Apple's New Safari 4 Beta  

Posted by Mohammad Talha in , , , , ,

Like every new browser released of late, the Safari 4 beta, released Tuesday, claims faster HTML and JavaScript performance, powered by a new JavaScript engine called Nitro. Safari, however, claims to be the world's fastest browser. It's not, but in real-world service it's close enough not to matter.

Safari's main competitor is Google's Chrome browser, whose ultrafast JavaScript speed is one of its bragging points. A couple of the Safari beta's major interface changes too seem to take a page out of Chrome's playbook. As in Google's browser, tabs have moved to the very top of the window. And perhaps the biggest change in Safari's look—the Top Sites view of your most accessed web pages—resembles Chrome's handling of new tabs, which ultimately derives from Opera's. But Safari 4's implementation of many new features brings the added elegance and clever interface ideas we've come to expect from Apple.

One instance of these is the incorporation of Cover Flow in the browser's history list. Sure, it's little more than eye candy, but it's both stylish and useful at the same time. Another highlight of the new Safari include its Smart Address Field, which jumps on the smart-address-bar bandwagon pioneered by Firefox 3 and has been emulated by every browser release since—Internet Explorer 8, Chrome, and Opera. Add to this its revamped Smart Search Field, greater support for emerging Web standards, full-page zoom, and new tools for developers, and you can see that the Safari team has had their hands full.

Setup and the new look

I had a minor temporary issue when installing the browser on my Vista test machine, with a dialog box asking me to uninstall or repair the installation; clicking the latter got the browser up and running in short order. The download is bulkier than Chrome's, at 26MB versus just half a megabyte; then again, Safari offers more features. Mac users should note that the installer requires OS X 10.5.6—10.5.5 won't do. When you first run Safari 4, you'll see a new animated splash screen featuring the Apple logo, complete with inspirational music.

If you've upgraded from an earlier version, you'll next see the new Top Sites page consisting of a curved 3D grid of images of your most frequently visited websites. An Edit button lets you remove any of these thumbnails, and you can drag any of the minipages to a spot of your choice, and "pin" it so that it always appears in that spot. If a site in your Top Sites group has new content, a blue page dog-ear with a star will show up in its top right corner. In some ways I prefer Opera's handling of this: It only adds sites you specify to the speed dial thumbnails, but I can see Chrome and Safari's rationale that people are more likely to use the feature if it's automatically populated.

Unlike the bare-bones Chrome, Safari does bring a very handy sidebar, which you can show by clicking the book icon a the top left of the window. You can switch the sidebar's function between History, Bookmarks, Bonjour networking, and an RSS reader. Any of these sidebar choices take advantage of the scrolling Cover Flow view in the top half of the main center panel, while the bottom half offers a simple list of the links. You can adjust the relative height of these two panels with a grab bar in the center of their divider – for example, you could have either one take up the whole area. The mouse wheel scrolls back and forth through the Cover Flow images, or you can use a slider beneath the images.  (story Link)

How well does Windows 7 handle 512MB?  

Posted by Mohammad Talha in , , , , ,

I’ve been spending most of my time lately conducting in-depth research into how Windows 7 works, in preparation for my next book. In the process, I’m discovering stuff that simply doesn’t become apparent to a casual tester. Case in point: Back in 2007, I looked at Windows Vista Home Basic and determined that it could run well on an older machine with limited resources, including 512MB of RAM. I never tried it with Vista Ultimate, nor would I have bothered. And since I don’t have that 2002-vintage test machine set up, I haven’t repeated those tests with Windows 7.

Windows 7 Ultimate x64 uses less memory than you might thinkEarlier this week, I fired up a virtual machine running Windows XP SP3 so I could test upgrade scenarios with Windows 7. I couldn’t do a straight XP-to-Win7 upgrade, so I added a new virtual hard drive and installed Windows 7 in a dual-boot configuration. After making a few notes on how the setup process worked, I put the VM aside and went on to other work.

Windows 7 Ultimate x64 uses less memory than you might think

A few hours later, I went back to that new Windows 7 installation to look at a few details, and that’s when it struck me: This virtual machine was configured with a mere 512MB of RAM, and yet I hadn’t noticed any slowdowns during setup or in operation. Even more startling, I realized that I had inadvertently installed the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 Ultimate in this VM. But the most eye-opening moment came when I looked at Task Manager’s performance tab. I’ve pasted a screen grab of the memory gauge here.

The x64 edition of Windows 7 Ultimate running on just over 200MB of RAM? That was a pleasant surprise. I was also surprised to see that this clean install was using less than 9 GB of disk space in this VM. With my curiosity piqued, I configured a new VM using the same settings and did a clean install of Vista Ultimate, giving me a good baseline for comparing XP to its successors. Here are the stats for all three operating systems, with memory usage measured after all update operations had completed and the system had been idle for at least one hour:

in graphical terms, with the raw numbers normalized so that XP=100:

Windows 7 uses less RAM and disk space than VistaWindows 7 uses less RAM and disk space than Vista

As you can see, on this low-resource configuration Windows 7 uses dramatically less RAM than Vista, and also has a smaller hard-disk footprint. A few configuration notes can help put these results in perspective:

  • For XP, the installation includes Service Pack 3, plus all available updates including Internet Explorer 7, Windows Media Player 11, and Windows Search 4. The only non-Windows application installed on this system is Firefox.
  • For Vista, the installation was of Ultimate Edition (x86) with Service Pack 1 and all available Critical and Recommended updates. No third-party software was installed.
  • For Windows 7 Beta, I used Ultimate x64 edition. As with the Vista installation, I accepted any Critical or Recommended updates and installed no third-party software.

The numbers and charts don’t really tell the full story, though. With identical configurations, Windows 7 was dramatically faster at starting up and shutting down than Vista, and some routine tasks that would grind the Vista machine to a halt completed without incident on the Windows 7 machine. (story Link)

Soon, majority of users will no longer use IE  

Posted by Mohammad Talha in , , , ,

The reign of IE is coming to an end.

New numbers from analytics firm Net Applications put Microsoft’s Internet Explorer at a mere 67.5 percent market share, having dropped more than 7 percent last year.

The bulk of that loss comes from users of IE 6, an eight-year-old browser that many users appear to be replacing with Firefox, Safari or Chrome, instead of the latest version of Internet Explorer.

What’s more, 20 percent of web users still use IE 6 — and could, too, defect to Mozilla, Apple or Google’s browsers instead.

Microsoft has lost more than nine percent of browser market share in the last two years.

With the news that Microsoft’s latest incarnation of its browser, Internet Explorer 8, won’t address speed and “lightweight” concerns the way Firefox and Chrome do, the #1 browser’s market share with regard to cheap laptops and Netbooks may erode even further.

Is the king on its way toward death? (Long live the king?) (story Link)

Corel Painter 11  

Posted by Mohammad Talha in ,

By shunning the temptation to be all things to all users, some programs manage to retain their purity, focusing on what they do best. Corel Painter 11 is one of these applications, and as such it is an invaluable artist's tool. It isn't for everyone—for example, it isn't meant to (nor can it) replace a serious photo editing package such as Photoshop. And it makes no concessions to beginners, many of whom would doubtless be happier with a much simpler and less expensive program such as the $25 (direct) ArtRage 2. Painter is meant for serious professionals, such as graphic artists, industrial designers, illustrators, and fine artists. Arguably, it's de rigueur for anyone whose livelihood involves creating images (yes, that means photographers, too). Even if your income doesn't depend on it, Painter is still valuable for the wonderfully flexible—if dauntingly sophisticated—digital palette you get as a weekend Van Gogh.

Although it's been just over two years since the company updated the package, version 11 is an evolutionary step rather than the revolutionary one you might expect. Anyone with a working knowledge of the previous version will be able to step into Painter 11 with ease. What's more the refinements and increased flexibility will draw current users into upgrading.

Realer Realism

The primary feature of Painter X, for example, was the astoundingly realistic RealBristle tool. It recreated the sensation and the artistic effect of working with physical brushes by recognizing the pressure applied on the stylus and the speed at which it moved when a user executed a stroke. With that information, the driving algorithm could map the path of each individual bristle. Faster strokes were thinner, for example, while slower strokes with more pressure splayed out the brush so that more marks from individual strands appeared. Loaded brushes laid down a thicker, more saturated streak.

In this version, Corel has expanded the RealBristle tool to encompass hard or dry tools, including chalks, colored pencils, pastels, and even Conté crayons. So now, when you select the digital versions of these instruments, faster strokes produce thinner lines. Conversely, the velocity control will put down more ink with slower strokes. Also new is support for tablet tilt, which adjusts the width of a brush stroke or pencil line depending on the angle at which you hold the pen. The feature makes use of a digital tablet all but a prerequisite.

If this still doesn't offer enough dexterity to satisfy your artistic longings, you can experiment by creating your own brushe & pen. A hard-media palette in program, for example, offers a dizzying array of adjustments, letting you alter traits including angle, size & tilt angle, allowing nearly endless permutations that all but guarantee your work will be unique. (story Link)

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