Everyone has heard of hackers, viruses, and spam. What fewer people have heard of or understand are botnets despite statistics that show they’re trending to be the choice of current cybercriminals.
By using “Command-and-Control” servers, hackers are able to remotely take over computers to execute their nefarious activities. Connecting through C&C servers allows a “bot herder” is able to send out spam emails, spread viruses, distribute malicious software, and steal identities.
Nearly 90% of all email spam is sent through botnets – and that’s not their biggest threat.
As the buzz surrounding the iPhone 4S fades a little (it’s been a week, after all), Samsung unveiled the most anticipated Android phone of the pre-holiday season with the Galaxy Nexus. Armed with the first installation of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest entry into Google’s Nexus program will go on sale in the US, Europe, and Asia next month.
Nearly all of the specs are impressive:
1.2 gigahertz Dual Core Processor
4.65 inch Touchscreen
Slender 8.49 millimeter depth
1280 x 720 Resolution
NFC Technology for Mobile Payments
1 gigabyte of RAM
There is one feature that is less impressive and may prove to be a big mistake when consumers start their smartphone shopping next month. Despite having a rear camera that shoots 1080p at 40 frames per second like its high-end smartphone competitors, it shoots at a mere 5-megapixels.
8-megapixels is the new standard set by the other high-end options such as the iPhone 4S, Motorola Droid Bionic, Photon 4G, and even the Galaxy S II.
Those who understand how digital photography work know that the difference in quality in most situations will not be noticeable, but numbers are numbers and when people are comparing the devices, having an “inferior” camera will likely sway a good portion of people considering it against these and other competitors.
Having a pure installation of Android 4.0 will help, of course, as will other improvements such as the removal of physical buttons and improved screen clarity (including a new font called Roboto), but for many it will not be enough to overcome a camera that seems 3-megapixels inferior.
If sales are sluggish, we’ll know who to blame: the decision-maker who chose a camera that is comparable to last year’s models.
Smartphone season unofficially started last week with the release of the iPhone 4S. As Android phone makers try to capture their share of the lucrative Christmas market, the volleying for differentiators takes different angles to be as appealing as possible to consumers.
For the Motorola Droid Razr, their gimmick is thickness (or lack thereof). This “impossibly thin”smartphone is equipped with a stainless-steel core, a Gorilla Glass screen and a nanotechnology Splash-guard. Motorola Mobility President Sanjay Jha said the 7.1mm-thick device is the world’s thinnest.
Here are some of the specs:
Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread OS
Syncing through MotoCast
qHD Resolution with Super AMOLED
1.2GHz Dual-Core Processor
Jha said it will be the “first device to download HD movies from Netflix.”
The company described MotoCast as the most important feature on the phone.
“You can stream content from your computer straight to your pocket (or purse) so your personal content is always within reach,” the company said in a press release. “And, because you don’t have to upload to a third-party site, you’re saving time while gaining peace of mind. That’s right — your files stay safe because they stay with you.”
A 2-year Verizon contract puts the phone at $299.99. It will be available early next month.
Opera software recently cranked out a new alpha version of its upcoming Opera 12 web browser. Opera 12 has been in development for a little while now and recently added full hardware acceleration for WebGL graphics.
Before you consider taking it for a spin though be aware that the new hardware accelerated WebGL features work best with “modern graphics cards and up to date drivers.” The Opera blog also notes that “testing Opera 12 alpha can trigger bugs in your graphics card and in worst case blue screen your computer.”
The new hardware acceleration features mean that every element on screen in Opera 12 — not just, say, the canvas element — is now handled by your graphics card (provided it’s up to the task). Right now the acceleration only works with an OpenGL backend though Opera plans to add support for DirectX (and more graphics cards) as Opera 12 progresses.
While the hardware acceleration is definitely the big news in this release there are a few other new features as well, including a new HTML5 engine, some improvements for Opera themes and a revamped address bar.
Also due to eventually make its way into Opera 12 is experimental support for the new CSS Paged Media proposal, but regrettably that’s not part of the alpha release.
I played with the Opera 12 alpha over the weekend and found that it was indeed a bit snappier, but unfortunately it also seemed to add almost a 100MB of RAM when loading the same dozen tabs that I had open in the current release, Opera 11.51.
Of course it’s still early in the development cycle, and, assuming Opera can bring the memory overhead back down to match that of Opera 11.51, and improve the range of graphics cards supported, Opera 12 looks to offer quite a speed bump over previous versions.
Mozilla is planning a makeover for Firefox on Android. The company has announced it plans to abandon the usual Firefox look on Android mobile devices and will instead use Android’s native user interface widgets.
Under the hood Firefox for Android will still use the Gecko rendering engine, but without the XUL interface that powers Firefox on every other platform, Firefox for Android might be missing its familiar look.
XUL, which comes from the mouth-twisting phrase eXtensible User interface Language, was originally developed so that Firefox could have a similar interface across platforms. That is, with a few tweaks to Gecko, Firefox can easily move from Windows to Mac to Linux and back while maintaining a reasonably consistent appearance. Behind the scenes XUL means that Firefox has to do some extra work to draw itself on the screen, but on the desktop it’s hardly noticeable.
However, on mobile platforms, where memory and processors are still very limited, XUL is slowing Firefox down.
Writing on the Mozilla Mobile Platforms mailing list, Johnathan Nightingale, Director of Firefox Engineering, says that the move to a native Android interface will mean faster startup times, significantly less memory usage and a much snappier user interface — particularly when performing common mobile tasks like zooming and panning.
Of course everything in software is a trade off and the significant downside to using native elements for Firefox on Android is the possible loss of XUL-dependant add-ons. Nightingale says that the mobile team is working with the add-on team to find a solution, but so far nothing has been decided for sure. One possible solution would be to use native widgets for the main Firefox interface elements, but keep XUL around under the hood so that add-ons could still function.
Another concern is that, without its familiar user interface, Firefox won’t really be any different than other Android browsers. Firefox developer Robert Kaiser writes that he believes a “Firefox with native Android UI won’t be very much better than the native Android browser.”
Asa Dotzler, community coordinator for Firefox, is more confident, claiming that Mozilla is “not bound by any technology,” and that, if it needs to, Mozilla can “make add-ons work with a native [Android] UI.”
Nightingale says that a decision regarding add-ons will be made in the next few weeks, but that “Firefox 8 and 9 will ship with the XUL UI,” including the new user interface for tablets, while work continues on the native Android version. In other words, the native version isn’t likely to arrive until Firefox 10 rolls around in 2012.
Håkon Lie’s mock ups of CSS Paged Content. Pagination shifts as screen size changes
What if you could flip through a regular news website like a magazine?
Håkon Wium Lie, Opera Software’s CTO and creator of cascading stylesheets, has proposed a new set of CSS tools that transform longer web pages into a more book-like experience, where the reader flips from page to page instead of scrolling down one long screen.
It’s a concept that’s gained considerable weight with the arrival of touchscreen tablets and smartphones, both of which lend themselves to very book-like reading experience. Indeed popular magazines, including Wired, all offer platform-native applications that mimic the reading experience of a book or magazine. That’s precisely what Lie wants to make possible on the web.
“The form, the presentation of content is important,” says Lie. “The turning of the page is an event, we anticipate what is on the other side, we look forward to it.” The endless scrolling of the web lacks such events, but Lie believes CSS can bring what’s good about reading in the real world to the web.
At its core, the Paged Media standard offers web developers a way to paginate content — that is, take a single webpage and break it into multiple “pages,” with each page automatically fitted to the screen size of the device you’re using. For example, this article might be three “pages” when viewed on an iPad. However, because the pagination is done with CSS and the HTML remains as it is, there’s no added load time when you flip to the next page. So it’s not a tool that can easily be abused by publishers to mine extra pageviews. It adds all the good things about multi-page layouts and none of the bad.
The Paged Media proposal isn’t just about pages, though; there are also tools defined for gestures — swiping to turn to the next page, or, at the end of an article to the next article (all built off the existing HTML rel=next/prev tags). There are also magazine-friendly layout tools, like the ability to float elements across multiple columns of text, as well as hyphenation rules and a means of styling footnotes.
If all that sounds like a very print-oriented set of tools, well, you’re right. Lie believes that the web is undergoing a fundamental shift in metaphors, one he compares to a similar shift that happened hundreds of years ago — the shift from scrolls to books.
This shift makes particular sense on tablets. The “flipping” action to turn pages on a tablet makes sense in the same way it made sense for newspapers to be pages rather than enormous scrolls. There is, after all, no reason the newspaper couldn’t be delivered just like a webpage — an enormous roll of paper that you unroll as you read. It’s not of course, because that’s not the ideal form factor for reading in the situations that people read newspapers. Nor is vertical scrolling ideal when you’re reading with a tablet. Paging is easier than scrolling on a tablet. Both are swiping gestures, but scrolling requires a controlled swipe to a selected area, whereas paging is a much less precise, and therefore easier, gesture.
Lie tells Webmonkey that he doesn’t believe the venerable scrollbar will go away, rather that the CSS Paged Media tools will offer another way to render web content. In fact, Lie thinks Paged Media would be a natural companion for CSS media queries, perhaps becoming another element of responsive design. By pairing the two, developers could nicely paginate a longer article for a magazine-style reading experience on tablets and revert to a more traditional layout for desktop browsers.
A magazine-style reading experience isn’t necessarily right for every site, but one of the markets Lie has in mind is one that’s already trying to put the magazine on your tablet — the publishing world.
Publishers are spending ever-increasing amounts of money developing and maintaining native apps across a variety of smartphone and tablet platforms. The majority of these apps are little more than content containers, niche browsers if you will. Most of them are just trying to recreate the paged layout of their print cousins. CSS Paged Media would allow that same content to be paginated the same way in any web browser, on any platform.
It’s an ambitious goal and one that won’t happen overnight, though Lie did say that very experimental support for the Paged Media standard would be available in a coming labs version of Opera 12.
More importantly, Lie’s proposal is already on the table. While he concedes there are many things to still be worked out — including how Paged Media will fit some of its layout tools alongside CSS Regions or how users will bookmark paginated content — David Hyatt, Apple’s Safari and WebKit architect, has already expressed some support on the W3C mailing list.
That’s good news — without widespread browser support Paged Media won’t be dragging the web out of the papyrus-crusted past any time soon.
The Galaxy Nexus, the new Android flagship phone from Google and Samsung is finally out of the bag. I am like, omega-level excited about that screen, and Ice Cream Sandwich looks tasty, too. Let’s take a bite. Update: Hands on below. More »