Firefox adopts technique from Tor to blunt browser fingerprinting

The change, to curtail access to the Canvas API, is incremental and likely to be limited in how it is visible to regular users. However it signals some progress in a collaboration with the Tor project to incorporate code and ideas that benefit the privacy features of Firefox and Tor Browser. The Register’s write up includes a pretty good explainer on fingerprinting and why finding ways to mitigate it is important.
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Mozilla will add performance settings to Firefox

I guess I enjoy being in the tech minority: a Linux user in a Mac/Windows world, a Firefox user in a Chrome/Edge world. Detractors often cite Firefox as being a memory hog. Nice to see Mozilla taking that seriously although projects like Electrolysis and Servo which aim to thoroughly modernize the aging browser will do far more to address that complaint in the long run. In the short term being able to tweak the browser in this way isn’t a bad stepping stone.

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Mozilla’s Release Plan for Firefox in 2011

Ryan Paul at Ars Technica has a good write up of Mozilla’s announced roadmap for Firefox in the coming year.

Some of Mozilla’s key technical priorities include improving responsiveness, integrating social sharing, refining the user interface, supporting 64-bit Windows and Android tablet form factors, finally delivering process isolation for tabs, and supporting emerging standards like CSS 3D transforms and WebSockets. In terms of features, Mozilla’s 2011 roadmap is compelling and achievable. There is room for skepticism, however, about the organization’s new release management strategy. Instead of aiming to roll all of this functionality out in a major release next year, Mozilla intends to push it out to users incrementally, using a series of three releases after the upcoming launch of Firefox 4.

I am slightly less skeptical. Mozilla has some experience with this sort of incremental, rolling release for smaller features as part of their beta process. Admittedly, the scale is smaller and the target quality isn’t the same but I think it is an incremental difference rather than a qualitative one.

Several of the items on the roadmap are also already under active development. Slating them for 2011, to specific releases draws a line in the sand. Not all of the development work is going to be from a standing start, rather it is being pressured to get to a finished and releasable state. I’ve written repeatedly about full multiprocess support in Firefox and this set of priorities may be the kick in the pants needed to finally land it.

I don’t necessarily disagree with Paul’s reasoning. He makes a good case for the benefits, mostly in the form of staying competitive and in better tune with the rapidly evolving standards space, as well as the challenges. He has more insight into Mozilla’s internal makeup and Firefox’s codebase. I suspect Mozilla will settle on the six month cycle he suggests but suspect it may need to reach farther in order to hit that stride. Undoubtedly there are bits of institutional inertia and other internal pressures prompting such aggressive planning.

Is Mozilla’s 2011 roadmap unrealistically ambitious? Ars Technica

Impressions of Firefox 4 beta 7

I’ve been running the beta builds of the forthcoming version of Firefox for a while, I think since beta 3 since beta 1. Each has been an incremental improvement with a couple of notable standouts like the addition of Panorama (formerly Tab Candy). I was expecting beta 7 to be an incremental improvement over 6. My very first impression seemed to bear that out, noticing that the default Linux theme had finally received a little love.

Working with the dashboard on my blog, though, I realized something was substantially different–everything was responding way faster. My server is not a very beefy machine, I had assumed that the slow loading of the dashboard and other management pages to be a consequence of using a relatively cheap virtual private server. The difference between beta 6 and beta 7 is night and day. There is no escaping that this build of Firefox 4 is smoking.

Ryan Paul at Ars Technica would seem to agree.

During our tests of the new beta, we were consistently impressed by its outstanding performance and greatly improved responsiveness. It delivers highly competitive performance and puts Firefox back on an even footing with its rivals.

The rest of his short post gives a quick accounting of the other features and changes to land in the new build. He also links to the official release notes and a download link. There has been some speculation that this build represents feature complete, Paul doesn’t comment.

The H has some more information on this beta and also a pretty ambitious date for the next one: tomorrow. I wonder if that is supposed to be December 12th?

Beyond the speed, I have found some frustrations with the UI changes, at least on Linux. The status bar is now gone. Link hover has been moved to the awesome bar, I not sure whether I like or hate that change. Lacking a status bar, though, initially stumped me on how I would access some of my regular add ons. I realized when perusing the View menu trying to see if there was a way to restore the bar that there is now an Addon Bar. It doesn’t include the progress bar and link hover text of the old status bar, but at least provides a space for add ons to reveal their icons.

A friend on twitter, @alexbischoff, sent me a link to Status-4-Evar. This extension doesn’t quite restore the status bar but lets you add a tool bar onto which you can drag the link hover and progress bar from the tool bar customization dialog. You can then move this toolbar to the bottom of the browser.

Update: See Alex’s comment below for a more accurate description of what the Status-4-Evar add on does.

I have already made some adjustments and am giving the new status bar-less layout a chance before installing yet another add on. I have noticed that one add on, No Script, doesn’t really need that status bar icon. I wonder if the change might prompt add on authors to think more about integrating into the context menu, the tool menu, and sparingly making use of overlays.

At all events, a few UI paper cuts seem to be a good trade for the incredible speed burst this beta has delivered.

Happy Birthday, Firefox

My admiration for the Mozilla project, as exemplified by its work on Firefox, is plain for all to see. All the same, I want to once again wish Firefox a happy birthday. Hard to believe it is only six years old though understandable it seems longer to me since I started using it well before the 1.0 release.

Mozilla was established more than 10 years ago as a non-profit organization with a mission to promote openness, innovation and opportunity on the Web. Six years ago, Mozilla released Firefox 1.0 offering people a better Web experience.

Today, Firefox is available in more than 70 languages and offers an easy way for people to enjoy rich Web experiences. Nearly a quarter of Internet users choose Firefox as their trusted ambassador to the Web. More than 150 million people choose Firefox Add-ons to customize their Web experience.

Firefox’s commitment to both open web standards and an excellent online experience is why I have remained loyal for more than its official six year span. You can see my birthday wish from last year, sentiments that have only grown stronger since.

If Firefox 4 is any indication, my loyalty is pretty much guaranteed for the foreseeable future.

Happy 6th Birthday Firefox! Mozilla

feeds | grep links > Chrome OS More Open than Android, Tool for Seeing What Info Facebook Shares, and More

feeds | grep links > Holographic Video Displays, Univac’s Electoral Prediction, Patent Database is Up and Running, and More

  • First glimmerings of holographic video displays
    John Timmer at Ars Technica discusses some pretty impressive research considering how little holography has advanced for anything other than trivial applications. The system these researchers are building may seem crude but most of the equipment being used, including the network connection, are pretty close to consumer grade. The potential is enormous though I have to imagine free standing holography is a further horizon beyond these re-writing but otherwise fairly constrained displays.
  • History of computing and elections from 1952
    Wired has re-printed an article from around the time of the last US elections by Randy Alfred. In it, he explains how Univac, one of the earliest computers, was tasked with predicting the presidential election in 1952. The forecast put together by the machines and its operators was remarkably accurate but the TV folks they initially approached were too skeptical to air it at the time, only admitting to discounting the computer’s results well after they were obviously correct.
  • Patent database is up and running
    Rogue archivist, Carl Malamud, has the good news at O’Reilly Radar. The joint effort between the USPTO, the White House and Jon Orwant at Google has resulted in a new, open database that supplants feeds that formerly required substantial subscription feeds. As Carl explains, this was no easy chore given vested interests in the revenue streams from the old, closed system. A huge win for restoring a critical piece of our informational commons here in the US.
  • Five years of Linux kernel benchmarks, Slashdot
  • Group trying to get back scatter airport scanners banned, Techdirt
  • Google and Facebook to face tougher EU privacy rules, Reuters, via Groklaw
  • New beta of Firefox 4 mobile released, Mozilla, via Hacker News

Quick Security Alerts for Week Ending 10/31/2010

Mozilla Experiments with Recording from the Browser

The fine folks at Mozilla Labs announced a pre-alpha add on for Firefox that enables recording audio and video directly from the browser.

We’ve experimented with audio recording in the browser as part of the Jetpack prototype earlier, and want to revisit the idea. There have been great strides on video playback recently, but there’s still some work to be done before users can create multimedia content for the web, on the web.

There are ways to do this already but they all require proprietary technologies like Flash and Java. What the Rainbow extension could do as it matures is suggest ways that creating media become standard features in the browser. I really like that idea, of a browser directly supporting the creation of peer media creation, not just access and sharing.

The add on only works with the Mac version of the current nightly build series. The developers are working hard to expand support to Windows, Linux and 64-bit systems. Currently Rainbow encodes Vorbis and Theora using the Ogg container though future plans include adding support for WebM/VP-8 as well as streaming.

Cloud, meet Rainbow, Mozilla Labs (via Slashdot)