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Firefox Aurora 7 to focus on performance, memory

The latest developer's build of Firefox launched today, bringing hope to the small but vocal minority of Firefox stable users who have been plagued by the browser's persistent memory and performance problems that Mozilla is not ignoring their complaints. Firefox Aurora 7 can be downloaded for WindowsMac, and Linux, and includes changes that Mozilla said in a blog post announcing the release will result in 30 percent less memory use "for many users."

Another big memory usage change comes to the "garbage collector" process, which, when working properly, cleans out from your system memory browser processes that are no longer running in active tabs. This, too, is expected to result in better memory managementTelemetry infrastructure has been added to Firefox in this release, so it's easier for Mozilla developers to track how their changes affect the open-source browser. Mozilla also expects people to see faster browser start-up times on all three desktop operating systems.

There are a smattering of new features included in Aurora 7. Most of these relate to support for "future-Web" technologies, and the browser includes support for a Web timing specification to measure performance of a site as it's being used; the hardware acceleration function Azure Direct2D for HTML5 Canvas; and a more elegant way to display text that has spilled out of its boundaries on a page called CSS3 Text-Overflow: ellipsis. In the new version, Firefox Sync will now synchronize bookmarks and passwords by default.

New users will be able to download Aurora 7 immediately (see links above), while existing Aurora users can force an update through Firefox's Help menu or wait for the build to be pushed to them in the next few days.


Report: iPhone 5 and iPad 3 arriving in October

Could we have both a new iPhone and iPad this year? A new report says suppliers are gearing up to help Apple produce millions of both for an October release.

Citing component industry sources, DigiTimes says a number of Taiwan-based companies that supply Apple with parts for its gadgets have "begun to prepare materials" for the two iOS devices, with production slated to start in September.

DigiTimes is scant on iPad 3 details, besides noting that Apple is going with a version that's "even thinner and lighter" as well as sporting a 250 pixels-per-inch (ppi) display. That would put it lower than the iPhone 4's so-called Retina Display, which sits at 326ppi.

The 50ppi difference could go against Apple CEO Steve Jobs' original claims when introducing the iPhone 4 at WWDC last year; then, he put the "magic number" at about 300ppi. Even so, it's nearly double the pixel density count of the existing iPad model, which could benefit text and photo clarity.

That Apple's working on a follow-up to the iPad 2 is not much of a surprise. A similar report from DigiTimes earlier this month said Apple was in the process of selecting the parts that would go into it. However, Apple introducing a third iPad model within eight months of debuting the last version would be highly unusual. Even the iPod, which has been one of Apple's most frequently updated gadgets, has long stayed on an annual cycle that may only vary by a few weeks to a month.

Along with the iPad 3 tidbits, DigiTimes puts the kibosh on rumors that Apple is scrapping together two models of the iPhone. That rumor's been kicking around for years, though it's become more high profile after numerous reports of Apple releasing an incremental upgrade to the existing iPhone 4 model.

This week marked the four-year anniversary of Apple's original iPhone going on sale. The iPhone 4, which remains the most recent model, went on sale more than a year ago on June 24, 2010.


Report: Twitter to launch own photo sharing

It looks like Twitter's recent app expansion effort might just be getting started.

The microblogging site is getting ready to announce its own photo-sharing service this week, according to a TechCrunch report that cited multiple anonymous sources.

Twitter users can already share photos on their Twitter streams via Twitpic and Yfrog, but as the report noted, a built-in service would have a significant advantage over competing apps.

The site is also close to acquiring AdGrok, a platform for bidding on keywords on Google AdWords, for less than $10 million, according to a separate TechCrunch report citing multiple sources.

Twitter's official media relations feed had no comment on the reports.

Twitter confirmed on Wednesday it would acquire the popular desktop client TweetDeck for $40 million.


Nvidia touts quad-core Kal-El chip in Android tablet

Nvidia's Glowball demo running on a Honeycomb Android tablet using the company's quad-core Kal-El processor technology

Nvidia, an emerging power in the world of ARM processors for smartphones and tablets, has published a demonstration game called Glowball the company says shows what can be achieved with its quad-core Kal-El mobile processor project.

In the demo, an internally lit ball rolls around a playing board. With "dynamic lighting," shapes on the ball's exterior casting shadows on stacked barrels, lurking jack-in-the-boxes, hanging rugs, and a creepy clown face. The game's physics engine is wired into the tablet's accelerometer to determine how the ball rolls, the rugs hang, and the barrels tumble.

"All this is being simulated in real time. There's no canned animations," Nvidia says in the video. It generally runs smoothly, though it's not clear what the lag is between when the user tilts the tablet and when the game responds.

he company has carved out a niche compared with traditional mobile chip rivals such as Texas Instruments and Qualcomm with its dual-core Tegra 2, used in the Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1--the two current flagship Andriod tablets. Kal-El has five times the performance, Nvidia boasts, though it's not clear exactly what measurements it bases this conclusion on. Part of the project is a 12-core graphics processing unit, too.

Clicking a button restricts the game to two of the Kal-El's four cores. "Now the simulations are happening on two cores, and it becomes unplayable--very low frame rates," Nvidia said.

"This is preproduction silicon," the company adds. "The production chip will be 25 to 30 percent faster than this."

That's good, because the game, while smooth when the ball was just rolling gently, was pretty hard to follow when bumping into the jack-in-the-boxes triggered fast-paced moments.

Mobile processors are a hot market--but a tricky one. Smartphone customers want high performance--lavish games with smooth graphics, Web applications that don't crawl compared with desktop equivalents, touch screens that respond immediately for a light feel. But they also don't want a high-powered chip that exhausts the battery in only a few hours.

What's not yet clear is the tradeoff between multiple cores and fewer, faster cores. Chipmakers have run into power-consumption limits running processors at faster clock speeds and have responded by trying to get more work done in each tick of a chip's clock and by spreading work across multiple cores.

However, programming for multi-core chips isn't always easy. Physics engines in games like Glowball can use the power by running instructions in parallel, but a lot of computing tasks depend on how fast a chip can run a single sequence of instructions.

Nvidia's mobile push, at least in the near term, is heavily dependent on the success of Android tablets. Chief Executive Jen-Hsun Huang expects Andriod tablets to outsell iPads within three years. Huang also blamed Andriod tablets' lackluster debut on retail, marketing, and prices.

Customers are planning production of Kal-El-based devices for August to go on sale in the 2011 holiday season, Nvidia has told CNET.

Nvidia plans several other generations of Tegra mobile chips after Kal-El, each with improving performance. In 2012 comes Wayne, in 2013 comes Logan, and in 2014 comes Stark. The company claims that Kal-El outpaces an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, though it's not clear which model or on what performance measurement.

People will be able to try their own hand to see if Nvidia's demo matches their own results: Nvidia plans to put Glowball on the Android market so people can try the app themselves. How about an iPad version too?

Nvidia's Tegra roadmap extends three years beyond Kal-El.



Maker Faire 2011



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