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Browser start-up speeds up in Firefox 4 beta 9

As Mozilla finally nears completion of the next generation of its popular open-source browser, the beta version of Firefox 4 begins to solidify into its final form. In the latest Firefox 4 beta, the browser focuses on faster start-up times brought by making improvements elsewhere in the code.

Firefox 4 beta 9 (top) moves the tab bar to the same level as the menu button. In Firefox 4 beta 8 (bottom), it was on a separate row.

Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, Firefox 4 beta 9 debuts new under-the-hood code for bookmarking and history. You won’t see any interface changes to those features, although they do load faster now. As a consequence of those snappier load times, the browser itself will start faster, the company said in a blog post. When comparing the averages of three “cold boot” runs, each of which started from the computer turned off and ended with fully loading 11 JavaScript-intensive pages, between Firefox 4 beta 9 and the previous beta 8, Firefox 4 beta 9 came in nearly 10 seconds faster. Firefox 4 beta 8 averaged 41.04 seconds until all the pages had loaded, while Firefox 4 beta 9 averaged 32.48 seconds.

Another change in Firefox 4 beta 9 brings code improvements to how complex animations are rendered, and they are expected to be much smoother as a result. The changes create more than one heap
for garbage data in Firefox, which will prevent multiple JavaScript objects from multiple tabs from slowing the browser down. Another consequence of the change is that JavaScript elements in memory will be shielded from each other, so if one crashes, it’s less likely to take others down with it.

A new database standard has also debuted in the latest Firefox beta. Called IndexedDB, the technology replaces Web SQL and has been extensively used for managing user data in offline situations.

A final and minor change to Firefox 4 beta 9 brings the tab bar up a few pixels, so it now sits on the same row as the Firefox menu button. The top of the browser now looks extremely similar to Opera 11 and Internet Explorer 9 beta. The full and technical change log for Firefox 4 beta 9 is available here.

Motocross racing and news the old-fashioned way: iPhone apps of the week
(Credit: CNET)

Just after the big news of the iPhone coming to Verizon, Apple released a beta to developers for iOS 4.3 and it looks like it will add some big changes from previous versions–especially on the iPad.

New multitouch gestures will make it possible to close apps or just switch to another open app without having to press the Home button. You’ll also now have the option to make the iPad switch on the side of the device either a mute or lock rotation switch–apparently, many iPad users complained of the previous version change to turn it into a mute button like the iPhone.

If you want to see some of the new enhancements in action, check out our First Look at iOS 4.3 video with Brian Tong.

This week’s apps include a newsreader that lets you view actual newspapers and a motocross game that’s both fun and extremely challenging.

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Browse through the news just like you would with your favorite newspaper.

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

PressReader (free) has been out for quite some time, but a recent update that enhances this universal app reminded me that it might be something readers would want to check out. With this news reader you can read international news in its original form with all the included images, sections, and layouts you enjoy from your favorite newspapers. The app itself is free, but you’ll only get a limited number of issues of your favorite newspaper before you’ll need to start paying. You have the choice to pay 99 cents each for new issue, or you can pay for a subscription through the PressDisplay.com Web site.

While it’s true you can find just about any news story online these days, it’s nice to have a simulated printed version that you can casually flip through on your touch screen. Touching a headline will open a window to read in a more Web-friendly format, but you also can view the original pages and browse through sections just as you would a regular newspaper.

As of this writing, PressReader features over 1,700 digital newspapers from 92 countries, so most users should be able to find the publications they want. You also have the ability to share stories via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, or you can print out pages of a digital newspaper for a physical copy.

Overall, PressReader is a neat concept for those who like flipping through the pages of a traditional newspaper and is especially handy for reading your local paper when away from home. As a free app, you’ll get six free issues of a particular publication to see if you prefer getting your news in “digital newspaper” format before having to pay for new issues or a subscription.

Mad Skills Motocross width="320" height="213"/>

I tried to do a backflip for this screenshot (yellow bike), but it did not end well.

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Mad Skills Motocross ($1.99) is a fun and addictive game that started on desktop computers, but–now that I’ve played it on the iPhone–seems much more suited to the iOS. Sort of in the vein of arcade classic Excitebike, Mad Skills Motocross is a side-scrolling racer where you’ll race against a single opponent on several challenging tracks. The default controls give you buttons for throttle and brakes on the lower left and buttons for tilt control on the right. You can switch tilt controls to the accelerometer in the settings, but both variations proved to work well for me after a bit of practice.

You will need practice, by the way, because Mad Skills Motocross has excellent physics requiring you to be precise with your jumps and landings in order to keep your speed up and be successful. Easier levels at the beginning will familiarize you with the controls, but before long, the tracks (and AI) become much more difficult and you’ll find yourself repeating tracks numerous times to get a win.

You start your career in Division 4, and you’ll need to beat your opponent in all the tracks in the division to unlock Division 3 and so on. You’ll also be given added bonus controls for certain levels such as the Jumparoo (a button that makes you bunny hop into the air) and the Nitro (a button that gives you a boost of speed once per race). Each of the bonus controls is available to your AI opponent as well, and sometimes the best way to figure out when to use your special skill is to watch when the AI uses it.

After some time with the game, through trial and error and several race restarts, I’ve made it to Division 2–and it was not easy. My point is, this is not an easy game to master, but if you’re like me, you’ll spend plenty of time trying to stick the perfect jump that will keep you ahead of your AI opponent so you can move on.

Overall, Mad Skills Motocross has just the right ingredients to make it an excellent arcade racer. With nice-looking graphics, great physics-based gameplay, and tons of tracks to master, Mad Skills Motocross is a must-have iPhone game for any racing game fan. As an added bonus, MSM is a Universal app so you can play it on your iPad as well.

What’s your favorite iPhone app? Do you like reading the news in newspaper format on your iOS device? Do you find Mad Skills Motocross to be just as frustrating and rewarding as I do? Let me know in the comments!

Apple gifting $10,000 for its 10 billionth App Store download

Less than 3 years after its celebrated opening, despite pointed punditry and challenging growing pains, Apple’s App Store is about to claim 10 billion App downloads. To celebrate, as they did when iTunes reached 10 billion downloads, Apple is giving away a $10,000 iTunes gift card to the person that purchases the 10 billionth download.

“As of today, nearly 10 billion apps have been downloaded from the App Store worldwide. Which is almost as amazing as the apps themselves. So we want to say thanks. Download the 10 billionth app, and you could win a $10,000 iTunes Gift Card. Just visit the App Store, and download what could be your best app yet.”

Historians will note that the iTunes Store took about 8 years to achieve the 10 billion downloads milestone. Considering the plethora of iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch) it is easy to see how the App Store has achieved such great success in such a small amount of time.

As I write this article, the App Store is getting about 1,000 downloads every couple seconds, according to Apple’s counter (currently running at about 9.77 billion). If you’re a mathematical genius, you might be able to calculate when you should start scooping up every free App in the App Store.

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Looking back on your contribution to 10 billion Apps in 3 years, what’s your favorite iOS App? Let me know in the comments and good luck!

Originally posted at iPad Atlas

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