Grow up Google!

Post ImageSometimes companies do things that just leave you baffled. There’s lots of commentary out there that suggests Google is taking the evil away from Microsoft, and the latest bit of news seems to support that. Apparently Google is not happy with Microsoft’s new browser and the way it features MSN Search:

“The market favors open choice for search, and companies should compete for users based on the quality of their search services,” said Marissa Mayer, the vice president for search products at Google. “We don’t think it’s right for Microsoft to just set the default to MSN. We believe users should choose.”

So now they are lobbying the government, expressing concern about competition in the search business. Are you kidding me? First of all, it’s dead easy to change the default search provider in IE7 to Google (or anything else for that matter). Secondly, are they totally forgetting that they made a deal with Firefox to be the default seach provider (and start page too) in that browser? Or that they pay a lot of Mozilla’s employees? I mean seriously.

If you’re going to complain about something, at least make sure you’re not doing the very thing you’re complaining about. All too often Microsoft’s competitors run to the government. It’s kind of sad, really.

UPDATE: As this post explains, MSN Search is not the default search provider after all!

Read: CNET News.com

IE7 Beta 2 Released

Post ImageMicrosoft has released the latest test version of the new Internet Explorer 7 browser, this one titled simply Beta 2 (what the heck was with that Preview anyway). From the official IE blog:

We acted on a lot of the feedback and bug reports from the previous public releases. In particular, I feel good about changes we made based on reports from web developers around some CSS behaviors, application compatibility feedback, reliability data (yes, we do analyze the information that comes when you click “Send Error Report”), and user experience feedback. People on the team will post additional details about changes over the next few days.

Unfortunately you have uninstall any previous IE7 releases before installing the new one, but this is the last release that you’ll need to do that for. Apparently the rendering engine is now complete, which means that the way pages look in this release is how they’ll look in the final release too.

Most of the UI is the same as older releases, but it’s funny how small things make a big difference. The tabs now have a gradient that I didn’t notice before, and when you open a new tab, there is a “help” page displayed which is great for new users. A couple other things I have noticed:

  • If you right click a link and choose “Open in New Tab”, the new tab opens right next to the current tab, even if you have a bunch of tabs. Makes it easier to organize them which is nice!
  • When you press CRTL-T to open a new tab, the address bar does not receive focus which is incredibly annoying. I want to open a new tab using the key combo and then immediately start typing the address!
  • I still don’t get the “multiple home pages” feature.
  • I really love that the menu bar and stuff auto-hides when you enter full screen mode (F11).

So far, I quite like IE7. This release still uses quite a bit of memory, but that’s not really an issue at the moment considering Firefox ALWAYS uses more.

Read: Internet Explorer

Flash Websites Suck!

I realize that the title of this post is a very wide and sweeping claim, but hear me out – I have quite a few good reasons for why I hate Macromedia Flash-based websites. I don’t think I have always disliked Flash, but lately the hatred has grown. There are just so many things to hate:

  1. Flash websites go against the true nature of the Web! This point will probably be the easiest to disagree with, but it’s also a more subtle point. How does the web work? You basically move along by clicking on hyperlinks, from page to page and site to site. What happens if you want to go back to a certain page? You can enter a URI, you can use a back button, or a bookmark, lots of ways. Flash breaks this functionality! You can’t really link to a “part” of a Flash site. Sure you can click links out of the Flash, but they aren’t standard links either – they are not picked up by link crawlers, and they don’t conform to the display standards set in your browser. You don’t always notice this, but it drives me nuts when you need to actually interact with links in a “normal” fashion.
  2. Flash sites are slow and take forever to load! Basically when I load a Flash website, and see some sort of progress bar or percentage, the website is saying to me “I think I’m so great you’re going to have to wait until I am good and ready to be displayed!” What the heck is that? When I visit a web page, I want the page to load, not the entire site! And Flash sites that show the progress bar just for looks piss me off even more. I have high speed for a reason morons!
  3. Flash sites require you to learn a new interface each time! I admit, this point is also sort of easy to argue against, but think about it. How different are HTML-based websites? Really different? Not really. They typically all have some sort of textual or graphical menu along the top or one of the sides. Almost all of these websites are fairly similar in the way you navigate them. Flash sites on the other hand are completely different! Some sites want to you click different objects in a 3D world, others have pictures with no words. The links are often scattered around the Flash animation which means I have to hunt around. And the most annoying part of Flash navigation is that often times you click a menu item, only to be shown a submenu with no way to get back to the original menu! It’s frustrating to say the least.
  4. Flash sites don’t “fit” my screen! Most websites will resize depending on how big or small my browser is, and how large or small my screen’s resolution is. Not so with Flash sites! Almost every Flash site I have come across has a set size, and too bad if your screen/browser size doesn’t work out.

Those are the main things that bug me about Flash sites – as you can see, they are pretty logical and straightforward. There’s some other minor things that get under my skin too:

  • Lots of Flash sites don’t have a text-only or HTML-only equivalent!
  • Why must every musician or band in the world have a difficult to use Flash site?
  • Most of the time trying to copy text from a Flash animation is impossible.
  • I realize it’s hard to get a browser that doesn’t have Flash, but requiring a user to install a plugin to see any of a website is kind of dumb, Flash or not.
  • Show me the source! Sometimes I like poking around the HTML, CSS or javascript – it’s a useful way to learn from others. I can’t see the source of a Flash site though!

I really don’t care how good you think Flash will make a website look. I’d take usability over looks any day (with very, very few exceptions), and that’s really why I hate Flash sites.

Firefox 1.5 Released

The Mozilla Foundation has released the first major revision to Firefox, version 1.5. I downloaded and installed it tonight on both machines without any problem. In fact, I quite like how simple upgrading the extensions was – much improved over previous installs. Here’s what’s new:

New in the 1.5 version are more sophisticated security and performance features. In addition to a more effective pop-up blocker, the updated browser is designed to ease security updates. The program checks daily for patches, downloads them automatically and then prompts users to install them, said Chris Beard, vice president of products at Mozilla.

Other improvements include “forward” and “backward” browsing buttons designed to load Web pages more quickly. A new drag-and-drop feature for browser “tabs” lets users keep related pages together.

If you’re a Firefox user, definitely download the upgrade!

UPDATE: It seems that all of the engines I had in my search box were removed after upgrading, and now when I try to add them again, they appear as blank entries in the list! Not sure what the deal is with that!

Read: CNET News.com

Flock Developer Preview

Post ImageAn application called Flock has been hyped and hyped again recently. Naturally, I had to see for myself if it lived up to the hype, so I went and downloaded the Flock Developer Preview this afternoon. What is Flock?

Flock is based on the open source Mozilla code base. All of our modifications to Mozilla code are released under the MPL, GPL and LGPL licenses. 100% of the Flock-created code to date is released under the GPL license. Going forward, we may incorporate some proprietary code from partners, or even created in-house, but our plan is for the vast majority if not all of our code to be open source for the foreseeable future.

I guess the idea is that Flock is a so-called “Web 2.0 browser” based on Firefox. So far it connects up to del.icio.us and Flickr. As others have noted, it’s still very early in the application’s development so I’ll try not to knock it too hard.

Let me get a few things out of the way first. Their website sucks. They don’t have any images (not even a logo!). The download is huge compared to Firefox. The browser itself runs incredibly slow compared to Firefox (who knows what they did – it’s supposedly based on the very quick Firefox). I don’t see how they are going to make money – their “roadmap” is kinda funny. Much of what Flock promises can be accomplished via extensions, and there’s reason to believe such features will be rolled into Firefox and featured in the next IE version anyway.

Never say never, but I don’t see myself using Flock in place of Firefox or IE anytime soon. I’m not sure that del.icio.us, blogging and Flickr integration would be enough to tempt me either!

Ah that feels better. The only thing worse than a hyped application is a hyped application that sorely disappoints. Keep in mind this is only the developer preview, but I’m not holding my breath. Mark Evans wrote about Flock today too.

Read: Flock

Using Firefox? You're not safe!

Post ImageI have said it before, and I’ll say it again: Firefox isn’t really all that secure! It only seems more secure because it doesn’t have a large enough market share to warrant attacking. Fortunately, some other people have noticed this and done some excellent analysis, like George Ou and ZDNet:

Now that Firefox has become the first viable contender to Microsoft Internet Explorer in years, its popularity has brought with it some unwanted attention. Last week’s premature disclosure of a zero-day Firefox exploit came a few weeks after a zero-day exploit for Internet Explorer appeared on the Internet. Firefox not only has more vulnerabilities per month than Internet Explorer, but it is now surpassing Internet Explorer for the number of exploits available for public download in recent months.

In the post, George shows that since March of this year, Firefox has encountered 40 vulnerabilities, compared with Internet Explorer’s 10. And since April 2005, there have been 11 exploits for Firefox compared with only 6 for Internet Explorer. One could make the case that Internet Explorer 6 has been around longer and thus many of it’s problems were fixed prior to March of this year. It would be interesting to see some data on that. Of course, Firefox shouldn’t have had any of the same vulnerabilities though, as it was released after IE6 and should have been able to learn from it’s mistakes, right?

A new report from Symantec found similar results, but also noted that hackers still focus their efforts on IE – no doubt because of the size of IE’s market share and installed base:

According to the report, 25 vendor-confirmed vulnerabilities were disclosed for the Mozilla browsers during the first half of 2005, “the most of any browser studied,” the report’s authors stated. Eighteen of these flaws were classified as high severity. “During the same period, 13 vendor-confirmed vulnerabilities were disclosed for IE, eight of which were high severity,” the report noted.

The average severity rating of the vulnerabilities associated with both IE and Mozilla browsers in this period was classified as “high”, which Symantec defined as “resulting in a compromise of the entire system if exploited.”

See the browser wars aren’t really Firefox versus IE at all. No, the browser wars are hackers versus vendors.

Why the WebOS won't happen!

Post ImageInteresting post by Jason Kottke on a so-called “WebOS”. Speculation about such an operating system, that is powered over the web, has always been around but seems to pick up whenever Google releases something new, like Google Desktop 2 last week. Granted, Jason does talk about having local applications too, but then I question how things are really different than what we currently have.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – it’s not going to happen! So, whenever you feel the urge to dream about an operating system powered completely over the web, just refer to this handy list of realities:

  • We don’t have “wireless everywhere”, so sometimes you need to be able to take content offline.
  • Games need horsepower – processors, memory, graphics, etc.
  • I can do a lot with photos on Flickr, but it’s not even close to replacing Photoshop. Applications like Photoshop need (extensive) local resources!
  • One interface is dumb! What about viewing my content on a mobile device? Or on a device with a tiny screen? Or in my kitchen? Or in my car? Accessing everything through a browser is absurd. Web services solve this problem by allowing many rich interfaces to use the same data, with a high level of code re-use.
  • Security, security, security! It’s a lot harder to secure everything when it’s all online!
  • Privacy, privacy, privacy! How can you really be sure no one else is looking? If the OS is on the Web, there’s no longer a power switch.

There are probably more reasons! Have any you’d like to add?

Read: Jason Kottke

Web Feeds or RSS?

Post ImageLots of discussion going on lately about whether or not Microsoft, and everyone else for that matter, should call RSS feeds “RSS” or “web feeds”. It all started with the first beta release of Internet Explorer 7, in which the term “web feeds” is used. Instead of delving into the complete history of this little debate, I’m going to instead point you to the excellent roundup by Ed Bott. Dave Winer, creator of the RSS standard, chimes in and says, “Don’t screw around with things you didn’t create and don’t understand.”

The debate is not much of a debate, in my opinion. There’s some really simple reasons that we should be calling them web feeds. When you ask your friend or co-worker about something on the Internet, do you talk about visiting an “HTML page” or a “web page”? Does your web browser (not “HTML page browser”) load up “HTML pages” or “web pages”? Clearly, you talk about web pages, and that’s what your browser loads. There are three very good reasons we use the term web pages:

  1. Saying “HTML page” is awkward. The masses like comfortable and simple, not awkward and complex.
  2. Calling a web page an “HTML page” is, technically, misleading. You’d be hard pressed to find any page on the Internet right now that consists of only HTML.
  3. Conceptually, a page that is only HTML, or combines HTML and JavaScript, or combines HTML, JavaScript, and CSS, etc., are all the same thing. When you load a web page, you don’t think about the technology behind it.

For the very same reasons, we should be using web feeds, not RSS feeds. The term “web feed” is comfortable and simple. It doesn’t exclude RDF, or Atom, or RSS with extensions, and so it isn’t technically misleading. And finally, a web feed is a web feed, regardless of the technology that powers it.

There’s other reasons “web feeds” is better than “RSS” too. For the technology to become as natural and invisible as web pages, it needs a simple name. And the technology is so very young – who’s to say that something newer won’t be created that does the same thing, but in a different or better way? Think Atom 1.0 here.

There’s really no reason to publish more than one web feed, and thus no reason to call them anything else. Certainly the applications which consume web feeds should support multiple technologies, like both RSS and Atom, but publishers shouldn’t really have to worry about what technology to use. They should, just as with web pages, pick the technology best suited to the task at hand. You don’t have separate browsers for HTML and HTML with CSS – same goes for web feeds.

If you’re reading this post on the web, you can no doubt see that I am pretty hypocritical. No where on my site will you find the term “web feed”, and I publish both RSS and Atom feeds. Well, my excuse is that until recently, I hadn’t given much thought to the terminology I used. Heck, I even use the orange “XML” icon for my “RSS” feeds (talk about confusing!). Now that I have given it some thought however, I’ll definitely be making some changes. Look for a web feed button soon!

Firefox 1.0.5 Released

Post ImageThe latest update to Firefox was released today by the Mozilla Foundation, version 1.0.5. No new features, but there are a number of security fixes, as well as improvements to stability.

Firefox 1.0.5 is a security update that is part of our ongoing program to provide a safe Internet experience for our customers. We recommend that all users upgrade to this latest version.

Release notes are up, and you can download from the Mozilla site.

I love Firefox, and use it as my main browser. I just wish that people would realize that it has the same potential for security problems as every other browser, including Internet Explorer. I mean, look at the issues that were fixed in this version – “Code execution through shared function objects”, “Standalone applications can run arbitrary code through the browser”, and a bunch of others. Nobody’s perfect!

Read: Mozilla Firefox

MSN Toolbar has tabs, not IE

Post ImageOkay, let’s get something straight. Internet Explorer 6 and earlier versions do not have tabbed browsing. The recently updated MSN Toolbar does have tabs, and works inside of IE. So, Internet Explorer did not gain tabs, it gained the MSN Toolbar which has tabs. Is that clear? If I read one more article about how Internet Explorer now has tabs and they suck I am going to go crazy.

Internet Explorer 7, which is supposed to go into beta this summer, will indeed have tabs built in. And you can bet they will work a lot more like the Firefox or Opera tabs than the MSN Toolbar. Why? Because it’s integrated into the browser, it’s part of the design! Expecting the tabs in the MSN Toolbar to work better than they do is unrealistic. The toolbar is an add-on, and can only make use of what IE already has, and it doesn’t have tabs.

Glad we cleared that up!

Read: IE Blog