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,, …

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?


Investigating Opera Coast

I’ve always been a sucker for trying out new things.  One of my curiosities has always been the web browser.  I have a good collection on my desktop computer.  I seem to always be looking for the perfect solution.  Even on my iPad, I have a collection of browsers.  In fact, I have a folder full of browsers that I’ve accumulated.  There’s also Google Chrome which sits on my main screen.

It’s not necessarily a negative but there’s one thing that all of these browsers have in common.  They’re modelled after desktop browsers.  Think of your favourite desktop browser.  Traditionally, you’d find a tool bar with navigation arrows, tabs, addresses, etc.  In keeping with tradition, you might be moving your cursor around to click here and there.  Advanced skills make this easier if you program your mouse to do some of the common tasks.  Or, learn the short cut keys on your keyboard.  A similar sort of navigation is common for all of these tablet browsers, except Coast.

Coast is a new browser for the iPad from Opera.  I’ve been experimenting with it lately and I’ll admit…it’s not going terribly well.  My mind seems to be programmed to think of the traditional browser and how it works.  I keep wanting to reach for things that aren’t there.

Coast advertises itself as “the browser that should have come with the iPad” and it just does things differently.

Take a look at the screen capture of this insightful blog.

You’ll notice that there are no navigation arrows.  No address bar.  No tabs.  It’s just the web.

Coast is built for gestures.  No more reaching to the top corner for an arrow, just swipe to go forward or backward.  Need to go to a different tab?  Just tap on the icon in the bottom right corner and you swipe your way through what’s open until you get what you want.

Your bookmarks?  Just tap the grid icon in the bottom middle and you’re “home” to your pages of bookmarks.  Need to go to one, just tap on the appropriate icon and away you go.

Do you want to go somewhere new?  You’ll notice that Coast has its own version of an unified search/URL bar.  Type an address or a search term and you’re all set.  Visited websites get stored in a holding tank at the bottom of the screen.  You may then just drag them up to bookmark them for the future or drag to the top of  the screen to erase them.  It most certainly is a different way to use a browser but then a tablet is a different computing device than a desktop.  I’ve seen references made to Coast as a “stripped down” or “minimalist” browser but perhaps its feature set is all that is needed.

There a minimal number of settings available to configure Coast if you want.

Rather than a browser that is a tablet version of a desktop browser, this is a completely different animal.  Forget you what think you know about using a browser.  This will get you thinking differently; I’m still learning but I can see this becoming a favourite.  I’m not too proud to admit though; I’ve got to unlearn a great deal of old browsing habits!

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.

…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?

An Essential Web Tool

Tagging on to my thoughts yesterday about life in a browser, there still is a nasty gotcha when working with files.  You’ve got this great file and you’re going to do something with it but it’s the wrong size or the wrong format or …

What to do?  What to do?  Actually, if you have enough tools installed on your computer, you might be OK.   But…

If that’s a problem you have to endure, then you need to check out CloudConvert.  I was drawn to explore by its tagline “convert anything to anything”.  Who wouldn’t want a service like that?  Off I went to check it out.

The site claims to support 123 formats and I was impressed immediately by a support for “ebook”!  The format page gives a complete listing.

How to use it?  It’s really easy.

Step 1:  Give CloudConvert your file.

I was impressed that I didn’t have to “drop the file here” like on so many other resources.  Just drop it on the page.  I slid my browser to the left, grabbed a file and dragged it to the page.  Step 1 done.

The file was a .jpg file.  I decided to give it an easy test.  Please make it a .gif file.

Step 2:

Step 3:

Give me the converted file.

What a great set of options!  I’ve used services like this in the past and mailing the converted file typically is the only option.  Since I would probably import the file into a document or a presentation, sending it to Google Drive makes a great deal of sense.

This utility is definitely a keeper.  Whether you’re using standalone applications or working in a browser, dealing with file formats is a common task.  They may well be your answer!

Symbaloo – Before and After

It was just a week ago that I blogged about Symbaloo and webmixes.  I have Symbaloo set as the start page for my computers.  I have tried a number of like utilities in the past and, with the retirement of iGoogle, have found it indispensible as a portal to the places that I want to go.  I absolutely think it’s the best place for me to start.

As I opened my computer this morning to wake it from sleep, I checked my email to read that there was an opportunity to take a preview look at what Symbaloo is going to look like when we all get migrated to the new interface in April.  How could I not take the opportunity.

As I said yes, a new tab opened with a dialogue to let me choose the new interface.  Yes, I said.

At that moment, I had a very unique opportunity.  Since the new layout opened a new tab, I actually had both the old layout and the new layout sitting there in front of me in adjacent tabs.  Does that scream “blog post”?  I just had to take a couple of screen shots and away I go.

Here’s my original Symbaloo layout.  It’s still as good looking and as functional as ever.

Right next door, I have the new layout.  There are a slew of new icons that I’ll probably get around to exploring at some time but my first blush had me looking at the functionality.  There were no immediate changes available in the preferences but the screen presentation was noticeably different.

On the left side, a pull down menu gives access to my webmixes.  I have a modest collection because previously the only way to get to one was to scroll through the names at the top of the screen.  Here heading directly to a webmix looks like it’s going to be very quick.  I can see myself starting to add webmixes and maybe even curate a few more of my own.

Speaking of webmixes, check out the ways that you may now edit a webmix.

Searching for new material is going to be easier now.  You now have more control over just what it is that you’re searching for.  This is going to be nice.

I’m really liking the new presentation.  I think it’s a nice step forward for the product.  However, there’s this nagging feeling after reading the announce and seeing point number five.

5. Symbaloo secrets
There’s more… Did you already discovered something new?

That’s a challenge for a guy like me.  Got to continue to dig.

At this point in time, the iPad version of Symbaloo has not been updated.  However, the web version looks very nice and hopefully there’s an upgrade for mobile shortly.  For educators, this is such a valuable tool to make sure that students all launch and end up in the right place.

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