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Hands on with Firefox 4 for Android (RC)

Access bookmarks and browsing history 
with the "awesome screen" on Firefox for 

Firefox for mobile (download) is just one step away from its first Android release, as Mozilla announced the browser's release candidate today.

Pending final testing, the mobile version of the popular Firefox browser will soon be available in full force on Android smartphones (the release candidate will be available beginning today in the Android Market). Firefox 4 will also work on the Maemo platform (download).

I sat down with Mozilla to take a look at the upcoming changes and enhancements. I've always liked Mozilla's mobile design, which hides the nuts and bolts like setting and tabs in the "gutters" on either side of the browsing screen and can be reached by swiping right or left. The layout does expand the screen's real estate, but it also makes some features harder to access.

A new default start screen puts some of those features back into focus with quick links to previously viewed Web pages, suggested Firefox add-ons, and most-recent tabs you've opened on other computers, the latter courtesy of Firefox Sync.

The awesome bar--the combined address and search fields--has also received a little more awesomeness; it now pulls down as a screen to reveal your bookmarks, browsing history, and desktop tabs from Sync. Typing a few letters pulls up suggestions.

In terms of usability, however, I was most impressed with improvements made to the browser's speed. Mozilla takes a risk releasing nightly and in-production builds, and Firefox in the past has not had the performance capabilities that the browser needs to be competitive. It can have all the cool and useful add-ons it wants, but if it's not fast, nobody will use it. Mozilla knows it, and the browsing speeds during our demo were heartening. We'll have more detailed benchmarks when the full release hits.

In addition to smoother, faster browsing, I played with pinch and zoom and a new, yet very familiar fit-to-zoom gesture wherein double-tapping the screen zooms the content in to a full-width column. It's an easy way to focus in on one article on a Web site's splash page, for example.

Copy/paste is an option for text fields, but not yet for content within a Web site. Hopefully that's a technical conundrum that Mozilla will be able to tackle in future versions.

Firefox 4 for Android and Maemo will work on tablets as well as smartphones. On the technical side, it runs off the same engine (Gecko 2.0) driving the desktop version of Firefox 4, which is also due this week, and it supports HTML5.

Again, this is the release candidate and not the full version, though we expect the full version to follow very soon.


Adobe fixes critical Flash Player bug affecting Reader

Adobe today released a fix for a critical vulnerability in Flash Player that affects Adobe Reader and Acrobat and which reportedly has been exploited in attacks via Flash files embedded in Excel files distributed via e-mail.

The vulnerability, reported last week, could allow an attacker to crash a system or take control of it. Adobe is not aware of attacks targeting Adobe Reader and Acrobat, the company said, also noting that Adobe Reader X Protected Mode, a sandboxing technique, prevents an exploit of this type from executing.

The bug has been identified in Adobe Flash Player and earlier versions (Adobe Flash Player and earlier versions for Chrome users) for Windows, Macintosh, Linux, and Solaris operating systems, and Adobe Flash Player and earlier versions for Android, according to the bulletin.

A separate bulletin fixes a related critical vulnerability in the authplay.dll component that ships with Adobe Reader and Acrobat X (10.0.1) and earlier 10.x and 9.x versions for Windows and Macintosh operating systems.

Adobe has made Reader 9.4.3 available for users of Adobe Reader 9.4.2 for Windows and Macintosh and recommends users of Adobe Acrobat X (10.0.1) for Windows and Macintosh update to Adobe Acrobat X (10.0.2).

"Because Adobe Reader X Protected Mode would prevent an exploit of this kind from executing, we are planning to address this issue in Adobe Reader X for Windows with the next quarterly security update for Adobe Reader, currently scheduled for June 14, 2011," the company said.

Google included an updated version of Flash Player in a Chrome update last week.


Flash 10.2 addresses shortcomings on Android

Adobe Systems has released version 10.2 of Flash Player for mobile devices, which addresses several shortcomings in the inaugural 10.1 incarnation.

Among the features in the new software, according to an Adobe hlog post, there are :

> Integration with the browser on Android 3.0.1, aka Honeycomb, so Flash content is treated "as part of the Web page instead of as a separate 'overlay.'" That pages scroll better and look closer to how Web page designers intended.

> The ability to take advantage of better hardware in some devices with graphics chips and dual-core processors--Motorola's Atrix smartphone and Xoom browser and LG's Optimus 2X, for example.

> Better integration with screen-based keyboards, one of the big departures in the new era of mobile devices from the world of personal computers where Flash got its start.

The new features help Adobe make the case that it's adapting Flash to the "post-PC era" of smartphones and tablets with touchscreens and Net connections. Flash is nearly universal on laptop and desktop computers, but it's only getting started in the mobile world. Apple's ban of Flash from iOS devices has made it that much harder for Adobe to gain a foothold and made it necessary for developers wanting to reach mobile devices to design applications and Web sites on the assumption that Flash isn't present.

Flash Player 10.2 is a final release for Android 2.2 and 2.3 devices, but it's only in beta for Honeycomb. It's available through the Android Market, but only for Adobe's list of Flash-compatible Android devices, which numbers 33 devices at this stage.

So far between 5 million and 10 million people have downloaded Flash Player for Android, and it gets 4.5 stars out of 5 with 182,309 ratings so far, according to the Flash Player page on the Adobe market.

Adobe wants to spread Flash and AIR to a multitude of computing devices.


Microsoft gets IE right in IE9



First Look Video: Mac OS X Lion



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