Archive for August, 2011

Pidgin 2.10.0

August 22nd, 2011

What is Pidgin?

Pidgin is a multi-protocol Instant Messaging client that allows you to use all of your IM accounts at once.

Pidgin can work with:

  • AIM
  • Bonjour
  • Gadu-Gadu
  • Google Talk
  • Groupwise
  • ICQ
  • IRC
  • MSN
  • MySpaceIM
  • QQ
  • SILC
  • Sametime
  • XMPP
  • Yahoo!
  • Zephyr

Pidgin is free software. It is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 2. This means you are free to use it and to modify it,
but if you distribute your modifications you must distribute the modified source code as well.

The current version was released on 2011-08-21

Modern tower defense games for iOS

August 20th, 2011


The tower defense genre started out with Desktop Tower Defense, a Flash game you could play in your Web browser, but once the iTunes App Store opened, developers quickly realized this type of game was a perfect fit for iOS devices. Soon, tower defense games that are now iOS classics emerged, including GeoDefense, Fieldrunners, and the hugely popular Plants vs. Zombies. The touch-screen interface made iOS devices a natural platform for tower defense gaming, allowing you to place units easily with only a few taps of your finger, and the result was the perfect time-waster requiring both quick thinking and a solid strategy.

Those early games are still fun even now, but the modern entries in the Tower Defense genre add even more to the action with 3D graphics, new types of gameplay, and new ways to take advantage of today’s more powerful iOS devices. Whether you’re a serious tower defense aficionado or new to the genre, you’ll like the direction developers have taken with the tower defense games that are now available.

This week’s collection of iOS apps are all tower defense games. The first is the latest sequel to a popular franchise in which you defend against an alien invasion of the homeworld. The second offers up crisp 3D graphics as you defend a flock of sheep from an onslaught of enemies. The last is a new game that takes a different angle, challenging you to become the invader against well-defended maps, using units and abilities that keep your assault force alive.

Sentinel 3

Place turrets on the path, but also be aware of your Commander (mech) who gives special abilities.

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Sentinel 3: Homeworld ($2.99 – Universal) is the latest installment (released late in 2010) of the Sentinel tower defense franchise, offering more units to choose from, new maps, and new abilities that help you stave off wave after wave of alien enemies. The interface is like many in the fixed-path tower defense genre, letting you drag and drop units on the edges of a path to fortify your defenses against each wave of enemies. Sentinel 3 comes with a 20-level, 14-map campaign and an endless mode, and also offers in-app purchases if you want to add even more levels and maps.

Sentinel 3: Homeworld starts you off slow; you only get one type of unit plus a Commander that offers bonuses to nearby units. As the game progresses you’ll be able to unlock more than 20 turrets, orbital ship weapons, and automated drones. The unique Commander unit can be upgraded as well, and you’ll need his higher stats and special abilities to defeat some of the higher-level assaults. Once you’ve unlocked a few units, you can plan for the coming invasion by setting up loadouts of units that will work best against specific types of enemies.

Overall, with new turret types, the addition of the Commander, four skill levels, OpenFeint support, and original music from Specimen A, Sentinel 3: Homeworld makes for an excellent addition to the franchise. Anyone who likes tower defense games will enjoy this well-polished title.


Create a maze with your turrets to slow down the onslaught of aliens.

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

TowerMadness ($2.99 iPhone$7.99 iPad) has been around for a while now, but the unique challenge and several updates over time make it a must-have for tower defense fans. Featuring 3D graphics that look great on the Retina Display, TowerMadness challenges you to defend a flock of sheep from an onslaught of attacking aliens. You can view the action from above or use a reverse-pinch gesture to zoom in on the action. You’ll play on 49 included maps, but you can purchase 28 expansion maps from within the game. A recent update added 5 more maps, and two new weapon upgrades to add to the replay value.

TowerMadness offers both campaign and endless game modes along with an easy tutorial mode in the beginning to get you comfortable with the gameplay. TowerMadness is a bit different from the other games in this collection in that it is an open field rather than a fixed-path tower defense game. This means you’ll need to place your units in such a way that the enemies will need to navigate around them to reach your flock of sheep. You’ll quickly learn that the best strategy is to create a sort of maze with your turrets, forcing enemies to pass by a mix of turrets several times. TowerMadness also includes replays so you can analyze your strategies to see which work the best.

Tower Madness has Game Center support with 29 achievements you can earn. You can also compare your scores with other players’ online, adding additional challenge to an already challenging game.

While we continue to enjoy this title, we think the pricing may be a bit steep for a game that’s been around as long as it has. The game seems to go through cycles of going on sale and recently was free for a time, so maybe you’ll want to wait for the next sale. Still, if you like strategy games and want an incredibly deep tower defense experience, TowerMadness offers plenty to keep you interested.

Anomaly Warzone Earth

As your units move through the war-torn streets, you'll need to use repair and other abilities.

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Anomaly Warzone Earth ($1.99 iPhone$3.99 iPad) takes a different tack with the tower defense genre by having you play as the invading force, completing missions on a (somewhat) fixed path against a number of deadly turrets. Your heavily armored squad of vehicles and units has guns of their own, but as with every tower defense game, the more turrets you’re up against, the harder it will be to stay healthy and reach your goal.

Fortunately, as you progress through the game, you’ll gain abilities that will repair your vehicles and make it harder for enemies to hit you. You’ll be able to deploy special weapons that are strong against specific enemy types, making it crucial to select your unit loadout wisely. You’ll also have to select your path; Anomaly Warzone Earth has a tactical screen you’ll visit before each quest to design a path through several city blocks of strategically placed turrets. Often the quest will require that you take out specific enemy types, so you’ll need to design your path to maximize damage against them. To keep you well fortified, a drop ship occasionally drops health and other abilities that you’ll need to tap to add to your arsenal.

Overall, Anomaly Warzone Earth is a very well-made and challenging game that turns traditional tower defense on its head. With excellent graphics and a unique take on the game genre, this title will keep you coming back to try new strategies against increasingly difficult enemies.

Do you have a favorite tower defense game we should know about? Let us all know in the comments!

New Aurora 8 works on memory, guts, and add-ons

August 20th, 2011

Mozilla upgraded its developer’s edition of Firefox today to version 8, including changing how forced third-party add-ons are handled and debuting a series of under-the-hood tweaks that continue a renewed assault on performance gains made in Firefox 7 Beta. Firefox 8 Aurora can be downloaded for Windows, Mac and Linux, and it marks the first release of Aurora for Android.

Firefox's new add-on confirmation window, debuting in Aurora 8.


Two add-on changes were revealed last week that represent, for the first time in possibly years, that Mozilla has forced changes on how third-party programs and Firefox interact. Basically, Mozilla is disabling the ability of a third-party program, like security suites, to forcibly install add-ons without user permission. The change comes in two parts: one automatically disables those add-ons, and when you start Firefox after the add-on has been installed for the first time, a notification window prompts users to either activate the add-on or ignore it.

The second feature kicks in the first time Firefox runs after upgrading to version 8. It goes through your add-ons and sorts them into two categories: ones you’ve installed, and add-ons from third-party programs. All active add-ons that you have installed will be kept active, while all third-party add-ons will be deactivated unless you choose to reactivate them. As an additional level of protection against unwanted deactivation, the feature will offer a confirmation list of the add-ons you want killed.

The company continues to develop its Firefox channels into separate beasts. Aurora 8 debuts a light-blue button color to help distinguish from the Nightly build, which has a deep blue button, and the stable build’s orange button. More important than that aesthetic tweak are changes to provide better icons when dragging and reordering tabs, and a new choice in the Options menu to load tabs only on demand. This will let people who have many tabs open start the browser faster.

In Windows, the option is available in the General tab of the Options menu. On Macs, go to the Aurora menu, then Preferences, then General, and check “Don’t load tabs until selected.”

The new Master Password option in Firefox 8 Aurora for Android.


Under the hood, Mozilla continues to work on its flagship product. How the browser creates threads for HTML5 media elements has been changed, which will allow for a large number of media calls without killing the browser, and a new media APIs sees support to improve the overall performance of video and audio in the browser. Newer HTML5 standards will work in Aurora 8, including the crossorigin and insertAdjacentHTML attributes, as well as native right-click menus via HTML5. There’s been a WebSocket update to the latest APIs, and a security tweak forces WebGL textures to use CORS.

Two notable changes have also landed in the new Firefox 8 Aurora for Android. The first creates the option of a master password, for one-password entry when browsing. This is available under the Privacy and Security section of the Preferences tab. You also can add Firefox bookmarks directly to your home screen in the new build.

While Mozilla continues to push ahead with its rapid release cycle, and face opposition from a vocal minority of fans that Google didn’t encounter when it moved Chrome to rapid release, it is also beginning to look at changing how version numbers are counted. One blog post proposes ditching the current whole-number format and counting major versions released in a single year. For example, the fifth major release in a particular calendar year would be “Firefox 2011.5″.

Can any browser be considered ‘safe’?

August 20th, 2011

Judging from the headlines appearing this week on tech Web sites, you’d guess anyone using a browser other than Internet Explorer was a fool.

After all, IE version 9 scored a whopping 99.2 percent in NSS Labs’ worldwide test (PDF) of the ability of top browsers to detect socially engineered malware. IE 8 wasn’t far behind at 96 percent–the difference attributed by NSS Labs to the Application Reputation component added to IE 9’s SmartScreen technology.

By comparison, the four other browsers tested were veritable social-malware sieves: Google Chrome 12 had a 13.2-percent detection rate, Firefox 4 and Safari 5 detected 7.6 percent, and Opera 6.1 percent. The report’s chart illustrating the test results is even more striking.

NSS Labs browser-security test results

NSS Labs' socially engineered malware-detection test results show IE 8 and 9 to be the runaway winners.

screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly)

Such dramatic results should be easy to corroborate, but a search for similar results from other sources came up empty. Every other browser comparison I could find rated Firefox, Chrome, and (usually) Opera above IE in terms of security. In fact, SecurityFocus lists 62 current vulnerabilities in IE 8, some dating back more than two years. The site reports 17 vulnerabilities in IE 9 (note that some of the vulnerabilities for each browser are listed as “retired”).

By comparison, there are no vulnerabilities reported currently for Chrome 13, Firefox 6, Safari 5, or Opera 11. (A complete list of unpatched browser vulnerabilities is in the Vulnerabilities section of Wikipedia’s browser-comparison page.)

Google researchers track the evolution of Web-borne threats

Malware purveyors are attempting to take advantage of users’ propensity to click first and think second. A Google Technical Report released last month entitled Trends in Circumventing Web-Malware Detection found that the number of malware sites using social-engineering techniques increased from one in January 2007 to 4,230 in September 2010.

Still, this number represented only 2 percent of all malware-distribution sites. Drive-by downloads remain the primary delivery mechanism for Web-borne malware, according to the researchers, although they note that attacks using social engineering will continue to increase. The researchers recommend a “multi-pronged approach” that also addresses two other growing malware techniques: JavaScript obfuscation and IP cloaking.

For more information on social engineering, see Elinor Mills’ Q&A with Chris Hadnagy of security firm Offensive Security in Elinor’s InSecurity Complex blog.

A plea for tighter security baked into future browsers

The European Network and Information Security Agency (Enisa) is calling for improvements in the security features of next-generation browsers. In a report released late last month, Enisa identifies 51 “issues and potential threats” in such upcoming Web technologies as HTML 5, cross-origin resource sharing (CORS), Web storage, and geo-location and media APIs.

The W3C’s current target date for an HTML 5 Recommendation is 2014, although aspects of the standard will be ready to implement before that date. That’s a long time to wait for improved browser security. The good news is that the current versions of all the popular browsers are much safer than their predecessors. The bad news is that they need to be made even safer continually.

Whichever browser you prefer, ensure that you’re using the most recent version. Google Chrome updates automatically, IE gets its patches as part of Windows updates, and Safari is kept current via Apple Software Update. To set Firefox to update automatically, click Tools > Options > Advanced > Update (Windows) or the Firefox menu > Preferences > Advanced > Update (Mac) and make sure “Automatically download and install the update” is selected.

Mozilla Firefox Advanced > Update settings

Make sure Firefox is set to update automatically by selecting this option in the browser's Advanced settings.

screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly)

You can also have Firefox warn you if an update will cause one of your add-ons to stop working. Other options let you set the browser to update your add-ons and “search engines” automatically. For a comparison of three free services that offer to keep all your software up-to-date, see my post from last May, “Free scanners spot outdated, insecure software.”

Originally posted at Workers’ Edge

Mozilla hopes to help Web apps match phone apps

August 19th, 2011
Firefox logo

What if, when you fired up your mobile phone’s browser, it showed a list of the same basic apps your phone does today? And what if a developer who wanted an app to span iPhones, Android phones, and Windows phones only had to write one Web application to do that?

That’s the vision that Mozilla, developer of the Firefox Web browser, wants to enable through a project called WebAPI that’s designed to make Web-based applications compete better with native apps. And Mozilla has begun hiring programmers for it as part of a plan to build the necessary plumbing by next February, CNET has learned.

Web apps have grown steadily in maturity and sophistication over the years, but they still can’t do all of what software written to run natively on a computing device can do. And with the arrival of newly powerful mobile devices–those using Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems in particular–native app programming has experienced a renaissance.

Mozilla, though, wants the Web to catch up–at least as far as mobile phones. The WebAPI effort aims to provide HTML-based software with the necessary application programming interfaces (APIs).

“We are aiming at providing all the necessary APIs to build a basic HTML5 phone experience within the next 3 to 6 months,” the Mozilla wiki page on WebAPI said. Among the interfaces planned are those to interact with a phone’s dialer, address book, contacts list, and camera.

If Mozilla succeeds in the effort, the project could ease the lives of developers who today must decide whether to allocate resources for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and other operating systems. And, given that Firefox is front and center in the project, it could help Mozilla address its competitive weakness in the mobile market compared to the iOS and Android browser that both are based on the WebKit project.

Mozilla need not start from scratch. Some related work has been under way already through a group called the Device API, a project that browser maker Opera has pushed. In addition, some of the abilities are present in Adobe Systems’ Flash technology, though that hasn’t spread widely through the mobile device market.

Mozilla is hiring
Mozilla’s Jonas Sicking revealed the WebAPI project on a mailing list yesterday and said Mozilla is hiring several full-time programmers to support the effort.

“We invite our community to work with our newly formed WebAPI team on closing the device API gap that exists today between the open Web platform and native APIs,” Sicking said. “As with all other additions that we make to the Web platform, the goal is for them to be available in all browsers. We believe that Web developers should have a consistent and reliable platform to build on.”

Mozilla hopes to standardize the new WebAPI interfaces–and significantly, it plans to do so through the World Wide Web Consortium. Years earlier, the W3C lost some HTML standardization initiative to a browser group called Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG). The W3C, though, re-engaged with HTML standardization and now is working to speed its standardization process to match the pace of Web development better.

Web programming is growing by leaps and bounds for many reasons. Among them: the arrival of mobile phones with capable browsers and higher-speed Net connections; the surging performance of JavaScript, the programming language used for Web applications; the embrace of cloud computing, in which applications live on a server on the Internet and can be accessed from any device with a browser; and the competition among Microsoft, Apple, Google, Opera, and Mozilla to advance their browsers with competitive new features.

Nonetheless, it’s native programming for mobile devices that’s arguably the hottest new area. It’s a market without dominant incumbent companies, flush with new customers and well integrated with payment mechanisms to deliver money to coders. The fact that Google’s Chrome OS has strong internal competition from Android shows just how big a challenge Mozilla has in bringing its Web app programming vision to reality.

Linking with B2G
The Mozilla project dovetails with Mozilla’s Boot to Gecko (B2G) effort. Its goal is “building a complete, standalone operating system for the open Web,” all with a mobile device focus, such that opening your browser is the functional equivalent of turning on your phone.

In that regard, WebAPI also helps Mozilla match Google’s Chrome OS, a browser-based operating system project that in recent months has arrived on lower-end laptops called Chromebooks. While the Mozilla and Google efforts compete to an extent, fundamentally they share a common goal in making the Web suited for advanced apps, not just basic ones. Right now programming something complex like Google Docs requires herculian abilities, and even that can’t yet do basic things such as store data when the network goes down.

One more project of note, from the company that arguably has the most to lose from Web applications: Microsoft. Windows 8 will use Internet Explorer 10 for “tailored mode” applications, giving Web programming another big shot in the arm and, in all likelihood, significantly advancing the programming tools available to developers.

It’s a somewhat ironic move, given Microsoft’s fear in the 1990s that Netscape’s effort to make the browser and the Web into something of a replacement for Windows. That fear led Microsoft into aggressive actions that ultimately led to the expensive, drawn-out antitrust lawsuit that took some of the wind out of Microsoft’s sails.

What’s not yet clear is how universal applications written for these foundations will be. Google has its Chrome Web Store, for example, for distributing Web apps that work with Chrome; some of those are Web apps that work on other browsers, too, but browser incompatibilities can interfere with that–particularly with new, immature Web interfaces. In addition, the Chrome Web store comes with payment and permission mechanisms that won’t necessarily carry over beyond the Chrome realm. Windows 8, though it’s using the same basic ingredients such as HTML and JavaScript, could come with other constraints. However, Microsoft hasn’t detailed plans yet.

Web Intents
Chrome OS and Mozilla’s B2G also are embarked in parallel on efforts to mirror a technology on Android phones called “intents.” The intents system lets applications register to be mechanisms to handle certain actions that can be performed with certain types of data. For example, the intents system can hand off a photo in the photo gallery to the Facebook app for posting when a user taps the “share” button.

To this end, Google is working on a project called Web Intents that does the same thing, but Web applications are registered to perform the actions and the browser hands off the content. Mozilla’s parallel is called Web Activities, part of its experimental OpenWebApps add-on.

Mozilla is tackling other uncertainties, too: should its interfaces be high-level ones such as one for the camera, or low-level ones such as one for communicating over USB? And what’s the best way to constrain the APIs so they don’t cause security problems?

The work, combined with the rapid development of browsers themselves, means Web apps have a vibrant future. It means a certain amount of chaos for Web programmers, but the confusion of active projects is a better alternative to the stagnant waters of dormant or dying environments.

Originally posted at Deep Tech

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