Tag: Firefox

Building the Perfect Browser


Baby, we’ve come a long way.  I remember working with Internet Explorer or Netscape, browsing the web when it was just a matter of “looking for stuff”.  Being connected to the internet today means so much more.

Recently, I shared my browser with another person who looked at the layout and said “What’s this stuff?” – pointing to the various icons that adorn the top of the browser.

As I started to explain, it really occured to me.  I couldn’t get along with a vanilla web browser in this day and age.  I’ve taken the browser and made it mine.

Depending upon the day, I might be working in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Opera Next but there’s a common thread.  I’ve added extensions or add-ons to make the browser mine.  As I scroll through the extensions page, I may have 20 or 30 installed.  From this big list, I figure that there’s at least five goodies that get me through the day.

ScribeFire – I use this daily.  It’s my in browser blog editor.  It’s got all the features that I could possibly need when composing posts like this one.  Fully featured, and it does a great job with all that I need.

LastPass – Every service that I access on the web seems to have a customized spot that requires logging in to access.  Confession time – there was a time years ago when I used the same password on every service.  “cat”.  OK, just kidding.  Now, I let LastPass create a very secure password every time I create an accound and store it for me.  It’s so nice to have the software remember passwords for me and let me keep my grey matter for other things.

Shareaholic – I’ll admit to being a sharer and I like to tuck away things that I find to my own services.  Shareaholic lets me configure the services that I want to use and I’m just a right click away from assigning it appropriately whenever I visit a web page.  It also serves as a launchpad to a bunch of other services like Diigo, Pinterest, Instapaper, Bit.ly, …

Adblock Plus – Like most people, I like to think I can have a bit of control over what I see when I visit a website.  My use was really initiated by a slow internet connection.  It’s bad enough to have to wait forever for content to appear; but it’s even worse when you’re slowed down by advertising.

Ghostery – I don’t know if there’s any way of perfectly protecting your privacy when connected, but there’s a sense of satisfaction when Ghostery indicates it’s blocking all of 1746 trackers.

There are a number of extensions that are installed but these are visibly active on a regular basis.  I can’t imagine browsing without them.  In fact, if I ever do, I just feel so handicapped and exposed.

What extensions make your good browsing experience great?

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Starting New


I never really thought about this for the longest time.  A new tab was just a new tab and a place to start browsing anew while not losing the original focus on the previous tab.  I really bought into the concept of multiple tabs so that I could do and work on a couple of things at once.

Time moves on and I do my best to become efficient.  Because I always check into Twitter, Facebook, my Gmail account, it made sense to save these tabs and load them automatically when I load my browser.  Then, I got hooked on Alltop.  It was a great way to have the commonly read web resources load every time I got started.  For me, I got the sense that I was working smarter and that really made a great deal of sense.  Just the menial task of manually opening tabs seemed to rob me of productivity time.

I think my philosophy changed the first time I loaded the Opera browser and saw Speed Dial for the first time.

You could turn the new tab experience into an ever greater launch point for productivity.  I started looking around and ended up with the Incredible Start Page and I shared it on this blog here.  It just because like a pair of comfortable shoes.  It was there when I started a new tab – had a notepage for quick notes to myself, access to my bookmarks, the apps I had installed, and a list of the most visited sites for me.  For my Google Chrome browsing experience, it was great!  Oddly, I didn’t make the same effort to change the new tab page in the other browser of choice – Firefox, the default always did the job for me.

Then, about a week ago, I read a couple of articles about applications and extensions to bring more functionality to the browser.  The nice thing about blogging was that I could go back to the original post and realize that I hadn’t changed the new tab function for two years.  That’s an eternity to changes made on this computer!  So, I devoured these two articles.

http://lifehacker.com/the-best-apps-and-extensions-to-supercharge-chromes-ne-982659508

http://lifehacker.com/the-best-apps-and-extensions-to-supercharge-firefoxs-n-995238717

…and then started to explore.

I had really bought into the Rockmelt philosophy that there should be something new every time you load a browser.  I was motivated to look for something with the concept that Rockmelt will stop functioning on August 31.  I really hope that Yahoo! finds some way to keeping it alive but that’s fodder for another post.  Wouldn’t it be great if there was just something new when I opened a new tab?

I’ve been curious about active tiles and how it works within Windows 8.  Not enough to buy it but the whole metro interface thing seems to be a new model for getting to the latest and greatest and having it right on your Windows desktop.  Could it not happen in a new tab instead?

To that end, I downloaded and installed the new metroTab.  It had that new metro experience but after poking around I realized that I could do some great customization to suit my needs – including the philosophy that everything looks better in green.  I had access to recently closed tabs but am really drawn to the active content on the desktop.  I liked what I saw and kept it.  It did seem a little wrong to have it running on Ubuntu so I changed the background colour to orange and it does seem to fit nicely there.

I continue to poke around and see what I can do on a regular basis.  The only think that’s seemingly a void in the upgrade was a missing notepad.  But having a tile to Evernote was a no-brainer – I really had gravitated there for the most part anyway.

What to do to refresh Firefox?  There wasn’t a metro interface in the second article but New Tab Tools gives a very nice customization ability to getting started.

In both cases, access to recently closed tabs helps out with those “D’oh” moments.

I’m liking the current new tab modifications.  I haven’t forgotten the past and they may well return but such is the life of an ever evolving search for the ultimate productivity tools.  In the classroom, what a great way to make it easy for students to get to web resources for those computers progressive enough to be using web applications.

Speaking of ever changing, you can’t be complacent.  I read this today.  Changes to Chrome’s New Tab Page.

Who can’t handle a little change?

The Browser I’ve Always Wanted To Use


On my computer, I’ve always kept the latest copy of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Chromium, Safari, and Opera – depending upon the computer.  It’s not nearly as important now but years ago, it really was important to test your webpages on different browsers as they can render things differently.  There’s nothing I find more frustrating than visiting a site and it just doesn’t look right or you’ve done something that limits things.  Remember messages like “Sorry, this page ony runs on Internet Explorer”.

I always am intrigued by web studies showing where the current popular web browser is.  Only a fool would take a look at one set of stats and make complete decisions based on that.  Rather, they’re just a snapshot in time.  It’s always been interesting to see the fall and decline of Internet Explorer, the rise of Firefox and Chrome.  Always taking a small slice of the pie has been Opera.  And yet, it’s always intrigued me so I keep it installed.  Unlike other browsers where I load up on extensions, I keep Opera basically free of them.  That way, if I run into something that looks badly on one browser, I could flip to Opera and test it unfettered by third party authors.

There has always been a lot of things to like about Opera; it’s very quick to load, always seems to be rated highly in security testing, Scandinavian in design (who doesn’t like good things with Scandinavian heritage), and I’ve never had it crash on me.  Like Firefox, the latest version allows you to search from the address bar as well as having an area to specify a search engine.

I’ll typically have the default search enging set to use Google and the second one to use Yahoo!  It allows me to to do two searches without a great deal of effort.  Opera has also had some unique features like Turbo Mode and Speed Dial which you don’t find by default on other browsers.  All in all, it’s a solid performer and yet I’ve never made it my default browser.  It’s a question I really can’t answer except that, I guess, I like the additional functionality that extensions to Firefox and Chrome provide.

This week, there was exciting news from Opera.  They’ve released their next version – Opera Next.  Word had been trickly down that Opera was going to be re-written, abandoning its Presto web engine in favour of Blink.  So, you know me – I had to give it a shot.

With the switch in engines, it came as no surprise that Opera Next looked like Chromium or Chrome right out of the box.  I started to poke around to see what was what.

Right off the bat, there were a couple of things that had me scratching.  I’m a big user of pinned tabs.  At present, there doesn’t seem to be a way to pin a tab in Opera Next.  The other gotcha was the X to close a tab.  It’s on the other side of the tab.  As a long time Chrome user, old habits die hard!  Got to suck it up here.  That certainly can’t be a show stopper!

Opera Next is snappy and was a pleasure to work with.  Now, it comes time to deck it out.  Can I customize it?  I went to the Chrome store and many of the extension were expecting to install themselves into Chrome.  That’s fair enough; I don’t know why but I thought that they would just transport across the platforms.  But I did poke around and from the Opera Menu, there’s an option to install extensions.  Opera is developing its own store for extensions so a trip there was in order.  There’s some of my go-tos there.  I install Web of Trust, Evernote, Feedly, LastPass, Ghostery, and Ad Block Plus.  That’s about it – no blogging tool at present – I was hoping to see Scribefire.

While there, I notice that there’s an option to change themes.  I visited the Opera Next theme site and there are a few ways to dress up your browser desktop.  I looked at a couple – nothing green!

Desktop real estate is important to me.  In my browser, I’ll also downsize the font a couple of steps.  I’m not a fan of Full Screen Mode all the time so the less that the browser uses, the more room there is for me to read.

I stacked Chrome, Opera Next, and Firefox together and you can see that Chrome maximizes the screen real estate nicely.  Notice how it places the tabs on the same row as the exit, minimize, and maximize buttons.  That’s a really good way to avoid dead space.  I’d really like to see Opera Next and Firefox follow suit.

Regular browsing functionality was there.  I was surprised that Opera Mail was not included.  Perhaps it’s just because it’s early in development?  I guess time will tell.

There are two features unique to Opera Next that I spent a bunch of time playing with.  One is called “Stash” and the other “Discover”.  I’m excited about both.

Discover finds news stories for you just by selection.  I changed the setting to Canada and then back to Global.  It seems to have more interesting reads for me at the moment.  I’m just not interested in Toronto’s Mayor or a certain Senator.

That’s a really nice feature.  It reminds me of Rockmelt for Web.  It’s based on the premise that there should always be something new and interesting to read when you open your browser.

The second feature, Stash, I think is best described as temporary bookmarks.  A regular bookmark is permanent.  With Stash, if you’re browsing the web looking for stories, click the little heart icon to stash them away for later retrieval.

Don’t get caught up on the actual stories I’ve stashed above – I just stashed three pages for this post.  I can see myself using this quite a bit, particulary in conjunction with Discover.  As I scan news stories, I can Stash them and then later on take some time to read them fully.  I see a boost in productivity coming here.

I haven’t even talked about cottonTracks.  This could turn out to be a big change for me.

My first kick at Opera Next was very positive.  For the Chrome or Chromium user, there’s very little new learning to take on and yet, the potential for better productivity certainly is there.  I really did enjoy it; the limiting factor is the number of extensions that are currently available.  That will get better with time and Opera has promised regular updates over the next while.  I’m looking forward to seeing this product evolve.

Life in a Browser


Yesterday, Alfred Thompson posted an interesting article titled “Why Web Apps?”  I read it via mobile and was just going to let it lie but it must have been percolating in the back of my mind because I went back to it when I got to a computer and replied to his post.  It really had me thinking.

I think there would have been a time when I would have agreed wholeheartedly with him.  There really is something comforting about having an application installed on your local device to do the things that you like/need to do.  But then I thought about my own computer habits.  I do enjoy programming in Visual Basic or C# but haven’t had any pressing projects for quite some time.  For the most part, that machine seldom is even booted to Windows anymore except to update things.  For the most part, it runs Ubuntu and I’ll be honest – 90% of the time, it’s running Firefox and that’s about it.  My Macintosh computer runs Google Chrome and the FirstClass client.  Updates that are needed happen with little fanfare as Firefox and Google Chrome are configured to silently update themselves so that I seldom have to think about it.

My iPad is another thing.  As I write this post, there are 17 applications that require updating and I may set that to go while the dog and I check out the mailboxes up and down the road.  My daily use on that device involves a bit of web browsing but a great deal of time spent in applications so that @tgianno can clobber me in Word with Friends or any of the other Zynga games we’re playing.  Portable is still a maturing platform and I don’t see ditching applications there in the near future.

But, let’s turn back to the traditional computer.  Life here is indeed spent on the web.  Alfred laments the demise of the standalone Tweetdeck and I remember how I felt when the Seesmic Desktop stopped being supported.  I evaluated everything under the sun and ended up with what fits my needs perfectly – Hootsuite.  It runs on the web; the developers are constantly updating things and these updates don’t interfere with my use.

My documents, spreadsheets, forms, and presentations are all handled so nicely with Google Drive and Evernote.  In fact, I can’t recall the last time that I had to seriously use anything but a web browser to do anything.

Image Courtesy of Morgue Files 

As I write this, I just opened my Applications Folder.  It’s not like there’s a shortage of applications in there.  As I scroll through them, I guess I would have to revisit the last sentence in the preceding paragraph.  It’s all coming back to me.  Last Christmas, I did use Adobe Photoshop for some graphics work.  Do I really have to go that far back?  I guess I do.  Looking at the extensions and tools that I’ve added to extend the power of Google Chrome, it really has become my digital toolkit.  Ditto for Firefox on Ubuntu.

For me, Life with an App does seem to be relegated to mobile.  Maybe I just haven’t tried hard enough there?

There definitely are limitations to working solely online.  The internet needs to be there!  Privacy concerns encourage a second and third thought before signing up for anything new.

However, I think the writing is on the wall for me.  I could be writing this post using a local app in Qumana or I could be using LiveWriter, but I’m not.  I’m using ScribeFire in the Google Chrome browser.  It’s not quite a web app; it’s sure is not a local app; it’s really a browser app.  Times have certainly changed.

There is another aspect to all of this.  Every time a new computer needs to be purchased, it’s a total exercise in spec checking.  How much processor, how much drive space, how much RAM can I afford to buy to feed the habit.  At the Google Summit, I had a great conversation @mrfusco who has been living/working with his Chromebook.  If you like Google Chome and don’t mind working in an OS that works like a browser, is $250 all that you need to buy to stay on top of things?  Put the power mongering in the hands of the web service provider!

The bottom line for me includes a wonderful collection of extensions to my browser and the miracles that programmers are doing with HTML5.  It’s not a perfect world and this article provides a nice comparison.

Like it or not, I seem to be migrating to Life in a Browser.  It seems to be my new reality, Alfred!

How Much Paranoia…


…should a person have when configuring a web browser?

I had a good back and forth with @pbeens about this today.  A fresh installation of any web browser comes with certain settings.  With a good browser, you can add extensions to do various things to try to maintain your privacy.  But how much is too much?

I tried to reach a website today – it was a school website and one of the pages just refused to load with my decked out Google Chrome browser.  I fired up Mozilla Firefox and was able to see the desired page with no problem.  So, it was noodle scratching time.  I went through the process of disabling extensions until I got it to work.

So, I started to think.  Just how far do I need to go to try and keep my privacy and stop the web from tracking where I go.  (Although, I’ll admit, it’s pretty boring since I tend to hit educational and news sites).

I took a look through my extension to Google Chrome and have the following installed.

AdBlock Plus – Used to block advertisements that are pushed my way.  It’s not that I’m adverse to advertising; it’s just that with a slow internet connection, this does help to speed up the browsing process.

Collusion for Chrome – I’m big into visualizations and Collusion illustrates the webbing and connections that are happening as you browse.  I find it fascinating.

Do Not Track Me – Plain and simple, it’s designed to stop web sites from tracking where I go.

Ghostery – Blocks and displays a popup to let you know when there’s an element on a web page trying to track you.

KB SSL Enforcer – Forces the website that you’re visiting to use https:// for browser encryption when it’s possible.  (This was the extension that had caused my “problem” earlier.

That’s about it.  I should also point out that I use

WOT – This displays a crowd sourced traffic light on links to give you a sense as to whether clicking on them will take you to a safe sight or one that those working the web have concerns about.

So, I’ll end with the question that I started with.  Is this too much paranoia?  I think there can be a danger when you have too many extensions doing too many similar things.  What do you think?  Any recommendations for what can be removed or replaced with something better?

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The Best of Both Worlds


Sometimes, I feel like the technological world has passed me by.  I had that feeling this weekend when I stumbled onto something that I’m sure that everyone else but me knows.

Two things form the basis for this post.

  • I really like the Omnibar in the Google Chrome browser.  It lets me type URLs and search in the same box;
  • I’ve been a real advocate for changing the default search engine to Diigo instead of Google or Bing or Yahoo! or whatever so that results come from curated results instead of the crapshoot that blindly searching can provide.

So, I was playing around with Firefox 5 Beta Channel (although I read that there’s a Firefox 6 Alpha out…) and forgot that I was in Firefox for a second.  I thought I was in Chrome and typed in a search term.  Guess what?  I got Google search results.  I sort of stared at the screen for a second and shook my head.  I tried it again.  Son of a gun, it worked again.

I then thought – this is very cool.  Even when I switch my default search engine to Diigo, there are times when I really need to use Google to do a search.  Similarly, if I switch the default to Google, I’m back to wading through results until I get what I want.  Firefox, as you know, has a search window – why don’t I use that for Diigo searches and the Awesome Bar for searching my history and searching using Google?

 

The Awesome Bar gives me this…

And, Diigo gives me this …

Wow!  It just depends on whether I type the term into the Awesome Bar or the Search Window to choose the search engine that I want.So, I thought – what a great addition to Firefox 5.  Now, one of the nice things about Firefox 5 is that it can exist alongside Firefox 4.  So, I tried the above on Firefox 4, and sure enough, it worked there as well.  Now, I’m feeling like a dummy.  This functionality has been there all along!  How can this be?  Do I ever feel silly.  Last to the party again.
But, now that I’ve learned that, I’m thinking of the opportunities to being a more efficient searcher.

Browser Choices


I admit it.  I have a whole slew of internet browsers installed on my computers.  I keep looking for the perfect browser.  In my mind, it needs to be fast, secure, compatible with every website known to browserkind, work miracles with Flash and Silverlight, and handle Java, HTML 5, and CSS3 perfectly.  Oh, and render images perfectly regardless of format using hardware acceleration, allow me to customize it, give me a choice of search engines, let me run extensions to customize the experience, synchronize browser settings from different computers, and let me have everything that I want my way.

Is that too much to ask?

It used to be considerably easier.  Previously, I only ran Windows and had my choice of Internet Explorer or Netscape Communicator.  Even when I was forced to use a Macintosh computer, there still was a version of Internet Explorer that would make me feel at home.  These good old days seem so long ago now.  These browsing experiences were fairly similar and so I had a particular mindset as to what the browsing experience was.

I then read about this browser developed in Europe called Opera.  I downloaded it and it was an eye opener for me.  There actually was a different way to think about browsing the internet.  This has started me on the search that I continue today.

So, on my computer, you’ll find instances of Internet Explorer, Opera, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Flock, Safari, and RockMelt and I rotate through them all regularly.  As of late, my favourite has been Google Chrome, I will admit.  I’m not alone – browser share is important to the individual developers.  You’ll see them and their legions of fans scrambling to explain why a particular browser is better than the rest.

 

image

Thanks – http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/04/Web_browser_usage_share.svg

The real winner in all of this is us, the end user.  As each browser adds new features  to it, it pushes the whole industry along to create better browsing experiences.  For me, the timing of this post is especially important.  Microsoft is releasing Internet Explorer 9 at the SXSW Conference.  Recently, Google upgraded its browser to Version 10, Apple pushed out a new version of Safari, Firefox has a Release Candidate for Version 4, Opera is now at Version 11, and the upgrade paths continue.  What’s really nice though is that all of these browsers are adding features and making things better with each release.  These better things include making your time on the internet safer.

I suppose the biggest thing for me was the incorporation of hardware acceleration in the browser.  Microsoft demonstrated it nicely with an earlier Beta of the Internet Explorer browser and I did sit up and take notice.  With the hardware at work rather than the software at doing graphics, it flew.  I just wish that some smart developers could work their magic with Flash and Silverlight in this manner.  There’s nothing quite so warm as a computer fan picking up speed to try and cool off the i7 processor doing its best to keep up.

I don’t think there’s a bad browser in the bunch but here are my current thoughts about each.

Internet Explorer
Unfortunately, I see this browser in a downward spiral.  It used to be THE browser – nothing else came close.  But, security issues became apparent and patch after patch was pushed out to try to make the browser safe.  With a huge market share, it was the perfect target for designers of malware.  As one patch was applied, another security flaw appeared.  It’s tough being number one.  As Internet Explorer’s problems became apparent, it really presented opportunities for other browsers to get fans.  In advance of the release of Version 9, the Internet Explorer 6 Countdown was given.  It’s hard to believe that, in this world of heightened security, a ten year old browser is still seen as safe to use.  Internet Explorer 9 is build with security in mind and the promise is to make the web a beautiful thing.  I’ll be grabbing a copy on March 14 to experience it myself.  This might be enough to stop the spiral.

Mozilla Firefox
Until about a year ago, this was my default browser – hands down.  It provided a safer feeling when browsing on the web and opened the door for extensions/addons for me.  I saw the light for different ways to browse with Opera and it continued with Firefox.  I went on a mission to try and incorporate all of the things that I do on the web – blogging, Twitter, and Facebook being very important – having them built right into the browser.  It was great.  However, with subsequent updates to version 3, Firefox started to feel sluggish and my eyes started to wander.  I was intrigued with the Release Candidate of Version 4 and it now resides on my computers.  Recently, on this blog, Stephen Downes offered a suggestion for a new feature to speed up the loading.  When Firefox goes gold, I’ll give it a shot if it’s still needed.

Google Chrome
I must admit that, after playing with all the browsers, this is the default for me right now.  It loads almost instantly; I have my default pages pinned in place and a nice collection of addons in place.  Along with Firefox, the AdBlock extension is great for making things even faster by hiding many of the annoying ads that come along.  It does scream in terms of speed.  It’s fully customizable and just works so nicely.  With the promise of the Google Chrome Operating System in the offing, it can be configured by using the Google Chrome Store to be like an entire web operating system right in the browser.  I do think that I’m looking at the future with the concept of a Web OS.  Imagine just getting connected to the web and you always have the latest and greatest software and storage available without having to constantly apply patches to your computer!

Opera
I really like Opera as a browser.  It was the first piece of software that incorporated gestures.  That is a real experience for me.  Not only does Opera have extensions but it does have widgets.  Combining the two lets you dress up a browser very nicely.  Opera seems very fast but I haven’t had a great deal of luck with the ad blocking extensions.  Opera seems to do the best job of giving the most room for browsing on the screen.  It incorporates Speed Dial when you open a new tab and many other browsers have since incorporated similar features.

Flock
Flock used to be my default browser when it was build on the same code as Firefox.  In addition to the features that I enjoyed with Firefox, Twitter was built right into it.  It was my first move into a social web browser and I really liked it.  Then, there was one update that came along that didn’t like Flash well.  Hit a web page that used Flash and the fan noise seemed deafening!  There wasn’t an upgrade forthcoming and so I left Flock although I did check in periodically to see if there were upgrades.  Unfortunately, not.  I then started to hear rumblings that Flock was going to be built on the code from the Chromium project.  As soon as it was released, I downloaded it and was impressed to a certain extent.  However, I had moved to a different Twitter client and the Twitter functionality just wasn’t at the same level.  The latest news is that Flock has teamed up with Zynga.  This could result in some really exciting social media use in the future.  I’ll keep my eye on the prize.

RockMelt
I really like the concept behind RockMelt.  It takes the premise of a social browser like we see in Flock and adds more to it.  With Facebook integration, you can monitor everything that’s happening in your Facebook world while you browse.  It reminds me of a secretary that I had years ago with sticky notes all around her monitor with the Twitter, Facebook, and addon edges in place.  I have my copy tripped out with the same functionality as Google Chrome.

Safari
I’ll be honest.  I keep it updated but I don’t use it.  Maybe I would if I just used a Macintosh computer but I regularly work on the Windows and Linux platforms as well.  My ultimate goal is to find the perfect browser for all of my computing words and to synchronize among them all.  In my world, that rules out Safari at this time.

By the same logic, I’ll grab Internet Explorer 9 when it’s available to see the “beauty of the web”.  Maybe it will make a deep enough impact that I’ll make it the default browser on my Windows computer.  Who knows?  I am hoping to see good things with it.  The other players have made great moves in visibility and safety while this release has been under development.  I’m looking forward with anticipation.  The preview releases have indeed changed the way that Internet Explorer has always worked and felt.

How do you feel about your browser?