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Report: Internet Explorer 9 to add ActiveX filtering

IE9 logo

The upcoming release candidate of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 browser is said to include a new feature that will let users selectively pick which parts of Web pages can load ActiveX elements.

According to blog WinRumors, which is citing its own sources, the security-focused feature will be included inside the first release candidate for IE9, which is expected to arrive later this month. The filter will come in the form of a toggle that sits alongside the recently announced tracking protection feature–the one that blocks third-parties from tracking user behavior from site to site. Together, the two features would give users more control over what can be done by individual pieces of the page.

When asked about the arrival of the feature, Microsoft declined to comment beyond saying, “Microsoft has not released this Internet Explorer 9 code to the public and we caution consumers and businesses that downloading software (including workarounds) from a non-genuine source can pose risks to their environment.”

ActiveX has had a long history as an integral part of Internet Explorer. Since its introduction in the mid-’90s, the technology played an important part in giving site makers ways to build increasingly interactive Web applications. But at the same time, ActiveX also became a means for sites and individuals to run exploits and other malicious code through the browser. Microsoft responded by beefing up IE’s default security settings for ActiveX content, requiring user approval to run plug-ins, and implementing a blacklist to keep known malicious controls from loading. If implemented, this security feature would be another layer on top of these protective measures.

IE9 has been in beta since mid-September of last year, and has proven to be a popular download among users, with the most recently released numbers pegging downloads north of 20 million.

Originally posted at News – Microsoft

DownThemAll powers up to next version

It’s hardly the only multifeatured download enhancement add-on in Firefox’s deep add-ons catalog, but DownThemAll is one of the best. It just got better with an upgrade to version 2 that supports Firefox 4, can customize download speed limits, and sniffs out media including support for HTML5.

(Credit: DownThemAll)

While support for Firefox 4 was essential to the add-on’s continued life, the granular controls over download speeds are a welcome surprise. You can now set different maximum download speeds by individual download, by server, or as a global preference. Separately, you can also set download limits by server.

Firefox’s trackless browsing option receives support in DownThemAll 2. This means that even if you’re running in Private Browsing mode, you can run the add-on and get the increased download speeds it provides.

The media-sniffing option will discover and download audio and video embedded or linked in a Web page for you, as long as you’re looking at a site on HTTP or HTTPS. Of course, this is the case for the vast majority of users and ought not to pose a problem.

DownThemAll’s queue control has been improved as well, with new filters available to help clear the line of in-progress and completed downloads that have been set up; and DownThemAll now offers official, developer-sponsored integration with the Firefox add-on Video DownloadHelper. HTML5 support includes both < video > and < audio > tags, at least as far as they’ve been documented and integrated into the browser itself. The HTML5 standards have yet to be finalized.

Other changes of interest to the add-on include better context menu integration; a rejiggering of how the average download speed gets calculated to favor more recent downloads; and support for third-party download services such as RapidShare without having to enable third-party cookies when cookies have been disabled. Some add-on defaults have been changed, too, including making five auto-retries spaced 5 minutes apart before marking a download a failure; upping the number of concurrent downloads from four to eight, although concurrent downloads from the same server remain restricted to four; and granting read permissions to the user group for new downloads.

Another change to DownThemAll comes from a savvy fan of the add-on who found that it works much better on Windows 7 when a Microsoft bug fix has been applied to the operating system, and so the add-on publisher recommends that Windows 7 users make sure they’ve installed the fix for more stable downloading.

Got a favorite downloader? Tell us about it in the comments.

Khronos aims to ease coding for audio, video hardware

OpenSL ES and OpenMax AL diagram

Two updated standards from the Khronos Group: OpenSL ES and OpenMax AL

(Credit: The Khronos Group)

The Khronos Group today released updates to two interfaces designed to make it easier for programmers to tap into the power of computing hardware.

First is OpenSL ES 1.1, an interface for C programmers to use sound hardware on mobile devices. The interface abstracts technologies such as graphic equalizer processing, reverberation or 3D spatial Doppler effects, playback and volume controls, and audio data recording.

The purpose of the interface is to liberate programmers from having to recraft their applications each time a new device arrives with a different, often proprietary interface. Khronos released profiles tailored for phones, music players, and gaming devices.

Second is OpenMax AL 1.1, which provides an interface to video and audio codecs. The AL stands for the specification’s application-level interface; using it on supported systems, programmers can write software in a standard way to either read data from input devices such as cameras, TV tuners, and microphones or output devices such as headphones, phone vibration devices, and digital TVs.

The Khronos Group got its start standardizing an SGI-spawned graphics interface called OpenGL that provides a way for software to tap into 2D and 3D graphics chip power without knowing particulars of those chips.

Although Microsoft’s DirectX interfaces dominate on Windows, OpenGL is used on Mac OS X and Linux, and with Windows design software. More notably, in the mobile market where Microsoft is comparatively weak, OpenGL ES, the embedded version, is supported both with iOS and Android, making it an incumbent standard in that market when it comes to game graphics. OpenGL ES also is the basis for WebGL, a 3D Web graphics technology supported by four of the top five browser makers–all but Microsoft.

Originally posted at Deep Tech

War in the Pacific: A coffee-table book for your iPad

A must-have for anyone interested in World War II, War in the Pacific turns a print book into an interactive dazzler.

A must-have for anyone interested in World War II, War in the Pacific turns a print book into an interactive dazzler.

(Credit: Screenshot by Rick Broida)

I’m a closet World War II junkie. I sat rapt through Ken Burns’ “The War” and HBO’s “Band of Brothers.” And I just finished “Unbroken,” the mesmerizing, jaw-dropping tale of WWII POW Louis Zamperini. (Seriously, if you read no other book this year…)

So I was very keen to thumb through War in the Pacific, an iPad application based on an eponymous coffee-table book published early last year. And that’s the best way I can describe it: a coffee-table book for your iPad.

But you’ve never seen a print edition like this. The e-book’s 20 chapters fill five main sections spanning the years between 1941 and 1945. Each gorgeously illustrated page includes supplemental materials such as photos, secret documents, archival videos, and profiles of historical figures.

In other words, imagine a typical historical tome, but with photos you can zoom in on, a timeline you can view and hide at will, the occasional video corresponding to a passage in the text, a search function, and so on. It reminds me of the multimedia-enhanced “interactive” CD-ROMs of the ’80s, but formatted to take advantage of the iPad.

War in the Pacific ($9.99) has two other noteworthy features: animated, narrated maps of each of the five sections, and a three-dimensional scrolling wall of all the photos contained in the book. The latter is pretty cool, though the photos themselves don’t zoom to fill the screen–perhaps because many of them are a bit soft to begin with.

My key gripe about the app is that whenever you return to the main menu or open a new chapter, its dramatic musical score kicks in. Much as I like the music, I’d like the option to turn it off–but there isn’t one.

Thankfully, the iPad’s own volume controls can remedy that. If you have even a passing interest in World War II, I highly recommend this beautifully designed, richly detailed app. It’s so good, you might decide to leave your iPad on your coffee table.

Originally posted at iPad Atlas

W3C’s new logo promotes HTML5–and more
The W3C&#39;s new HTML5 logo stands for more than just the HTML5 standard. width="610" height="351"/>

The W3C’s new HTML5 logo stands for more than just the HTML5 standard.


Underscoring the confluence of technology, politics, and marketing, the World Wide Web Consortium today unveiled a new logo for HTML5.

With the logo, the W3C wants to promote the new Web technology–and itself. The Web is growing far beyond its roots of housing static Web sites and is transforming into a vehicle for entertainment and a foundation for online applications.

The W3C hopes the logo–T-shirts and stickers with it already are on sale–will fuel excitement and interest in the refurbished Web. “In addition to work on the specification, test suites, and useful materials for developers, we seek to raise awareness about W3C technology and to promote adoption of W3C standards,” spokesman Ian Jacobs said.

Curiously, though, the standards group–the very people one might expect to have the narrowest interpretation of what exactly HTML5 means–instead say it stands for a swath of new Web technologies extending well beyond the next version of Hypertext Markup Language.

And some Web developers aren’t happy about that. Web developer Jeremy Keith wrote today that the W3C just helped push HTML5 “into the linguistic sewer of buzzwordland.”

Here’s how the W3C put it: “The logo is a general-purpose visual identity for a broad set of open Web technologies, including HTML5, CSS, SVG, WOFF, and others,” the W3C said in the FAQ about the HTML5 logo, referring to Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) for formatting and graphical effects, Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) for advanced 2D graphics, and the Web Open Font Format (WOFF) for elaborate typography. “In addition to the HTML5 logo there are icons for eight high-level technology classes enabled by the HTML5 family of technologies. The icons can be used to highlight more specific abilities, such as offline, graphics, or connectivity.”

Using “HTML5″ to represent technologies well beyond the standard itself doesn’t sit well with some developers who see a useful role in more precise terms. Bruce Lawson, an employee of browser maker Opera and co-author of a book on HTML5, has proposed the acronym NEWT–new exciting Web technologies

“Basically: #HTML5 logo = good thing. But disappointed to see CSS 3 conflated into it,” Lawson tweeted today, pointing to his rather amusingly theatrical YouTube video about it.

His case was likely something of a lost cause, though, even before the W3C itself offered a logo naming a specific standard to stand instead for a range of technologies. Apple, a company with vastly more marketing skill than most, launched an HTML5 showcase last year that extended well beyond HTML5–indeed it was probably better classified as a demonstration of new CSS than new HTML. There’s a reason that marketing types preferred the broad definition of HTML5: it’s hard to get people to understand a long series of acronyms from standards groups. And it seems unlikely Apple’s promotional experts would get excited about an amphibian.

To be fair to marketing department oversimplifiers, it’s hard to keep track just of what the W3C is up to. Web Workers, Geolocation, IndexedDB, Web Sockets–all these are standards that are useful for the next-generation Web but that venture beyond HTML5, strictly defined.


But Web-development insiders reacted to the logo’s broad definition with scorn, or at least raised eyebrows. Keith’s blog post is titled “Badge of Shame”:

What. A. Crock. What we have here is a deliberate attempt to further blur the lines between separate technologies that have already become intertwingled in media reports…

So now what do I do when I want to give a description of a workshop, or a talk, or a book that’s actually about HTML5? If I just say “It’s about HTML5,” that will soon be as meaningful as saying “It’s about Web 2.0,” or “It’s about leveraging the synergies of disruptive transmedia paradigms.” The term HTML5 has, with the support of the W3C, been pushed into the linguistic sewer of buzzwordland.

And there was more carping:

• “Hmm, wow. I’m thinking a new logo representing ‘the Web platform in a very general sense’ is maybe not really what HTML5 needed the most,” tweeted John Lilly, Greylock venture partner and former Mozilla chief executive.

• “CSS3 is now ‘officially’ part of HTML5,” said a sarcastic tweet from Anne van Kesteren, who works on standards at Opera.

• Longtime Web developer Jeffery Zeldman called the logo’s broad definition “misguided.”

• “Nothing wrong with the #HTML5Logo itself, use it if you want, but including #CSS3 and other bits is just wrong and confusing,” tweeted Web developer and HTML5 fan Ian Devlin.

• And HTML5 book co-author Remy Sharp asked, “Let’s clear this up, once and for all: does the @w3c intend for ‘CSS3′ to be included as ‘HTML5′?”

Don’t expect standardization work at the W3C will lose its ultra-precise wording in favor of loosey-goosey marketing terminology. But do expect W3C to promote its broader agenda in more general terms.

Jacobs said in a blog post that the W3C had begun an internal project in 2010 to create a logo for the “open Web platform”–another more general term for today’s constellation of new Web technologies–but put it on hold. Today’s HTML5 logo came instead from design firm Ocupop, which according to creative director Michael Nieling was developed with all the Web technologies in mind:

The term HTML5 has taken on a life of its own; there has been significant confusion and debate both within the developer community and in the public at large as to what exactly HTML5 is when the term is used outside of simply referring to the spec itself. This variability in perception is what inspired the project–a group of developers and HTML5 evangelists came to us and posed the question, “How can we better communicate all of the technologies and potential that HTML5 represents?” …and the resounding answer was, the standard needs a standard. That is, HTML5 needs a consistent, standardized visual vocabulary to serve as a framework for conversations, presentations, and explanations moving forward…

Nieling himself said, though, that the designers don’t get the last word about what exactly the logo means

“I am confident that we’ve provided a very clear and effective baseline of vocabulary for HTML5,” he said. “The syntax and ultimate meaning is up to the community.”

Updated 7:41 a.m. PT with more reaction against the broad definition of the new logo.

Originally posted at Deep Tech

FitnessClass packs a personal trainer into your iPad

FitnessClass offers over 200 workout videos from renowned instructors.

FitnessClass offers over 200 workout videos from renowned instructors.

Screenshot by Rick Broida)

If you’re like most folks, your New Year’s resolutions included something like “lose weight” or “get in shape.” Easier said than done, right?

Try FitnessClass, a new iPad app that serves up more than 200 workout videos. No trips to the gym, no fitting your workouts to someone else’s schedule–just on-demand professional classes for just about any kind of workout you want: fat burning, core strengthening, arm toning, and so on.

In fact, you can search for classes based on your goal (weight loss, strength, etc.), the time you have available (from 10 minutes to a little over an hour), and even equipment (dumbbells, Swiss ball, etc.).

One thing you can’t do is sort classes by difficulty. Beginners might find themselves a bit intimidated, as the majority of classes are rated at “medium” difficulty or higher. I found very few rated “Easy.”

That said, the few I sampled were excellent, and a nice change from the 45 minutes I usually spend on my elliptical. (As a guy, I despise doing aerobics and the like in front of other people, but I have no problem jumping around like an idiot in the privacy of my own home.)

The FitnessClass app is free, and comes with seven free classes to get you started. Additional videos cost between 99 cents and $4.99 apiece–but that’s only for a 30-day rental. Purchase prices are quite a bit higher, ranging anywhere from $3.99 to $14.99. (For now, purchased classes–like rented ones–must be streamed, but a download option is in the works.) Thankfully, you can preview any class before buying or renting it.

My inner cheapskate says these prices are too high, and that the developers should offer some kind of all-you-can-eat (bad choice of words) package like Netflix and Hulu. I’d rather pay $5-$10 monthly for unlimited access to all the classes.

On the other hand, since you’ll probably just be working with one or two classes at a time, FitnessClass won’t break the bank–and it’s definitely cheaper than a personal trainer. This is a well-designed, genuinely useful app, one I highly recommend trying.

Originally posted at iPad Atlas

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.

PressReader width="320" height="213"/>

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.

width="610" height="120"/>

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