All posts in “Firefox”

Pocket’s reading app won’t sound so robotic now

Last year, Mozilla made its first acquisition by snatching up Pocket, the Instapaper competitor that helps you save longer articles for later reading. Today, this popular reading app is getting a major update that gives its app a visual makeover, including a new dark mode, and most importantly, a better way to listen to the content you’ve saved.

Pocket had added a text-to-speech feature several years ago, so you could listen to an audio version of your saved articles, instead of reading them. Instapaper today offers a similar option.

But these text-to-speech engines often sound robotic and mangle words, leading to a poor listening experience. They’ll work in a pinch when you really need to catch up with some reading, and can’t sit down to do it. But they’re definitely not ideal.

Today, Pocket is addressing this problem with the launch of a new listening feature that will allow for a more human-sounding voice. On iOS and Android, the listen feature will be powered by Amazon Polly, Mozilla says.

First introduced at Amazon’s re:Invent developer event in November 2016, Polly uses machine learning technologies to deliver more life-like speech. Polly also understands words in context. For example, it knows that the word “live” would be pronounced differently based on its usage. (E.g. “I live in Seattle” vs. “Live from New York.”) The technology has evolved since to support speech marks, a timbre effect, and dynamic range compression, among other things.

To take advantage of the updated “Listen” feature, users just tap the new icon in the top-left corner of the Pocket mobile app to start playing their articles. It’s like your own personalized podcast, Mozilla notes.

In addition, the app has been given a redesign that gives it a clean, less cluttered look-and-feel, and introduces a new app-wide dark mode and sephia themes, for those who want a different sort of reading experience.

The redesign includes updated typography and fonts, focused on making long reads more comfortable, as well.

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“At Mozilla, we love the web. Sometimes we want to surf, and the Firefox team has been working on ways to surf like an absolute champ with features like Firefox Advance,” said Mark Mayo, Chief Product Officer at Firefox, in a statement about the launch. “Sometimes, though, we want to settle down and read or listen to a few great pages. That’s where Pocket shines, and the new Pocket makes it even easier to enjoy the best of the web when you’re on the go in your own focused and uncluttered space,” he said.

The updated version of Pocket is live on the web, iOS and Android, as of today.

Firefox finally gets an option to mute sites with autoplay sound

Autoplay videos are about to get a lot less annoying if you use Firefox.

In the newest version of the experimental Firefox Nightly Edition (version 63.0a1), the popular web browser now gives users control over whether a site is allowed to autoplay videos when it loads. Mozilla announced this feature in a product roadmap earlier this year.

For the uninitiated, Mozilla regularly releases a pre-release version of the latest Firefox build. The new autoplay video-blocking feature has just made its live debut in the Firefox Nightly 63.0a1 version. The official release of Firefox 63, which is slated for the October 23 should make autoplay blocking available to all Firefox users who upgrade to the latest version.

While Firefox has long blocked ads with autoplaying sound, this build introduces the first time Firefox allows its users to block any sort of autoplaying media on a website.

Firefox users who would like to take advantage of this feature have a few options. They can choose to block all autoplaying media, or receive a pop-up warning for each individual website and choose whether you’d like the autoplaying media to turn on or off. Users also have the option to just let all autoplaying media function as intended, but we can’t imagine why anyone would do this.

While Google’s Chrome web browser launched its autoplay blocking feature earlier this year, Firefox’s own autoplaying blocker is still quite notable. While Chrome is far and away the most used web browser globally, statcounter, which tracks worldwide browser usage, places Firefox at over 5 percent of the browser market share.

If enough people block the annoying scourge that is autoplaying videos with sound through their browser, perhaps this internet pet peeve will eventually just die out.

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Firefox’s Quantum update will block websites from tracking you 24/7

Image: AOP.PRESS/Corbis via Getty Images

Mozilla‘s speedy Firefox Quantum browser hit the ground running when it rolled out in November

On Tuesday, Mozilla released an update to the browser, called Firefox 58. Its most significant feature: 24/7 tracking protection.  

The Firefox browser was one of the first to introduce tracking protection in 2015. The feature, when enabled, aggressively blocked ads, analytics trackers, and social share buttons that record user behavior on websites. 

Previously, you needed to be using Private Browsing (Firefox’s equivalent of Chrome’s Incognito Windows) to enable Tracking Protection. But once you download today’s update, you can enable Tracking Protection to always be on, regardless of browsing mode. 

Image: mozilla

To turn on 24/7 Tracking Protection, open “Preferences,” click “Privacy and Security,” and then select “Always” under “Tracking Protection.” 

Mozilla also claims that web pages load more quickly when trackers are disabled. So even if you’re not afraid of websites’ snooping, you should still give this browser a chance. 

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Firefox users lose trust in Mozilla after a ‘Mr. Robot’ promo went horribly wrong

Image: NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Protip for Mozilla and the USA Network: In the future when you’re plotting a tie-in for a show about vigilante hackers, maybe don’t actually compromise people’s privacy.

Some Firefox users were none too thrilled to discover that the web browser had installed an add-on called “Looking Glass” without permission. Bearing a description that read simply, in all-caps, “MY REALITY IS JUST DIFFERENT THAN YOURS,” people were understandably suspicious.

(The all-caps utterance, it should be noted, is a quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.)

That last tweet is from a Mozilla employee, in case it’s not clear.

Looking Glass turned out to be a promotional tie-in for Mr. Robot, serving as the foundation for a new alternate reality game. But the initial lack of clarity as to its purpose, coupled with the fact that it installed unprompted, caused understandable alarm.

Once it became clear that users were unhappy, Mozilla moved quickly to set things right. The initial 1.0.3 version of the Firefox extension featured the cryptic Carroll quote and nothing else, as TechCrunch noted, but a subsequent 1.0.4 update included texting explaining its purpose as an ARG.

Mozilla also created a support page to more thoroughly explain Looking Glass, and make it clear that users would have to opt in if they wanted to participate in the ARG. On top of that, the support page includes a vague mea culpa that lays out Mozilla’s mission and commitment to giving people “more control over their lives online.”

The Mr. Robot series centers around the theme of online privacy and security. One of the 10 guiding principles of Mozilla’s mission is that individuals’ security and privacy on the internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional. The more people know about what information they are sharing online, the more they can protect their privacy.

Mozilla exists to build the Internet as a public resource accessible to all because we believe open and free is better than closed and controlled. We build products like Firefox to give people more control over their lives online.

Looking Glass didn’t self-install in every version of Firefox, and as the conversation around it grew, users began to figure out what happened. The extension is a product of Mozilla’s Shield Studies program, which is a “user testing platform for proposed, new and existing features and ideas.”

While some Shield Studies testing items prompt users for approval before installing, others are added automatically and require a manual opt-out. And, as some discovered, it’s possible to participate in Shield Studies without specifically opting in (h/t Engadget).

Ultimately, Looking Glass doesn’t actually do anything unless the user in question chooses to participate in the Mr. Robot ARG. But this is a trust issue more than anything else. And with Mozilla’s Firefox Quantum update freshly launched — and vying to bring back users stolen away by Google Chrome — this secretly added extension is not a good look.

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Firefox just released a new ultra-fast web browser to take on Google Chrome

Mozilla’s latest browser — Firefox Quantum — is lightning fast, sleek, and ready to handle all six zillion of your tabs after almost two months in beta. 

Nick Nguyen, Firefox’s vice president of product, told Mashable his biggest fear: Will the Internet full of Google Chrome-enthusiasts give it a chance?  

“My biggest fear is that people won’t try it,” he said. “It’s like any release — you do this to make people’s lives better. If people aren’t using your product, you don’t have an opportunity to do that.” 

And the folks at Firefox have big plans. Nguyen won’t rest until Quantum overtakes Google Chrome to become the average internet user’s primary browser. “Today, people use Firefox as their secondary browser,” he told Mashable. “We think it’s good enough to be your first browser.”

There’s only one way to find out. So come on, close Chrome for two seconds and give it a try

This browser is really, really fast. In a test conducted with the open-source project WebPageTest, Firefox Quantum loaded a number of top websites before Chrome did, including Yelp, Shutterstock, Ask.com and even Google Search itself.  (Chrome was still, of course, faster to load most Google and Youtube pages). 

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The browser also uses around 30% less memory than its competitors Chrome, Edge, and Safari on Windows operating systems, and only uses a tiny bit more than Chrome on macOS. This means you can run 30% more tabs without your browser crashing or slowing to a crawl. 

But where the company hopes its browser will stand out the most is in the interface. The company extensively researched the way users navigate browsers, and Firefox Quantum has a number of small, but significant features to accommodate those patterns. 

For example, according to Nguyen, users are a lot more impatient when waiting for the content of a page to load than they are for for graphics or sidebars. Consequently, Firefox Quantum loads the content of a website before loading any logos or graphics. It also loads your active tab before any other tabs — people overwhelmingly focus on one tab at a time. 

Above all else, according to Nguyen, users want a browser that is fast and easy. “They want a browser that stays out of the way,” he said. “They don’t want to housekeep.”

Speed and ease have long been the categories where Google Chrome has taken the lead. But Firefox Quantum may soon be hot on its tail. Seriously, just try it. 

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