27 June 2008

AT&T's Pogo Browser Beta Test

A New Competitor

A little while ago, you may remember my quick review on the upcoming AT&T-funded browser, Pogo. I couldn't test it at the time since their release process seems to be overly strict -- you couldn't even download the beta unless you sign up and then are approved. I signed up just for the hell of it back in April, and about a week ago, I was actually approved. :P

Back in April, when Ars Technica did their review on Pogo, they revealed that the hardware specs necessary for its operation were just utterly ridiculous. They tried it on several computers of increasing size and power, and the only computer that would run it at a passable speed was a "dual-processor Opteron 256 with two 3GHz CPUs, 4GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA 8800 GT video card with 512MB of VRAM" -- a lesser computer with only one Opteron and a Quadro FX 560 video card was apparently too slow.

Little to say, these specs made absolutely no sense. Pogo was described as having tons of 3D effects, but how badly were these coded as to only run on hardware of that magnitude? The fanciest feature that I saw in Ars' review was the Coverflow-like history browser, but then Apple uses this type of 3D on their iPod, and an iPod isn't exactly a supercomputer, now is it?

So, when I downloaded the beta installer to my computer (3.2GHz Pentium 4, 2GB RAM, Intel Integrated Video GMA900), I wasn't hoping for much. Hell, from what I gathered from Ars' article, if the damn thing opened on my computer, I'd count myself lucky.

Well, it installed... and opened... and actually ran just fine. Imagine that! Maybe all the negative reviews from the earlier beta (including mine) made the developers really rewrite the project, because Pogo ran just fine on my computer. The code isn't optimized yet, of course -- there's a little lag between going between pages, loading a new page, etc., but it's forgivable in a beta product.

Future Browser "DRM"?

Upon the first time opening Pogo, however, I was prompted to "register" the browser (I'm cringing already) using my beta password and username -- I assume this is just because of the beta process, since you're informed that you're only allowed to install this software three times. No joke. I seriously don't know if this is because they're trying to keep beta copies of this software from being used in the wild (this I can kinda understand), or if this is some retarded attempt by AT&T to protect their "intellectual property." (If that's the case, why have a pseudo-public beta at all?) Either way, the prompt box is programmatic, not just a web page -- there's no way around it.

Luckily, there's not too much to talk about when it comes to the actual workings of the AT&T Pogo browser -- it's a browser; it goes to websites. Not to mention the fact that it's based upon the Mozilla engine -- if you've used Firefox, it'll all seem very familiar.

There's a few changes, of course -- instead of "tabs" in a "tabbar" at the top of the page, you have "cells" in a "pogodock" at the bottom (little thumbnails of the websites you've got open). You can make "collections" of bookmarks (I guess they're like "folders?") that you can pan through using the coverflow-like interface, as well. Okay, I'll admit the default skin is rather nice, as well -- I like blue.

Other than that, it's a web browser -- anything new and inventive in web browsing was already likely thought up by the Opera team years ago, anyway. :P I have a feeling the whole "cells" instead of tabs thing had something to do with the recent moronic "tab based interface" lawsuit brought against Apple a while back. Makes sense that a large company like AT&T would want to avoid anything like that.

However, some of the underlying features (or lack thereof) in the web browser have given me a bit of concern.

The Case of the Missing Features

Take this, for example:

On the left, you have Pogo's content preference window, and on the right you have Firefox's. Notice anything missing?

Yeah, the Pogo team have apparently removed the JavaScript controls. I can't for the life of me figure out why, unless they're somehow wanting to make absolute sure that you don't block tracking scripts and ad-rotators. That I can see AT&T wanting and telling the Pogo team to do. This is a really, really bad idea, though -- with the increasing prevelance of JavaScript XSS attacks these days, not allowing your users to disable JavaScript if they want to is a bad idea, especially if you're not going to support Mozilla browser extensions like NoScript.

Oh yeah, that too -- Pogo has no support for browser extensions. Of any sort. Not even cruddy little ones like in IE7 and later versions of IE6.

There's also no support for blocking third party cookies, as you can see in the pictures below (Pogo on the left, Firefox on the right):

Blocking third-party cookies (cookies created not by the site you're going to, but by a script on that page), which are almost always involved in tracking your behaviour online in some way, is the first thing I turn on when I now install Firefox. Now, understandibly, this feature could be missing from Pogo because it's based upon Firefox 2 instead of Firefox 3, but it's still an important security feature to have, and I'm surprised that the Pogo team haven't tried to include it.

Something that did surprise me a bit:

Click on that while you're on a web page, and the Venkman JavaScript Debugger pops up! Hell, Firefox doesn't even have a built-in debugger -- I'm assuming this is only here because it's a beta version of Pogo, however. I couldn't imagine them leaving this in here for the final release. However, it proves that they've thought about integrating some extensions, so why not leave the door open for more?

Also, there's the seemingly useless "second" minimize/maximize controls below the main window ones:

Yeah, I suppose they're going to remove those in the next version -- just in case you wanted to know; no, the "maximize cell (tab)" button doesn't do anything. From what I can see, there's no way to have a cell anything less than maximized -- oh, you can use that minimize button to hide it, but after that there's no way to hit the maximize button again, is there?


The conclusion is, believe it or not... get ready to start seeing this browser. "But wait," you might say, "hasn't this been tried before?" Yeah, but companies making custom browsers before didn't have the clout that AT&T has behind it -- we're talking about what's probably the largest single ISP in the US right now. So, you can guarantee that this thing is going to be installed on every average user's computer (and set as their default browser) during the "AT&T DSL Internet Installation" that they have at their house when they get DSL for the first time. I can even see AT&T claiming they're doing it to "promote security across their networks" due to its more secure code-base -- which wouldn't exactly be a lie, you know.

Luckily for we web programmers, at least it's based off of a "real" browser, right?

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