Valve and Mozilla Announce SteamVR and WebVR for macOS

Subject: General Tech | June 5, 2017 - 04:58 PM |
Tagged: mozilla, valve, steamvr, webvr, apple, macos

At WWDC, Valve and HTC announced that their SteamVR platform would be arriving for macOS. This means that the HTC Vive can now be targeted by games that ship for that operating system, which probably means that game engines, like Unreal Engine 4 and Unity, will add support soon. One of the first out of the gate, however, is Mozilla with WebVR for Firefox Nightly on macOS. Combine the two announcements, and you can use the HTC Vive to create and browse WebVR content on Apple desktops and laptops that have high-enough performance, without rebooting into a different OS.

webvr-logo.png

Speaking of which, Apple also announced a Thunderbolt 3 enclosure with an AMD Radeon RX 580 and a USB-C hub. Alternatively, some of the new iMacs have Radeon graphics in them, with the new 27-inch having up to an RX 580. You can check out all of these announcements in Jim’s post.

Source: HTC

Epic Games Releases Zen Garden Demo for WebAssembly

Subject: General Tech | March 13, 2017 - 08:02 PM |
Tagged: webassembly, ue4, mozilla, epic games

HTML5 was a compile target for Unreal Engine since Unreal Engine 3, but it was supposed to be a bigger push for Unreal Engine 4 then it has been. At the time, Mozilla was pushing for web browsers to be the main source of games. Thanks to Flash, users are even already accustomed to that use case; it’s just a matter of getting performance and functionality close enough to competing platforms, and supporting content that will show it off.

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That brings us to Zen Garden. This demo was originally designed to show off the Metal API for iOS, but Epic has re-purposed it for the recently released web browser features, WebAssembly and WebGL 2.0. Personally, I find it slightly less impressive than the Firefox demo of Unreal Tournament 3 that I played at Mozilla Summit 2013, but it’s a promising example that big-name engines are taking Web standards seriously again. You don’t get much bigger than Unreal Engine 4.

So yeah... if you have Firefox 52, then play around with it. It’s free.

Source: Mozilla

Firefox 52 Adds WebAssembly

Subject: General Tech | March 8, 2017 - 04:00 PM |
Tagged: mozilla, webassembly, javascript, firefox

Mozilla’s latest browser version, Firefox 52, was just released to the public on Tuesday. I wasn’t planning on putting up a post about it, but I just found out that it includes the ability to ingest applications written in WebAssembly. This is client-side language for browsers to be a compile target for C, C++, and other human-facing languages (such as Rust). Previously, these applications needed to transpile into JavaScript, which has several limitations.

Honestly, I haven’t heard much from WebAssembly in several months, so I was figured they were still quite a ways off. Several big engines, like Unreal Engine 4, not really putting their weight behind HTML5 as much as they were about three years ago, during the Windows 8- and iOS-era. Now I see the above video, which starts with Tim Sweeney and goes on to include others from Mozilla, Autodesk, and Unity, and I am starting to assume that I just wasn’t looking in the right areas.

Some features of WebAssembly include native 64-bit integer types and actual memory management. In JavaScript, the "number" type basically exists in a quazi-state between int32 and FP64. WebGL added a few containers for smaller data types, but it couldn't go larger than what "number" allowed, so int64 and uint64 couldn't be represented. Also, JavaScript requires garbage collection to be run on the browser's schedule, which limits the developer's control to "don't generate garbage and hope the GC keeps sleeping".

According to the video, though, it sounds like application startup time is the primary reason for shipping WebAssembly. That could just be what they feel the consumer-facing message should convey, though. I should probably poke around and see what some web and game developer contacts think about WebAssembly.

Firefox 52 is now available.

Source: Mozilla

Mozilla to Require Rust (and Dependencies) for Firefox

Subject: General Tech | February 7, 2017 - 02:47 AM |
Tagged: mozilla, firefox, web browser, Rust, llvm

Firefox 52 will be the company’s next Extended Support Release (ESR) branch of their popular web browser. After this release, Mozilla is planning a few changes that will break compatibility, especially if you’re building the browser from source. If you’re an end-user, the major one to look out for is Mozilla disabling NPAPI-based plugins (except Flash) unless you are using Firefox 52 ESR. This change will land in the consumer version of Firefox 52, though. It’s not really clear why they didn’t just wait until Firefox 53, rather than add a soft-kill in Firefox 52 and hard-code it the next version, but that’s their decision. It really does not affect me in the slightest.

mozilla-rust.png

The more interesting change, however, is that Mozilla will begin requiring Rust (and LLVM) in an upcoming version. I’ve seen multiple sources claim Firefox 53, Firefox 54, and Firefox 55 as possible targets for this, but, at some point around those versions, critical components of the browser will be written in Rust. As more of the browser is migrated to this language, it should be progressively faster and more secure, as this language is designed to enforce memory safety and task concurrency.

Firefox 52 is expected in March.

Firefox 51 and Chrome 56 Launch with WebGL 2.0

Subject: General Tech | January 27, 2017 - 03:55 PM |
Tagged: webgl, webgl2, firefox, chrome, google, mozilla, Opera

After quite a bit of anticipation, both Mozilla and Google have just shipped compatible implementations of WebGL 2. This feature was unlocked to the public in Firefox 51 and Chrome 56 for the desktop, both released this week, while Opera will push it out to desktop and mobile on their next version, Opera 43. Microsoft currently has the API “under consideration” for Edge.

As we’ve highlighted in the past, this new version of the graphics API pushes the platform up to OpenGL ES 3.0, with a few exceptions that are typically made for security reasons. This update allows quite a few new features like off-screen render targets, which is useful for deferred rendering. The shading language is also significantly larger, and can now operate natively on integer types and 3D textures.

WebGL 2.0 does not include compute shaders, however, which is a bit unfortunate. That said, it is (at least last I checked) a highly-requested feature and the browser vendors are interested in providing it.

Adobe Releases Another Flash Player Update for Linux

Subject: General Tech | November 1, 2016 - 12:49 PM |
Tagged: Adobe, linux, mozilla

Apparently I missed this the first time around, but Adobe has decided to continue supporting the NPAPI version of Flash Player on Linux. They have just released their second update, Flash Player 24 Beta, on October 28th for both 32- and 64-bit platforms. Before September, Adobe was maintaining Flash Player 11.2 with security updates. Adobe has also extended NPAPI support beyond 2017, which was supposed to be the original cut-off for that plug-in architecture on Linux, and pledge to keep “major version numbers in sync”.

homestar-smoothmoves.png

This took me by surprise. Browser vendors, even Mozilla, have been deprecating NPAPI for a while. Plug-ins are unruly from a security and performance standpoint, and they would much rather promote the Web standards that they work so hard to implement, rather than being a window frame around someone else's proprietary platform.

So what are Adobe thinking? Well, they claim that this “is primarily a security initiative”. As such, it would make sense that, possibly, and again I'm an outsider musing here, the gap between now and 11.2 was large enough that it would be easier to just maintain two branches.

Still, this seems a little... late... for that to be the reason, unless Adobe, then, expected Flash to die off and, now, see it hanging around a little while longer. Meanwhile, on the tools side of things, Adobe has pivoted Flash Professional into Animate CC, with the ability to export to HTML and JavaScript, so they don't really need to keep Flash on life support. It's not at feature parity, but it's getting there. Granted, a lot of the game and animation hosting sites are set up to just accept a packaged Flash file, so maybe that market is holding them back?

Whatever the reason, Flash on Linux is continuing to be supported for all browsers. If you find yourself at the intersection of Linux, Firefox, and hobbyist-developed Tower Defense games, you can pick up the latest plug-in at Adobe Labs.

Source: Adobe Labs

Mozilla Unveils Quantum Project

Subject: General Tech | October 30, 2016 - 01:09 AM |
Tagged: mozilla, servo, gecko, firefox

One of the big announcements at Mozilla Summit 2013, despite Firefox OS being the focus of the event, was their research (with Samsung) into a new rendering engine, Servo. Rendering HTML5 is horrifically complex, so creating a new rendering engine from scratch is a big “nope!” for basically all organizations. Mozilla saw this as a big potential, because current engines are very difficult to scale to multiple cores, so they went in to this as a no-assumptions experiment.

mozilla-architecture.jpg

At the time, they didn't know whether Servo would be built up into a full rendering engine, or whether it would be picked apart and pulled back into their current engine, Gecko. Mozilla has now unveiled Quantum, and the first sentence of its MozillaWiki entry is “Quantum is not a new web browser.” They go on to say that they will be “building on the Gecko engine as a solid foundation”. So it seems pretty clear that, like they've recently done with their media file parser in Firefox 48.

While this will likely not have the major impact that “boom, new engine” would, in terms of performance, this piece-wise method should be quicker than bulking up Servo. Mozilla expects that big changes will begin to land next year.

Source: Mozilla

About the "Firefox Is Eating Your SSD" Story

Subject: Storage | October 5, 2016 - 07:57 PM |
Tagged: ssd, mozilla, google, firefox, endurance, chrome

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a post pop up on Twitter a few times about Firefox performing excessive writes to SSDs, which total up to 32GBs in a single day. The author attributes it mostly to a fast-updating session restore feature, although cookies were also resource hogs in their findings. In an update, they also tested Google Chrome, which, itself, clocked in over 24GB of writes in a day.

mozilla-2016-donothurt.png

This, of course, seemed weird to me. I would have thought that at least one browser vendor might notice an issue like this. Still, I passed the link to Allyn because he would be much more capable in terms of being able to replicate these results. In our internal chat at the time, he was less skeptical than I was. I've since followed up with him, and he said that his initial results “wasn't nearly as bad as their case”. He'll apparently elaborate on tonight's podcast, and I'll update this post with his findings.

Mozilla Discontinues Firefox OS for All Devices

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | September 29, 2016 - 02:15 AM |
Tagged: mozilla, Firefox OS, firefox

Update: There has been a little confusion. The web browser, Firefox, is still going strong. In fact, they're focusing their engineering efforts more on it, by cutting back on these secondary projects.

Less than a year after their decision to stop developing and selling smartphones through carriers, Mozilla has decided to end all commercial development of Firefox OS. Releases after Firefox OS 2.6 will be handled by third parties, such as Panasonic, should they wish to continue using it for their smart TV platform. Further, source code for the underlying operating system, Boot-to-Gecko (B2G), will be removed from their repository, mozilla-central, so it doesn't hinder development of their other products.

Mozilla_Foundation_201x_logo.png

Obviously, this is quite disappointing from a platform standpoint. Many applications, especially for mobile and similar devices, can be created in Web standards. At this point, we usually get comments about how web browsers shouldn't be app platforms, and that JavaScript is too inefficient. The thing is, Web is about the best, ubiquitous platform we have, and it will only get better with initiatives such as WebAssembly. Also, native applications don't necessarily perform better than Web-based ones, especially if the latter are packaged standalone (versus sharing resources with other tabs in a browser).

Regardless, Mozilla needs to consider their long-term financial stability, and throwing resources at Firefox OS apparently doesn't return enough value for them, both directly and for its impact on society.

Source: Mozilla

Mozilla Launches Firefox 49

Subject: General Tech | September 20, 2016 - 04:51 PM |
Tagged: mozilla, firefox

While it was originally scheduled for last week, some last-minute issues preventing the software non-profit organization from releasing it until today. Also, for some reason, Firefox for Android doesn't want to update from within itself, but triggering an update from the Google Play store works. This might be temporary and/or happens with every Firefox for Android update; I'm new to this platform.

Mozilla_Firefox_logo_2013.png

This version is expected to expand their multi-process support, which separates UI updates from site updates. Typically, Firefox disables the feature with add-ons, because they are given the tools to make decoupling these two spaces... glitchy. Under typical situations, JavaScript and other tasks that run in the page shouldn't affect the browser's interface. You can see how this could be a problem if, for instance, an add-on loops between tasks on both at the same time. As such, Mozilla is pulling access to a few APIs when multi-process is enabled.

With Firefox 49, VentureBeat is reporting that Mozilla is allowing a “small initial set of compatible add-ons” to be enabled alongside multi-process. If you don't have any non-compatible add-ons installed, then you should see Multiprocess Windows enabled in about:support. Otherwise, it will be disabled and you won't see any difference.

Interestingly, Mozilla is promoting "Refresh Firefox" at their site if you have the latest version. This basically cleans all the add-ons out of your user profile, but maintains browsing history, bookmarks, and the like. It might have been around for a while, but, if it's new, it times nicely with the multi-process rollout. On top of cleaning out old, crufty add-ons, a user should see a bigger jump when Mozilla's enhancements are (I'm guessing) enabled.

Mozilla has also changed a few things here and there, too. While many of our readers will probably have hardware acceleration for video, they have just added in SSSE3 enhancements if GPU support isn't available. I'm not sure all of the use cases for this, but I'd expect it would help in virtualized environments and certain, older PCs (ex: Intel Atom and Via Nano). I'm just speculating, though.

Source: Mozilla