Version Numbers Still Matter

Google Doesn't Care About Web DevelopersI ran into an interesting situation today not unlike one I’ve encountered hundreds of times before but this time with Google Chrome. One person was able to reproduce the bug on an internal tool with ease. Nobody else was able to. Eventually upon getting the version number it clicked. This particular computer had Chrome 10 installed.

For my younger readers, Chrome 10 is an “ancient” version from March 2011. This is back when Obama was still in office, the United States was in a recession, there was a debt problem in Europe, hipsters carried their iPads in man purses… These were crazy times.

For whatever reason this Chrome install, like a number out there didn’t update. It could be security permissions, it could have been disabled for some reason. I really don’t know, or care terribly much. The reality is not everyone can update on release day regardless of opinions on the matter.

Go try and find Chrome 10 Mac OS X on the internet. Try using a search engine like Google. Now try and find it for any platform. Good luck. It’s a pain. I can get a Phoenix 0.1 binary from Sept 2002 (this was my primary browser for part of fall 2002, I used it before Firefox was cool), but I couldn’t find Chrome 10 from way back in 2011. I was eventually able to trace down a Chrome 10 binary, work around the problem and move forward however it took way more time than it should have.

This to me illustrates a few key points:

  • Version numbers still matter – They matter. Simple enough. Even in a rather sterile environment that this was, I had to deal with an older browser. They exist in larger quantities out in the wild web. Saying they don’t matter anymore is naive. Idealistic, but naive.
  • Make old platforms available – Just because you ship a new version doesn’t mean the old one has no relevance or need anymore. Google lost some serious credit in my mind for making it nearly impossible to get an “older” version of Chrome to test with. This shouldn’t be difficult. Google is said to have approximately 900,000 servers. Surely they can setup an archive with an explicit notice it’s an archive and user should download the latest. Mozilla’s got less than that.

The web is a fluid platform. Browsers are evolving platforms. Versions still matter as long as two things, the web at large, and the platform that is the browser need to interact. When version numbers no longer exist, it will likely be because monoculture is so strong it doesn’t matter. Until then, knowing what browser and what version will matter. Browsers will likely never agree 100% on what to implement and a timetable for implementation.

That image is a joke if you can’t tell. Google Chrome Developers are good people, they just need to put together an archive page for web developers.

On Chrome Dropping H.264

The Chrome team announced they are dropping support for H.264.

WebM Support

WebM support will be growing quickly as Firefox 4 rolls out (Firefox upgrade adoption is legendary). Chrome commands sizable market share and is pushing the Chrome OS platform. Opera is also supporting WebM.

Apple and Microsoft could join the party and bundle WebM support along with the other codecs they support at any time, though they are licensors for H.264 and wouldn’t benefit from WebM market penetration. Microsoft’s implementation does allow for VP8 support if a codec is installed. I’m not aware of anything for Safari and am rather certain nothing can be done for the iPhone without Apple intervening.

On the hardware side AMD, ARM, Nvidia are backing WebM. Broadcom announced support, as did Qualicomm and TI. These are major vendors for mobile chips. Intel is working on stuff too.

H.264 Trouble

H.264 is problematic and bad for the web for many reasons I’ve mentioned here before as well as great posts by roc and shaver. I’ll leave it at that rather than rehash.

There was buzz a while back about H.264 being “free” (quotes intentional), but it’s not really “free” if you read the fine print. As Peter Csathy of Sorenson Media notes:

But, you say, MPEG LA recently announced that it will no longer charge royalties for the use of H.264. Yes, it’s true – MPEG LA recently bowed to mounting pressure from, and press surrounding, WebM and announced something that kind of sounds that way. But, I caution you to read the not-too-fine print. H.264 is royalty-free only in one limited case – for Internet video that is delivered free to end users. Read again: for (1) Internet delivery that is (2) delivered free to end users. In the words of MPEG LA’s own press release, “Products and services other than [those] continue to be royalty-bearing.”

That’s hardly “free”. That’s just one potential use case that’s now royalty exempt. The reason they are doing that is presumably if they can get H.264 adoption high enough, all the other cases will be paying and therefore subsidizing this one case.

WebM is licensed a little different: Patent wise, it’s irrevocably royalty free. License is about as liberal as you can get.

There’s no proprietary html, css, or images (GIF was, now it’s dead) used across the web. Why should video be any different? The key to success and growth has always been an open platform that’s low cost and encourages innovation.

Implementing Today

For anyone who suggests that this further fragments the market, that’s not really true. Adobe Flash actually creates an excellent shim to help migrate away from Flash to <video/>. Allow me to explain:

Adobe will soon be supporting WebM through Flash. Adobe already support H.264 in Flash. For legacy browsers and those who won’t support WebM, you have the option of delivering a Flash experience just like most websites do today. There are websites doing this today via Flash and H.264. For modern browsers you can just use <video/>. Once your non-WebM market share drops low enough, you can get rid of the Flash experience. Soon enough you’ll be able to push WebM to your Flash users. The benefit of switching your Flash experience to WebM as a middle step would be one encoding for both delivery mechanisms vs. using H.264 and WebM in parallel. Of course if you’re supporting mobile you likely need H.264 for a bit longer but likely use a smaller resolution and different profile for mobile consumption.

No matter what there will be two delivery mechanisms for those looking to push video using HTML5 to users today. The only thing that changes is the lean towards standardizing on the actively developed WebM codec vs. H.264.

All new technology has speed bumps, that’s the cost of being on the bleeding edge. However this is a positive turn as things are now starting to line up. The most awesome thing is that the codec, HTML5 specs, and some of the most popular browsers in the world are open and inviting feedback and contributions to improve things.

Protecting Photo Privacy Via Browsers

Browsers can do more to protect users from inadvertently violating their own privacy. The NY Times today had an article about a topic that has been discussed in various circles several times now. The existence of geotagging data in photos. Many cameras, in particular smart phones like the iPhone can tag photos with GPS data. This is pretty handy for various purposes including organizing photos at a later date, iPhoto for example does a pretty nice job of it. Most photo applications however don’t make this information very visible, as a result many users don’t even know it exists, others simply forget.

What the problem looks like

The data, embedded in a photo looks something like this:

GPSLatitude                    : 57.64911
GPSLongitude                   : 10.40744
GPSPosition                    : 57.64911 10.40744

Which I could map.

Proposal

I propose that browsers need to have a content policy for when users upload images that can better protect them from uploading information they may not even realize. Here’s what I’m imagining:

The first time a user attempts to upload a photo that has EXIF or XMP data containing location they are prompted if they want it stripped from the image they are uploading. The original file remains unharmed, just the uploaded version won’t have the data. They can also choose to have the browser remember their preference to prevent being prompted in the future. They can revise their choice in the preferences window later if they want. This isn’t to different from how popups are handled. I thnk that per-site policy might be too confusing and not warranted, but perhaps I’m wrong.

Warning users about hidden information they may be revealing is a worthwhile effort. It’s only a matter of time before someone uses a “contest” or some other form of social engineering to solicit pictures that may reveal location data for users. Evildoers always find creative ways to exploit people.

Caveat

There are a notable caveat to this approach. The most notable is that flash uploaders would bypass this security measure though individual uploaders could do it themselves, or Adobe could do it, but I don’t think that’s enough of a turnoff to this approach. The same caveat applied to “private browsing” in browsers.

Prior Work

As far as I know no browser actually implements a security feature like this yet. There are a few Firefox Add-ons like Exif Viewer and FxIF (both written in pure JavaScript) that look at EXIF data but nothing that intercepts uploads.

Who Can Do It First?

I’m curious who can do it first. By add-on (seems like it should be possible at least in Firefox), and dare I say include in a browser itself? If this were earlier in the year I would have added this to the Summer of Code ideas list. Instead I’m just throwing it into the wind until 2011 rolls around.

YouTube HTML5 + Firefox

Google has been a long time supporter of HTML5. They recently launched a HTML5 beta of YouTube however it will only work in Safari and Chrome. The reason for this is not due to the actual markup but the video codec chosen. YouTube is using h.264, the same codec used for YouTube HD via Flash. This works in Safari and Chrome because Safari uses QuickTime to render <video/> and Google licensed h.264 for Chrome. Firefox however doesn’t include the proprietary codec for licensing reasons. It’s not a matter of cost but principle.

IE is supported through “Chrome Frame” which is essentially the Chrome browser in IE’s chrome. Your really just browsing the YouTube site with Chrome. Google could use this as a way to get people away from Flash and IE and onto Chrome one way or another.

I discussed the h.264 debate in more depth a few months ago.

You have to wonder why we don’t want anything proprietary slipping into HTML5, or want proprietary image formats (GIF turned us off to that) but exceptions are made for video.

Edit 1/23/2010: More on the topic:

Edit 5/21/2010: Thoughts on WebM.

Thoughts On Chrome OS

Chrome OS is an interesting idea, though I still don’t see it as revolutionary like some people. To me it’s still a terminal but unlike the VT100 uses web standards.

Regarding reliability, in my opinion you’ve added new points of failure: your network connection, and the cloud. I’ve see my network connection and web services experience way more problems than my personal computer has.

Regarding security, you’re only as secure as your password to the cloud. Since all your data is synced to the cloud, anyone who can obtain access has it. No longer is physical access necessary. Disk encryption may have saved you when physical access is obtained, but in the cloud you’re often relying on what’s available.

Regarding cost, this becomes a toss up. On the plus side you can have cheap hardware. You don’t need much storage, or CPU. On the downside, your a slave to your network connection for even the most basic tasks. We’ve yet to enter a world of free wireless, and even broadband services are looking to switch to metered service as a replacement to the “all you can eat” plans we’re used to. A change to how bandwidth is priced can ruin this model overnight.

Lets not forget broadband performance in the US is far from stellar. Web UI has improved greatly over the years, but it’s hardly at the level of desktop applications.

Personally I see little value at this time for cheap hardware in exchange for giving up most control. I can replicate all the functionality of Chrome OS using a web browser, and get the added bonuses of a full operating system.

Would I use it? Perhaps as a throw around netbook, but not as a primary computer, or even for serious work. Maybe one day, but not in 2009, and I highly doubt 2010 will close all those gaps.

Google Chrome OS

The big news over the past 24 hours is the announcement of Google Chrome OS. Effectively Google Chrome OS is a stripped down Linux Kernel with just enough to boot Chrome/WebKit as it’s main UI. The exact UI paradigm hasn’t been reveled as of yet. Google claims:

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start-up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

It’s an interesting and somewhat bold statement.

Continue reading

Chromium’s WebKit Fork Is No More

This is very cool news for both WebKit sand Chromium. Chromium will no longer use a forked version of WebKit. This will mean more contributions directly to WebKit and a more current Chromium.

I wish all browser vendors could agree and sync engines a bit more so that Safari/Chrome would ship the same version of WebKit rather than stagger based on their own release schedule. Same for Mozilla/Flock etc. While very difficult in many respects it would make it much easier on web developers to have less products out there to test against. I think it’s unlikely to happen, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be convenient. Some Web Developer bias speaking here.

[Via: Tony Chang]

Google Chrome Promoted On Homepage

Google Chrome Promoted On Google.com

Google is now promoting Google Chrome on it’s homepage. Just a few days after release. Previously Firefox 2.0 was promoted on the homepage, a privilege normally reserved for Google products. The text link is a bit more subtle though. Maybe that’s because it’s beta and not 2.0.

It’s being shown to Firefox Safari and IE users. Interestingly it’s being shown to Mac users in addition to Windows users, despite no Mac support as of yet.

Google Browser Is Now Google Chrome

I’ve mentioned the long fabled Google browser for ages now “googlefox” as it began. Some more interesting news came today regarding “Google Chrome“.

Some of the features touted by the comic include:

  • faster – mentioned throughout via new js virtual machine (might be SquirrelFish) that’s potentially embeddable into other applications and using WebKit. Also multi-threaded.
  • More Stable – Separate process for each tab means one page doesn’t crash the browser. Also more memory efficient in the long run since you’ll kill tabs that hog memory at some point.
  • UI – UI is minimal, tabs contain the controls (tabs on outside), are detachable from the window, and similar to Prism can be minimal enough to make a web application feel like it’s not in a browser. Omnibox (awsomebar equivalent), auto complete only to what you’ve explicitly typed before, improved new tab screen (similar to others proposed and implemented).
  • Secure – Sandboxes processes (sounds like the work from GreenBorder), plugins running in their own processes, phishing protection. Also has porn privacy mode.
  • Compatible – Based on WebKit, automated testing via “chrome bot” browsing pages, unit tested, fuzz tested.
  • Google Gears Included – Includes Google Gears, which is downloadable for other browsers already.

Also interesting were some of the names mentioned in the comic. While long known a few Mozilla hackers went to Google, here’s a list that are mentioned in the comic: Darin Fisher, Ben Goodger, Brett Wilson (various Mozilla contributions via Google), Arnaud Weber (Netscape).

Check the comic for more details. This is pretty much the main info in there for those who don’t have the time to sift through it all.

Edit [9/1/2008 @ 6:23 PM EST]: Google Blog post.

Edit [9/1/2008 @ 7:45 PM EST]: John Lilly’s Thoughts on Chrome & More.

Edit [9/1/2008 @ 9:05 PM EST]: Apparently this was announced prematurely due to someone not realizing that it Labor Day isn’t in Germany. As a side note, how does one get on that mailing list?

Edit [9/2/2008 @ 8:55 AM EST]: Code should appear here.