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Features locked, Firefox Mobile revs its engine

If there were three words to describe Mozilla’s biggest concerns with the mobile version of its browser, they would be: speed, speed, and speed. The company released today Firefox Mobile 4 beta 5 for Android 2.1 and higher and Maemo with no major new features or feature improvements, instead choosing to make this release about improving the browser’s performance.

Mozilla is claiming noticeable improvements in start-up speed, page load speed, and JavaScript rendering speed. The company also said in its Firefox 4 Mobile beta 5 release notes that it intends to continue to focus on “reducing memory and optimizing CPU usage.” To that end, it specifically calls out its key Sync feature as one area ripe for improvement.

Firefox 4 beta 5 on Android is actually slightly smaller than the fourth beta (see slideshow), clocking in at 13.5MB as compared with 13.7MB last time. The size of Firefox on your phone will continue to be large because it uses its own JavaScript and rendering engines, separate from the default browser. To help users on older Android-using hardware, the browser will now migrate its profile data to the SD card when the application itself is moved to the SD card on Android 2.2 or higher.

In brief hands-on use on a Dell Streak 5 running Android 2.2, the browser felt snappy. Using multiple add-ons didn’t feel like it slowed down the browser, either, perhaps a sign that add-on integration has matured in this beta. There’s not much else to this version of the browser, so please let us know what you think of Firefox for Android in the comments below.

Tiny Wings for iOS: Discover the joy of flight

It may not look like much, but Tiny Wings could be the best bird-based game since that one with the pigs. width="270" height="180"/>

It may not look like much, but Tiny Wings could be the best bird-based game since that one with the pigs.

Screenshot by Rick Broida)

I just figured out why the Angry Birds are so angry: it’s because they can’t fly! They have to be flung, and even then they get only a few seconds of airtime before suffering rapid-deceleration trauma. I’d be ticked off, too.

In Tiny Wings, there’s just one bird, and all he wants to do is fly. It’s your job to help him, to keep him flying fast, far, and just ahead of ever-encroaching nightfall. Once you get the hang of the flight mechanic, you’ll find yourself thoroughly, hopelessly addicted, always wanting to try “just one more time” to see if you can get a little farther.

Your adorably fat little bird slowly propels himself over the hills and valleys of the various islands that serve as the game’s levels. The only “control” is your finger, which you tap and hold when he’s sliding down a hill and release on the upturn. Time it right and our hero soars skyward.

If you tap and hold while he’s airborne, he instantly gets “heavy,” plummeting back toward the ground. The idea is to time it so he plummets right onto a downward slope, which in turn gives him more speed for the next jump–and sends him flying higher and farther.

This isn’t hard by any means, but it took me a few tries to get the knack of it. From there, the fun lies in seeing how many successive jumps (and “cloud touches”) you can pull off, and in nose-diving at just the right time to collect the occasional power-ups that litter the ground.

I love Tiny Wings’ soothing pastel colors (which, according to the developer, change from day to day) and New Agey background music. It’s the kind of game you’d want to play while lounging in the bathtub at the end of a hard day.

Is it perfect? Not quite. Although Tiny Wings does have objectives, it’s fairly repetitive. Each island is pretty much the same as the last (except for how it’s colored), and there’s no support for GameCenter (yet–it’s in the works).

That said, this is the best 99 cents I’ve spent in a while. If you’re sick of Angry Birds, tired of Cut the Rope, and done with Cover Orange (which I still think is woefully underrated), Tiny Wings might just be your next big addiction.

One last thing: I think the little birdie needs a name. For some reason I want to call him Floyd. Anyone have any better suggestions?

Originally posted at iPhone Atlas

Avast wants you playing in its sandbox

New security features designed to keep its more than 110 million users safe debut in Avast 6, released today exclusively from CNET Download.com. They also have the added benefit of raising the competitive bar in computer security by pushing more and better free options to users. Avast Free Antivirus 6, Avast Pro Antivirus 6, and Avast Internet Security 6 all feature the new AutoSandbox and the WebRep browser add-on. (Click the links to get to the download page.)

The debut of the AutoSandbox makes Avast the second antivirus to offer a sandboxing tool for free. Comodo introduced a sandboxing tool in January 2010. Avast’s sandbox probably works differently, as Comodo has a pending patent on its version. And certainly, one of the most frustrating things about sandboxing technology is that there are some indications that it doesn’t work perfectly.

All that being said, Avast’s version automatically places programs into a virtualized state when it suspects them of being threats. It walls off suspicious programs, preventing them from potentially damaging your system while allowing them to run. Avast’s sandbox allows the program to run, while keeping track of which files are opened, created, or renamed, and what it reads and writes from the Registry. Since permanent changes are virtualized, so when the process terminates itself, the system changes it made will evaporate.

The company hasn’t said whether the virtualized state begins after the program already has access to your system, so it’s theoretically possible that it could be compromised. There’s not a single security feature in any program that hasn’t been been compromised at some point, though, so “theoretically hackable” is true of all security features.

You can access the AutoSandbox settings from the new Additional Protection option on the left nav. It defaults to asking the user whether a program should be sandboxed, although you can set it to automatically decide. There’s a whitelist option for programs that you always want to exclude from the sandbox, and you can deactivate the feature entirely.

Avast 6 also marks the debut of the program joining (or succumbing to) the browser-security add-on. Security add-ons have a long-standing word-of-mouth reputation for decreasing browser performance, although Internet Explorer 9 Release Candidate’s impact meter pegs Avast’s plug-in at 0.07 seconds. Avast calls its add-on WebRep.

WebRep works with IE and Firefox out of the box, and plans for a Chrome version soon, according to company representatives. It supports a search result ranking and Web site reputation service that uses a combination of data from Avast’s virus labs and user voting to determine a safety score for a site. User voting is a crapshoot of a gamble for many security vendors, although Avast is known for its vast user base and their passionate support of the program, so the company’s plans to incentivize user voting could easily work in their favor.

It’s important to note that the add-on installs to both Firefox and IE as you install Avast 6. If you don’t want it, it’s surprisingly easier to remove from within Avast instead of within the browser. Currently, removing the add-on using the browser’s interface will cue Avast to re-install the add-on the next time the computer is rebooted.

Many of Avast’s small changes are worth noting as well. The Troubleshooting section now comes with a “restore factory settings” option, which makes it easier to wipe settings back to a familiar starting point, and comes with the option to restore only the Shields settings. There’s a new sidebar gadget for Windows 7 and Vista, and you now can set automatic actions for the boot-time scan. Two features that have trickled down to the free version are the Script Shield and site blocking. The Script Shield now works with Internet Explorer 8 and 9’s protected mode. Meanwhile, the paid versions have gained some new features, such as SafeZone, a virtualization feature for secure online banking. Avast has said that the installer has shrunk for all three versions by about 20 percent.

Avast 6 has done much to quash bugs since its release about a month ago. For a look at where it was, you can check out my hands-on take on Avast 6 here.

The heightened competition between Internet security vendors is that both free and paid-only suites are continually struggling to provide the next big thing. Avast 6 looks at both improving its feature set and leveraging its massive anonymously contributed user data base to enhance security, both of which are sensible steps towards stronger home computer security.