Mozilla Makes Suggestions to the FCC about Net Neutrality

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | May 5, 2014 - 08:08 PM |
Tagged: mozilla, net neutrality

Recently, the FCC has been moving to give up Net Neutrality. Mozilla, being dedicated to the free (as in speech) and open internet, has offered a simple compromise. Their proposal is that the FCC classifies internet service providers (ISPs) as common carriers on the server side, forcing restrictions on them to prevent discrimination of traffic to customers, while allowing them to be "information services" to consumers.


In other words, force ISPs to allow services to have unrestricted access to consumers, without flipping unnecessary tables with content distribution (TV, etc.) services. Like all possibilities so far, it could have some consequences, however.

"Net Neutrality" is a hot issue lately. Simply put, the internet gives society an affordable method of sharing information. How much is "just information" is catching numerous industries off guard, including ones which Internet Service Providers (ISPs) participate in (such as TV and Movie distribution), and that leads to serious tensions.

On the one hand, these companies want to protect their existing business models. They want consumers to continue to select their cable and satellite TV packages, on-demand videos, and other services at controlled profit margins and without the stress and uncertainty of competing.

On the other hand, if the world changes, they want to be the winner in that new reality. Yikes.


A... bad... photograph of Mozilla's "UP" anti-datamining proposal.

Mozilla's proposal is very typical of them. They tend to propose compromises which divides an issue such that both sides get the majority of their needs. Another good example is "UP", or User Personalization, which tries to cut down on data mining by giving a method for the browser to tell websites what they actually want to know (and let the user tell the browser how much to tell them). The user would compromise, giving the amount of information they find acceptable, so the website would compromise and take only what they need (rather than developing methods to grab anything and everything they can). It feels like a similar thing is happening here. This proposal gives users what they want, freedom to choose services without restriction, without tossing ISPs into "Title II" common carrier altogether.

Of course, this probably comes with a few caveats...

The first issue that pops in my mind is, "What is a service?". I see this causing problems for peer-to-peer applications (including BitTorrent Sync and Crashplan, excluding Crashplan Central). Neither endpoint would necessarily be classified as "a server", or at least convince a non-technical lawmaker that is the case, and thus ISPs would not need to apply common carrier restrictions to them. This could be a serious issue for WebRTC. Even worse, companies like Google and Netflix would have no incentive to help fight those battles -- they're legally protected. It would have to be defined, very clearly, what makes "a server".

Every method will get messy for someone. Still, the discussion is being made.

Source: Mozilla

Firefox 29 Launches with Australis Interface and Gamepad

Subject: General Tech | April 30, 2014 - 03:52 AM |
Tagged: mozilla, gamepad, firefox

After three years' reign, the orange Firefox button has been retired by Mozilla. Firefox 29 introduces the new Australis interface, with its curved tabs and a simple menu button comprised of three horizontal lines (the "Hamburger Icon"). The interface missed its targets a few times but is finally here.


Obviously, Australis makes the browser look more like Google Chrome (and less like Opera). Users of Mozilla's Thunderbird will also find it more familiar as that program skipped Firefox 4's direction and immediately adopted parts of Australis as they developed. Thunderbird still lacks a few bits and pieces, its development having slowed since its transition to Extended Support. But this is not about Thunderbird -- it is about Firefox.

In terms of actual features, Australis brings a new Bookmarks button, which is basically two buttons, and is pretty slick to both add and access links to favorite web addresses. The little star-dropping animation is a subtle hint to the user that a bookmark has been added to the list, accessed by the right-most button. Many users will be upset by the removal of the Add-on Bar, a place where extensions can leave a button or two without clogging the rest of the interface. Mozilla seems to expect that extensions, if they absolutely must leave a button, will cram it next to the gigantic location bar (or less-gigantic search bar); that, or affected users will just install an Add-on Bar extension.

Also in Firefox 29 is the finalized, and enabled by default, Gamepad API. With it, web games can be controlled with devices such as the Xbox 360 controller. If you want to see a geeky example, one is available at This website lists every compatible game input device and their current state. In my testing, Firefox 29 was able to detect both my Xbox 360 controller and my Thrustmaster T-16000M joystick -- and register their inputs independently.

There's not really anything, from the technical side of things at least, to prevent split-screen gaming in the browser. Detecting the input devices did not even require restarting the browser, although that is a good troubleshooting step, as Firefox detected it immediately after I plugged it in and pressed a button. The flight stick, probably because it has never been attached to this instance of Windows before, required the good old unplug and replug of its USB cord after Windows "Add New Hardware" finished in order to register input. It is not perfect, but still pretty good.

Firefox 29 launched in the middle of the night on Tuesday, April 29th. It is free and, if Firefox is set to automatically update, you probably already have it. If not? Get it.

Source: Mozilla

Mozilla Dumps "Metro" Version of Firefox

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | March 16, 2014 - 03:27 AM |
Tagged: windows, mozilla, microsoft, Metro

If you use the Firefox browser on a PC, you are probably using its "Desktop" application. They also had a version for "Modern" Windows 8.x that could be used from the Start Screen. You probably did not use it because fewer than 1000 people per day did. This is more than four orders of magnitude smaller than the number of users for Desktop's pre-release builds.

Yup, less than one-thousandth.


Jonathan Nightingale, VP of Firefox, stated that Mozilla would not be willing to release the product without committing to its future development and support. There was not enough interest to take on that burden and it was not forecast to have a big uptake in adoption, either.

From what we can see, it's pretty flat.

The code will continue to exist in the organization's Mercurial repository. If "Modern" Windows gets a massive influx of interest, they could return to what they had. It should also be noted that there never was a version of Firefox for Windows RT. Microsoft will not allow third-party rendering engines as a part of their Windows Store certification requirements (everything must be based on Trident, the core of Internet Explorer). That said, this is also true of iOS and Firefox Junior exists with these limitations. It's not truly Firefox, little more than a re-skinned Safari (as permitted by Apple), but it exists. I have heard talks about Firefox Junior for Windows RT, Internet Explorer reskinned by Mozilla, but not to any detail. The organization is very attached to its own technology because, if whoever made the engine does not support new features or lags in JavaScript performance, the re-skins have nothing to leverage it.

Paul Thurrott of WinSupersite does not blame Mozilla for killing "Metro" Firefox. He acknowledges that they gave it a shot and did not see enough pre-release interest to warrant a product. He places some of the blame on Microsoft for the limitations it places on browsers (especially on Windows RT). In my opinion, this is just a symptom of the larger problem of Windows post-7. Hopefully, Microsoft can correct these problems and do so in a way that benefits their users (and society as a whole).

Source: Mozilla

GDC 14: Mozilla & Epic Games Run Unreal Engine 4 in Firefox

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | March 12, 2014 - 09:17 PM |
Tagged: GDC, gdc 14, mozilla, epic games, unreal engine 4

Epic Games has been wanting Unreal Engine in the web browser for quite some time now. Back in 2011, the company presented their Citadel demo running in Flash 11.2. A short while later, Mozilla and Epic ported it to raw JavaScript and WebGL. With the help of asm.js, which is a series of optimizations for JavaScript, Unreal Engine 3 was at home in the browser at near-native speed, with no plugins. Epic's Tim Sweeney and Mark Rein, in an interview with GamaSutra, said that Unreal Engine 4 will take it beyond a demo and target web browsers as a supported platform.

Today, Mozilla teases Unreal Engine 4 running in Firefox, ahead of GDC.

Speaking of speed, asm.js can now reach within 67% of native performance and Mozilla is still optimizing their compiler. While it is difficult to write asm.js-compliant code by hand, companies like Epic are simply compiling their existing C/C++ code through Emscripten into that optimized Javascript. If you have a bit of CPU overhead in your native application, it could little more than a compile away from running in the web browser, possibly any web browser on any platform, without plugins. This obviously has great implications for timeless classics that would otherwise outlive its host platform.

Both Mozilla and Epic will have demos in their booths on the conference floor.

Source: Mozilla

CES 2014: Firefox OS to Power Panasonic Smart TVs

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | January 8, 2014 - 04:18 AM |
Tagged: Panasonic, mozilla, Firefox OS, CES 2014, CES

Firefox OS is a thin Linux layer which immediately loads Gecko, the rendering engine behind Firefox and other Mozilla products, to handle everything else. The entire OS interface is developed in HTML5, CSS, Javascript, and other web standards. It suffices to say that it can handle web apps very easily (it is one).


Panasonic and Mozilla have entered into a partnership, announced at CES, for future smart TVs to be powered by Firefox OS. This can be very useful for Panasonic. Provided they keep up with certifying new releases, performance should be about the only other barrier preventing their product from running the popular apps as they arise. It also lifts the burden away for developer support.

On the other hand, this could also be good for Firefox OS and the web itself. Mozilla is not a stupid organization and, while they certainly like their products adopted, I would not be surprised if they hope this effort brings content out to play. Netflix and other content providers who want to be on Panasonic's platform would need to support their flavor of Firefox OS. Netflix, in particular, has already made inroads with HTML5 albeit with certain encryption extensions.

Atwood's Law applies to televisions, too!

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Source: Panasonic

Mozilla's WebGL Shader Editor Looks Pretty Useful

Subject: General Tech | December 5, 2013 - 01:57 PM |
Tagged: mozilla, webgl

Tools for web developers are pretty astonishing these days. You are able to investigate the driving elements and objects as they are being executed within the browser -- and even modify them. This typically means that you can play around with the various functions and parameters while the app is loaded. You receive immediate feedback about your changes.

Web Standards continue to encompass 3D and other game-related tasks. As a result, developer tools are beginning to take advantage of their browser's managed architecture making it easier to tweak and debug content. In other words: you can poke your 3D scene as it is being rendered.

And Mozilla says that editing shaders should not impact its performance.

Now this is quite interesting. Basically all of the GPU's involvement in drawing a 3D scene comes down to two scripts (at least for WebGL 1.0): a vertex shader and a fragment shader. These are operations that run once for every vertex in a scene and once for every pixel an object in a scene occupies, respectively. Together they form a "program" which gives an object's geometry something tangible for users to see.

Here is an example of Unreal Engine 3 being modified at runtime.

The developer tools within Firefox 27 will allow you to modify these scripts at runtime and even turn specific draw calls on or off. This should vastly speed up the rate at which developers modify their effects especially when it comes to fine tuning specific variables such as the rate that waves flow in a water material.

Firefox 27 is expected to be the release version in early February; it is currently in the Aurora channel.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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