Subject: Editorial, General Tech | July 19, 2011 - 11:59 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: mozilla, firefox
One side-effect of splitting a program up into multiple processes is that instructions do not inherently have a specific order. One of the most evident places for that to occur is during a videogame. I am sure most gamers have played a game where the controls just felt sluggish and muddy for some inexplicable reason. While there could be a few problems, one likely cause is that your input is not evaluated for a perceivably large amount of time. Chris Blizzard of Mozilla took on this and other issues with multithreaded applications and wrapped it around the concept of Firefox past, present, and future.
Firefox is getting Beta all the time.
One common misconception is that your input is recognized between each frame, which is untrue: many frames could go by before input affects the events on screen. John Carmack in a recent E3 interview discussed about iD measuring up to 100ms worth of frames occurring before a frame occurred which recognized the user’s command. This is often more permissible for games with slower-paced game design where agility is less relevant; if your character would lose to a Yak in a foot race, turns about as quick as one, and takes a hundred bullets to die: you will not notice that you started to dodge a few milliseconds earlier as you would expect to die in either case. In a web browser it is much less dramatic though the same principle is true: the browser is busy doing its many tasks and cannot waste too much time checking if the user has requested something yet. This aspect of performance, along with random hanging, is considered “responsiveness”. Mozilla targets 50 milliseconds (one-twentieth of a second) as the maximum time before Firefox rechecks its state for changes.
Chris Blizzard goes on to discuss how hardware is mostly advancing on the front of increases in parallelism rather than clock speed and other per-thread advancements. GPGPU was not a topic in the blog post leaving the question for the distant future centered on what a multithreaded DOM would look like – valuing the classical multicore over the still budding many-core architectures. Memory usage and crashing were also addressed though this likely was more to dispel the Firefox stereotype of being a memory hog starting later in the Firefox 2 era.
The GPGPU trail is not Mozilla's roadmap.
The last topic discussed was Sandboxing for security. One advantage of branching off your multiple threads into multiple discrete processes is that you could request that the operating system assign limited rights to individual processes. The concept of limited rights is to prevent one application from exploiting too much permissions for the purpose of forcing your computer to do something undesirable. If you are accepting external data, such as a random website on the internet, you need to make sure that if it can exploit vulnerability in your web browser that it gains as little permission as possible. While it is not a guarantee that external data will be executed with dangerous permission levels: the harder you can make it, the better.
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Subject: Editorial, General Tech | June 25, 2011 - 02:09 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: mozilla, enterprise
For enterprise users looking to introduce Firefox to their business: you may wish to reconsider. Businesses are notorious for being substantially behind in version numbers, occasionally (or a lot) trading even security for compatibility. Mozilla had a staggered release schedule: a minor version number was little more than a security update; a major version number was a fairly-large overhaul. Enterprise users were able to upgrade minor version numbers and be reasonably assured that compatibility would be maintained. There were no such assurances for a major version number, thus requiring rigorous testing before applying. Mozilla has ended their policy of supporting back versions with security updates and are also moving between full versions much more rapidly, causing dissension amongst enterprise users.
Moving the world forward, not backwards, and always twirling towards freedom.
Ed Bott took the opportunity to prod Mozilla during his Thursday evening column. He contends that shutting out enterprise will assist in the impending implosion of Firefox and allow Microsoft and Google to pick up the pieces. I seriously disagree with that statement and applaud Mozilla for staying focused on their goal. True, Mozilla will be vastly less attractive to the enterprise; however, if Microsoft did not have Windows and Office to push with Internet Explorer, would search ad revenue and donations cover the long-term development cost incurred supporting enterprise users? And really, I would have thought Ed Bott of all people (ok, except maybe Paul Thurrott) would respect a company that can make a decision like Mozilla just did and stick by it after covering Microsoft for so long.
Subject: General Tech | June 10, 2011 - 04:09 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: webian, mozilla, chromeless
Google Chromebooks have been talked about quite a bit lately particularly with the announcement of Samsung and Acer varieties nearing retail. You may believe that Google will be your only option as Microsoft and Apple are ignoring the stripped down OS market but you would be wrong. Webian OS has recently been released in preview form and combines Mozilla’s Chromeless project-based Webian Shell with openSUSE to make a self-contained OS similar to Google ChromeOS
Tired of what Simon says?
Webian Shell has a very minimalist interface with a tab-focused taskbar, the closest analog to application switching in a web-based operating system. Beyond the tab taskbar there is just a location bar which doubles as a progress bar; combined stop, go, and reload button; a clock; and the site itself. The project is not near completion yet as the developers anticipates to add home screen, widgets, onscreen keyboards, and other features as need arises. Have ideas or wish to contribute? Check out their website and GetSatisfaction.
Subject: General Tech | May 25, 2011 - 04:55 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: webp, mozilla, google
Google made news over the last year by butting heads with MPEG-LA with their royalty-free and open-sourced video codec: WebM. The hope was to provide an alternative to H.264 which was on a temporary royalty-free basis to end-users wishing to encode videos in the format (it has since been changed to a perpetual royalty-free license for end-users, 3 months after WebM’s release). WebM was mostly received with open arms from vendors, especially of free and open-sourced software such as Mozilla, and really shook up the industry. Google is now hoping to catch lightning twice by releasing a similar project for still images to replace the aging JPEG format. Mozilla’s response is suggesting that Google might just end up burnt by this experience.
WebP was requested to Mozilla Firefox’s bug tracker, Bugzilla, late last September as an enhancement request for Firefox. Since then, Mozilla closed the bug with a status of “RESOLVED WONTFIX” and a statement that they would not accept a patch for it but will re-evaluate their stance in the future if the format changes.
So for the near future it is looking like Jpeg, GIF, and PNG will reign Kings of the web. Mozilla’s Jeff Muizelaar goes into quite a bit of detail about their complaints with WebP in their personal blog. If you are a web developer you do not need to rush out and re-encode your images yet; however, you also do not have the option to if you still wish support the majority of web browsers. Typically that is a desire that web designers have.
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