Sticking a fork in IE


Today is the day that Microsoft officially stops supporting Internet Explorer. It’s about time! According to the article, it’s been around for 27 years. The “support” is a strange beast since it’s still got a compatibility mode in Microsoft Edge and there are various other versions that apparently will still be supported.

That brought back memories of some of the major struggles that I had with the Information Technology department when the concept of getting connected to the World Wide Web became a discussion and flash point for debate. To date things, when was the last time you actually heard someone talk about the World Wide Web? It even felt strange typing it.

The issue was over the deployment of browsing. We had just rolled out an intranet platform to access things that would be hidden from the general public. It was a delightful combination of letters and numbers with the occasional special character thrown in. No graphics or anything like that. We just needed to access all this lovely text very quickly.

On the other side (moi), we wanted to explore the potential of the internet in the classroom. that meant using the machines as more than glorified text readers. After all, we had the Lynx browser to do that sort of thing.

I had latched onto the Netscape Navigator and Firefox browsers as my browser of choices and it was the major source of discussion – like maybe we need to lock down Doug’s work computer. Anything worth reading was worth reading text. Who needs text and the necessary extra bandwidth for pictures and animations and stuff? We eventually reached a compromise after my superintendent attended a conference and saw the potential of the web. He couldn’t play along because he only had that on browser. We installed both browsers on the classroom computer image in a hurry.

I think another tipping point, at the time, was that Netscape and Firefox had a web editing side and we were really pushing for school and classroom websites. On the Microsoft side, you’d have to do the task with Frontpage. But, I believe that it was images and animations that was the tipping point. Of course, that was in the early days and both browsers played leap frog to stay on top of the latest features and also head into differnet directions hoping that people would follow.

I decided to give Internet Explorer just one more look. I wasn’t about to download it; supposedly it doesn’t work on Windows 11 anyway so I looked for an emulator and found one at oldweb.today. There were actually a lot of browsers and versions of browsers to play with. I chose IE5.

The simulation was sitting at a geocities site when I arrived which seemed somehow appropriate. When I launch the site, I got this old friend.

That brought a big grin to my face. We WANT that these days and expect it. I can’t believe that it was a big deal then and we needed to be warned against it. The website did launch. The old familiar interface with those big buttons appeared! Remember how it filled a 640 x 480 screen?!

I didn’t waste much time poking around. I had done my share at the time.

The other thing that I think is important to remember from all this is the difference between proprietary and open source code. There were those who chose to value code from one company and yet there were others that appreciated that everyone could read the code and make it better.

When I think back on the whole internet experience back then, it was pretty lame by today’s standards. We’ve got a slew of great browsers at our fingertips and we can do far more than ever before. Internet Explorer’s successor – Microsoft Edge is actually a pretty good browser. Some rank it as the best you can currently get. It in in my rotation of browsers, for sure.

Yet, on this day, even if we weren’t big Internet Explorer users, it’s worth a nod to a tool that has been one the inspirational things that took us on the path that we now mostly take for granted. They were truly building and crossing the bridge at the same time.

Dark, but not too dark


I’ve never been much for using a web browser right out of the box.

The first thing that I do is add a few extensions that add some functionality and privacy for me.

One of the other things that I’ve typically done is look for a theme to change the colours of the layout of my browser screen. Out of the box, it seems that all browsers want to have everything coloured white … and I get it. We grew up with the metaphor of everything we read being text on a white sheet of paper.

The largest period of time that I spend on a computer is typically first thing in the morning when it’s dark outside. I find a white screen just too jarring at that time. There are a couple of experiments that I’ve been using. Since most browsers these days except Firefox are based on Chromium, the settings are the same. So, I’ll use chrome://flags or the equivalent of the browser to change things. Firefox handles it nicely with a dark theme.

One that I love and have kept is this one.

As the descriptor says, it converts a lot of the elements to dark. In ChromeOS, it enables a toggle that can be switched on or off at will.

Whenever I feel like I want to confirm that I made the right decision, I just tap it and see a whole lot more white light on the screen.

Recently, many of the services that I use regularly like Twitter or Flipboard have implemented a dark mode to their content. That lets me darken the screen and keep it dark. It’s so much easier on my eyes. Well, until I click a link to go somewhere to read something that has that white background and my eyes hurt as they adjust to the brightness.

There is another option though.

This seemed like such a great option and idea. It turns everything to dark shades no matter what the original was. I gave it a shot for a couple of weeks. It does work as promised but didn’t win me over completely.

It’s not that it doesn’t do as advertised. It does a terrific job of darkening everything. It also changes the actual colours of some things and screens that people have obviously spent a lot of design on contrasting blacks while some other colour adjustments just seem extraordinarily difficult to read. From my perspective, it’s a feature that’s roughly 90% effective. I love the 90% that works. It’s that other 10%!

Later in the day when it’s light outside and I happen to use the computer, the bright white doesn’t seem so bad and the dark mode is OK as well.

It’s just too bad that there isn’t a quick toggle like there is for the theme. It’s a feature that I would love and I’d use.

How about you? Do you tinker with colours and settings? How do you feel like a dark theme and dark web content?

Forcing security


I’ve been a big fan of a couple of extension from the Electronic Frontier Foundation for a long time.

What I particularly like about both of these extensions is that you just install them and basically forget them. They continue to do what they’re supposed to do.

HTTPS Everywhere, I think, is a pretty important concept. The web can serve up pages with HTTP or HTTPS protocols. It’s the HTTPS that you really want since it forces the sites that you’re visiting to send you information securely. Details can be found here.

I’ve actually wondered if HTTPS Everywhere is even needed anymore. Most modern browsers have that ability built-in. I’m using Opera as I type this and the setting is:

Even if people aren’t using the extension, hopefully that switch is toggled on in their browser settings.

While poking around, plans are in place for the extension to be retired. It’s a signal of the success of the initial concept that other browsers have implemented the features. You can read all about it and how to set up things in your browser here.

I was surprised, this morning, while reading this article that the extension was one of the ones recommended for installation if you’re using the Edge browser. After all, if you’ve ever gone into the configuration for Edge, you’ll see that there’s all kinds of settings for security. But, I couldn’t find one specifically devoted to HTTPS. Hopefully, it’s rolled into one of the other security settings.

It’s definitely a feature that you want turned on in the browser and used through the extension.

You can’t be too safe.

Emojis


The Opera browser is one of the browsers on my computer that I cycle through in the course of doing things. I’d hate to miss something. My taskbar looks like this.

I also have each of the browsers tagged as a reading category in my Flipboard so that I don’t miss out on anything more than what I normally do. Recently, I ran across this:

Opera browser lets you use emojis to visit websites 👀

I thought it to be an interesting concept. As they note in the article, a great deal has changed for the connected user but the basic URL and then GO concept remains the same. So, what would happen if a collection of emojis could resolve to your website?

Now, I’ll be honest; I’m not a big emoji user. It needs to be up front and in my face when I’m on a website to actually use one. I’m more likely to use <grin> rather than 😊. For me, it’s also a lot faster to just type letters since I’m not really a big user of emoji. I do know that Windows key + Period brings up an emoji picker. I’ve also read a great deal about people complain that the emojis are not three dimensional! It seems that you can’t win.

If you look at the screen capture above, you’ll note that I have Edge open and I flipped open Opera. I followed one of the links in the article above. Edge did a regular internet search because it didn’t know what to do with things otherwise. The Opera browser took me right to the desired website.

It is an interesting concept and I kind of knew what to expect because of the context of the story. However, in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but think that there should be warning flags up. One of the things that we all worry about (or should worry about) when someone gives us a link is whether it’s going to take us somewhere safe or not. We do put in some thinking about how to interpret URLs as they’re presented to us.

I enjoyed reading the article and I agreed that so many things have changed and got better over the years. The basic concept of the URL really hasn’t changed. We’ve got an expanded range of internet domains and we can use shorteners all the time. When it’s all said and done, we get to https://dougpete.wordpress.com and that’s it. It’s the content on the page that’s got my attention and not necessarily how I got there.

I’m just a bit leary thinking that I could safely click one of these links composed of emoji and have no need for concern. Maybe I’m a bit paranoid but here I am. And, while Opera is an incredible and innovative browser, one of the premises of the web is that you should be able to use any browser with equal results. At present, that’s not what’s happening.

So, personally, I’m not jumping at it but I’m going to keep an eye on it.

A rainy day project


This seems silly to title a post in the middle of winter but our storm last week started with a great deal of rain before the snow hit. The plan was to hunker down for a day to let the storm hit and then dig out.

So, planning to hunker it was.

I had been reading a number of posts from people who were turning old computers into Chromebooks using Neverware’s CloudReady operating system. Now, I’ve got this beautiful computer that I bought in 2010. It’s a Sony Vaio and it was yet another one of the “last ever” computers that I would buy. It had an i7 processor, 500GB hard drive, 4GB of RAM, every port that you could ever think a computer would ever have a use for. It came with Windows 7 and it was a screamer. Those who go back to that time will appreciate that it was my go-to computer for doing presentations. It’s not a light machine but I had a rolling computer bag so it wasn’t a big deal. At the time of purchase, Sony had this promotion where they would engrave your name into the screen frame which sounded great at the time but makes it a bit awkward to recycle to others!

I went to the Neverware site and the only thing I needed to make this happen was an 8GB USB key. I don’t know about you but I’ve always hoarded these things. So, I had no doubt that I’d have one. I have a bag of them and went through – 1GB, 2GB, 4GB, some memories of conferences where I actually got them but no 8GB USB key. I looked out the window and it hadn’t started to rain yet so I quickly decided to go into town to Walmart and buy one. If they had one.

It’s been a while since I’d bought a USB key. There was nothing less than 8GB that I could see. There were some with massive storage amounts. The “cloud” has made me miss a whole technology getting bigger! After my purchase and a $1 Mcdonald’s coffee, I was ready to go. Now, I had checked the list of Neverware’s verified machines and, unfortunately, mine wasn’t one of them. But, the message, in this case, was to just try it and chances are that it would work. The installation procedure was easy enough. I had the power sitting on my key.

Now, I had configured the computer to dual boot – Windows 10 and Linux Mint. It was the Windows 10, upgraded from Windows 7, that was the inspiration for this project. It was so slow as to be unusable. This had really just been a Mint machine for me. So, I was hoping that I could just replace the Windows partition. I booted with the key in one of the three USB ports and quickly there I was in Chrome OS, using the Chrome browser. I kicked the tires and all seemed to be good so I instructed it to put the OS on the hard drive.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t an option to put it on a particular partition. That really wasn’t a show stopper; I figure that I could install it and then create and install a Linux Mint partition later if I wanted. Go!

All seemed to be going well and I was doing something else at the time. After a while, I heard a “snap”. That snapped my head up to see the computer now with a black screen. That seemed like an odd way for an installation to finish. I rebooted without the key and sadly got a “No OS” warning. Perhaps there was something that I had missed so I redid the process, paying attention this time. There wasn’t anything for me to do that I had missed out and the snap happened again. Maybe the third time would be a charm. Snap.

What to do now? I had a computer with no operating system.

I was going to grab a Linux Mint installer and then remembered why I went down this road in the first place. I wanted to make a Chromebook out of it.

I went looking for the “lightest” version of Linux I could find. I had an idea but this article confirmed it. I wanted something that would be a derivative of Ubuntu so that it would be well supported. I’ll admit that I was leaning towards Lubuntu and the article basically confirmed it. Besides; one of the earlier releases was nicknamed “Bionic Beaver”. That was a message for those who can remember the Icon computer!

I know that the “minimum” standards are basically there to get it to boot. 4GB of RAM for Windows just makes it start. You need more to actually do something. With Lubuntu only needing 1GB, I should have more than enough!

The last time I’d done a fresh installation of Linux, I had done it from CD or DVD. You don’t find those on new computers these days but my Vaio had one. All I needed was to burn myself media to do it. Again, I found myself behind the times. As I poked around, I learned that the world had changed for the best. There’s a whole new world of installers for the ISO file that do it right from the USB key – Rufus, LinuxLive, Universal USB Installer – I went with the last one called fondly UUI.

Now, in a perfect world, I would try out Lubuntu live from the USB key before clobbering the data on my computer. But, I’ve already done the clobbering part so I went straight to the install and it worked incredibly quickly. No snapping this time and all looked good. A reboot without the USB key in place and my computer was ready to configure Lubuntu and let me log in. Voila! There I was.

Now, I had the intention of making this a Chromebook but Lubuntu comes with Firefox. I started that and, once I gave my wifi password, I was good to go. Of course, me being me, I was happy but what else came with the installer. LibreOffice, VLC, the classics and then a few other specific things I resisted the urge to play around and just checked out the internet. I needed my Password Manager so that I could actually log into my favourite websites and an ad blocker but those were just momentary hiccups.

I’m constantly amazed with all the Linux that I’ve installed how they recognize all the components. Even my trackpad worked right out of the box. It was kind of neat to use a trackpad with two actual buttons again. As I write this post on my new Firefoxbook (is that a thing?) I realize that I’m where I wanted to be when I started this project.

It was a very successful day. Maybe this truly could be the last ever computer. Who knows? I look forward to playing around and seeing what this combination is capable of.