Mashable Comics are illustrated by Kiersten Essenpreis, a Chicago-based artist who draws and blogs at YouFail.com.


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1. The Earliest Social Network Ever Discovered

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More About: Browsers, bugs, comics, humor, internet explorer, mashable comics, Web Development

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WordPress Dashboard

As the Internet Explorer 6 Deathwatch continues, another web service — WordPress.com — has announced that it is ending support of the nearly decade-old web browser.

Citing “increasingly complex code trickery to make the WordPress dashboard work,” the company announced an end to IE6 support.

The dashboard will still load for IE6 users, it just won’t function very well. IE6 users will be alerted that their browser is outdated and given direct links to browser updates or to download an alternative browser via the Browse Happy website.

In addition to dropping IE6 support, WordPress.com has also rolled out some new features, including a revamped and redesigned dashboard and a new distraction-free writing mode.

These features — as well as the end-of-life for IE6 support — will make their way to self-hosted WordPress installs with WordPress 3.2. The beta version of WordPress 3.2 is available for download now and the final version is expected to land sometime in June.

WordPress.com, which hosts millions of websites, joins a long list of providers that have officially decided that enough is enough in regards to IE6. In March, Microsoft launched its own global campaign calling for the end of the browser.

More About: IE6, internet explorer, WordPress.com

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Google has released a stable version of Chrome 11.

The new version, released Wednesday, brings bug fixes as well as some fascinating translation and speech-to-text features, GPU-accelerated 3D CSS and a simplified new icon.

Users can download Chrome 11 at the official Chrome page.

With the speech-to-text support, users will be able to click an icon and speak into the computer’s microphone, and Chrome 11 will transcribe the speech into text. Developers can add this feature to their website or web app.

This magic is made possible by the HTML5 speech input API, which you can also see in action at HTML5Rocks.com. Another nerdy implementation of the same feature can be seen in this Captain Kirk Bot.

Google Translate in Chrome 11 takes great advantage of the API, giving users the ability to translate spoken words into another language; users can both read and listen to translated speech.

As far as bug-squashing goes, Google shelled out a record $16,500 to individual developers who pitched in on taking the release from a beta to a stable version. The company paid between $500 and $3,000 for patching such vulnerabilities as corrupt node trees with mutation events and dangling pointers.

Google also gave special thanks to Apple Product Security team members miaubiz, kuzzcc, Sławomir Błażek, Drew Yao and Braden Thomas who helped take the browser to a less buggy stable release.

More About: chrome, chrome 11, Google

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Microsoft has made many claims about IE9′s speed, but now the company is saying the latest version of its browser also bests the competition in terms of energy use.

Based on several tests conducted by Microsoft, it would seem that IE9 makes fewer demands on a computer’s battery — at least in certain scenarios. Firefox 4 came in a close second in every test; Opera 11 was the least energy-efficient browser in most tests.

Researchers at Microsoft put Chrome 10, Firefox 4, Safari 5, Opera 11 and Internet Explorer 9 head-to-head in three different test scenarios. First, they measured baseline power consumption with no browser running, then they looked at how much power the browsers used on an about:blank page. Next, they ran a typical news content website, which showcased power consumption in a typical web-browsing situation.

For the final tests, each browser ran Galactic, an HTML5-based browser performance test, and the FishIE Tank, another performance test.

Microsoft ran these tests on an Intel laptop running Windows 7; to make truly definitive statements about browser efficiency, the same tests would have to be run on a variety of devices and OSes. We’d love to know if IE9 holds up as well on an Android tablet, for example.

Here are graphs of the test results:

While it’s nice to know that IE 9 might help your battery last longer, these stats may not have much impact on the ongoing browser wars. Internet Explorer has been losing ground to Chrome and Firefox in particular for far too long; and for most consumers, energy efficiency might not be a deciding factor when choosing a web browser.

What do you think? Do these stats affect your opinion of IE 9? Would they make you want to use this browser over one of its competitors? Give us your opinions in the comments section.

More About: energy, green tech, IE9, internet explorer, microsoft

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Firefox 4 was released Tuesday, and early reports indicated the latest version of Mozilla’s open-source browser was downloaded more than 5 million times in the first 24 hours.

Those reports were wrong. It turns out, Firefox 4 was downloaded 7.1 million times in its first day. In fact, in the first 48 hours of release, Mozilla racked up more than 15.85 million downloads.

Over at the Mozilla blog, the team put together an infographic detailing the first 48 hours of activity. Downloads peaked at 10,200 per minute and averaged 91.7 downloads per second. That kind of leaves IE 9′s 27 downloads per second figure in the dust, doesn’t it?

The team at Pingdom put together their own Firefox infographic, this time showcasing the lead-up to Firefox 4. the infographic details the browser’s timeline, marketshare and assorted usage stats.

Firefox has more than 400 million users worldwide and has been downloaded more than 1.35 billion times since 2004.

Although the web browser has only increased in importance since Firefox 1.0 was released in 2004, many users and Mashable readers have expressed indifference or even disinterest in Firefox 4. The desktop browser wars are still going strong; however, most of us would agree the real battle is on mobile devices and tablets. It’s an issue I discussed at length with Dan Benjamin on a recent segment our podcast, Briefly Awesome.

The number of people who downloaded Firefox 4 in the last 24 hours, however, indicates to me that the desktop is still an area of great importance for the web and its ecosystems.

Are you one of the 15.85 million Firefox 4 downloaders? Let us know your experience in the comments.

More About: Firefox, Firefox 4, infographic, infographics, web browsers

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Mozilla’s Firefox 4 was released early Tuesday. The release comes nearly two years after Firefox 3.5 and three years after Firefox 3.

The web browsing landscape has changed significantly since then, with Google’s Chrome browser winning converts left and right, while mobile and tablet browsing gained new ground.

When Firefox first hit the scene in the early 2000s, Mozilla’s open-source browser was a refreshing change of pace for users and designers alike. It brought innovative features like tabbed browsing to the mainstream (although Opera did it first). It used add-ons to an extent that hadn’t been seen before.



Over the last few years, early adopters — once the core evangelists for the browser — shifted away from it. Those add-ons started to bog the program down. Meanwhile, the new layout engine of choice for web developers isn’t Gecko (which powers Firefox), but WebKit (which powers Apple Safari, Google Chrome, and the browsers for BlackBerry and Android).

Firefox 4 is an important release for Mozilla — perhaps the most important release since 1.0. The competition has never been so strong. We have been using the beta releases extensively and spent some time with the final release. So how does Firefox 4 stack up against the competition? Are the changes enough to keep current users from switching — and lure old users back?


Look and Feel


Mozilla first started talking about Firefox 4.0 in July 2009. The early screenshot previews — featuring tabs on top, a la Chrome — were a radical departure at the time.

Although the comparisons to Chrome are unavoidable, I think that Firefox 4 improves upon Google’s minimalist design.

Tabs are on top, but the browser window is still easily draggable. Users won’t make the mistake of dragging a tab rather than the full window. Moreover, cycling through tabs is more elegant and less cluttered than either Safari 5 or Chrome 10.

By default, Mozilla has changed the location of the home button. It also added a new bookmark bar. Fortunately, these components can be customized and removed (simply right click on them and hit “customize”). Like Chrome, Firefox eschews the the status bar on the bottom of the screen, only using it as an overlay when needed. This adds a few more pixels of space to the viewing window.

Firefox 4 includes an innovative new tab grouping feature known as Panorama. Panorama started life as Tab Candy, an experimental feature introduced by former Mozilla Creative Lead Aza Raskin. It creates different groups of tabs and lets you switch easily between them. Panorama is a great feature for power users, but anyone who don’t want to use a grouping system can ignore it and never know the difference.


Speed


Firefox used to be the fastest browser on the block. Over the years, the program has become bloated. Increasingly, the speed factor in web browsers is less about the rendering engine and more about the JavaScript engine.

Firefox 4 claims to be up to six times faster than its predecessor. In our tests, load times did seem about that fast — though Google Chrome 10 still seems to bring up pages more quickly.

The speed increases aren’t merely limited to page load times, however. Firefox 4 starts up significantly faster on my Mac (an iMac with a 2.8GHz i7 and 12GB of RAM running Mac OS X 10.6.7) than its predecessor. In fact, in a timed test, Firefox 4 launched from dock to default homepage at nearly the exact same speed as Google Chrome 10.


Performance, Memory Usage, Stability


As a full-time Mac user since 2007, I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with Firefox. Certain websites (particularly corporate backend systems) just work better in the browser than in Safari. But Firefox has never been particularly well tuned to Mac OS X machines. Firefox 3 was a significant improvement, but frankly, Firefox has remained a memory hog.

The biggest problem with Firefox versions of the past — and this is true of both Mac OS X and Windows releases — is that the program has the tendency to leak memory. This problem only gets worse on systems with lots of add-ons installed and can be made worse still by plugins like Flash.

Mozilla has said that Firefox 4 consumes less memory and is more stable. I wanted to see if this was true. Using the Activity Monitor in Mac OS X, I tracked the amount of real memory, CPU utilization and CPU threads in Firefox 4, Firefox 3.6.15, Safari 5.0.4 and Chrome 10.0.6.448.151 stable.

I tried to install the same number of add-ons or extensions to each browser. The goal was to re-create the average browsing session. I then opened a number of memory-hogging tabs, including Farmville and Hulu with video playing.

I tested the memory and CPU usage for each browser. Remember, your mileage may vary.

First, the good news — in my tests, Firefox 4 consumes less memory and CPU cycles than Firefox 3.6.15. When adding in Flash and other plugin usage to the total memory footprint, only Google Chrome 10 performs better.

The bad news — and this is really for all four browser variants tested — is that the overall usage is still fairly high. The big culprit here is Adobe Flash. Improvements have been made on this front in Windows and with certain graphics chipsets on the Mac (my Radeon HD 4850 unfortunately, is not included), but Flash is the greatest cause of browser performance and memory usage issu
es.

So if Firefox 3.6.x takes up a lot of memory on your system, the improvements in Firefox 4 might not be significantly better.

What is new is that Firefox 4 now segregates its regular browsing processes from so-called plugin processes. Previously, Firefox was the sole item to appear in the Mac OS X Activity Monitor. With Firefox 4, a “Firefox Plugin Process” appears as well.

So if Flash wasn’t running a game and playing back a video, that Plugin Process usage would be considerably less. Rather than relying on the browser to free up the memory (something Firefox is historically bad at doing), the plugin process can simply be freed up.

Moreover, if a plugin crashes, the browser can recover without taking down the entire session. Apple is doing something similar in Safari 5.0.x, which shows Flash Player as its own process. If Flash crashes, the rest of the browser can stay intact.

With Chrome, Google goes a step further and actually separates each tab into its own process. That makes it easy to shut down one tab and keep the rest of the session running. Chrome doesn’t separate Flash as its own entity; the browser uses its own sandboxed version of Flash Player.

It’s great that Mozilla has decided to split up the way Firefox uses memory. Recovering from crashes is less time consuming, and regular system memory can be reclaimed more quickly.

Since Firefox 4 Beta 8, I have found the browser to be very usable with few stability issues. The few issues that remained up until the final release — notably Netflix not wanting to work well on the Mac — have been resolved in Firefox 4. In the 24 hours I have been testing Firefox 4, I haven’t had the browser seize or crash. It’s rare that I don’t have to invoke “force quit” for Firefox 3.6.15, so this is a great sign.


Add-ons


Mozilla has restructured how its add-on system works. Add-on installation and browsing now takes place in a designated browser window, rather than a pop-up menu. This is much more easy on the eyes and makes finding and installing or removing add-ons and browser themes more fluid.

Most major Firefox add-ons now work with Firefox 4. Users may run into situations where an add-on is incompatible. But most developers seem to have answered the call. If your favorite add-on isn’t updated in the next week or two, it might be time to look for a replacement; it probably indicates developer abandonment.

Firefox is continuing to move towards lighter weight extensions like those for Google Chrome, Safari and Opera. These add-ons can be built using HTML, CSS and JavaScript and tend to use less memory and resources. They also tend to have less of an impact on overall browser performance and stability.

Still, at this stage, most major Firefox add-ons still use the traditional add-on API and require a browser restart when updated, installed or uninstalled.

I have long said that add-ons and extensions are Firefox’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness. The impact that the extensibility these add-ons added to the browser on overall user adoption cannot be understated. It’s equally true, however, that the performance impact some popular add-ons can have on the browser has hurt Firefox’s image as a whole.

Even with Chrome, users have to battle how many extensions are installed versus the performance impact on the browser. It’s a tough line to straddle between utility and performance. But from what I understand about the Firefox add-on APIs and toolkits, it is an area Mozilla has spent a lot of time working to make better.


Overall


So is Firefox 4 good enough to lure back old users and to keep existing users satisfied?

For me, the answer is yes. While I don’t anticipate using Firefox as my primary browser (I tend to use Safari), keeping Firefox running on my computer is no longer something I fear.

The new user interface is fresh and inviting. Panorama is something I could see using on a regular basis, and the memory and performance improvements live up the expectations.

Firefox fanatics are going to love it. Developers that test in multiple browsers are going to be very pleased. Still, I don’t know if being on par with the competition is enough to bring old users back.

I’m going to continue to use Firefox 4 more over the next few weeks. For me, that’s an important development. Since Google Chrome officially came to the Mac in December of 2009, I have used Firefox primarily only to access certain websites behind a VPN. It’s great to actually enjoy using the old girl again.

Let us know your thoughts about Firefox 4 in the comments.

More About: Browsers, chrome, Firefox, Firefox 4, Internet Explorer 9, mozilla, reviews, safari

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Google and Mozilla have both announced new browser initiatives that will allow users to opt out of having their activities tracked by online advertisers. These developments are at least partially in response to the “Do Not Track” lists proposed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

In December, the FTC released a 122-page report [PDF] outlining the concept, which has been called a “Do Not Call” list for online behavioral advertising. Rather than make calls for legislation, the FTC has pushed for browser makers and advertisers to self-regulate.

Although targeting the same problem, Mozilla and Google are are approaching opt-out online behavioral advertising from different directions.


Firefox: Do Not Track HTTP Header


On Sunday, Mozilla formally announced its plans to build a do-not-track feature into future versions of Firefox. Alex Fowler, the global privacy and public policy leader at Mozilla, explained the proposed feature on his blog:

“When the feature is enabled and users turn it on, web sites will be told by Firefox that a user would like to opt out of OBA. We believe the header-based approach has the potential to be better for the web in the long run because it is a clearer and more universal opt-out mechanism than cookies or blacklists.”

Mozilla’s Sid Stamm has written his thoughts on the proposal and he explains why the HTTP header approach was chosen fro Firefox:

“Currently, to opt out of online behavioral advertisements, you have to get a site to set an opt-out cookie so they won’t track you. There are various web sites that help out (NAI, IAB UK) and there are Firefox add-ons (TACO, beef taco, etc.) that can streamline this process. But this is a bit of a hack; it’s nearly impossible to maintain a list of all the sites whose tracking people may want to opt-out from. It would be more attractive if there was one universal opt-out signal that would tell all sites you want to opt out.”

Instead, Stamm proposes the use of a HTTP header that is transmitted with every HTTP request and that lets ad networks know a user does not want to bee tracked.

This approach of using a Do-Not-Track HTTP header differs from some other opt-out online behavioral advertising solutions, which utilize either opt-out cookies or an opt-out registry. Michael Hanson from Mozilla Labs has posted a technical analysis of Mozilla’s proposal on his blog.

One advantage of using a header and not a cookie to carry opt-out information is that even if user clears his or her browser cache, the opt-out settings will still remain in place.

As The Wall Street Journal points out, however, for Mozilla’s tool to work, “tracking companies would need to agree to not monitor users who enable the do-not-track feature.” As of this writing, no companies have publicly agreed to participate. Mozilla will have to convince advertisers to comply with its header proposal for this idea to actually gain traction.


The Google Approach


Meanwhile, Google has released a new extension for Google Chrome called Keep My Opt-Outs. The Google Code page for Keep My Opt-Outs describes the extension as a way to “permanently [opt] your browser out of online ad personalization via cookies.”

The extension works with Google-served ads as well as with ads from companies that have signed up with AboutAds.info.


Other Initiatives


Last month, Microsoft announced that IE 9 will include a way for users to create lists of sites or companies that are blocked from tracking their data. This is significant because of reports that Microsoft previously removed similar features from Internet Explorer 8 at the behest of online advertisers.

The features and plugins proposed by Google, Mozilla, Microsoft and others are a good start in making it easier for users to opt-out of online behavioral ads; however, these solutions will only work if advertisers and browser makers can work together in a cohesive way.

Photo courtesy of swanksalot

More About: advertising, Browsers, chrome, do not track list, Firefox, FTC, Google, IE9, microsoft, mozilla, privacy, trending

The latest beta of Firefox 4 — beta 9 for those of you counting at home — is now available to download.

The latest beta version of the venerable web browser features faster start-up, improved bookmarking and history functions and smoother complex animations. The Firefox team released the first Firefox 4 Beta back in July. The final 4.0 release is expected as early as next month.

The release notes for Firefox 4 Beta 9 are pretty sparse, which may indicate that major bugs notwithstanding, the next version offered might be a release candidate.

A few tightened user interface tweaks aside, Firefox 4 looks largely the same as it has the last few releases.

One of the issues that has prevented me from using previous Firefox 4 Beta releases on my main computer has been the lack of support for certain plugins and add-ons. With each release, developers are updating their wares for better compatibility, but there are still a few standouts (like Firebug) that aren’t yet supported.

Those quibbles aside, the new Firefox is significantly faster than its predecessors. Over Christmas, I installed Firefox 4 Beta 8 on my MacBook Pro and was impressed at the improvements in speed and performance. What little time I have spent with Beta 9 on my iMac indicates that the speed increases have continued.

One note for Mac users — if you are running Mac OS X 10.6, it’s likely that Netflix will not work in this release. There is a conflict between the 32-bit Silverlight plugin and the 64-bit Firefox 4. Use Chrome or Safari instead if you don’t want to go back to Firefox 3.6.x.

Firefox 4 is an important release for Mozilla. The open source browser may have surpassed IE in usage share in Europe, but it’s facing increased competition on all fronts. Google’s Chrome browser is approaching 10% market share and Microsoft is coming on strong with IE 9.

Moreover, the modern mobile browsing space — which is largely dominated by WebKit — is gaining in importance. Getting out a solid version of Firefox for the desktop and the mobile is crucial for Mozilla.

If you want to do your part to help, you can download the latest Firefox 4 Beta and put it through the paces. The new Feedback button makes it easy to report any problems or crashes and you can take the new interface for a test drive if you haven’t already.

What are your thoughts on Firefox 4 Beta 9? Let us know in the comments.

More About: browser, Firefox, Firefox 4, mozilla

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