Adobe CTO on Open Source and Flash, EU and Web 3.0 and More [Best of September '08 #4]

Some interesting posts this week (September 22-29 2008):

  • eWeek has a long interview with Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch, covering areas such as the open source aspects of Flash, the competition Adobe Air is facing from Google Chrome, Gears and possibly from Microsoft and Silverlight, and a bit about new features of Creative Suite 4 (CS4). Josh Catone does a good job of covering the Adobe Air part and the competition from Google Gears and Silverlight. In conclusion Josh thinks that Microsoft might play an important part in the cloud computing/rich Internet application (RIA) arena, something that Adobe's Kevin Lynch doesn't fully recognize.

    On open source, Lynch points out how Abobe is gradually embracing the open source movement, and he gives several examples of Adobe's contribution to OSS:

    We already open source the core of Flash, the virtual machine, Tamarin. Ten years ago we published the format that Flash uses called SWF. And for a while that format had a license agreement around it where we asked that people not make their own Flash players. And the goal of that was to maintain consistency of the runtime. [...]
    we actually removed the license restriction this year from the SWF format. So anyone can go create anything they want around that format, including a player if they want to. [...]
    But we need to balance openness and consistency. So we're very open about what goes into Flash Player, the bugs in Flash Player, the code and scripting engine in Flash, the format with Flash, the protocols with Flash. 

    On completely opening up of the Flash player Lynch is more hesitant:

    [That] would be somewhat challenging in that there are some codices in Flash that we don't have the rights to all the source to. That's one challenge with that. The other is that I think in terms of what's best here for consistency of Flash on the Web, having multiple implementations and having forking and splintering of that code would be a big loss for the Web in terms of that consistency.

    Well, there might be some truth in that, but there for sure are a multitude of OSS projects that have managed to keep control of the core development, without sacrificing consistency.

    In August I wrote about new directions in the development of ECMAScript, which is the parent language of JavaScript, ActionScript and a few other languages. The ECMAScript Harmony agreement implied a step back for the group working with the more ambitious ECMAScript 4 specification, including Adobe. Kevin Lynch, however, did not express too much worry about this development, saying:

    I think the amount of innovation that we were trying to do with ECMAScript 4 perhaps was too big of a leap for some and they wanted to see a more collaborative approach on that. So the standards process is a collaborative one where there are lots of points of view. And we're happy to continue working in the process to advance ECMAScript. But we're hoping that innovation can happen faster and that we can raise the level of scripting on the Web. So we're going to continue innovating in Flash Player. We're not removing features that we've already deployed because people are relying on them and we think they're good. And we'll keep developing it further. And at the same time we'll keep working with the standards process.

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  • Microsoft is embracing jQuery, a popular open source JavaScript library, and intend to support it natively in Visual Studio alongside its own ASP.NET AJAX library.
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  • Watch out US, the European Union (EU) wants to take the lead in the development of the next generation of the Web, aka Web 3.0. EU Commissioner Viviane Reding says: 

    Web 3.0 means seamless 'anytime, anywhere' business, entertainment and social networking over fast reliable and secure networks. It means the end of the divide between mobile and fixed lines. It signals a tenfold quantum leap in the scale of the digital universe by 2015. Europe has the know-how and the network capacity to lead this transformation. We must make sure that Web 3.0 is made and used in Europe.

    For other definitions of Web 3.0, check out my review from April.
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  • Automattic, the parent company behind WordPress, acquires commenting system IntenseDebate, writes ReadWriteWeb, who also reviews Habari, a blogging platform and potential competitor to WordPress. Habari uses the Atom Syndication Format for feeds and the Atom Publishing Protocol for web site communication. It also builds on PHP, and makes use of PHP Data Objects (PDO) for database access, and it supports MySQL and other databases.
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  • Ringside Networks, offering a "Social Application Server", which I wrote about in March, is closing up shop. Bad luck and timing could be the reasons.
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  • Royal Pingdom has a list of ten less known operating systems. For example, MenuetOS is written entirely in assembly language and is designed to be lightweight and responsive, and it fits on a floppy disk (1.44 MB).
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Chrome Add-ons, JavaScript Performance, a Web 3.0 Conference and More [Best of September '08 #3]

Chrome continued to be of interest this week, with a Web 3.0 conference as a bonus (September 15-21 2008):

  • The last word on JavaScript performance among competing browser engines has apparently not yet been spoken. This week it was reported that an updated version of SquirrelFish, dubbed Extreme, which is the native WebKit JavaScript engine, has regained the lead in JavaScript performance. Reportedly it was faster than both the V8 engine of Google Chrome and TraceMonkey of Firefox. The results suggest that Google should have stuck with the original SquirrelFish engine of WebKit, instead of developing their own V8. Can we expect a close comeback from the V8 team? Let the struggle continue!
    Note however that performance reports like these must always be taken with a grain of salt. For example, it is quite easy to optimize the code to perform well on a specific test.
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  • Google Chrome will eventually support Add-ons and User scripts à la Greasemonkey, said Google Engineer Ojan Vafai at the Web 2.0 Expo last week. They hope to make a stable implementation, he said, referring to the less stable experience of Add-ons with Firefox. Personally, with Chrome I miss the Google Toolbar, with the Gmail notifier and the PageRank indicator. Hopefully it will be released for Chrome soon.
    At the same Web 2.0 panel, Microsoft's IE platform architect Chris Wilson, hinted that IE might add support for vector graphics and the canvas element, a part of the HTML 5 standard I wrote about last week.
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  • If you want to stay on top with the latest updates to Google Chrome, you can join the Dev Channel and get access to more recent but potentially less stable updates to the browser.
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  • Google's embeddable 3D virtual world Lively, which I wrote about at launch in July, has hitherto received little attention. Nevertheless, Google has high plans for the service, revealed creative director Kevin Hanna at the recent Game Developers' Conference. They plan to open up the API further to allow for the creation of entire 3D games. In the long run, Hanna hopes that Lively will become part of the backbone of the Web, much like Java, Flash and HTML are today.
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  • A Pew Internet Project report shows that 97% of all (American) teens, ages 12-17, play some kind of video game on a computer, console or portable device. Further, nearly 50% of all boys visit game related web sites or forums, and 14% contribute to those sites. For girls, the corresponding figures are somewhat lower. The study also shows that about one third of teens play mature or adult rated games. Of those teens, boys are in majority, 79% vs. 21% girls. In conclusion: regulations will always fail, and boys are still boys (phew!).
    Where I think the study fails, is that it does not distinguish online Flash-based games as a separate category, despite the fact that it is an important genre, and presumably popular by younger teens at least.
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  • Finally a Web 3.0 conference, Oct 16-17, in Santa Clara, Ca. Jupitermedia is organizer and RWW is a sponsor. Semantic Web technologies seems to be a key feature of the event. Don't miss my Web 3.0 review from April, and the catch-up in July.
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Stack Overflow, HTML 5, Chrome Processes, Atmosphir and More [Best of September '08 #2]

An assortment of the most interesting posts this week (September 8-14 2008):

  • Stack Overflow launches, a Q&A site for programmers, who can ask questions and get answers from other programmers. The site is community driven, good answers get voted up and rise in the list of answers to a question. As a result, any discussions among the answers are discouraged, as these will be scrambled, explains Joel Spolsky, one of the founders. Community members can build a reputation by earning points and badges in response to good answers and other activity. Marshall Kirkpatrick liked Stack Overflow in his review, and I think it could be a useful service. Marshall requested subscribable feeds for answers to a question. I found a link to an Atom feed for each question, not sure if it is optimal though. There are also feeds for a users top answers and questions, and the top 30 questions for a specific tag. A chronological feed with all questions belonging to a tag would perhaps be more useful.
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  • Webmonkey has an article about HTML 5, the next specification in works for the HTML language. The latest specification 4.01 was completed in 1999, and we probably will have to wait at least another 10 years for a completed version 5. In the meantime some browser vendors have implemented parts of the HTML 5 draft, e.g. the canvas element, and more recently the video element, as I wrote about last week. Browser extensions like Gears, and plugins like Silverlight and Flash also find a niche, where the current standard is lagging behind.
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  • Scott Hanselman writes about the use of multiple processes in the Chrome browser and in IE8. Separate processes create a greater degree of isolation between tabs: If one process/tab crashes, the other processes/tabs stay unaffected. The potential overhead of processes vs. threads, and the inter-communication between processes, are really no problem nowadays considering the rapid development of computer hardware.
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  • A new tool dubbed CookieMonster will soon be released to the public. It is able to get hold of user credentials submitted to secured sites via a man-in-the-middle attack. Several banks are identified as insecure. The tool utilizes a programming flaw, where the website developer has failed to designate the authentication cookie as secure.
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  • Atmosphir, a 3D platform game creation tool, is currently in private beta but expects to open to the public at the end of the year. Atmosphir got one of the five jury selection prices at this years TechChrunch50. Hopefully it is fun for creative kids.

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Chrome Pushes for a Standards Based Web - a Challenge to Silverlight and Flash [Best of Sept. '08 #1]

This week was all about Chrome, the new fast and minimalistic browser from Google. I now use Chrome as my default browser, not bad for a 0.2 version.

  • There was some discussion this week about which products and technologies are really threatened by Google Chrome. I agree with those who argue that other rich Internet application frameworks (RIAs) are the technologies at greatest risk. These include the proprietary Microsoft Silverlight and Adobe Air (with Flash). The great promise of the Chrome browser is that it pushes for the open technologies JavaScript and HTML. Chrome comes with a fast JavaScript engine, and with improvements in the JavaScript language itself, as envisioned by the recent ECMAScript Harmony agreement, JavaScript could become a real challenge to the programming languages used in Silverlight (C#) and Flash (ActionScript). ActionScript and JavaScript have the same roots in ECMAScript, but ActionsScript requires a proprietary runtime component (Air or Flash player) to run in the browser, whereas support for JavaScript is built-in into most browsers. Silverlight also requires a proprietary runtime component.

    JavaScript can not alone pose a threat to Silverlight or Flash, an enhanced HTML is required, with elements from the emerging HTML 5 standard, such as the canvas element, for drawing to the screen, and the video element, for displaying video. The canvas element is currently supported by WebKit, the HTML rendering component used in Chrome, and by Gecko, the one used in Firefox, but not natively in IE, though there are workarounds. The latest Firefox 3.1 alpha 2 release includes support for the video element.

    Another advantage with Chrome is that it comes included with the browser extension Gears, which is a JavaScript framework that equips the browser with additional capabilities like offline access for supported sites.
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  • Last week I posed a question regarding the relative performance of Chrome's JavaScript engine V8 compared to the latest Firefox engine TraceMonkey. Now John Resig has given a balanced answer, and it turns out that V8 and TraceMonkey are quite comparable. V8 is faster in some tests, in particular those involving recursion, while TraceMonkey is faster in some other tests. For tests including both JavaScript and DOM manipulation, WebKit based browsers like Safari and Chrome are somewhat ahead of TraceMonkey and Firefox 3.0.1. IE is generally lagging behind.
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  • A proof that Chrome is relatively compliant with emerging Web standards is that it performs well on the Acid3 test, with a score of about 78 out of 100.
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  • Finally, Ted Dziuba challenges my comparison of Chrome to an operating system last week, though he probably didn't read my article, instead he mainly goes after a post by Michael Arrington who labels Chrome "a full on desktop operating system that will compete head on with Windows." Though that expression might be somewhat over the top, I enjoy the vision in the post that eventually the need for a stand-alone desktop operating system will disappear, and that basic OS features might as well be integrated into the browser. A possible solution could be based on a stripped-down version of the Linux OS combined with Google Chrome.
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Google Chrome Tips: Reducing High Disk and CPU Activity

Google Chrome Logo
I've been enjoying a fast and minimalistic browsing experience with Google Chrome for about a week now, and I'm not switching back to IE7, which I admittedly have been using before. Why I'm not using Firefox could be that I've never got dependent on plugins, and the experience with Firefox is somewhat bloated and unpolished in my opinion.

Anyhow, when I first tried Google Chrome I was bothered by occasional periods of high disk and CPU activity, which could last for minutes, or at least it felt like that. Since my hard disk is very loud when reading and writing, it really was bothering. Also the CPU activity was high at those occasions, which raised the CPU temperature, causing the CPU fan to spin, contributing significantly to the noise. This was a real showstopper for me, which felt a bit sad, since I had otherwise enjoyed the experience with Chrome.

Chrome Phishing and Malware option
Fortunately, after poking around the limited options settings in Chrome, I found a solution: Disable the "Enable phishing and malware protection" option, which is found under the Security section of the "Under the Hood" tab. This solved the problem completely, and Chrome is now very light on CPU and Disk usage. Total CPU usage for a days worth of work only amounts to a few minutes, which is very satisfying.

Of course, disabling a security feature is at your own risk. But in my case it was a matter of being able to use Google Chrome at all.

There's a Lifehacker post with a bunch of other tips on using and tweaking Chrome. Look here for a full list of keyboard shortcuts.