 also rolls in competitive support for future-Web technologies like HTML5 and hardware acceleration, personal data synchronization, extensions and themes, and a bucketload of other useful improvements like Cloud Printing and frequent automatic updates.

Whether you're new to Chrome or just want to make sure you didn't miss anything, check out CNET's First Look video to see what makes Chrome such a strong candidate for your default browser.

New, updated apps optimized for iPad 2

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 03:15 PM PDT

Got an iPad 2? Then get these apps. Each one takes advantage of at least one of the tablet's new features: faster processor, built-in gyroscope, dual cameras, etc.

And while you're at it, be sure to check out 10 must-have apps for iPad 2 owners. They're not necessarily iPad 2-optimized, but they're awesome just the same.

Originally posted at iPad Atlas

WhisperCore app encrypts all data on Android

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 12:03 PM PDT

Moxie Marlinspike, co-founder and chief technology officer at Whisper Systems, demonstrates the new WhisperCore app on an Android phone.

Moxie Marlinspike, co-founder and chief technology officer at Whisper Systems, demonstrates the new WhisperCore app on an Android phone.

(Credit: Stuart Anderson)

Whisper Systems today began offering hard disk encryption for Android--an app called WhisperCore that is free for individuals to use.

The app includes full disk encryption for all data stored on the device and allows for SD (Secure Digital) card encryption as well, said Moxie Marlinspike, co-founder and chief technology officer of Whisper Systems.

The beta release is limited to the Nexus S, but will be expanded to other devices soon, he told CNET. Meanwhile, pricing for commercial use is based on the size of the deployment.

Once the app is installed on the phone, the user sets a passphrase, which is used to generate a key that encrypts all the data on the disk.

"If the device is lost or stolen, the data is totally opaque and inaccessible," Marlinspike said, adding that his goal was to develop a system "that will transform these consumer devices into enterprise-class secure devices."

Some mobile security services offer remote wipe for lost or stolen devices, but typically the files remain on the device and can be recovered with special tools even though they have been erased. With disk encryption the files cannot be accessed without the passphrase.

"WhisperCore uses AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) with 256-bit keys in XTS mode, the same disk encryption protocol that's proven itself in the PC space with tools like TrueCrypt or LUKS (Linux Unified Key Setup)," Marlinspike said.

Marlinspike could have benefited from WhisperCore when his smartphones were seized four months ago by Customs agents as he returned to the U.S. on an international flight. However, his text messages were encrypted at the time with an early version of TextSure, another app from Whisper Systems.

"Certainly I am personally motivated to feel like I have a secure device and I'm interested in writing software that allows me and others to feel safe," he said. Also, "[for] democracy activists around the world, if their devices are seized then the data is encrypted."

Whisper Systems also offers RedPhone, which provides end-to-end encryption for phone calls.

Marlinspike said he believed WhisperCore is the first publicly available hard disk encryption app for Android. Sophos has said it expects to begin selling software that includes disk encryption for smartphones later this year. And RIM offers it for BlackBerry devices.

Originally posted at InSecurity Complex

Google excises Gears from Chrome

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 11:29 AM PDT

Today's Chrome logo

Today's Chrome logo

Standards groups are unwieldy and slow-moving. But when it comes to expanding what browsers can do, they turned out to be a faster way for Google to bring a handful of features to the Web than its Gears plug-in.

So it comes as no surprise that Google, after letting the Gears project spin down over the last year and a half, is removing the software altogether from its Chrome browser.

"It's finally time to say goodbye to Gears," said Gears team member Aaron Boodman in a blog post. "There will be no new Gears releases, and newer browsers such as Firefox 4 and Internet Explorer 9 will not be supported. We will also be removing Gears from Chrome in Chrome 12."

Google launched Gears with much fanfare as an open-source project in 2007. The headline feature was the ability to get Web applications to work offline--in other words, when the network connection was down--and the star examples were Google Docs and Gmail.

But only a few other Web developers, such as Zoho, WordPress, and iStockphoto, dabbled with Gears, and Google decided instead to focus on bringing Gears features to Web browsers through standards rather than its own plug-in.

One thing is very different about the browser landscape now compared to 2007: Google has a browser. When Gears was introduced, a plug-in for others' browsers was about the best Google could do to advance the Web programming state of the art. Now, with Chrome, it's got its own vehicle to bring new Web features to market. Chrome accounts for about 10 percent of browser usage worldwide today, making it a much more effective vehicle for advancing the Web than Gears ever was--in particular because browser rivals also are adding many features found in Gears.

When it comes to offline support, the key idea is a mechanism to let the browser store data. Several of these are available or nearly so, including HTML5's Application Cache. Another important one that's catching on is IndexedDB. Mozilla and Microsoft, the top two browser makers, endorsed IndexedDB, and the technology prevailed over a rival called Web SQL Database.

Technologies such as these will likely be the way Google restores offline access to Google Docs, a feature it promised would arrive "early in 2011."

The writing has been on the wall for Gears since Google announced its preference for HTML5 standards over Gears in December 2009. But its influence lives on in more ways than just offline data storage.

Boodman pointed to a handful of features demonstrated with Gears that have made their way into Web standards:

• Web Workers, which lets a browser run multiple JavaScript tasks at once, including background tasks, letting developers keep a Web application user interface responsive and taking advantage of multicore processors.

• The File interface, which adds better file-handling features to browsers, for example letting people upload a video in separate pieces called blobs so a 500-megabyte file transfer won't be derailed by a flaky network.

• Geolocation lets the browser--once given a user's permission--tell a Web application the physical location of that user. That can help locate the person on a map, for example.

• Notifications let Web applications produce the sorts of pop-ups so widely used by e-mail, instant messaging, and other communication software.

These standards are in varying stages of implementation in Web browsers right now, but all of them look to have solid support among browser makers. In the end, Gears was probably more of a success than a failure.

Originally posted at Deep Tech

Google releases WebM video plug-in for IE9

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 06:14 AM PDT

Google offers an IE9 plug-in to watch WebM-formatted video.

Google offers an IE9 plug-in to watch WebM-formatted video.

(Credit: screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET)

In an effort to bring its Web video technology to a browser that doesn't support it, Google has released an IE9 plug-in to play WebM video.

The move won't bring an end to the industry scuffle over the best way to build video into the Web, but it will mean that allies behind Google's preferred mechanism will be able to reach beyond the three browsers that support WebM today, Google's Chrome, Opera Software's Opera, and Mozilla's Firefox. Apple's Safari and Microsoft's brand-new IE9 support the rival H.264 video codec (though IE9 requires Windows 7 or an updated version of Windows Vista).

"They said elephants couldn't ride flying dolphins. They said that one of the world's most popular browsers couldn't play WebM video in HTML5. They were wrong," Google said on the download page for the plug-in, which at this stage is just a technology preview. The unofficial Google Operating System blog spotted the new software yesterday.

The new HTML5 standard under development includes an ability to embed video directly into Web pages, meaning that in theory they can be shown as easily as JPEG graphics. But because of industry disagreements and licensing, the standard doesn't specify which codec should be used to encode and decode the video. Google, along with allies Mozilla and Opera, prefer Google's WebM video, which uses the VP8 video codec and Vorbis audio codec.

Microsoft has indicated it's not opposed to including WebM support--indeed, its engineers cooperated with Google on making the plug-in--but that it won't because of intellectual property concerns. MPEG LA, the group that licenses a pool of patents used by H.264, is doing preliminary work that could lead to a patent pool for VP8 as well. That would be a major disappointment for Google, which wants to lower barriers to use of digital video on the Web by offering WebM royalty-free.

Also to advance WebM, Google yesterday released a version of VP8 that can be build into hardware for accelerated, power-efficient use of the video technology.

Google acquired the VP8 codec through its $123 million acquisition of On2 Technologies last year.

Google of course operates one of the biggest Web video sites, a huge asset in its effort to make WebM relevant. The company has begun coding 720p or higher-resolution videos in WebM, and offers instructions on watching WebM-format videos on YouTube.

Originally posted at Deep Tech

Critical Flash flaw won't be fixed until next week

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 06:07 AM PDT

Adobe Systems has discovered a "critical vulnerability" in its Flash Player that might cause all kinds of trouble for users.

The company said yesterday that the flaw could cause a user's computer or mobile device to crash--and, more concerning, that the vulnerability could "potentially allow an attacker to take control of the affected system." So far, the company has discovered that the vulnerability is being exploited in Flash files, as well as through Microsoft Excel. Adobe said that the issue hasn't affected Reader or Acrobat.

The flaw affects Adobe Flash Player and earlier versions of the platform running on every major operating system, including Windows, Macintosh, Linux, and Solaris. It's also an issue on Android devices running Flash 10.1 and earlier.

That last point is destined to spark some controversy.

Unlike Android, Apple's iOS mobile operating system has never supported Flash. Instead, iOS supports HTML5, a standard that Apple believes will eventually overtake Flash. But it goes beyond just getting behind an alternative to Flash. Apple's big issue with Adobe's offering stems from the potential security headaches.

Writing last year in an open letter on his company's Web site, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that "Flash is the No. 1 reason Macs crash." He also cited a report from security firm Symantec, saying that it "highlighted Flash for having one of the worst security records in 2009."

"We don't want to reduce the reliability and security of our iPhones, iPods, and iPads by adding Flash," Jobs wrote.

Adobe plans to release a fix for the vulnerability sometime next week. Until then, the company warned users to "follow security best practices by keeping their anti-malware software and definitions up to date."

Originally posted at The Digital Home

Skype introduces Qik Video Connect for iPhone

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 06:00 AM PDT

Qik for iPhone (Credit: Qik)

One-time Skype competitor Qik has released its latest app for video communications: Qik Video Connect for iPhone. The new program expands on Qik's work with video calling and broadcast.

The app offers two-way video calls, and lets you record video mail. Qik's live broadcasting skill is present in the feature that lets you post a live link to Facebook and Twitter if you'd like, so friends can watch in real time.

Taking the video theme one step further, Qik Video Connect can create a newsfeed so you can watch friends' videos from the iPhone. It works over 3G, 4G speeds, and Wi-Fi, although the latter may offer the most reliable support.

The app comes in two pricing tiers. The "plus" version for $2.99 adds seven real-time effects and filters, similar to the Qik Video Camera Pro app that's already been available in the App Store. It also includes video editing tools and support for high-def video quality. The plus version of the app is available for the iPhone and fourth-generation iPod Touch with iOS 4.0 or later. A Qik spokesperson told CNET this morning that the free version is awaiting Apple's approval.

Although Qik is now part of the Skype family of consumer products, it's interesting that Skype is letting Qik build its original name without rolling it into the Skype brand--at least for now.

Article updated 3/15/2010 at 8:22AM PT with the latest availability details.

Originally posted at iPhone Atlas

Google releases Anthill to bake VP8 into hardware

Posted: 15 Mar 2011 04:54 AM PDT

Using Anthill, also called H1, a chip can encode or decode VP8 video vastly more efficiently.

Using Anthill, also called H1, a chip can encode or decode VP8 video vastly more efficiently than software can.

(Credit: Google)

Addressing a major weakness its plan to build its WebM video technology into the Web, Google yesterday released a version of its VP8 video encoder and decoder designed to be baked into hardware.

The hardware implementation of VP8 is called H1 and now Anthill, said Aki Kuusela, engineering manager of the WebM Project, in a blog post. It comes in the form of RTL, or Register Transfer Language, a very low-level description close to how processors actually perform their instructions, and it's available royalty free.

"The H1 hardware encoder can produce good quality with very low power consumption using almost no clock cycles from the CPU," Kuusela said. "The H1 encoder offloads the entire VP8 video encoding process from the host CPU to a separate accelerator block on the [processor]. It significantly reduces power consumption and enables encoding of 1080p resolution video at full 30 frames per second, or 720p at 60 FPS. Without a hardware accelerator like the H1, modern multi-core mobile devices can only encode video at around VGA 25 FPS, and are not able to do much else while doing that."

WebM logo

VP8 competes chiefly with a codec called H.264, also known as AVC and or MPEG-4 Part 10. It's widely supported in everything from videocameras to personal computer operating systems, but it's encumbered by patent licensing requirements. With VP8 and WebM, Google hopes to lower the barriers for digital video, especially on the Web.

Royalty-free VP8 is be cheaper to use than H.264, but VP8 may not offer a royalty-free ride forever, though. That's because MPEG LA, the group that licenses the pool of H.264 patents, is seeking patents that patent owners believe VP8 requires. That's a necessary step in preparing for a VP8 patent pool, an idea Google doesn't like one bit.

One big advantage H.264 has is hardware support that makes encoding and decoding faster and less of a drain on mobile devices' precious battery power. Thus, Google is trying to encourage hardware support, and it's made some successes with Texas Instruments and Rockchip.

As is common for hardware codecs, Anthill doesn't match the quality of Bali, the latest software version of the open-source VP8 codec, Kuusela said.

"In the next release, we are planning to narrow the quality gap between the libvpx 'Best' mode and the hardware implementation, while cutting down the required power even further. The next release is planned to be out in early Q2," he said, perhaps a sign that Google hopes to keep the hardware codecs on the same rapid quarterly release track as the software codec.

Google faces many challenges in spreading VP8 far and wide, but it's won over the makers of the Firefox and Opera browsers. And today, Opera announced it's begun supporting a related technology for still image compression called WebP.

Originally posted at Deep Tech


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