I love Opera 10

As long-time readers will know, my web browser of choice is Opera. I’ve been using it as my primary browser since at least version 9.0, which came out over three years ago. On September 1st, the latest version was released:

In a world of ordinary Web browsers, Opera 10 stands out from the crowd with innovative new features wrapped in an elegant, fresh interface. Opera 10 is absolutely free, comes in 43 languages, and works on Windows, Mac and Linux platforms.

Opera 10 really does look fantastic, and has a decent list of new features. Interestingly enough, I haven’t found the most touted feature, Turbo, all that useful. I suppose I haven’t really used it on a slow connection however, and that’s what it is designed for.

Here are my favorite things about the new release:

  • Speed. Opera now loads Facebook and Google Reader as fast as, if not faster than, Chrome. I used to leave Chrome open for those apps, but not since Opera 10.
  • The big, beautiful new icon, as seen above.
  • The updated interface. It’s slick, and I love the little circle notification when a tab has been updated. Visual tabs are also pretty neat. I also enjoy that I can get rid of the File menu.
  • Spell checking built-in. Yes I know other browsers have this.
  • Customizable speed dial! You can now increase the number of buttons on your speed dial.
  • Built-in auto-updates. This is long overdue for Opera, and works quite well (I was using the betas and release candidates which got auto-updated).

Favorites I mentioned about versions 9.5 and 9.1 are still relevant too!

If you haven’t tried Opera, I encourage you to do so. It’s a fantastic browser! Others seem to think so too – Opera 10 was downloaded 10 million times during the first week of release. Pretty impressive.

All browsers have security issues

ielogo You may have heard in the last day or so about a critical flaw found in Internet Explorer. Microsoft says that “the vulnerability could allow remote code execution if a user views a specially crafted Web page using Internet Explorer.” The risk is mitigated if you run an account with fewer privileges or if you run IE in the High security mode. As always, you should ensure your machine is up-to-date with all of the latest patches at Microsoft Update (you can also find downloads at the Microsoft Download Center).

Unlike most zero day exploits, this one is actually infecting systems fairly quickly. That’s probably why Microsoft decided to take immediate action. As the Zero Day blog points out:

Researching, fixing, testing, and releasing a security patch within an eight day window is an incredible feat — especially given the need to support all versions of IE across all platforms and languages.  This is an ‘all hands on deck’ response from Microsoft – I don’t think we’ll see this as the norm for less critical patches in the future as it is quite disruptive to their own processes.

Make sure you update soon! Like right now!

When a vulnerability like this is disclosed, a common suggestion is to install and use a different browser, such as Firefox. That’s not a bad idea, but don’t think that will solve all of your problems! All browsers have security issues. Yesterday, for instance, Opera released an update to address at least seven security vulnerabilities. And today, Firefox released updates to both versions 2 and 3 to patch roughly a dozen security holes. And no, Chrome and Safari are not off the hook – just two days ago, they tied for last place in a test of password security.

Always make sure you’re running the latest version with all patches installed, no matter which browser you’re using. On top of that, be careful, pay attention, and use common sense when clicking links and opening files.

Google Native Client: ActiveX for the other browsers

Today, Google announced Native Client, “a technology that aims to give web developers access to the full power of the client’s CPU while maintaining the browser neutrality, OS portability and safety that people expect from web applications.” Basically it’s a browser plugin that hosts a sandbox for native x86 code. So instead of writing a web page, you’d write a normal application and execute it in the browser.

I admit that I’ve only scanned the documentation and research paper so perhaps I’m missing the details, but Native Client seems entirely unnecessary for a bunch of reasons:

  • There are lots of ways to accomplish this already – Java, ActiveX, Flash/Flex, Silverlight 2, Alchemy, etc. Why do we need another one? Will it be very different or better? Heck even ClickOnce seems better than this.
  • What’s the point of running native code inside a sandbox inside a browser? Unless the sandbox is super efficient and our browsers improve by an order of magnitude, it would seem to me that the benefits of native code would be erased.
  • Similarly, with the performance of Javascript/HTML/CSS in browsers consistently improving, why write native code at all? Web apps are becoming very fast.
  • I don’t really want to install yet another plugin. The classic “chicken and egg” plugin problem will be in effect here (users won’t install the plugin without great apps and developers won’t create great apps if no one has the plugin).

This project feels a lot like Google is reinventing the wheel. Or at the very least, throwing something else out there to see if it sticks. I hope developers think about this before jumping in. A bunch of the comments on Google’s post suggest that will happen, such as this one:

Um, isn’t this called desktop software?

That kinda says it all, I think!

When you get right down to it, Native Client is just ActiveX for browsers other than Internet Explorer. Sorry Google, but that doesn’t sound very appealing to me.

WebKit inside Internet Explorer? No thanks

webkit Inside every web browser is something called a rendering engine. The browsers get most of the glory, but it’s actually the rendering engines that do the heavy lifting. Firefox uses Gecko, Opera uses Presto, Chrome and Safari use WebKit, and Internet Explorer uses Trident. There are a few others as well, but those are the main ones. Gecko and WebKit are open source, Presto and Trident are proprietary.

Much was made of the fact that Google decided to use WebKit inside Chrome instead of building yet another rendering engine. I agree that it was the right move. Should Microsoft follow suit and replace Trident with WebKit? Steve Ballmer made some interesting comments today on the topic:

"There will still be a lot of proprietary innovation in the browser itself so we may need to have a rendering service," Ballmer said, adding, "Open source is interesting. Apple has embraced Webkit and we may look at that, but we will continue to build extensions for IE 8."

That prompted more than a few people to wish for Ballmer’s comments to come true, including Steve Hodson who said:

This idea of IE switching over to using the WebKit engine is interesting on a couple levels. First this would put two main browsers on an equal footing as far as rendering ability which would make for a much easier development cycle. It would also make for a better browsing experience for the users as developers would no longer be forced to program against the vagaries of IE.

I hear that last point all the time and it drives me nuts. Yes, Internet Explorer 6 was a nightmare to code for. But that’s simply not the case for Internet Explorer 7 or the recent Internet Explorer 8 beta. At least not in my experience.

I’d hate to see Microsoft adopt WebKit, for a few reasons:

  • Competition is good, and WebKit needs worthy competitors to continue to push the boundaries.
  • There’s nothing wrong with Trident. Why throw away something that works well and is continually improving? And I’m not just talking about the version of Trident in IE8. Microsoft has had full support for things like contentEditable since IE6, something Mozilla/Gecko still hasn’t gotten right.
  • It’s not like the existing versions of Internet Explorer would magically disappear! This would be yet another browser/rendering engine combo that developers would need to test against.

And there are good reasons that Microsoft won’t adopt WebKit too, not the least of which is licensing. Backwards compatibility is a concern also.

It might sound appealing at first, but I don’t think it would be a good thing if all the major browsers used the same rendering engine.

Thoughts on Google Chrome

As you probably read or heard today, Google has released a beta version of their very own browser, named Chrome. You can download it today for Windows XP or Windows Vista, and Google promises that Mac and Linux versions are coming soon. I downloaded it as soon as it was available, and have been playing with it all day. Here are some of my impressions and thoughts so far:

  • The interface is surprisingly simple. I like it.
  • Chrome is fast. The two sites I’ve noticed the greatest speed difference with so far are Google Reader and Buxfer.
  • I love the “Create application shortcuts” feature. The first thing I did after testing that out was uninstall Mozilla Prism. This feature is what will keep me running Chrome.
  • I like having the status bar at the bottom of the window, so the fact that it is missing in Chrome will take some getting used to. Fortunately a box still appears when you hover over a link.
  • Firefox made an effort to look more “native” to the operating system with version 3, and I wish Google had done the same with Chrome.
  • A couple of my favorite Opera features are built into Chrome: paste and go, search shortcuts (such as “g” for Google”), and the “Speed Dial” page, though it is automatically created in Chrome vs manually created in Opera.
  • As a web developer, I’m incredibly grateful that Google built Chrome atop the WebKit rendering engine, rather than creating yet another one for us to test against.
  • I find it amusing that the Google Chrome logo has the same color scheme as the Windows logo.

Google very creatively launched Chrome with a web cartoon written by Scott McCloud. It’s quite long, but worth a look.

If you’d like to read more about Google Chrome, I suggest the following:

And for my own reference, here is the NYTimes launch article.

I’ll be sticking with Opera for now, but I’ll definitely keep my eye on Google Chrome.

My favorite things about Opera 9.5

opera 9.5 Everyone is talking about Firefox 3, but I’d like to take a moment to talk about a different browser! On June 12th, Opera released the latest version of its desktop web browser. Version 9.5 includes a bunch of new features and lots of incremental improvements. Here are some of my favorite things about it so far:

  • Faster. Opera says the new version is twice as fast as 9.2 at rendering HTML and Javascript, and my experience would support that. I haven’t timed it obviously, but 9.5 does indeed seem quicker.
  • Quick Find. Firefox 3 has the so-called “awesome bar” that remembers page titles and such, allowing you to type in the address bar to find pages you’ve visited in the past. Opera 9.5 does this too, and a whole lot more – it indexes the actual content of pages! Remember a word you read on a page you visited? Type it in the address bar, and Opera will help you find it again. Very slick.
  • Vista stability. I don’t think this is an official improvement, but 9.5 definitely seems more stable on Windows Vista than 9.2 did.
  • New look and feel. When I first launched 9.5, I was a little surprised at the black default theme. After a day or two of using it though, I’m hooked. I love it. It looks great on Vista too.

Opera 9.5 also has support for Extended Validation (EV) certificates – finally!

One new feature that I haven’t tried yet is Opera Link. It allows you to synchronize your bookmarks and Speed Dial settings between computers and devices. Firefox 3 has a similar feature. It’s a great idea for the average user, but for someone like me who uses del.icio.us, it’s kind of useless.

Of course, my list of ten things to love about Opera from last year is still valid too!

Want to give Opera 9.5 a try? You can download it here.

Apple Software Update delivers Safari by default

apple safari For years, software manufacturers have been bundling applications together. Chances are if you download an instant messaging client from Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo, you’ll also be asked to install their toolbar and search engine. I would say that such behavior has come to be expected when you download something new. Including optional packages in updates however, is not something that is done regularly. Microsoft doesn’t include new applications in automatic updates, for instance. You can imagine the uproar there would be if they did – it was bad enough when they included IE7 (an update to existing software).

Apple recently started doing this with its Software Update service. Instead of including just updates for iTunes, the service now includes Safari by default. Mozilla CEO John Lilly explains:

Anyone who uses iTunes on Windows has Apple Software Update installed on their machines, which does just what I’ve described above: it checks for new patches available for Apple-produced software on your Windows machine, alerts the user to the availability, and allows updates to be installed. That’s great — wonderful, in fact. Makes everyone more likely to have current, patched versions of Apple’s software, and makes everyone safer.

The problem here is that it lists Safari for getting an update — and has the “Install” box checked by default — even if you haven’t ever installed Safari on your PC.

Lilly points out that this is wrong, because it “means that an update isn’t just an update” and that it “undermines the safety of users on the web”. I have to agree with him.

Tom Krazit at CNET says this isn’t a big issue:

If you don’t want Safari, don’t click “install.”

Normally I’d say he makes a good point, but this is different. Apple hasn’t made Safari an opt-in choice for users, they’ve checked it by default. Most users will just click install, meaning they’ll get Safari too.

Not cool, Apple.

Read: CNET News.com, John Lilly

Safari comes to Windows

Post ImageIt’s no secret that an incredibly large number of web developers build sites only for Internet Explorer, ignoring standards and other browsers. It drives me nuts. Unless instructed by the client to focus on a particular browser, I build sites that work on as many different browsers and platforms as possible. Take Podcast Spot, for instance. We want it to work anywhere, no matter what technology the user happens to have installed. So far, I think we’ve done a good job. There’s always room for improvement however.

Since we’re a “Microsoft shop” we don’t have any Macs in the office. For testing, we’ve relied on friends and the incredible BrowserCam service. It would be nice to just have a Mac though. Or, you know, Safari on Windows:

Apple® today introduced Safari™ 3, the world’s fastest and easiest-to-use web browser for Windows PCs and Macs. Safari is the fastest browser running on Windows, based on the industry standard iBench tests, rendering web pages up to twice as fast as IE 7 and up to 1.6 times faster than Firefox 2.

Let me first say that I think this is absolutely fantastic news! The more standards-adhering browsers available the better. That said – what about Opera?! Dammit why does everyone ignore the best cross-platform browser. Argh!

You can download Safari here. It’s just over 8 MB. I just installed it and already found a bug. I have three monitors, and dragging Safari to a different screen than the one it launched in and maximizing causes the application to disappear. Oh well, it’s beta. Looks exactly like Safari on the Mac to me though (and that kind of sucks, I hate how Apple completely ignores the Windows look and feel).

There’s lots more discussion from around the blogosphere here.

Read: Apple

BitTorrent Exploit Discovered in Opera

Post ImageAs much as I love Opera, it is still just software, and that means it too is vulnerable to security issues. Maybe not as badly as IE or Firefox, but vulnerable nonetheless. That said, I’d be remiss if I only posted about Opera’s positives and ignored this bit of news:

It is being reported that Opera v9.20 is vulnerable to an attack which causes it to consume 100% of its host machine’s resources, rendering the PC unusable.

There is currently no work-around so anyone worried about this situation should disable the BitTorrent engine within Opera by following the instructions found on Opera’s site.

Fortunately I wouldn’t have been affected by this. The first thing I did after installing Opera 9.2 was disable BitTorrent downloading in the browser, as I much prefer µTorrent.

Read: TorrentFreak

Tell us about Internet Explorer 8!

Post ImageThe 72-hour conversation that Microsoft likes to call Mix is over tomorrow, and so far, there has been absolutely no news about Internet Explorer 8. As I like to say, the silence has been deafening! Oh there’s been lots of news about Silverlight (Colin has a number of great posts), but nothing about IE8. A quick search shows that Miguel de Icaza (among others, undoubtedly) noticed this as well:

Someone mentioned (and I forget whom it was) that talk about IE8 was strangely missing from the whole conversation. There were no announcements about new upcoming features in IE, no mention of whether IE8 will support what-wg nor any future plans.

It makes sense that Silverlight should have its day to shine, but seriously, IE8 is important! Why not drop even a few tidbits about what to expect? Firefox 3 received a ton of press back in February when it became clear that the nextgen browser would support offline applications.

Maybe Microsoft is keeping quiet about IE8 to let the “we love all platforms and browsers” message permeate the blogosphere.

I should point out that the IE team posted this almost two weeks ago:

We will have more information to share about the next release in the future, but MIX07 is too early yet to discuss specifics.

All I want are tidbits, not specifics!

UPDATE: Mary Jo Foley has written a post describing what was mentioned about IE8 at Mix today. Mostly general stuff, like security being the top priority.

Read: IE Blog