The Windows version of Google Chrome is one of the most widely used browsers. And Google is now tightening restrictions on browser extensions that install themselves without full notification to users.
This may be frustrating for companies that bundle browser extensions with their standard user download packages. But it will make the Chrome browser more secure and set a positive security example for browser extensions generally. And for the IT community at midsize firms, this is a welcome development.
Browser extensions have become an all too popular vector for malware exploits. This makes better protection of browsers good news for all users–not just individuals using a browser to surf the Internet, but companies that depend on the open Web to reach out to customers.
Ask Before Installing
As Seth Rosenblatt reports at CNET, Google Chrome for Windows will now require most browser extensions to get explicit user acknowledgment and permission before the extension can be installed. Two new features in Chrome 25 will enforce the new rules.
The only extensions exempt from the new requirement are those that come directly from the Chrome store, and are thus under the Google aegis.
According to Peter Ludwig, Chrome product manager, the previous policy of allowing silent installation of third-party extensions had been “widely abused” to install extensions “without proper acknowledgement from users.” Henceforth, third-party extensions will be disabled by default. A notification box will say that an extension has been installed and give the user the option of enabling it.
Another feature in Chrome 25 will make this protective functionality retroactive. Existing third-party extensions will be disabled, with a prompt allowing users to re-enable them.
In Line With Mozilla
The new protective functionality brings Chrome into line with Mozilla Firefox, which already requires notification by third-party add-ons. The move may be unwelcome by some companies and other organizations that have incorporated browser extensions in their uploads. But comments on the CNET piece were strongly supportive of the move.
IT professionals at midsize firms have a strong stake in measures that strengthen browser security. Browsers are users’ doors to the open Web, an environment that allows midsize firms to compete on an even playing field.
The mobility era is already posing a challenge to the open Web, as app-ification and walled gardens make the full Web harder to reach. The continued availability of safe, secure browsers is a key protection against the fragmentation of the Web and dominance by large vendors. This makes the latest Chrome for Windows protections a very good move for midsize firms.
This post was written as part of theIBM for Midsize Businessprogram, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us onFacebook. Follow us onTwitter.
Changes are coming to the new tab page and omnibox to make searching faster.
Some slight search changes are coming to Chrome, as Google updates the developer’s version of the browser today to make getting to your search results more quickly.
Initially released to a small subset of people using Chrome dev for Windows (download) and the developer’s version of Chrome OS (read CNET review) that also have Google set as their default search provider, the changes affect both the new tab page and any searches you type into your location bar.
Google software engineer David Holloway wrote in his blog post announcing the search improvements that they’re a response to people still navigating to their preferred search engine’s home page instead of searching from the location bar.
On the new tab page, the default search engine provider will be able to embed a search box and “otherwise customize” the page. Google didn’t specify what those customizations could be.
In the omnibox, Google’s term for the URL field in the location bar, search engines can show search terms in the omnibox, precluding the need for a second search box on the results page. Since I haven’t gotten access to the feature and Google has not posted any screenshots, it’s not clear if you won’t be able to see your search results URL.
Search engine providers can add the features via the new Embedded Search API, an extension of the SearchBox API, wrote Holloway. He also said that Chrome dev on Mac will get the update at some point in the future.
What’s the best smartphone of 2012? According to CNET, it’s not the iPhone 5.
Although the two phones scored neck-in-neck in terms of review scores, CNET picked the Samsung Galaxy S III over Apple’s iPhone 5 because it is the “first real iPhone competitor.”
The Samsung Galaxy S III runs on Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and features a 4.8-inch screen, 4G LTE support, front- and rear-facing cameras, the S Beam file transfer feature and Tec Tiles.
“Samsung’s flagship smartphone successor burst forth this past summer with a surfeit of software features to wow and confound mass-market buyers of premium handsets,” CNET editors said.
Apple and Samsung have been fierce competitors, but the battle between the two companies reached new heights in 2012.
Apple sued Samsung for allegedly knocking off its popular iPhone and iPad. The computer giant sought $2.5 billion in damages. Samsung denied the charges and countersued Apple for $422 million. A nine-person federal jury in San Jose, Calif. ruled in favor of Apple on August 24 and awarded the company with $1.05 billion in damages.
The two companies met in court again Dec. 6. Samsung sought to overturn the verdict, while Apple wanted to add an additional $500 million in fines and ban older Samsung products from sale in the United States. CNET named court battle between the tech giants as the top tech story of the year.
Whenever Apple introduces a new version of iOS, it’s guaranteed that Android fans will protest that Google’s operating system has long had most of the new features. Apple is late again, they’ll say, and only following Google down the smartphone innovation trail.
Truth is, I don’t really blame them for making that case. Indeed, I’ve done the same when reviewing iOS updates (most recently with CNET’s iOS 6 First Take) so I understand where their fervor is coming from. But as right they may be, Android fans forget one important thing. Apple may be late to a feature party, but iPhone users really don’t care.
Of course, iPhone owners will gripe when their phone is missing an important feature. The wait for real notifications, for example, was particularly galling and it took until iOS 6 to add a button for attaching a photo to an email that you’re already writing. But even with those complaints, most iPhone users will forgive Apple and be patient. Because deep down they believe that when Apple finally delivers the feature, they’ll get a better experience than their Android friends. Tear off the front page, but Apple takes its time to deliver the experience it wants. That’s how it’s always been and its customers know it.
Of course, I’m not saying that Apple always hits the highest mark–the iPhone’s multitasking is still a bit of a mess–but sometimes it does. It took a while to get video editing, for example, but it was a dream when it arrived. It’s those moments that really matter to Apple users. They’d rather sit on the bench than get a half-baked product. To them, Apple doesn’t have to invent it as long as it adds the signature Apple touch that customers expect and love.
In the end, it’s really about two distinct philosophies of a smartphone user experience. On one side you have an OS that can do almost anything, offers oodles of choice, and is exhaustively customizable. But at the same time it can feel messy and a tad unrefined. That’s fine for some people, but others will prefer an OS that’s less buggy and that’s tightly integrated and exceedingly easy to use. Sure, that same OS also is limiting and occasionally less powerful, but users should be allowed to choose what works for them.
So, yes, Android users, I feel your pain. When Apple announces a feature that you’ve had for months, I know that it is frustrating. And when Apple gets only thunderous applause in return I see why it makes your blood boil. But even though that’s the reality, Apple fans won’t hear you shouting. Their new iOS feature may be late, but to them it was worth the wait.
Apple officially announced iOS 6 yesterday and while it is a welcome update for iOS that I look forward to installing on my iPad 3, most everything Apple revealed can already be done today on Ice Cream Sandwich Android devices.
Apple does a good job of taking existing technology and features and making it more user friendly (they did it with iOS 5 last year), but ICS took Android a long ways and the experience on the HTC One X is fantastic.
Apple stated there are over 200 new features in iOS 6 and we will have to wait until the fall to see everything. Developers will be loading up beta versions soon so we will see some more discussions on features over the next few weeks and months.
They did reveal several major features and functions at WWDC, so let’s take a look and compare them to what we see with existing Android ICS. You can check out the table below that summarizes the differences, followed by more lengthy discussion and my opinions. Don’t forget that Google revealed ICS last year and is likely to show off Jelly Bean this month at Google I/O.
Maps: Apple has always included a Maps application, based on Google Maps. As we discussed in May, Apple has decided to finally put some effort into navigation (powered by TomTom) and will be rolling out their own mapping solution in iOS 6.
In typical Apple fashion, the application has lots of attractive visuals with good functionality. It is their first attempt so there is still work to be done, but the new Maps does provide for turn-by-turn navigation, traffic monitoring (crowd-sourced like Waze), location-based integration in apps, and some great lock screen capability.
There doesn’t appear to be any offline navigation support, which is something that Google just recently announced for Android devices.
It also appears iOS owners will lose bicycle, pedestrian, and transit functions seen in Google Maps on iOS 5. Google Maps Navigation is a tried and tested service and application that will be tough to beat.
Siri: Siri looks to finally be getting some functionality that it should have had at launch, including the ability to launch apps, real-time sports, movie, and restaurant information and integration, and support from auto manufacturers for true eyes-free usage.
As a sports fan, I liked the demos at WWDC. Then again, I follow the sports I enjoy most with dedicated apps anyway so it isn’t as critical as it was made out to be. These functions are great to see in Siri, but I wonder how many people will use it past the week or two novelty period. I only used Siri on my iPhone 4S for reminders after the novelty wore off and rarely see people talking to their phone so am still not yet sold on the practicality of Siri.
Passbook: Passbook looks like it takes the best from multiple 3rd party apps like TripIt, Starbucks, Flixster, and more to provide one location for storing airline info, store reward cards and more. It is not a payment system application, but seems like it could move that way in the future.
Mail enhancements: I almost fell on the floor laughing when I saw how excited people were about multiple email signatures coming to iOS. You can now have a different signature for each email account on your iOS device, WOW
You can also now finally add attachments from within the email client rather than having to go to the Photos app and then create an email. However, attachment support is still extremely limited due to Apple’s closed approach to the file system. You can attach just photos and only one at a time.
iOS 6 will also include a VIP mailbox so you can filter people’s email that you really want to see. One thing I love about HTC Sense is this same ability to have groups that let you quickly filter your email with the touch of a tab. Again, nothing new or groundbreaking for Android, but nice to see Apple catching up.
Facebook: iOS 5 brought some basic Twitter integration to the platform and now we see Apple including some Facebook support. Windows Phone launched with Facebook support and Android is the king of sharing capability with the most extensive support for sharing across a large number of services.
Notification center: Like other devices have for years, iOS 6 will now enable you to quickly reply with a text message when a call comes in and you don’t want to answer it. There will also be a Do Not Disturb feature that seems very handy.
If you do a quick search in the Play Store you can find several of these same type of apps available now for Android devices. I never gave much thought to it, but I might just try a couple of these out and find one for my HTC One X.
FaceTime over 3G: Since the launch of FaceTime on iOS, people have been asking for the ability to use it over a connection other than WiFi. Other developers provided this capability through their apps, Skype, Tango, and others. Apple will be making carriers happy in iOS 6 if people use it a lot with restricted wireless carrier data caps. Again, it’s another feature that was expected and good to finally see, but I prefer using Skype since it is able to be used with more people across all platforms.
Video stabilization: You will find that iOS 6 helps you reduce shaky videos, something seen on other platforms for some time.
Some other interesting new features include:
Guided Access enhancements that will help those with challenges use iOS devices.
Game Center improvements. (I never use this so maybe the improvements will have me finally trying it out on my iPad.)
Full screen landscape support in Safari. (will help with iPad browsing for sure.)
Safari browser syncing. (It’s teason why I use Chrome on my computers and HTC One X.)
Photo stream sharing.
iOS 6 is a welcome update for iOS fans. iOS 5 Apple borrowed quite a bit from multiple platforms and improved the user interface elements. It looks like they did the same again, but ICS already has some solid user interface elements for these features and the differentiation isn’t as great as it used to be.
With Google likely to reveal Jelly Bean later this month at Google I/O I can understand why analysts predict iOS to continue with a fairly flat rate of adoption. Microsoft may also hit it out of the park with Windows Phone 8 and hopefully we see some of what they have coming soon at their June developer conference.
I personally find the HTC One X to be a better piece of hardware than the iPhone 4S and with the customizations and useful glanceable widgets I intend to update my new iPad to iOS 6, but skip picking up a new iPhone when they are announced.
It depends on how compelling the new iPhone hardware is, but iOS 6 isn’t compelling enough itself to sway me from Android or Windows Phone.
Over the course of the last several months there have been whispers, some subtle, some not so much, regarding a merger of Android and Chrome, both of the powerhouse Google franchise. Sundar Pichai, the Senior Vice President at Chrome, has admitted as much, telling CNET “that his product and that other Google operating system, Android, may some day merge.” Yet, there are many things that would need to happen before a merger could successfully occur.
Chrome, relatively speaking, is much younger than Android, which Google purchased while Chrome was built in-house. During the introduction of the new Samsung Chromebook and Chromebox, Google’s vice president of engineering, Linus Upson, said that Google is not working on a Chrome OS tablet.
“We have our hands full in delivering a wonderful experience on desktop and laptop and the Android team have their hands full bringing a great experience on phone and tablet, but the two teams are working together even more closely” said Upson, hinting at a convergences between Chrome and Android operating systems. Yet, melding together the tablet and the phone is not an easy prospect. One problem, other than the newness of Chrome OS, that Google must address is the mobile/PC integration which both Apple and Microsoft had to develop two separate operating systems for.
Yet, the payoff for Google, to integrate Chrome into Android, should payoff in spades. The Chrome browser is either the number one or two most used browser in the world, with the race between Internet Explorer and Chrome growing tighter everyday. This deeper market integration will, eventually, make it easier for Google to bring its Chrome OS into the mainstream.
The push for mainstream Chrome OS
A lot of this discussion has occurred in the last week since the announcement of the Samsung Chromebox and Chrombook. The Chromebook, a laptop, comes with significant drawbacks — the biggest being its need to always be online, along with what the editors at CNET call the “general limitations of the Chrome OS,” which make it difficult to recommend. A potential customer could get a higher quality, more useful laptop for a similar, if not cheaper, price than the $449 Series 5 550 Chromebook that will be offered.
The Chromebox, which comes in at a reasonable $329, is a desktop unit that bears a close resemblance to Apple’s Mac Mini. For users who spend a good deal of time working on Google’s Cloud, these devices are a sound investment. Regardless, according to Stephen Shankland of CNET, the Chromebox and Chromebook are still slower than traditional PCs.
Shankland also notes that users should not write off the Chromebook or Chromebox just yet, saying, “the Web is becoming more powerful as a foundation for apps, those apps are taking advantage of the new power, and Chrome OS draws on that broad and deep movement,” and that while Google has been known to “unceremoniously dump some dud projects, Chrome OS looks to me like one of the ones in which Google is investing for the long haul.”
In a recent LA Times article it is written that Google is promoting the computers by claiming that “its line of Web-base computers will not have a ‘messy desktop’ or ‘rolling hills of green.’” The Chromebook and Chromebox are already available on Amazon, and in the coming weeks will be available at Best Buy stores across the nation. According to Amazon’s website, the Chromebox is currently ranked second in computers and accessories, desktop and the Chromebook is ranked 19th in computer and accessories, laptops, potentially hinting to strong sales figures and a future for the Chrome OS.
Asus has revealed a new partnership at Computex today to make its computers more Android-friendly. By teaming with BlueStacks (download), which makes an “app player” for running Android apps on Windows, the company will make Android apps available on 30 million Windows computers around the world.
“Asus has always been an innovator, and this is a big move for the space,” BlueStacks’ Chief Executive Officer Rosen Sharma wrote in an e-mail to CNET. “Thirty million computers running mobile apps is a lot, but it’s just the beginning.”
Asus will include BlueStacks in its asus@vibe entertainment platform, which currently ships on all Asus computers. It will include six months of free access to hundreds of thousands of Android apps, after which customers must pay a subscription fee to continue unfettered app access. If they don’t pay, BlueStacks will still work but with far fewer apps available — about 50 or so of the top apps.
Legacy Asus computers already in the marketplace will get BlueStacks on June 4, as soon as the app player is available in asus@vibe. The first Asus computers to ship with BlueStacks integrated are expected to be running Windows 7, shipping in September, and Windows 8, when it becomes available sometime during the third quarter this year.
Facebook has apparently booted Google’s Chrome browser off of its supported browser list, instead highlighting Opera, according to Favbrowser, which managed to cache a page with the note (the page no longer appears).
The switch is particularly poignant with speculation flaring up that Facebook is interested in acquiring Opera. Facebook, meanwhile, has long considered Google a competitor in the social arena.
Sitting alongside Opera in the supported browser list is Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Mozilla’s Firefox.
It’s unclear whether the move has any meaning, or what that meaning may be. Regardless of the switch, Facebook still runs normally using the Chrome browser.
CNET contacted Facebook for comment, and we’ll update the story when we get a response.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus owners are getting a taste of the latest flavor of Ice Cream Sandwich, aka Android 4.0.4.
Verizon has already approved the latest Android update to start rolling out. The Verizon Web site indicates that the update is coming soon, though a fellow CNET reporter with a Verizon Galaxy Nexus confirmed that he has already received the update.
The 4G LTE Galaxy Nexus came equipped with Android 4.0 out of the box, so the new update brings it up the latest version, namely Android 4.0.4. A Verizon spokesman told CNET that the update also offers various enhancements for the phone.
A Verizon update page provides more information about the various enhancements and benefits along with instructions on how to update your phone.
In giving the thumbs-up to Google’s acquisition of Motorola, regulators in China stipulated that Google must make Android free and open for five years, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed with CNET today.
The stipulation would seem to be designed to keep Google from denying Motorola’s handset competitors access to the mobile operating system, or from giving Motorola an advantage of some sort — such as integration between its handsets and Android that’s tighter than connections between rival phones and the OS.
From the beginning, Google has taken an open approach with Android, making it free and available to any hardware manufacturer — a strategy that’s helped to quickly make Android the No. 1 mobile OS globally.
“Many hardware partners have contributed to Android’s success and we look forward to continuing our work with all of them on an equal basis to deliver outstanding user experiences,” Google CEO Larry Page said during a conference call last August, at the time the intended acquisition was announced. “We built Android as an open-source platform and it will stay that way.”
Still, despite the offering of such olive branches, and despite Android’s great success as an open OS, Motorola rivals may well have been nervous. “Any way (Google) tries to couch this, there’s no doubt Motorola is the most favored player,” Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg told CNET’s Roger Cheng in August. “If I’m a third-party vendor, I have some real concerns here.”
That’s in part because it could have at least crossed Google’s mind to integrate its software and services more tightly with the Motorola hardware, following Apple’s end-to-end approach with its own hardware and services.
Apple uses the sale of its iPhones and iPads to drive sales of iTunes, the App store, iCloud, and other offerings. Google, of course, has its own services — Google Drive, Google+, and so on — and a Google-focused Android device could further push subscribers to them. Ultimately, it’s these services that are the money-makers for Google. Fragmentation of Android is another concern, and a dominant, tightly integrated Android handset might help to address that.
What, then, would rival phone makers do? There aren’t many alternatives to Android. Windows Phone might become a more attractive option, but then, Microsoft has a cozy relationship with Nokia, so it could be deja vu all over again. Here’s what CNET’s Maggie Reardon had to say back in August, in a discussion of the merger’s possible impact on consumers:
What is likely to happen is that HTC, LG, Sony Ericsson, and Samsung will remain Android partners, but they may have to find new ways to differentiate their products from Motorola’s more Google-centric hardware. This may mean that HTC offers more advancements for its Sense software, which rides on top of the Android software. And Samsung may develop more TouchWiz customizations.
For consumers this could either be a good thing or a bad thing. If executed well, it will offer consumers more variety in device capabilities as well as look and feel. But if it’s not executed well, it could just mean more fragmentation in the Android ecosystem.
Reardon also wrote that the merger would probably lead to more-advanced devices from Google, a good thing for consumers.
With the stipulation from China’s regulators (which was reported earlier today by several media outlets), all this may have become moot. And if Google is to be believed, it may not have been an issue anyway.
A company representative told CNET today that Google’s “stance since we agreed to acquire Motorola has not changed and we look forward to closing the deal.”
So, had it crossed Google’s mind to tie Android tightly to Motorola handsets? We might have to wait five years to find out. And who knows what the landscape will look like then?
We have an e-mail out to Motorola for comment and will update this post if we hear back.