GNU Compiler Collection (GCC) Working on Mozilla's Rust

Subject: General Tech | December 5, 2013 - 03:59 AM |
Tagged: GCC, Rust, mozilla

Rust is an interesting language in that it aims to be safe and concurrent. It was discussed frequently at Mozilla Summit back in early October both on its own and in terms of the experimental HTML5 rendering engine, Servo. From how it was describe to me from other attendees, it prides itself on its task-based architecture. Basically, your application is (or, at least, is often) set up like a bunch of tasks that get scheduled concurrently and pass messages to one another if they want to communicate. This concept allow for efficient multithreading because each task is inherently independent.

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This may remind you of the experiments John Carmack did with Wolfenstein and Haskell.

Apparently at least one developer from the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC) is also paying attention. Philip Herron has been working on the "gccrs" branch to create a GCC front-end for Mozilla's language.

We will need languages like Rust in the near future as processors continue to ramp up in thread count. Just look at the Xeon Phi story from last week: a bootable 288-thread standalone processor based on the Silvermont architecture. If you want this processor to be used efficiently then you better be light on the main thread otherwise your 6 TFLOPs (3 TFLOPs double-precision) will only be quick to behave like an Atom.

Source: Phoronix

Mozilla Summit 2013, Day 3: Toronto Office Tour and Games!

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | October 7, 2013 - 11:55 PM |
Tagged: Mozilla Summit 2013, mozilla

Summit 2013 came to an end on Sunday after a few closing keynotes, breakout sessions, a tour of the Mozilla Toronto campus, and interpretive dancing of what the fox says. Do not worry, Mozillians in our audience, I will only interpretively illustrate the interpretive dance with a totally unironic Shockwave Flash screenshot.

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Real smooth moves, indeed.

On the topic of Flash demos, the first session I attended included an extended preview of Shumway. As discussed in Day 2, the project intends to keep Flash content alive after the platform fades. A few demos were shown to attendees including a signification portion of the HomestarRunner email, "Your Friends", where Strong Bad harms the entire cast except himself and The Poopsmith (and other off-cast or yet-to-be-introduced characters, of course). The video played just about perfectly.

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BananaBread OF DOOM!

"Bananabread" was also modified into a special demo showing live textures from video elements. The game even projected a separate game of Doom against the wall of the level. This can, of course, be used for non-gaming projects as well; projects have been developed to use shader effects on web camera video for GPU-accelerated post-processing tasks.

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The closing ceremonies followed the breakout sessions and mostly thanked their community. A few "Mozillians" were voted by their peers for their popular influence and were recognized with signed posters and, in one case, a paid trip to any Mozilla campus in the world. Plus, people were hugged by a fox; a picture is worth a thousand words.

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The last event of the day, at least the last one relevant to a computer hardware website, was a tour of the Mozilla Toronto campus. The office is structured in departments around a central kitchen, restroom, and discussion area. They attempt to have a sort-of Canadian cottage feel with a couple of Adirondack chairs and a wood-beam ceiling. There is also a group of desks called "Benoits St." because, well, it just so happens everyone who works in that section is named Benoit.

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Community Room with its reconfigurable tables and musical corner.

Thus ends the coverage of Mozilla Summit 2013, Toronto.

Source: Mozilla

Mozilla Summit 2013, Day 2: APCs and Servos in a Flash

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | October 6, 2013 - 01:14 PM |
Tagged: mozilla, Mozilla Summit 2013

The second day of Mozilla Summit 2013 kicked off with three more keynote speeches, a technology fair, and two blocks of panels. After two days and about two dozen demos, several extremely experimental, I am surprised to only see one legitimate demo fail attempting to connect two 3D browser games in multiplayer over WebRTC… and that seemed to be the fault of a stray automatic Windows Update on the host PC.

Okay technically another demo “failed” because an audience member asked, from the crowd, to browse a Mozilla Labs browser prototype, Servo, to an arbitrary website which required HTTPS and causing the engine to nope. I do not count that one.

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Speaking of Servo, the HTML rendering engine ended the “Near Term Strategy and the Products we Build” keynote with an announcement of its full score to ACID1. The engine, developed in Mozilla’s own RUST language, is a sandbox for crazy ideas such as, “What would happen if you allow Javascript to execute in its own thread when it would normally be blocked by Gecko?” Basically any promising task to parallelize is being explored (they openly solicit community insights) in making the web browser better suited for the current and upcoming multi- and many-core devices out there. Samsung is also involved on the project, which makes sense for their mobile products.

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Also discussed is Shumway, a Javascript rendering engine for Flash content. Candy Crush Saga was presented as an example of a game, entirely reliant on Flash, playing without the plugin installed in a similar way to how WINE allows Windows applications within Linux. Shumway has been known for a while but is becoming quite effective in its performance. What happens to content after Flash becomes deprecated (be it 3 years, 10 years, or 100 years) has been a concern of mine with videos such as HomestarRunner holding cultural relevance despite not updating in almost 3 years.

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Lastly, we saw a demo of the APC Paper which is expected to lead Firefox OS into the desktop market. It is actually a little smaller than I expected from the pictures.

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One more day before everyone heads home. So far not much has happened but I will keep you updated as things occur.

Source: Mozilla

Mozilla Summit 2013, Day 1: Unreal Engine and UP

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | October 5, 2013 - 03:58 PM |
Tagged: mozilla, Mozilla Summit 2013

I have volunteered with Mozilla starting about a month after I read the Windows Store certification requirements (prior to that I was ramping up development of modern apps). I am currently attending, due to that volunteer work, Mozilla Summit in Toronto. The first day, Friday, has been filled with keynotes including some partially-new announcements.

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Mozilla has a number of branded elevator doors, signs, and carpets covering the hotel to promote the event for the attendees. Unfortunately, my hotel room was not in the tower this elevator serviced. Also unfortunate, I did not realize that until I was on said elevator at in the 27th floor. Moving between the first and 27th floors took all of about 5 seconds; popping my ears took longer. To be fair I was given correct directions by the hotel staff I just did not realize that the building was, in fact, multiple buildings and so my interpretation was off.

On to the important stuff: explosions! The second keynote contained high performance 3D browser games and, albeit less kablooieie, site personalization.

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The latter we have talked about before. Mozilla is implementing interface elements in the browser for users to share demographic information with websites. They understand that advertising is how the web works and does not want it outright dead. They do believe (at least some) advertisers mine too much data from their users because they need to mine some data from their users. One-on-one conversation with a couple Mozilla staff somewhat confirms my suspicions that the initiative is to remove the temptation for just a little more data with homegrown solutions. This seems to be their last idea, however, given the discussion at the panel.

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The former was an Unreal Engine demo on stage during the “Envisioned Future State” keynote. The presenter had several multi-kills with a rocket launcher. I should note the entire demo ran off of the file protocol so no internet connection was required. This was quite literally Unreal Tournament 3 running native to Firefox.

Well, I think that is it for today! A lot of information was released but I believe these were the top-two most interesting points.

Source: Mozilla

ZTE Open Smartphone Running Firefox OS Sold Out On eBay

Subject: General Tech | August 20, 2013 - 04:37 PM |
Tagged: zte open, zte, smartphone, msm7225a, mozilla, Firefox OS

Mozilla has been working on its mobile Firefox OS for about a year, and smartphones running the OS are starting to become available stateside. The first bit of hardware running Firefox OS is the ZTE Open, which launched last week for $79.99 exclusively on eBay. Unfortunately, the limited stock ZTE made available is already gone, and there is no word on when more smartphones will be available. (However, in typical eBay fashion, users are turning around and selling the $80 phone for $170 if you really want to get your hands on it...)

According to the eBay listing, ZTE managed to sell 985 of the orange ZTE Open smartphones.

ZTE Open Firefox OS Smartphone.jpg

The ZTE Open comes in blue or orange and features low end specifications. Fortunately, Firefox OS and its HTML5 applications do not demand much hardware. On the outside, the ZTE Open has a 3.5” TFT touchscreen with a resolution of 480 x 320, a single home button sitting below the display, and a 3.15 MP rear camera. Internal specifications include a MSM7225A SoC with an ARM Cortex-A5 CPU clocked at 1Ghz and Adreno 200 GPU along with 2GB of internal storage expandable by micro SD card. Other specifications include 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1, 3G cellular radio, a 1200 mAH battery, and various sensors (accelerometer, ambient light, and GPS). The Firefox OS smartphone measures 114 x 62 x 12.5mm.

Seeing the ZTE Open sell out of its limited stock in such a short amount of time suggests that there is some positive amount of demand for Firefox OS from enthusiasts, but the smartphone and OS platform still has a long road ahead of it before it becomes a true threat to Android and iOS. Much like the fabled Ubuntu Phone, more than enthusiast demand will be needed, along with support from US carriers and app developers. With that said, it is a good first step into the US market and I hope ZTE makes more phones available soon.

Read more about Mozilla's Firefox OS.

Source: Hexus.net

Firefox 23 Shipped. Nice Icon. Nice Icon. Nice Icon. Nice Icon.

Subject: General Tech | August 7, 2013 - 03:47 AM |
Tagged: firefox, mozilla

The hottest version of Firefox, for the next 6 weeks, was just released to the world and much discussion came with it. This version, most controversially, removed the <blink> element. What a terrible destruction of HTML history. How can web developers ever make fun of old VCRs? Resort to... CSS?

Pardon me, I think I am going to be sick. Oh wait, that's just not-epilepsy.

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Also removed was the preference to disable JavaScript. Fear not, users will still be able to modify the setting by diving into about:config. Interested users will actually need to, because this change will revert the setting to the default on position if users had previously disabled it. I assume this was a user experience decision for users who temporarily disabled Javascript right before updating Firefox; users tech savvy enough to want Javascript off will know to dive in to the settings registry.

Or just, you know, install NoScript or something.

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While we are talking about... about:... about:memory (hmm, this sentence reminds me of <blink>) has been given a slight graphical overhaul. The controls are now on the top of the report which allows users to know they exist without scrolling all the way down. These buttons have some legitimate use for many users: they can now manually force Firefox to clean up its memory footprint.

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Web Developers also have a few new tools to play with including, but not limited to, tracing network traffic too and from their site. This was already possible with various console configurations but not nearly as aesthetically pleasing or even usable. If your element has very big horizontal bars, it takes a long time to load and is a good candidate to optimize first.

In all, Mozilla seems to be very productive with the number of improvements in just six weeks of development time. The next release is expected to leave Beta Channel on, or near, September 17.

Source: Mozilla

Mozilla Labs: Give Advertisers Only... Exactly What They Want

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | July 31, 2013 - 08:03 PM |
Tagged: Privacy, mozilla, DNT

Mozilla Labs is researching a new approach to the problem of privacy and targeted advertising: allow the user to provide the data that honest advertisers intend to acquire via tracking behavior. The hope is that users who manage their own privacy will not have companies try to do it for them.

Internet users are growing concerned about how they are tracked and monitored online. Crowds rally behind initiatives, such as Do Not Track (DNT) and neutering the NSA, because of an assumed promise of privacy even if it is just superficial.

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DNT, for instance, is a web developer tool permitting honest sites to be less shy when considering features which make privacy advocates poop themselves and go to competing pages. Users, who were not the intended audience of this feature, threw a fit because it failed to satisfy their privacy concerns. Internet Explorer, which is otherwise becoming a great browser, decided to break the standard by not providing the default, "user has not specified", value.

Of course, all this does is hands honest web developers a broken tool; immoral and arrogantly amoral sites will track anyway.

Mozilla Labs is currently investigating another solution. We could, potentially, at some point, see an addition to Firefox which distills all of the information honest websites would like to know into a summary which users could selectively share. This, much like DNT, will not prevent companies or other organizations from tracking you but rather give most legitimate situations a fittingly legitimate alternative.

All of this data, such as history and geolocation, is already stored by browsers as a result of how they operate. This concept allows users to release some of this information to the sites they visit and, ideally, satisfy both parties. Maybe then, those who actually are malicious, cannot shrug off their actions as a common industry requirement.

Source: Mozilla

Cloth simulations in Javascript, optimized for asm.js

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | May 4, 2013 - 06:47 PM |
Tagged: mozilla, javascript, firefox, asm.js

Web browsers are getting really good at being general-purpose application platforms.

You can write most applications in web standards if you are willing to give up some level of performance for the gained ubiquity. HTML5, Javascript, and CSS are very full featured; WebGL and WebCL extend functionality by backing apps with surprising GPU horsepower; WebAPIs such as gamepad, telephony, and accelerometer support also keep advanced hardware-specific features open to web developers.

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I can see the web developers drooling already.

But even though performance lags behind reasonable native environments, the divide is rapidly shrinking. Many applications have reached or exceeded the saturation of useful performance at the same time as browser developers narrow the gap between native performance and themselves.

Javascript is often, simply, good enough.

Mozilla has recently added support for the draft asm.js in their Aurora prerelease channel for Firefox. The specification is designed to permit a subset of Javascript to be flagged for optimization in compatible browsers but otherwise execute as normal everywhere else. It is also possible to compile more native code into Javascript if you can afford the ever-decreasing performance hit. Early implementations of asm.js execute code compiled from C within half of native performance.

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Because... pants.

According to David Herman of Mozilla, one of the lead authors of the ASM.js draft, the specification also allows for multithreading through web workers. Applications can take advantage of multiple hardware threads in this way, and potentially other methods as they continue development. I would expect this is especially relevant for mobile devices which tend to have relatively many cores considering their single threaded performance.

James Long of Mozilla compiled a cloth simulation into this Javascript subset. It will run in multiple browsers but will perform better in Aurora both in cloth precision and, as I have found, responsivity.

Check it out, imagine what you could be doing in your web browser in the near future.

Source: James Long

Happy 0th Birthday Firefox OS

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems, Mobile, Shows and Expos | February 26, 2013 - 04:19 AM |
Tagged: Firefox OS, mozilla, firefox, MWC, MWC 13

Mobile World Congress is going on at Barcelona and this year sees the official entry of a new contender: Firefox OS.

Mozilla held their keynote speech the day before the official start to the trade show. If there is anything to be learned from CES, it would be that there is an arms race to announce your product before everyone else steals media attention while still being considered a part of the trade show. By the time the trade show starts, most of the big players have already said all that they need to say.

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If you have an hour to spare, you should check it out for yourself. The whole session was broadcast and recorded on Air Mozilla.

The whole concept of Firefox OS as I understand it is to open up web standards such that it is possible to create a completely functional mobile operating system from it. Specific platforms do not matter, the content will all conform to a platform of standards which anyone would be able to adopt.

I grin for a different reason: should some content exist in the future that is intrinsically valuable to society, its reliance on an open-based platform will allow future platforms to carry it.

Not a lot of people realize that iOS and Windows RT disallow alternative web browsers. Sure, Google Chrome the app exists for iOS, but it is really a re-skinned Safari. Any web browser in the Windows Store will use Trident as its rendering engine by mandate of their certification rules. This allows the platform developer to be choosey with whichever standards they wish to support. Microsoft has been very vocally against any web standard backed by Khronos. You cannot install another browser if you run across a web application requiring one of those packages.

When you have alternatives, such as Firefox OS, developers are promoted to try new things. The alternative platforms promote standards which generate these new applications and push the leaders to implement those standards too.

And so we creep ever-closer to total content separation from platform.

Source: Mozilla

Mozilla Rolls Out Firefox 19 Web Browser With Built-In PDF Viewer

Subject: General Tech | February 22, 2013 - 05:11 AM |
Tagged: web browser, pdf viewer, mozilla, firefox

Mozilla recently rolled out Firefox 19 to its stable browser channel, bringing several new features and bug fixes to the masses. The most prominent new feature is a new built-in PDF reader that is now enabled by default. Using the PDF.js javascript libraries, the reader converts PDF files into HTML5 web pages. It is nice to see Mozilla incorporating the reader in the browser by default, eliminating the need for users to use Adobe Reader or other browser plug-ins (like this one we covered previously).

Firefox 19 PDF Viewer.jpg

 

Additionally, Mozilla has fixed several bugs and improved performance. The browser will now start-up more quickly than previous versions, and a WebGL drawing operation error has been corrected, for example. Further, Firefox 19 now recognizes more CSS features including @page and support for fixed-width text transformations. A new debugger has also been added to Firefox 19, which should help add-on developers test their code. Also in interesting news, mobile users running Firefox for Android will also be pleased to know that Mozilla has relaxed the CPU clockspeed requirement to a mere 600 MHz–allowing the mobile browser to run on even more Android devices.

The new version is available for download from the Mozilla website.

Source: Mozilla