DeepFish – a blessing and concern for mobile web

Microsoft Live Labs DeepFishFollowing what might appear to be a trend for names associated with mysterious sea creatures, Microsoft’s Live Labs today announced the availability of a technology preview for its DeepFish project. Incidentally, Microsoft’s On10.net technology-enthusiast site who hyped up this announcement two days prior took a good beating.

When you try to understand what exactly is DeepFish, the first thing that springs to mind is the Apple iPhone, which also has an intuitive web-browser built around the zoom functionality. But credit where credit is due, Microsoft has actually been developing DeepFish for a while, surfacing December last year before quickly diving into the void unknown again. It’s not so much as who thought of the idea first as who has a functional product first in the market, and that winner is Microsoft.

Microsoft Live Labs DeepFish

Although when I say functional, I literally mean the bare essentials. Don’t be fooled by the number of dots. It’s kind of weird to see “URL address bar navigation” and “links navigation” in a features list for a web-browser, but I’m also glad they had time to build in a viewport to view the web page for this beta release, as a web browser without a viewport could have been disastrous.

For anyone who’s used a browser in a screen resolution smaller than most website logos, you know how frustrating it can be and how much of a godsend this is. Let me say this even though I don’t own a Windows Mobile, this is the holy grail of internet browsing on a mobile. Regardless of whether or not Microsoft is the first to do this, this technology should be in every small-screen device no matter what brand it is.

The technology that makes DeepFish tick is interesting. It first renders a image of the webpage you request, scales it down to fit the resolution of your device, then sends it down to you. Opera MiniIf you want to read or interact with certain parts of the webpage, you’ll have to zoom-in to render the real page. What this means is that between you and any web server, lies Microsoft. Opera has a similar service for its Opera Mini browser where it resizes and optimizes images when you access any webpage through their browser. Both of these techniques carry significant performance enhancements, but also legal and ethical issues.

Not so much with the Opera service as it is only relaying images, but Microsoft’s DeepFish relays an entire webpage. What this means is, every web page you visit, every text, every image will first go through a third-party. Whilst it is currently technically impossible to access a lot of sensitive materials without JavaScript, cookies and HTTP POST, but imagine in the future where it can do anything your desktop can, how would you feel somewhere in Microsoft, something is taking a picture of every webpage you visit?

Granted no one will or should be looking at these processes, but you can never trust the government. One day, the NSA might suspect you of conducting terrorism activities from your Treo – like every good techno-terrorist do, sends a court order to Microsoft, and they starts tracking your every move. Even if you’re not a PDA-phobic terrorist, you might just be bankrupt, but you’re checking out the 6 figures in your Swiss bank account. In that sense, it’s like someone’s always peeking over your shoulder, but you don’t know that they’re even there, so you can’t cover it up with Disney.com.

Until that day, this is the coolest thing to ever come to internet on mobile phones! :)

9 insightful thoughts

  1. Surely by sending pure images over the air to handsets takes up more bandwidth than just the HTML? I reckon this product will be the saviour of cellphone network companies, they’ll make a killing by charging by the kilobyte on every page you load.

    In the UK, the PAYG operators charge £4 per megabyte, as you can imagine, a 2KB webpage can be stretched into a massive 20KB preview image. It’s going to add up quickly.

    Why can’t the scaling-down of the page be done on the mobile device itself? Opera’s SSR technology is useful, why can’t Microsoft admit defeat for once rather than vying for a decidedly inferior alternative?

  2. Nokia have a browser for S60 based on Safari, and now open-sourced which provides similar capabilities.

    You can read more at http://opensource.nokia.com/projects/S60browser/

    I have a Nokia N80 running Symbian 9.1. This also has a 352×416 screen and the browser is about the best I’ve seen. You can easily browse most regular sites, and pan/scan/zoom accordingly. I mean.. like a PC

    Yet I do sometimes use opera mini as very complex pages cause the device to run out of memory rendering (the N80’s achilles heal – simply not enough ram)

    I’m also with 3UK which provides a 3G services (although N80 doesn’t do HSDPA) and for 5 UKP get up to 1Gb data pcm.

    In fact these devices are great – I have MSN messenger, skype, VoIP support (over 802.11b/g), email (google mail is good), podcast support. But the coolest is flickr integration. I’ve done this via shozu. Actually it is so easy I accidentally submitted a (innocent) picture to BBC News when experimenting with the camera!

  3. Shame that there is already a browser that can do these things, has been a long time.
    I first saw it about 1.5/2 years ago on a palm device, it’s called “Picsel browser”. It currently ships with some samsung ppc-phone.
    – Full page rendering, uses similar rendering method as deepfish. But does the rendering and loading on the device.
    – Lightning fast, both rendering and browsing.
    – Can be controlled with just one finger. Like if you tap the page, then tap and hold, it zooms.

  4. Hmm, I think this is the wrong way to go. The biggest advantage of webpages over other media is, that the content and the design are separated from each other. So why trying to render webpages as on a 24″ screen? What we need is intelligent software to displays the content in a well but special designed way on mobile devices.

  5. I’m pretty sure the feds can already issue orders to phone companies to track what you download on your mobile as well as who you call. Being able to see what you see is a step up and can fob off arguments of the content changing, but there are probably other ways of proving it, such as search engine caches or archive.org.

  6. the fact that more and more mobile makers seems to go this route raises the question if the big promise of xhtml is all but failed.

    Wasn’t the idea of xhtml to separate content from presentation. then format content depending on output device.

    I have a JasJam but must say the web browser on that thing (ie mobile) truly sucks. Most pages don’t display properly and very very few web sites seem to provide a mobile specific version.

    So what happened to xhtml and targeting different devices?

  7. Doesn’t sound particularly scalable. I wonder why they didn’t just make Pocket IE work this way in the first place, and do the render/resize on the client.

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