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.

No longer fudging it

I don’t go out of my way to find reasons to use the Microsoft Edge browser. I guess I’m hanging in because of grievances with Internet Explorer. But, last night as I was doing something else, a message popped up on my screen indicating that the Edge browser had been updated. Normally, I don’t give things like this a second thought but I thought I’d click through and see what was new.

So often, updates are bug fixes and things that would go unnoticed but the first of the “New” things got my attention. An “Edge bar”? Maybe Microsoft was going to sell me a beer? And it’s version 98; the latest Chrome is at 97.

I opened it and immediately got immersed. It was a solution for a problem that I’ve had with computers and the internet since I downloaded my first browser. I not only want what I am seeing in the current window but typically I want something else as well.

My solution typically has been the “Window Shuffle” to get both on the screen at the same time. I have an old external monitor that I got as payment for some custom work years ago and it is connected to the video out on my laptop so I do have two windows accessible that way. But, quite frankly, both of these solutions require a bit of planning and I don’t think about that sort of planning until I’m well into something. So, my typical solution is Alt-Tabbing through various windows to move information and/or my attention back and forth. The bottom line is that I’m always fudging around with things to get to the comfort level that I want.

Computers are pretty good at doing things well and quickly and all that but they typically work with whatever is on the top of the heap. The Edge Bar promises to have two active windows running on top of whatever screen that you’re using. No jostling back and forth.

I’ll confess right here; there are indeed times where I’ll switch to another window and then forget what I was doing in the other one. Maybe having them both up front and in my face will cut back on those moments!

I’m fortunate enough to have purchased a wide screen laptop when I updated my 2010 computer. So, I have a 17 inch screen which is really wide. The internet world, in particular, (and this blog too) like to only use part of the available screen real estate. So, while I have a good 17 inches, my normal routine uses 15 inches of it unless I do some work. I’ll be honest; my first look with the Edge Bar active was that the screen was too full and noisy and I gained a new appreciation for the borders around some screens but it did grow on me.

So, I open the Edge Bar (it has its own entry from the Settings Menu) and I try to activate it.

I say try because, when I read the fine print, my Password Manager is using a resource that it requires. So, I turn it off and active the Edge Bar. It shuffled my display off to the left to make room for it on the right. It comes with some pre-configured widgets but that’s all configurable.

There’s a search feature and, of course, it’s Bing but you have the opportunity to add other features so I wonder if I’ll still get recommendations when I add something else and you know that I will. Just because I can. But DuckDuckGo slid into place nicely.

I spent some time Sunday afternoon playing around with it. Pinning it, unpinning it, searching for things to add, web browsing, adding my interests, …

It’s the sort of thing that computers have always promised us – they’ll work for us instead of us working for them. The irony of me working my way through things is not lost on me!

When I need to go full screen, minimizing the Edge Bar is just a click away.

For right now, it’s an interesting new fascination. It will only get the true test when I try to do some work but I’m really intrigued. I like that I have that extra window of information and utility right there. With an external monitor it’s not immediately needed but there will come a time when we and our computers will be able to go on road trips and that just might be the real advantage for me for this functionality.

Getting it right and giving us choices

I’ve been using web browsers on my computer for such a long time. Things are more harmonious now but there was a time when a website was actually only guaranteed to work with a specific browser. If you’ve been around for a while online, you’ll absolutely remember the advice that “This site works better with …” or “This site requires …”

Things have change and moved on. These days, any web browser works with any web site. We’ve moved on to worry more about web browsers giving up our personal information to websites that exist to collect that information for customized advertising or worse things.

There really was a time when I was developing websites that I had to test to make sure that it worked with Internet Explorer or Netscape or Safari. As a result, I’ve got into the habit of having more than one web browser on my computer and I still mess around with different browsers for a week at a time or so. Generally, most of them do a good job but voicEd Radio, for one, specifically requires Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge. I just have to remember to use one of them before the Wednesday This Week in Ontario Edublogs show.

With the release of Windows 11, the rules had changed. Microsoft has redesigned its Edge browser from the ground up based upon open source Chromium code and feel that they’ve done a good enough job, I guess, to demand that we use it.

Now, in the strictest sense, you can change the default browser to others although it does take considerable effort. You have to change the default browser for each file type. That really defeats the purpose of the click to set as a default browser in all other browsers.

To make things worse, there is a new URL type that will only open in Edge no matter what you have set as a default browser. So, you could be in another browser and, should you click one of these links, Edge will open and display it.

But things look like they’re about to change.

Microsoft Makes It Easier to Change the Default Browser in Windows 11

Who knows what happened? It was on the design block? There are things that Edge can’t do? Were there threats of lawsuits about proprietory use? It’s just the right thing to do?

If you read the article, the change is still available only for developers so the rest of us will just have to wait. It might come soon; it might come later; it might not come at all. I’m hoping for the first open because I do have a few different browsers installed.

The real irony is that I have been using the Edge browser and I quite like it. It’s not the Internet Explorer of old – they’ve taken the Chromium code and made a terrific browser. I’m not quite ready yet to make it my sole browser though.

Dark, but not too dark

For the longest time, computer systems designers and website developers worked in a world that was largely dark text on a white background. I’ll admit that they’ve done a pretty good job at it.

Recently, we’re seeing a trend towards a “dark” setting in the operating system and applications. It’s a thing that I immediately jumped at. Maybe it’s because I like to work in a darkened room or late at night/early in the morning where the white background can, at times, blind a guy. I’ve also read that you can extend your battery life a bit on portables by not blasting out the bright background. Then, there’s that whole blue light thing that we’ve already seen workaround for.

Typically, you go into your settings or control panel or equivalent and look for display and, if that option is available, it’s just a quick switch and you’ve gone dark.

In Windows, the setting can be found under personalization…

You can also change the accent colour – I love green.

In the Brave browser, it’s under Appearance…

In Twitter, it looks like this…

I can’t decide, in my mind, whether or not I want “Dim” or “Lights out” but I know for sure that I don’t want the default which makes so much of the screen white.

Of course, these are all personal preferences and so you customize as you wish and at your own risk.

Like many settings that end up being part of the final product, dark default settings weren’t always the norm. Sometimes you had to download a Theme to make it happen or go into Advanced settings that are hidden in Experiments on Chromium based browsers. (like Brave)

Recently, I got excited about a new Experiment. Instead of dickering around with application after application, why not do them all at once. Yes, there’s an Experiment for that.

It’s called “Force Dark Mode for Web Contents”. I kind of liked the concept. There were a number of different ways to enable it that forced me to do some additional learning.

And, you know what, I didn’t like what I saw. Right now, the setting makes some decisions that I couldn’t live with. In particular, when I was working with documents, it made more intuitive sense to work with dark type of a light background (like this blog post). It didn’t seem right to be using bright white on a dark background. The worse part happened in WordPress and a few other applications.

Some of the utilities are coded to be black on white. So, when I did the switcheroo, it ended up being black on black. Or, minimally functional as dark grey on black.

As a result, I switched this Experiment back to the Default. It’s not ready for prime time around here. The fact that it’s an Experiment means that there are some pretty smart people working on it.

Maybe eventually it will work out. At the moment, it’s not for me.

What are your thoughts about a dark desktop? Are you a purist or are you looking at ways to make some changes?