SlowNews: Sikuli, Letters.app, Pintura, Firefox 3.6

SlowNews on BSOM: An Experiment

This is my first SlowNews issue. Read What is SlowNews?, if you’re curious about it.

Sikuli: Picture-Driven Scripting

Sikuli

The Sikuli project out of MIT has to be seen to really get a feel for it. The short of it is that it’s a scripting language for controlling applications that works by taking screenshots of the various controls that need to be clicked on or otherwise manipulated. Sikuli uses computer vision techniques to find a matching part of the screen at that point in the script. This is seriously cool.

Firefox 3.6: Speed, Personas and Video Controversy

Disclosure: I work for Mozilla. My opinions are my own.

Firefox 3.6 was released last week, representing a lot of work from a whole lot of people. JavaScript performance is faster still than the already fast 3.5 and there have been a number of other areas of the UI that tightened up, performance-wise. Personas made it into the main product (before they were available only as an add-on).

Unrelated to the 3.6 launch, there was some controversy as YouTube and Vimeo both announced support for HTML5’s video tag. Firefox supports the <video> tag, but not the H.264 codec used by both YouTube and Vimeo. There are some very good reasons for this, which Mozilla’s Mike Shaver went into detail on. Chris Blizzard went into even more detail, and provided an interesting historical comparison with gif. Those are worth reading if you produce any videos for consumption on the net, because the issue extends not just to browser manufacturers and sites like YouTube. Even people producing videos encoded with h.264 may find themselves with a bill to pay come 2011.

Pintura: CommonJS/JSGI Server-Side JS Framework

Kris Zyp introduces Pintura, a server-side JavaScript framework that keeps the presentation on the client side where it belongs. Kris also wrote a Getting Started with Pintura article that’s worth a read. Pintura wins bonus points for running on node.js, Narwhal and Flusspferd. For those keeping score at home, that means that Pintura can run on SpiderMonkey, v8, Rhino and JavaScriptCore. That’s what CommonJS is all about!

Amazon Kindle: There’s An Active Content For That?

Amazon has announced a development kit for the Kindle, coming in February. The SDK will allow developers to create “active content”. Active content will certainly be different from iPhone apps, if for no reason other than the refresh rate of the eInk screen. Still, it’s an interesting development. Amazon has never said how many Kindles they’ve sold, but you can bet it’s less than the tens of millions of iPhone OS devices out there. You can sign up for the beta now.

Letters.app: Concept-driven Open Source

The Letters Icon

Most open source software begins its public life with code. It obviously started out as an idea and was built up following some need or desire, but by the time it’s public there’s some code. The currently-vaporous Mac mail client “Letters.app” started off with NetNewsWire developer Brent Simmons saying he wanted a better mail client. Macworld commented on the literally hundreds of email messages that followed. John Gruber was elected president for the 1.0 release, and Gus Mueller has taken on the technical leadership. Gus has also started a GitHub repository for Letters.app.

This is a really interesting way to start an open source project, and I wish them well. As has been pointed out on the mailing list, creating a better mail client has been tried before and failed. But, the leadership of the project is encouraging and this is certainly one to watch.

Fusebox Gives You Safely Extendable JS “Natives”

JavaScript is cool in that you can extend String or Array to add many conveniences. It’s not so cool in that others may do it for you, and in ways that are not quite what you want. If you’re willing to suffer through a bit of inconvenience (like declaring an array by calling fb.Array() rather than just []), Fusebox lets you extend native objects without impacting any other JavaScript code.

LuaJIT Gets Funded

It’s news to me that Google uses Lua internally, but they apparently do count Lua among the languages they use. Enough so that Google has pitched € 8,000 into the development of LuaJIT. Add to that Athena Capital Research’s € 12,000 and a couple of smaller donations, and you’ve got a successful funding drive. It’s great to see open source development supported so directly.

Realism In UI Design

Realism in UI Design is an excellent article for anyone who might be contemplating just using photos from iStockPhoto for their icons rather than having a custom icon set designed for their app. For everyone else, it’s a good read with some nice visual reinforcement about striking a balance in realism in your user interfaces. Also worth checking out is Mike Rundle’s article from December which provides some tips for getting subtly realistic user interfaces.

Bill Gates Joins the Internet World

BillG seems to be going all-in with a new Twitter account and a bloggy sort of site (The Gates Notes). Whatever you may think of Microsoft and Gates’ driving of Microsoft, it’s impossible to deny that he’s a big thinker and one worth following. Speaking of following, after just a day on Twitter he has nearly 250,000 followers. The welcome from Ashton Kutcher (4.4 million followers) no doubt helped, though it’s unclear to me just how much overlap there is between Ashton Kutcher fans and BillG devotees.

Notable Releases

  • Firebug 1.5 was released ahead of Firefox 3.6 with a bunch of new features. This is notable, because Firebug would always lag Firefox releases in the past.
  • Cassandra 0.5 includes improvements to multicore performance, the bootstrap process and adds the ability to decommission a live node.

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Top 11 Most Anticipated Product Introductions This Week

11. Microsoft Ribbon Hero for the Xbox360.

10. Google Sock Search

1. CrunchPhone