Posts tagged Software

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Chrome for Android Gets Server Accelerated Browsing

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Proxy browsing uses Google’s servers to squeeze Web pages then shoot them to Chrome faster using SPDY networking technology. Also in Chrome 26 for Android: password sync and early WebRTC support. Taking a page from Opera and Amazon playbooks, then writing on it some more, Google is using its own servers to speed up page loading on its mobile version of Chrome. The feature, called proxy browsing, is enabled in the Chrome 26 beta for Android, though it must be manually activated through the chrome://flags interface by selecting “Enable Data Compression Proxy.” With proxy browsing, a server with a fast Internet connection and more processing horsepower than a mobile device loads the Web page on behalf of that mobile device.

The chief advantage of the approach is that the page can be shrunk down, something Google does with its PageSpeed software. Google compresses images into its WebP format, scales down images that will only be seen on a smaller screen, and compresses text. In principle this is similar to what Opera does with its mobile browsers, in particular with the new Off-road Mode in the overhauled Opera for Android. Chrome for Android requires Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich, or Android 4.1 and 4.2, aka Jelly Bean. The initial releases of the Chrome for Android moved slowly, but now Google has put the browser on the same frequent-release cycle as Chrome for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. That lets it bring new features to the browser sooner — and Chrome 26 also is getting password sync and early WebRTC support.

Another part of Google’s proxy browsing approach emulates how Amazon does it with its Silk browser: using Google’s own SPDY technology. SPDY, a variation of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) that Web browsers and Web servers use to communicate, can streamline communications by compressing some text and by letting multiple data transfers share the same data connection to the server. SPDY also encrypts data for a bit more privacy — though that’s offset in a way by the fact that using the proxy browsing makes Google a browsing middleman.

The proxy browsing only works with unencrypted Web pages sent with ordinary HTTP. For secure pages sent with HTTPS, Chrome for Android sets up direct connections to the Web server as usual. People who’ve activated the feature can check how well it works by going to the chrome://net-internals page then tapping on “Bandwidth.” For details on the technology, check Google’s white paper on its data-compression technology. Also new in the Chrome 26 beta is early support for WebRTC, a real-time communications technology that enables browser-based audio and video chat. It, too, is hidden behind a flag that requires people to enable it manually.

“This is an early release — many things will not work well or at all,” cautioned WebRTC team member Punyabrata Ray in a mailing list announcement. The proxy browsing feature are enabled through the chome://flags interface on Google for Android. Microsoft prefers an alternative approach for real-time communications that it calls CU-RTC Web, but Mozilla and Google have ironed out earlier interoperability problems and are pushing WebRTC aggressively. Also in Chrome 26 for Android is password sync – once other devices are upgraded to Chrome 26. (The stable version of Chrome right now is version 25.) Password sync builds on earlier Chrome for Android abilities to synchronize open tabs, bookmarks, and browsing history.

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Google Compression Algorithm Zopfli May Lead to Faster Internet

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Algorithm promises faster data transfer speeds and reduced Web page load times by compressing content up to 8 percent smaller than zlib.  Google has released a new data compression algorithm it hopes will make the Internet faster for everyone. Dubbed Zopfli, the open-source algorithm will accelerate data transfer speeds and reduce Web page load times by compressing content up to 8 percent smaller than the zlib software library, Google said in a company blog post today. Named after a Swiss bread recipe, the new algorithm is an implementation of the Deflate algorithm, which is used in the ZIP archive format, as well as in gzip file compression.

“The higher data density is achieved by using more exhaustive compression techniques, which make the compression a lot slower, but do not affect the decompression speed,” said Lode Vandevenne, a Zurich-based software engineer who implemented Zopfli as part of this 20 percent time activity. Zopfli is a compression-only library, meaning that existing software can decompress the data. It is also bit-stream compatible with gzip, ZIP, PNG, and HTTP requests, among others.

“The smaller compressed size allows for better space utilization, faster data transmission, and lower web page load latencies,” he said, adding that mobile users will benefit from the smaller compression in the form of lower data transfer rates and reduced battery use. Because the amount of CPU time required for compression is two to three orders of magnitude more than zlib, Google believes Zopfli is best suited for applications where data is compressed once and but delivered many times over — such as static content for the Web.

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Skype Breaks Records, Traffic Grows By 44 Percent

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Microsoft’s call app increased its traffic in 2012 by twice the amount of all international phone carriers combined — it’s calls are now equal to one third of all global phone traffic.  Microsoft’s Skype is making some serious headway into the international phone traffic scene. New data (PDF) from telecom market research firm TeleGeography shows that Skype broke records in 2012 by hosting the same amount of calls as one third of the world’s phone traffic.

International phone traffic typically grows slowly, for example in 2012 it increased by 5 percent to 490 billion minutes. However, voice and messaging call apps are growing at a breakneck pace. Skype voice and video traffic grew 44 percent to 167 billion minutes in 2012. This increase is more than twice that of all international carriers combined. According to TeleGeography, if Skype’s traffic were included in the numbers for international phone traffic, there would have been 13 percent growth in 2012, rather than just 5 percent. This type of surge seems like it would make some carriers fear for their wallets.

“The pressure on carriers will continue to mount in the coming years,” TeleGeography analyst Stephan Beckert said in a statement. “While Skype is the best-known voice application, it’s far from the only challenger to the PSTN. Google (Talk and Voice), WeChat (Weixin), Viber, Nimbuzz, Line, and KakaoTalk have also become popular. And, perhaps most ominously for telcos, Facebook recently added a free voice calling feature to its Messenger application.” The Skype team rolled out two new updates for Windows and Mac yesterday, both labeled as version 6.2. The updates include “eGifting,” or the ability to send Skype credits to friends, which the recipients can use anytime.

Opera Embraces WebKit In Browser Brain Transplant

The Norwegian software company plans to throw its weight behind the browser engine used by Google and Apple this year instead of developing its own.  Opera Software, an independent voice in the browser market since the 1990s, will dramatically change its strategy by instead adopting the WebKit browser engine used by Safari and Chrome.

The Norwegian company announced the move today and said it will show off the first fruits of the work with a WebKit-based version of its Androidbrowser at the Mobile World Congress show in less than two weeks. But the company will move to WebKit for its desktop browser, too. A browser engine processes the Web page instructions written in HTML, JavaScript, and CSS then renders the results on screens. The engine also interactions that are increasingly important as the developer world expands from static Web pages to dynamic Web apps. Opera Chief Technology Officer Håkon Wium Liedescribed the company’s motives in a statement:

The WebKit engine is already very good, and we aim to take part in making it even better. It supports the standards we care about, and it has the performance we need. It makes more sense to have our experts working with the open source communities to further improve WebKit and Chromium, rather than developing our own rendering engine further. Opera will contribute to the WebKit and Chromium projects, and we have already submitted our first set of patches: to improve multi-column layout.

Hints of Opera’s WebKit work emerged with a mobile-browser project called ICE in January, but today’s news is a much more sweeping change than just a single product. Opera said it will move gradually to the WebKit for “most of its upcoming versions of browsers for smartphones and computers.” It’s not immediately clear which products will continue to use Opera’s in-house technology, and Opera declined to say which. Opera has struggled to keep its fifth-place ranking in the browser usage, but it’s certainly not irrelevant. The company also announced today that 300 million people use its browsers each month.

But there are difficult trends the company must face. On mobile devices, Opera Mini is a strong contender, but its popularity is chiefly on lower-end phones; iOS and Android devices come with their own WebKit-based browsers. On personal computers, Google’s Chrome rose from nowhere in a few years, quickly surpassing Opera and Safari, while Microsoft by some measures has reversed declines in its share of browser usage.

Although ditching its in-house Presto browser engine raises the possibility of engineering layoffs, Opera spokeswoman Zara Lauder took an optimistic tone when asked about it. ”We have never had more people at Opera working on our products than right now, and we look forward to contributing to WebKit,” Lauder said. “This change has been some time in the making, and all hands are now hard at work on making the best possible browser for our users.”

Although Opera’s profile is lower than that of many rivals, it’s still functioning financially. During the company’s third quarter of 2012, the most recent for which financial results are available, Opera reported revenue grew 40 percent to $56 million, and its profit was $6.5 million. Its revenue sources include payments from search traffic it drives to partners including Google and Yandex, its own advertising technology, and partnerships with mobile network operators.

The WebKit project began as the KHTML engine used in the KDE project to supply Linux with a polished user interface and a host of software utilities, but Apple became its chief sponsor when it based OS X’s WebKit on the project. WebKit got another major boost with Google’s embrace. Adobe Systems now is also contributing as it moves to recreate many of Flash Player’s abilities without requiring the browser plug-in, and WebKit also is used in the browsers of BlackBerry OS and Samsung’s Bada.

One notable consequence of moving to WebKit is that Opera will be able to more easily support the large and growing number of iOS devices. Apple rules prohibit browser engines besides a version of WebKit that Apple itself supplies (and incidentally, that runs slower than the version Safari on iOS itself uses). Google’s Chrome for iOS uses this Apple-supplied version of WebKit, and Opera would be able to make such a move more easily if its own browser used WebKit, too.

WebKit is not a single, unified project, though. For example, Chrome and Safari differ dramatically under the covers in how they execute the JavaScript programs on Web pages. Chrome uses Google’s V8 JavaScript engine, whereas Safari uses a different one called Nitro. Opera said it will use V8.

Another consequence of Opera’s change is that developers could have an easier time supporting browsers. Although independent testing will still be required, Web pages likely will be easier to write and test — especially advanced ones using newer features such as animations and “responsive” design that can handle a wide variety of screen types.

With Opera throwing in the towel on its own Presto engine technology, the bulk of the browser market will be reduced to using three primary engines: WebKit, Microsoft’s Trident, and Mozilla’s Gecko. Lie also announced Opera’s move on the WebKit mailing list. ”Switching from Presto to WebKit frees up resources and allows us to contribute to the WebKit platform,” Lie said. Being part of WebKit potentially gives Opera more clout in the standards world, because it can build experiments that are more easily tested and adopted by fellow WebKit members. That, in turn, makes it easier to formalize new ideas into actual standards.

Opera has begun work on first such standard through WebKit, an approach at Web page layouts that handle multiple columns of text and graphics more easily. Opera has begun submitting patches for the multicolumn layout idea. ”We have experimented with combining multicol layout with page floats and column spans; in 10 lines of CSS code one can create amazingly beautiful, scalable, and responsive paged presentations,” Lie said.

Opera’s move from Presto to WebKit arguably give the company a lot more engineering breathing room, since it can share labor with other browser makers instead of pulling all its own weight. But not everybody was happy to hear the news. ”Sad day for my former team at Opera and for the Web to lose a rendering engine,” tweeted Anne van Kesteren, who for years worked on standards issues at Opera.

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Chrome, IE, Silk pry open mobile-browsing market

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Newer arrivals on smartphones and tablets have only a small part of the market, but consider that a foot in the door.  New mobile browsers including Google’s Chrome, Microsoft’s IE, and Amazon’s Silk are gaining a foothold in a market that’s growing faster than traditional browsing on personal computers. The mobile browsing market has long been dominated by three products. Apple’s Safari has long held the top spot in usage share measurements by Net Applications, with second place going to Google’s unbranded Android browser after it surpassed Opera Mini last year.

Safari had 61.0 percent, the Android browser 21.5 percent, and Opera Mini 9.8 percent of usage in January, measurements released today show. But new contenders are starting to appear now. The most assured of success is Chrome, which pushed aside BlackBerry OS’s browser last November for fourth place. Chrome works on Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich, or 4.1 and 4.2, aka Jelly Bean, and now ships with newer Android devices. Chrome rose from 1.5 percent of use in December to 2.0 percent in January, Net Applications said. The next to bump BlackBerry down a peg is Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which rose from 1.2 percent to 1.3 percent to claim fifth place in January.

The BlackBerry browser — which could get a boost if the brand-new BlackBerry 10 OS and its first two phones, the Q10 and Z10 catch on — slipped down to 1.2 percent of browser usage in January. That’s still ahead of Amazon’s Silk, at 0.8 percent, or Opera Mobile, at 0.6 percent. And it’s far ahead of Mozilla’s Firefox version for Android, which didn’t even cross the 0.05 percent threshold. Mobile browsing is on the increase, rising to an all-time high of 11.8 percent of total browsing in January, according to Net Applications.

On PCs, the browser usage share remained relatively stable. IE remained the leader with 55.1 percent of the market, and Firefox at 19.9 percent kept its edge over Chrome at 17.5 percent. Safari and Opera stayed level at 5.2 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively. Net Applications bases its usage data on activity logged on a collection of more than 40,000 Web sites with more than 160 million visits each month. It attempts to weight the data to account for differences in its collection of sites and overall global Internet usage. It also logs only the first Web site visit by a user on each day, in an attempt to measure what people are using rather than how much they use it. A rival measurement service, StatCounter, bases its measurements on clicks only and doesn’t attempt any geographic weighting. It shows different winners and losers, with Chrome in the lead at 36.5 percent, IE next with 30.7 percent, and Firefox in third place with 21.4 percent.

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Microsoft To Developers: This Is The ‘Modern.IE’ World

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As Microsoft continues to overhaul its approach to, well, everything, the Internet Explorer team offers a mea culpa and a carrot to Web developers with modern.IE.  In case you weren’t sure, Microsoft wants you to really, really understand that Internet Explorer 10 isn’t just any old update to the much-maligned browser. The latest example: “modern.IE,” a set of tools to help Web developers, the company announced today. ”It’s still too hard to test sites across the different OSes and browsers,” said Ryan Gavin, Internet Explorer’s general manager, in a phone interview. “On our part, we can encourage best practices. We know we can do better here, so we’re providing the tools and support so that developers spend more of their time innovating and less of their time testing.”

“More time innovating, less time testing,” was Gavin’s watch-phrase of the day, something he repeated throughout our conversation. Microsoft clearly believes that modern.IE’s toolset will appeal to developers. Drop a URL into the scanning tool text field, and it kicks back a report with suggestions on how to improve your site split into three categories. The first is a long-overdue bit of housekeeping that breaks down problems that have arisen from supporting legacy versions of Internet Explorer.  Microsoft is putting money and manpower behind modern.IE. Gavin explained that if the tool finds known bugs or issues with a site, the tool will assign them bug IDs and allow the developers to request access to the IE engineering team. “We’ll work with you on those specific bugs,” he said. “Right now, we’re running on a 48-hour turnaround from the e-mail to when we get back to you.”

The scanner also will pick up on other problems that developers can fix on their own. This includes things like outdated jQuery frameworks, which is important since 91 percent of developers now use jQuery, Gavin said. In this case, the report would recommend the next compatible version of jQuery to minimize testing. Other problems the scanner will look for include common compatibility issues, CSS prefixes, database library issues, conditional comments, and browser detection including legacy versions of IE instead of the now-preferred feature detection. “40 percent of the top 5,000 sites [by traffic and volume] are using outdated libraries,” Gavin said.

The second component to the modern.IE report is a set of virtual testing tools for making it easier to update and maintain standards. To that end, Microsoft is working in conjunction with browser-testing emulator BrowserStack to test any combination of hardware, operating system, and browser. Usually, the service runs around $20 per month, Gavin said, but Microsoft will cover the first three months.

AddIns

Microsoft has built Firefox and Chrome add-ons for BrowserStack to provide one-click access to the service, streamlining its use. The third component in the modern.IE report is a suggestion of best coding practices going forward. While Gavin cautioned that the recommendations can not encompass every aspect of coding for the modern Web, he did say that if developers follow Microsoft’s suggestions they will, “avoid 99 percent of the coding problems.”

The list of recommendations has some heft behind it, too. It’s being curated by Dave Methvin, president of the jQuery Foundation, and Rey Bango, a technical evangelist at Microsoft and former member of the jQuery Project. ”We’re going to be iterating and improving this over time,” Gavin said. “We’re looking for developer feedback to continue to make this useful.” Whether developers are willing to forgive Microsoft for its previous heavy-handed approach to Web development is another story entirely. We have reached out to individual developers for their take on modern.IE, and will update with comments from them when they get back to us.

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Google Glass Hackathons Coming Up in SF and NY

The tech giant is throwing two events to let developers have an “early look at Glass” and become familiar with the wearable platform’s software.

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Google announced today that it is throwing two hackathons for developers to get to know and work on its Google Glass project. The people allowed to participate in the events are those who agreed to fork over $1,500 for the developer edition of the wearable device. ”It’s the first opportunity for a group of developers to get together and develop for Glass,” The hackathons are slated to be two days long and take place in San Francisco on January 28 and 29 and in New York on February 1 and 2. Those developers attending the events will be able to have an “early look at Glass” and “have a device to use while on-site.”

Google first debuted the titanium-framed glasses headset during its Google I/O conference in June. At the time, the wearable platform had video and audio capability, a built-in compass and accelerometer, and was controlled by head movements. Babak Parviz, the head of the Google Glass project, said in arecent interview that the company is currently also experimenting with voice commands, a touch pad, and a phone call feature. Google has yet to announce a release date for the developer edition of the device but it’s expected sometime this year. A release for a product geared toward the general public probably won’t be available until 2014. Google for more information. We’ll update the story when we hear back.

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Delete yourself from the Web by iPhone

DeleteMe service for removing your identity from the myriad nooks and crannies of the Internet gets a mobile app for quick digital identity management.

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Sometimes, there is truth in advertising. Today’s case-in-point: Abine’s DeleteMe Mobile, which, as the name suggests, vigorously petitions Internet data brokers to remove personally identifying information from their databases. Previously only available as a Web service, the app debuts on iOS with an Android version in the works. DeleteMe is a partially human-powered service where Abine employees take on the onerous duty of contacting data brokers on your behalf. That’s an important step because many of them have been known to add your data again, just months after removing it, according to Abine’s in-house online privacy analyst, Sarah Downey.

“…[A]lthough a majority of cell phone app users (57 percent) have uninstalled or decided not to install an app due to privacy concerns about the app’s use or access to their personal information, there’s a serious lack of privacy apps on the market to address these concerns,” Downey said in an instant messenger conversation about DeleteMe Mobile. ”For more and more people, mobile devices are how they get online. It’s important that people have privacy options however they get online,” she added. DeleteMe Mobile comes with one free entry removal from any of the data brokerage services that it detects your information at. You can also choose the specific entries you want removed, giving the DeleteMe subscriber a more active role in protecting him or herself. DeleteMe Mobile costs $24.99 quarterly, which works out to be about 20 percent cheaper than the $129 per year for the Web-based DeleteMe. Abine also makes DoNotTrackMe, another privacy-focused tool for blocking tracking cookies.

Google revs Chrome for Android faster with new beta release

The first beta version of Chrome adds several features, but perhaps the most important is that it doesn’t lag the PC version of the browser nearly as much. Android users who want to live an edgier life now can try a beta version of Chrome. Google yesterday released the Chrome 25 beta for Android 4.x smartphones and tablets, a version number in sync with the release for personal computers. Previously, the only option was the stable version of Chrome for Android, which is still way back at version 18.

The Chrome for Android beta is available on the Google Play app store, but only by following that link — it’s not visible in Google Play’s search, Google said. The beta version can be installed and run side by side with the stable version. Google has been working to put Chrome for Android on the same six-week update cycle as the personal computer version of the browser, and it looks like this release is part of that change. The Chrome 25 beta brings a number of new features, but Google warns of sluggish performance and some other problems.

Among the new features, according to Chrome developer Peter Beverloo:

• A new “text autosizing” technique for formatting text on mobile-device screens, drawing in part upon ”font inflation” work by Mozilla. Sometimes it seems to cause Chrome to display different areas of text in mismatched font sizes, though.

• Faster JavaScript performance trough use of a newer version of Google’s V8 software.

• A range of developer-oriented features such as CSS filters for visual effects, dynamic viewport units for better handling of screen-size and pixel-size variations, IndexedDB for offline data storage and other data-handling needs, and flexbox layout abilities for more adaptable formatting.

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Web Technology: 5 Things to Watch in 2013

Don’t expect a resolution to the Web standards fracas next year, but high-res images will happen, and new browsers might carve out a niche. The evolution of the Web is a messy process. We do so much with the Web today that it’s easy to take it for granted. Banking, social networking, word processing, travel planning, education, shopping — the Web is reaching to new domains and tightening its grip where it’s already used. To match that expansion, the Web is evolving.

But the Web is built by countless individuals — browser engineers who enable new technology, Web developers who bring that technology online, and standards group members who iron out compatibility wrinkles. With so many constituents, it’s no wonder there’s so much craziness in charting the Web’s future. The new year will bring new chaos on the Web, and things will be sorted out in only some areas. Here’s a look at what’ll settle down in 2013 — and what won’t.

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iOS comes with Safari. Windows Phone comes with Internet Explorer. Android comes with its own browser and, for Android 4.x users, Chrome. It’s a very different way of doing things compared to the browser free-for-all in the PC market. In 2013, though, there’s a chance people will exercise choice where they can and reject a future where browsers end up being effectively locked to the mobile OS. The forces for lock-in are strong, if for no other reason that it’s just simpler to use a smartphone’s built-in browser. But don’t forget — there was a day when IE ruled the desktop browser world. In 2012, programmers laid the groundwork for big-name alternabrowsers.

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We saw the arrival of Chrome on iOS and the reboot of Firefox on Android. iOS and Windows Phone place restrictions on third-party browsers, but Android is open, and other browsers there include Dolphin, Opera Mini, Opera Mobile, and UC Browser. The restriction on iOS is that third-party browsers must use an Apple-supplied version of the WebKit browser engine that’s more secure but slower than the version Safari uses. Windows Phone and Windows RT have related restrictions.

On personal computers, it’s completely ordinary to switch to other browsers depending on security, performance, features. In the mobile world, that’s not the case. But the alternative browsers — especially when companies like Google put marketing muscle and brand equity behind them — could convince people that maybe they should venture farther afield. With Android spreading into more hands than iOS, it’s possible the openness of the PC industry could Oh, one more thing — don’t be surprised to see a Mozilla browser on iOS, too.

Firefox OS makes a peep
Mozilla announced some early progress with Firefox OS in 2012 — though it failed to deliver it during the year as it had planned. Expect the browser-based operating system, which runs Web apps and is geared for budget smartphones, in early 2013.

Firefox is barred from iOS and Windows RT, and it is a rarity on Android. Without a presence in the mobile market, Mozilla can’t use its browser as leverage to pursue its goal of an open Internet. Firefox OS, geared for smartphones and running browser-based apps, is Mozilla’s answer. With it, Mozilla hopes to break the ecosystem lock that is settling people into the phone-OS-app store-cloud service silos from Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. The first big Firefox OS partner is Telefonica, which plans to offer phones in Latin America with the operating system as a cheaper smartphones alternative.

“Mozilla’s prediction is that in 2013, the Web will emerge as a viable mobile platform and a third, alternative option to closed, proprietary walled gardens,” said Jay Sullivan, Mozilla’s vice president of products. Firefox and Firefox OS obviously are key parts of Mozilla’s effort to make that happen Firefox OS won’t be an easy sell since inexpensive Android phones are common and iPhones continue to spread. But carriers can’t be happy ceding power to Google and Apple. And Mozilla doesn’t need to have 40 percent market share to claim victory: as long as its foothold is big enough to keep Web programmers from coding mobile sites only for the big boys.

Web standards divisiveness persists
Those hoping the end of a rift in Web standards governance most likely will have to keep on waiting.  The World Wide Web Consortium long has played a central role in revising the standards out of which the Web is built, but a decade ago it chose to push a standard called XHTML that wasn’t compatible with HTML. The browser makers, it turned out, had veto power, and largely ignored XHTML in favor of advancing HTML on their own through a group called WHATWG. This split persists — and it’s not going away.

The W3C is enthusiastic about HTML and related Web standards such as CSS for formatting. But even as it’s ramped up its efforts, with plans to finish HTML5 standardization in 2014, the WHATWG has moved to a “living document” model that constantly updates HTML. W3C CEO Jeff Jaffe has been trying to speed up Web standardization, with some success, and the W3C has remained relevant when it comes to CSS and some other work. But it has yet to fully regain its status with HTML itself, despite new members, new editors, and new energy. In fact, the cultural gulf in some ways appears to be widening. Even as the W3C’s formal committee machinations expand with new members, the WHATWG’s HTML editor, Ian Hickson, is moving the other direction. He said in a Google+ post:

Consensus (also known as “design by committee”) is a terrible way to design a language or platform. Committee design dilutes responsibility and blame (everyone just starts saying things like “yeah, I didn’t like it, but we had to do that to get consensus”) while letting everyone take credit for everything (since their ok is necessary to get consensus), which makes it an attractive proposition for people who want to further their careers without really doing any work…

You end up with a technology that doesn’t know what it is and doesn’t do anything well.

Web standards continue to evolve, but at least regarding HTML itself, it doesn’t look like either side will agree the other has the superior process.

High-res images on the Web
Apple’s Retina displays — the high-resolution screens used in iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks — enable a new level of crispness and clarity in images and text. Software makers have been gradually updating their programs with new icons, graphic elements, and abilities to take advantage of the displays. It’s been work, but not exactly a major re-engineering effort.

But Retina on the Web is a very different matter. First of all, nobody likes slow-loading pages, and Retina imagery has four times the pixels as conventional imagery. Worse, more of the Web is moving toward mobile devices that have an even harder time managing big images and whose data usage is pricey, and you especially don’t want mobile users downloading multiple versions of the same image when they don’t need to. At the same time, mobile devices are often held closer to the eye than PCs but using physically smaller screens with higher pixel densities. That means old assumptions no longer are valid about how many pixels wide a graphic should be. The technology to fix this has the label “responsive images.”

Standards to the rescue! But uh-oh: Two camps each favor their own approach — one called the srcset attribute, the other known as the picture element. Resolution probably will come in 2013, though. There have been emotional differences of opinion, but Robin Berjon, one of the five new HTML editors at the W3C, sees discussions as fruitful now. He said in a blog post:

We have two proposals for responsive images, the srcset attribute and the picture element. Both have now reached the level of maturity at which they can be most usefully compared, and this discussion is about to go through a new chapter.

Browser makers and Web developers are actively moving to high-resolution graphics and videos on Retina-capable devices, so regardless of what happens in standards groups, the responsive images issue will be fixed. After all, high-resolution displays are increasingly common, mobile devices are increasingly important, and nobody likes looking at pixelated, mushy images when they don’t have to.

Web bloat
The good news is the Web is getting steadily more sophisticated, powerful, and useful. The bad news is there’s a price to pay for those advantages. Unfortunately for those who have capped data plans or who live in rural areas with subpar broadband, that increase in Web sophistication means Web pages get bigger and take longer to fetch.

There’s an old adage in the computing industry that the new horsepower that chips deliver is immediately squandered by new software features, so computers don’t actually appear to get faster. There’s a corollary in the Web world: As broadband spreads and speeds up, as faster LTE supplants 3G, so Web pages sponge up the extra network capacity. The HTTP archive keeps tabs on the state of the Web, and it shows just how things are ballooning in its sample of tens of thousands of Web pages.

From December 16, 2010 to December 15, 2012, the average Web page increased in size from 726KB to 1,286KB. The amount of JavaScript increased from 115KB to 211KB. And the images ballooned from 430KB to 793KB. An optimist can find good news here, too. Google has an entire team devoted to making the Web faster, introducing new technology such as SPDY to speed up servers and browsers. Browser makers obsessively best new versions to try to catch any regressions that would slow things down. New standards make it easier for Web developers to time exactly how fast their pages actually load. And don’t forget the bloat is there for a reason. Do you really want to dial the Web back to 1997?

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