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Google Chrome gets new developer hierarchy

Google Chrome logo
(Credit: Google)

In its first two years, Chrome development took a more collaborative approach than most Google projects, but now its leaders have decided on more sharply defined leadership roles to better manage the browser’s growth.

Instead of notifying a “watchlist” of programmers who are affected by a particular change to the code, a programmer on an “owners” list must now approve the change, high-ranking Chrome engineer Ben Goodger announced yesterday on the developers’ mailing list for the open-source Chromium project that underlies Chrome. Goodger wrote:

Much of Chromium’s practices are modeled on Google’s own internal engineering practices. OWNERS files were one area where we explicitly diverged. Why? In the past I had been concerned about the social effects of OWNERS files–I had been concerned about territoriality which can sometimes creep in any collaborative project. We had encouraged the development of “alternative” means of change notification, and so we have WATCHLISTS. WATCHLISTS proved insufficient for many of us, however. Darin [Fisher, another high-ranking Chrome leader] and I discussed the issue, and talking with other senior engineers decided that OWNERS files seemed like a more comprehensive answer.

The basic problem, he said, is quality control. “Owners files provide a means for people to find engineers experienced in developing specific areas for code reviews. They are designed to help ensure changes don’t fall through the cracks and get appropriate scrutiny,” he said.

Chrome has open-source foundations, including contributions from programmers outside Google. But as with Linux, Android, MySQL, and many other open-source projects, the approach doesn’t mean it’s a hobby run by volunteers. The move to the owners system, though, reflects another step toward professional management of the software.

Goodger laid out his case this way:

In the more than two years since the Chromium project started, the number of people contributing has grown immensely. With this expansion has come many challenges, the most important of which is ensuring the continuity of our product and development principles. As our project has grown in size and scope, the code-base has begun to show signs of fatigue…

I speak for a number of leads on the team when I say that we’ve had a hard time keeping up with the pace of change. As we expand the scope of Chrome in many different directions, it’s critical that we consider even more carefully the design of the core code. As we do this it is important to rely on the most experienced engineers in each area.

He laid out the full details of the new code governance in a document describing Chromium’s new owners system. Among its strictures:

Only the people who are actively investing energy in the improvement of a directory should be listed as OWNERS. OWNERS are expected to have demonstrated excellent judgment, teamwork and ability to uphold Chrome development principles. They must understand the development process. Additionally, for someone to be listed as an OWNER of a directory they must be approved by the other OWNERS of the affected directory.

Originally posted at Deep Tech

Apple releases iOS 4.3 beta

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Brian Tong/CNET)

Apple has released to developers a beta of iOS 4.3, the newest operating system update for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. iOS 4.3 will include several feature upgrades including the addition of personal Wi-Fi hot spots, new multitouch gestures for iPad, and customizable messaging alerts.

Also included in the first beta of iOS 4.3 is the return of orientation locking by using the hardware switch on the side of your iPad. Users will be able to toggle the usage of that switch from its current function, muting, to the new orientation lock.

The App Store app has received a user interface makeover for downloading updates, and AirPlay functionality has been extended to third-party apps using new Media Player APIs. Web content can also be updated to support AirPlay when viewed on iOS devices.

Several screenshots have surfaced of the new functionality featured in the first beta of iOS 4.3. Users now have the option of playing text and MMS message alerts once, twice, three, five, or 10 times, giving users greater control over how they are informed.

Developers can also take advantage of the new AVFoundation APIs for HTTP Live Streaming Statistics, allowing them to track important information about their content, including how many people are watching their online videos, how long they are watching them, and how well the ads on those videos are performing.

Apple has also enabled full-screen banners for iAds on iPads. According to Apple’s developer site, “This new banner format is easy to implement. And Apple sells and serves the ads to your app while you collect 60 percent of the advertising revenue generated.”

The second-generation iPod Touch and the iPhone 3G have been excluded from the hardware list of iOS 4.3-compatible devices.

As more information comes in from developers testing iOS 4.3 beta, we should get a clearer picture of the direction that Apple is taking its mobile operating system.

What’s on your iOS 4.3 wish list? Let me know in the comments!

Originally posted at iPad Atlas

Google pays first top-end bounty for Chrome vulnerability
Google Chrome logo
(Credit: Google)

If there’s a competition to uncover security holes in Google’s browser, Sergey Glazunov is winning it.

Yesterday Google awarded him $3,133.70 (“eleet”) for finding a critical vulnerability that Google patched with a new release of Chrome yesterday.

It’s the first time Google paid out this top bounty, but not the first time it’s paid Glazunov. He’s also been paid $1,337 four times for the “leet” level of vulnerabilities, eleven times for the $1,000-level, and once at the $500 level.

The critical vulnerability relates to a “stale pointer in speech handling,” Google said, but hasn’t published further details. Critical vulnerabilities let an attacker run arbitrary software on a person’s computer just by visiting a Web site.

Google issues Chrome updates automatically, so restarting the browser installs the new version.

Originally posted at Deep Tech

Adobe tackling ‘Flash cookie’ privacy issue

Adobe Systems is offering assurances that it’s adapting Flash Player to make it easier for people to protect their identities online.

Since time immemorial, browsers have been able to store small text files called cookies that Web sites have been able to use to track people’s identity online–for example when Amazon wants to present product suggestions.

That’s always raised hackles among those who’d rather not register their identities with any number of servers on the Internet, so for years people have been able to manage cookies, including rejecting them in the first place or deleting them at will.

The cookie, though, was only the beginning of a much larger trend toward storing data on a browser’s computer. Nowadays, we have or soon will get standards for Application Cache, Local Storage, Indexed DB–and Adobe Systems’ Flash Player.

Individually, these technologies are useful for various Web chores including identity tracking. Collectively, they make it possible for Web site operators to track identity in a more sophisticated fashion: unless people delete all forms of locally stored data, a Web server could reconstitute a regular cookie with, say, data stored using Flash or the other mechanisms. This idea is known as the “supercookie” for its relative tenaciousness and sometimes a “Flash cookie” for the involvement of Flash.

Browser makers are expanding their data-wiping abilities beyond just regular cookies, and at least in some browsers, some new storage technologies ask users’ permission before storing data. Now Adobe’s Emmy Huang published a blog pointing to progress in getting browsers to be able to control information stored by Flash through a new aspect of the browser plug-in application programming interface (API).

“Representatives from several key companies, including Adobe, Mozilla and Google have been working together to define a new browser API (NPAPI ClearSiteData) for clearing local data, which was approved for implementation on January 5, 2011,” Huang said. “Any browser that implements the API will be able to clear local storage for any plug-in that also implements the API,” Huang said.

Huang also pointed to support added to Flash Player 10.1 for private-browsing features of Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, and Chrome. With that support, Flash Player deletes locally stored information when a private-browsing session ends.

More changes are coming, she added:

We know the Flash Player Settings Manager could be easier to use, and we’re working on a redesign coming in a future release of Flash Player, which will bring together feedback from our users and external privacy advocates. Focused on usability, this redesign will make it simpler for users to understand and manage their Flash Player settings and privacy preferences. In addition, we’ll enable you to access the Flash Player Settings Manager directly from your computer’s Control Panels or System Preferences on Windows, Mac and Linux, so that they’re even easier to locate and use. We expect users will see these enhancements in the first half of the year and we look forward to getting feedback as we continue to improve the Flash Player Settings Manager.

Originally posted at Deep Tech

Microsoft mocks Google’s Web video decision

The parody likens Google’s WebM video codec to the failed Esperanto language.

(Credit: Tim Sneath)

A Microsoft evangelist has mocked Google’s decision to remove H.264 video support from Chrome, implying that Google is trying to impose an edict on an industry that’s already made up its mind to the contrary.

In a blog post, Tim Sneath, who runs Windows and Web evangelism for Microsoft, likens Google’s WebM video codec to the utopian but unsuccessful Esperanto language. The blog post rewrites Google’s original announcement that the company is removing support for the widely used H.264 codec to advance its own WebM.

Both technologies can be used with the nascent HTML5 standard to embed video directly into Web pages without using a plug-in such as Adobe Systems’ Flash Player. But Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 beta and Apple’s Safari support H.264, while Opera and Mozilla’s Firefox support WebM and the earlier, largely unsuccessful Ogg Theora technology for encoding and decoding video. Sneath wrote:

The Esperanto language was invented last century as a politically neutral language that would foster peace and international understanding…We are supporting the Esperanto and Klingon languages, and will consider adding support for other high-quality constructed languages in the future. Though English plays an important role in speech today, as our goal is to enable open innovation, its further use as a form of communication in this country will be prohibited and our resources directed towards languages that are untainted by real-world usage.

Sneath hyperlinks “Esperanto” references to the WebM Project, “Klingon” to Theora, and “English” to the Wikipedia entry for H.264. (He doesn’t attempt to draw any parallels between the difficulties of learning English and the expense of licensing H.264 patents.)

The post is titled “An Open Letter from the President of the United States of Google.” And in a tweet, Sneath referred to Google’s decision as “despotism.”

Clearly, the post is snarky and jocular. But it still can be included as an example of the backlash against Google’s H.264 move.

Microsoft is among the patent holders that receives payments when the MPEG LA licenses the H.264 pool of patents, but Microsoft said it pays more to the licensing group for including H.264 support in Windows 7 than it receives in royalty payments from the group.

Originally posted at Deep Tech

Firefox beta getting new database standard
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The ninth beta version of Firefox, due imminently, is set to get support for a standard called IndexedDB that provides a database interface useful for offline data storage and other tasks needing information on a browser’s computer.

IndexedDB allows Web apps to store large amounts of data on your local system (with your explicit permission, of course) for fast offline retrieval at a later time. We’re hoping that Web mail, TV listings, and online purchase history will one day be as convenient to access offline as they are online,” Ben Turner, who develops IndexedDB for Mozilla’s browser, said yesterday in a blog post.

Firefox 4 beta 9 has been built, is being tested, and should become available soon. After that Mozilla presently plans to ship a 10th beta, release candidates, and a final Firefox 4 version in February.

One of the primary uses of IndexedDB is offline access to data used by Web applications. Google has offered such access to Gmail and Google Docs, for example, using a now-discontinued technology called Gears; it’s likely the promised re-emergence of that technology in early 2011 will use IndexedDB.

Mozilla and Microsoft backed IndexedDB, which originated with an Oracle engineer, after raising concerns about a rival technology called Web SQL. Although Web SQL is built into Apple’s Safari, Google’s Chrome, and Opera (and Gears used the same approach), the
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) dropped Web SQL standardization work. Even though the SQL technology for database interaction is well known among many programmers, Web SQL standardization was hampered by the fact that its implementation was tied to a specific program, SQLite, not to a standard interface.

Google is building IndexedDB support into Chrome, and Microsoft looks likely to follow suit once the standard settles down. Currently Microsoft offers an experimental IE extension for developers.

Originally posted at Deep Tech

Android gets Google Translate update
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Android users who have found themselves fighting the language barrier have probably heard of Google Translate, a free translation app for Android. Although it’s not the most feature-packed translator for Android, it offers a simple way to translate basic words and phrases among dozens of languages. It also includes spoken translations and romanization of non-Roman scripts. Although sentences may come out kind of wonky depending on the structure, it definitely works in a pinch.

Today, Google announced an update for its Translate app, with a focus on tweaks that aim to make the interface easier to navigate and the program more user-friendly. Among the changes: a more responsive input box, improved drop-down boxes for selecting languages to translate between, and a cleaner layout.

Google Translate is also introducing an experimental feature called Conversation Mode. The idea with this mode is to allow you to communicate fluidly with someone nearby who is speaking another language. With the press a button, the app will record your piece of the conversation; it will then translate your speech and read it aloud to the other person. At launch, Conversation Mode is only available between English and Spanish, and while it is in alpha, factors like background noise and regional dialects are expected to interfere somewhat with the functionality.

Originally posted at Android Atlas

Mix it up with Virtual DJ

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Virtual DJ)

Digital disc spinning has skyrocketed in popularity over the past five years and it’s no wonder why. Compared with a full vinyl setup with all the hardware and physical media that requires, an MP3-based mixing station is extremely simple and cheap. There’s even free software to get you started, and one of the most popular programs available is Virtual DJ.

Read the full Virtual DJ review.

Who has better coverage in your area, AT&T or Verizon? This app shows you

Residents of Bay City, MI, might be better off with AT&T than Verizon, at least when it comes to 3G coverage. width="270" height="405"/>

Residents of Bay City, Mich., might be better off with AT&T than Verizon, at least when it comes to 3G coverage.

Screenshot by Rick Broida)

Want to know how Verizon’s network coverage compares with AT&T’s for a particular location? Wondering if Sprint or T-Mobile might be better than either one? Maybe you just need to find out which direction to drive to get a decent signal for your broadband modem. Whatever your need, there’s an app for you: Coverage?

That question-mark isn’t a mistake; Coverage? is the app’s official name, and its choice of punctuation reflects its capability to provide an answer.

All you do is run the app, let it hone in on your location, then tap one or more carriers to see coverage data overlaid on the map. You can, of course, scroll and zoom the map to see coverage for any areas, not just the one you’re in.

Because different carriers offer different levels of coverage for different types of service, Coverage? lets you choose which data to display: 3G, 2G, or Roaming. That can come in very handy if, say, you’re headed out of a town and want to know what to expect, service-wise, at your destination.

The app is a bit different from the Root Metrics tool that shows cell-phone carrier coverage in your area. That one’s based on user-collected data; Coverage? relies on “proprietary interpretations” of the coverage reported by each carrier.

If you’re a frequent traveler, a “bandwidth junkie” who routinely juggles devices on multiple networks, or are just curious about which carrier works best for a particular area, Coverage? should prove mighty handy. It sells for $1.99.

Originally posted at iPhone Atlas

‘Google Places’ Yelp rival comes to iPhone
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There’s a nice variety of criteria for rating a business.

Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

Google’s Google Places pushes further on Yelp today as it joins iPhone. Like Yelp, the free app, originally released for Android, lets you look up and rate local business. Since it’s Google, the Places app ups the ante with another feature, recommendations supplied by Google’s Hotpot recommendations engine.

To start using Places, log into your Google account and begin either searching for local businesses or browsing by category for nearby listings. Categories include the usuals–coffee, restaurants, gas stations, post offices, hotels, and so on. In addition, you can effortlessly add your own search categories even if they’re not specially recommended.

The Google Places app slurps content from Google Place Pages, a Web project to automatically aggregate information about businesses, including user ratings, into a single Google-hosted Web page. Much of the information already lives on the Web (although businesses can also participate), but Google’s involvement clearly looms over Yellow Pages and all other listings and rating sites’ territory, particularly because it also links to the company’s ubiquitous maps.

When you click up a listing, you’ll have options to read reviews, locate it on a map, call or find directions, and review the location. You can also review a business from the Places home screen if the GPS correctly identifies your location (this won’t always be the case). Your reviews join everyone else’s in contributing to the overall score you see on any Place page.

Google’s socializing gambit is google.com/hotpot, a related site for adding Google-using friends. The Hotpot recommendation engine being used in the Places apps then takes your buddies’ reviews into account when recommending good places for you to try.

The app was convenient and easy to use overall, but we did wish it were easier to browse by category for places in a different location, not necessarily where you are. We’d also expect Google to start taking advantage of this crowdsourcing app by offering some sort of daily deal a la Groupon, or other discounts. Places is straightforward, without some of Yelp’s more advanced features, like the augmented reality feature, Monacle.

For now, Google Places for iPhone is available in English, with other languages expected soon.

Originally posted at iPhone Atlas