Archive for October 8, 2021

Friday, October 8, 2021

Orion 0.99

Vladimir Prelovac (Hacker News):

Orion is fast, privacy-respecting and open to the web, standards and protocols. If you want a browser that just works, is lightning fast, respects your privacy, stays out of your way and lets you get the job done, Orion makes it possible. It is a browser built for professionals, by professionals. It is also that one browser that you install for your grandma and the web would just work for her, on default settings.


Safari features are great to begin with, but they also leave a lot to be desired. Whether a built-in ad-blocker or productivity enhancements, with Orion we are able to provide the users with exactly what they need.

If you thought Safari is fast, wait until you experience Orion. Orion is simply the fastest browser on Mac. We took the same WebKit core web engine (also used by Safari) and built a snappy, lightweight browser around it.

I was skeptical, but I’ve been using the Mac version on and off for several months, and it really does feel faster than Safari. It kind of reminds me of iCab back in the day, except that being based on WebKit it’s fully compatible. Tabs can work like in Safari 14 (i.e. standard macOS tabs) or vertically like in Edge. The developer has been very responsive to feedback.

Orion is also a truly zero telemetry browser, with a built-in powerful ad and tracker blocker. Orion has the highest possible protection for your privacy on the web, by default.

And finally, extensions! Orion has native support for both Chrome and Firefox extensions.

It also works with EagleFiler’s capture hotkey. Unfortunately, there’s no way for it to integrate with Safari-specific features like Reading List, iCloud Tabs, bookmarks syncing, and security code auto-fill.


Firefox Suggest and Contextual Suggestions

Mozilla (via Hacker News, 3, 4):

Firefox has always provided address bar suggestions, such as websites from your browsing history, bookmarks and open tabs (on by default), as well as suggestions from your default search engine. Beginning in Firefox version 92, you will also receive new, relevant suggestions from our trusted partners based on what you’re searching for. No new types of data are collected, stored, or shared to make these new recommendations.


To help you find information faster, Firefox Suggest uses a service provided by us to offer relevant suggestions for what you’re typing. When you opt-in to improve Contextual suggestions, Mozilla receives your search queries. When you see or click on a Firefox Suggest result, Mozilla collects and sends your search queries and the result you click on to our partners through a Mozilla-owned proxy service. The data we share with partners does not include personally identifying information and is only shared when you see or click on a suggestion.

However, it sounds like it does send your city location as you type (if you opt in).

Chris Hoffman:

Unfortunately, all major browsers now use a combined address and search bar. So, if you’re typing in the address of a sensitive website to go directly there, your keystrokes as you type will be sent to your default search engine and your search engine may be able to determine the website address you’re typing in manually.

Firefox Suggest is just more of that. In addition to sending your keystrokes to Google or whatever your default search engine is, Firefox will also send them to Mozilla. Both your search engine of choice and Mozilla will return suggestions.

Dave LeClair:

In a move that’s sure to make no one happy, Firefox is getting sponsored address bar suggestions.


Based on the image shared by Mozilla, the results don’t look overly intrusive, as they appear right alongside the other options, but it’s still annoying to see even more ads when browsing the web.

Thankfully, you can turn this feature off quickly enough.

Dutch Antitrust Watchdog Wants IAP Changes

Juli Clover:

Apple’s in-app purchase requirements are anti-competitive, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has decided, reports Reuters. The ACM has ordered Apple to make changes to the rules that force developers to use in-app payment options.


The ACM told Apple about its decision on in-app purchases last month, and it was the first antitrust regulator to decide that Apple has abused its market power in the App Store. Apple has not been fined, but the ACM wants it to make changes to in-app purchase rules.


Halide 2.5: Macro Mode

Ben Sandofsky (The Verge, MacRumors):

To start, tap the “AF” button to switch from auto focus to manual focus. Since Macro is often best done with the focus fixed to a close subject or with some adjustment, Macro Mode lives in the manual focus controls. To then enter Macro Mode, tap the the flower icon — the universal symbol for macro.


If you’d rather adjust focus by hand, we increase the swipe-distance of our focus dial so you can make granular adjustments down to the millimeter. To nail that focus point, Focus Peaking draws an outline around the sharpest areas of your image. You can set it to automatically trigger when adjusting focus, or you can turn it on and off.


We trained a neural network to upscale images in a way that produces much sharper, smoother results than what you typically get in an editor. It’s available on all iPhone with a neural engine— anything made in 2017 or later— and it produces full 4k resolution JPEGs at either 2× or 3× magnification.

This sounds great, and I appreciate the manual focus controls, but I did not notice much difference with Neural Macro over the built-in Camera app on my iPhone 12 mini. In some cases, Halide was a little sharper. Sometimes it had slightly better color, sometimes slightly worse. Perhaps the improvement is more evident at certain distances or with certain types of macro photos.

John Voorhees:

In my testing over the past day, the results have been impressive. I’m especially fond of the precise focus dial that allows for minute adjustments that make a difference at such close range.


Update (2021-10-15): See also: Hacker News.

The Business of VPNs

Brian X. Chen (via Roustem Karimov):

The reality is that web security has improved so much in the last few years that VPN services, which charge monthly subscription fees that cost as much as Netflix, offer superfluous protection for most people concerned about privacy, some security researchers said.

Many of the most popular VPN services are now also less trustworthy than in the past because they have been bought by larger companies with shady track records.


For several years, I subscribed to a popular VPN service called Private Internet Access. In 2019, I saw the news that the service had been acquired by Kape Technologies, a security firm in London. Kape was previously named Crossrider, a company that had been called out by researchers at Google and the University of California for developing malware.

In the last five years, Kape has also bought several other popular VPN services, including CyberGhost VPN, Zenmate and, just last month, ExpressVPN in a $936 million deal. This year, Kape additionally bought a group of VPN review sites that give top ratings to the VPN services it owns.

Nick Heer:

According to a May 2021 Restore Privacy report, Kape bought Webselenese and its vpnMentor and Wizcase review websites. Both websites aggressively push their top three picks which, funny enough, are all owned by Kape. Wizcase also publishes reviews of security software, and picks Intego as the best antivirus software for the Mac; Kape also owns Intego.

But if you were browsing either review website, you would probably miss Kape’s ownership. While a legitimate news organization would typically display conflicts of interest in immediate context, the word “Kape” appears nowhere in the on-page text, nor does it appear on the dedicated ExpressVPN review page. Wizcase’s “About” page says that the review site “believe[s] in transparency” and the footer on every page claims that it is an “independent review site”. vpnMentor says that its “reviews are not based on advertising” and its claims of honesty make it a “powerful transparency tool for the internet”.

Joseph Menn (via Hacker News):

When a senior executive at virtual private network company ExpressVPN admitted to working on behalf of a foreign intelligence service to hack American machines last week, it stunned employees at his new company, according to interviews and electronic records.

Nick Heer:

This is a more comprehensive look at ExpressVPN’s sketchy history and its ownership that leave me with the impression that the world of VPNs is mostly bullshit. The honest take is that these products help users circumvent geographic restrictions, particularly for things like streaming services. I am convinced that, if streaming companies and media rightsholders were less concerned with nit-picking contracts and more focused on providing a great experience, there would be far less demand among everyday users for VPNs.