Category Archives: Reviews

Chrome – A Shiny New Browser from Google

Today, Google launched Chrome, their venture into the realm of web browsers. Still in BETA, Chrome promises to make the Web faster, safer, and easier. Will it, actually? Furthermore, is it worth using over IE, Opera, or the mighty Firefox? It’s far too early to tell for sure, but Chrome does have a lot of potential. Let’s take a quick look at some of its features.

Note: Chrome is currently only available for Windows XP/Vista. Mac and Linux versions are forthcoming.

User Interface

First things first, Google Chrome’s user interface takes a different approach than most browsers. Upon launch, the first thing you notice is an organization of thumbnails based on your most frequently-visited pages. Nice!

Despite the name, there’s not much to Chrome. In fact, it’s rather transparent and minimal. There are no menus, no home button (you can enable it in the Options), and only one bar (an integration of the address bar and search bar).

The bookmarks and other options are accessible (via drop-down) on the right side, next to and below the address bar.

Another surprise is that the tabs sit atop the address bar, rather than below it like most browsers. I like it, but it will take some getting used to.

Main Features

One of the highlights of Google Chrome is the ability to go Incognito. This is akin to Private Browsing in Safari – no cookies, history, or anything remains while in Incognito mode. You can easily enable it through the drop-down menu next to the address bar.

Unfortunately, it spawns an entirely new window, not just a new Incognito tab. Oh well, there’s always room for improvement. Incognito mode is intended for uses such as online banking and shopping for secret gifts, though in reality, most people will likely just use it for browsing pornography.

On to other issues – one major change is in the handling of tabs. In Chrome, each tab is an individual process, independent of the browser as a whole. What this means is that you can kill individual tabs without having a misbehaving tab crash the entire browser. Anyone who has ever visited a site that took down the full browser should jump for joy at this prospect. If it works correctly, it will be a major boon that other browsers should incorporate.

Try it now: launch Chrome, and right-click in the title bar area (very top of the browser). It should launch the Task Manager, allowing you to kill individual tabs if needed.

Importing

In case you are wondering, yes, Chrome will import your information from other browsers, such as IE and Firefox (no Opera yet). I chose the Firefox import and found all my bookmarks, history, and saved passwords readily available.

Other

Not all is well in the land of Chrome, however. Considering its BETA status, this is to be expected. For starters, I’ve had some trouble with sites that are heavily dependent on Java (such as ADrive). Some sites may have compatibility issues with Chrome as well. As an example, Amazon’s Askville doesn’t seem to care for Chrome yet.

Still, we must remember that Chrome is in its infancy. Issues like these will improve.

All-in-all, I like Google Chrome. It’s a welcome addition to the browsing world, and since it is open-source, I hope to see it positively affect its competitors. Giants such as Firefox, Opera, and IE, though they still dominate the field, could stand to learn a thing or two from the upstart Chrome.

For me, I will likely stay true to Firefox for now, but I look forward to watching Chrome mature.

Learn more about Google Chrome (including videos) at its official site.

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The Most Important Firefox Plugins You Will Ever Need. (A Series.)

#1 NoScript – http://www.noscript.net/

noscript-logo.pngI have to personally recommend that you never go to untrusted websites without this plugin. It’s as important as your antivirus software is on your PC. What it does is immediately assume that all websites are malicious and out to cause harm. You then, on a case to case basis, decide which “scripts” are allowed to be executed. Scripts are (in an overly simplified way) pieces of computer code that run automatically to generate a predetermined effect.

This sounds more complex than it is. When you browse over to Youtube, and that little video that is embedded in the website begins to play, that is a script being activated. So why are scripts bad? Well, if you can’t see the predetermined outcome, then you never know what command was executed. The worst of these commands could capture and record your keystrokes (example: when you enter your credit card number and address) and send them to the type of person you would never want to have them. Now that is a rare, complex, and incredibly extreme example. Now remember, the last thing I want to do is cause Hype-Paranoia like computer viruses on the evening news.

So how do I use it? Well, if you have never installed an Add-on for FireFox, it’s pretty easy. All you have to do is head on over to the firefox customize website (opens in a new window) and click the big [Add to Firefox] button on any add-on you want. I am now going to assume that (if you want it) NoScript is now installed in your FireFox. When you navigate to a new site, you will see a bar appear at the bottom:

firefox_noscript1

In order to see how much content has been blocked, click the little button in the bottom corner: (I’m using PCLinuxOS with a night theme, so your screen colors may be different).

firefox_noscript2

Only allow content that you know. For example, if you are on Youtube and one of your options is to allow Youtube, and you trust them, go ahead and do it (This will allow your video to play). If you see something else listed that you do not recognize (like ytimg.com) you probably do not want to enable it.

Remember, however, that there are a lot of positive scripts out there. When you click on a pull down menu to jump to another part of a website:

firefox_noscript3

a script must be run in order for that link to function. If you stumble across that problem (or any like it), check and see what scripts are enabled. It may take a little extra effort at the beginning, but eventually you will grow used to it. It will become a “safety inconvenience” (like traffic lights), subtly in our way but incredibly necessary.

The main criticism this plug-in receives is that it updates too often. It is true that it will update virtually every day. Some people view this as the plugin trying to make you feel like it is more active and more important than you think it is. In reality, it is just proof of its solid team of programmers making sure it is up-to-date.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself.

Links referenced:

The Firefox Browser (One of the best browsers you can find [and it’s free])

Firefox’s Addon Repository (Shop around for themes, addons, and plugins)

The Noscript Plugin Page (You can get this add-on from their page or the Firefox repo)

Review of Safari 3 for Windows

safari_windows_screenshot.png

So Apple went on its second major foray into the world of Microsoft with its release of Safari for Windows (the first being iTunes). I’m not necessarily a connoisseur of browsers when I’m at work just trying to get things done, but right off the bat I noticed the slick implementation of Apple’s signature Aqua-style graphics. Apple didn’t settle for Microsoft’s standard clunky window buttons, and they even put in their own window scroller and check-boxes, so in my opinion, browsing the web on Windows never looked so good. In fact, in my work-crazed stupor, Apple’s faithful rendition of the Mac version of Safari easily lulled me into a blissful fantasy-world where I was working from home on my Mac… that mirage only lasted so long, though, because Windows keeps stealing my focus, its Desktop search feature can’t find its own ass with both hands, un-closed pop-ups from any application gum up the *entire* desktop (instead of just the parent application), and my soundcard driver went on the lam again. Oh, Windows, if I could kick you in the nuts… but I digress.

Safari 3 seems to work fine on the web sites I’ve been hitting for the past couple days. For example, the new Yahoo mail is not officially supported, but it seems to be fully functional with Safari 3. Likewise, I was able to run my WordPress control panel without any major issues.With most Ajax-heavy sites, basic functionality is usually there for any browser, but things around the fringes may start breaking, so I’m not terribly surprised that Safari 3 has had some trouble here… in CSS and Ajax is where the browser-specific demons lie.On another Ajax site, I did notice some broken functionality when using Safari 3, so you know those demons are out there to haunt web developers, which brings me to the crux of this review: now I have ANOTHER browser to test when coding (and IE was already a huge pain in the ass).

Safari MOSTLY follows the same rendering as Firefox, with some quirky caveats… the biggest is probably Safari’s stricter interpretation of Javascript: Safari does not tolerate the use of reserved words as Javascript variable names. Firefox does. Safari’s implementation is probably more correct (just ask any coder), but the reality is that some Javascript won’t execute in Safari. I’ve read some of the documents about how the Gecko engine should behave when handling floated elements as they come into contact with cleared items, and I became convinced that BOTH Safari and Firefox were rendering incorrectly according to w3c standards (I’ll leave IE out of that discussion entirely… except you Steve Ballmer… my shoes… need to meet your nuts). At least Safari 3 finally correctly handles the label tags for forms.The preferences are tucked away under the Edit menu. It’s a bit traumatizing not to have an application menu if you’re coming from the Mac version, but that’s more sensible than Microsoft’s ridiculous time-sucking habit of having menu items for “Customize…” and “Options…” Really…can anyone remember which is which?

Myths Debunked

  • Contrary to some inflammatory posts, the RSS reader CAN BE CONFIGURED. It is nearly identical to the Mac version, which is nice if you’re someone like me who doesn’t take the time to tweak out a separate feed reader.
  • Some other reviews of Safari 3 for Windows have reported it crashing or having really slow load times when visiting certain web sites (e.g. Microsoft.com), but I have yet to experience any of this… I mean, Windows already has a fairly high amount of background noise in this area – Firefox and IE crash on a pretty regular basis, so if this type of thing happens in Safari, I would tend to point my suspicions at the operating system. I mean, seriously… my XP machine can’t even crash without crashing. Sudo kill -9 anyone?

It’s no surprise that Apple is taking some serious flak regarding Safari’s “superior” rendering times. They gotta expect that the first thing any tech-head is going to do is to try and replicate the boastful test results, and of course some of the results are going to be proven “questionable” or dead-wrong. But hey, if you want the scientific details of how it actually performs, talk to the developers and scientists – don’t be thumping the copy of the latest ad. Check out Wired.com for some independent testing.

The only real difference I’ve noticed at a functional level is that Safari’s security seems to be tighter than IE or Firefox. We have an https page at work for an internal CRUD web app. Safari would not load it because we were using our own SSL certificate. I know our implementation of the cert is wrong, but we just hadn’t gotten around to fixing it because IE and Firefox only complained; Safari flat out refused. I guess that’s the correct thing to do, but it’s a pain.

I have to object to how Apple “distributed” Safari 3 in a decidedly “Microsoft” fashion… they bundled it on to the latest iTunes release, which has generated some warranted criticism from the CEO of Mozilla (Jobs… do you need a kick too?). But hey, we’re in the Bush-Cheney era, so go ahead and push the limits and take your chances with the law – the courts might slap your wrists in a couple years if they ever get around to it.

apple_safari_update.png

What would make me melt is if Safari got a plugin like Firebug. That little guy has saved my life as a web developer too many times to count.

Nicest Features:

— Clean Aqua style interface faithfully rendered on Windows.

— Much faster performance. I have no scientific data here, and I refuse to drink the Firefox Kool-Aid. I think IE is a pitiful attempt at a browser from a company with the resources that Microsoft has, but it’s actually Firefox that’s the biggest memory hog on my system (sorry lil’ Fire-dudes). When Firefox attempts to cache the state of every single page, my XP machine slows to a crawl, even with 2gb of memory. Safari has behaved nicely for the past 2 days with just as many tabs open, so they must be doing something better than Firefox.

Biggest Gripes:

People have flamed Safari for not having tabs enabled by default…

but maybe this was corrected, because when I installed, the tabs were enabled. Firefox didn’t have them enabled by default either for while, but it’s been a while since I’ve installed it.

Safari gives you no search box choices beyond Google and Yahoo. Hey, Apple faithfully recreated this too! Oh wait… on the Mac version you ONLY get Google… WTF? Anyhow, there are a couple ways to hack Safari’s Google search limitation on OS X (including a search-box plug-in), so presumably someone will crack this nut for Windows too. Makes you wonder what kind of weird marketing agreements are in place for the software to have that arbitrary restriction.

Editing pages in WordPress, an Ajax CMS, worked, but it had a few surprises. Safari took the liberty of injecting some formatting code into my post:

<span class=”Apple-style-span” style=”font-family: arial; font-size: 12px; line-height: 15px”>

I *hate* stuff like that. This reminds me of the little Paper-Clip guy in Microsoft Office (may he too get kicked in the groin). I don’t mind that type of functionality so long as it’s off by default.

Conclusion:

Safari 3 is not an amazing piece of software, but it may offer the home-sick Mac folks some solace. At best it’s a working browser with features comparable to Firefox for the average user; at worst it’s yet another browser for developers to consider while designing cross-platform web pages. Meh… whatever.

Review: BLAG 60001 – Linux Without Boundaries?

BLAG: Linux Without Boundaries?

If you happen to visit the BLAG Linux homepage, one of the first words your eyes will read is “overthrow.” Specifically:

[blag] works to overthrow corporate control of information and technology through community action and spreading Free Software.

Interesting. I’ve tried a lot of Linux distros, but this is the first one whose “anarchistic” intentions are so boldly stated. Alright, perhaps referring to BLAG as “anarchistic” is excessive, so let’s focus on the facts.

What is BLAG?
blag_logo.jpg
Made by the Brixton Linux Action Group (hence the name), BLAG is a Linux distro, and not a very popular one at that. It is currently ranked number 79 at Distrowatch, using the “6-month” time-span. More specifically, BLAG is a one-CD distro based on Fedora. The latest version (“60001” – as of this writing) is based on Fedora Core 6. Included on its one CD are numerous applications that a desktop user would “expect” to have.

I first heard about BLAG a few years ago, but did not work up the interest to try it until now. Is its lack of popularity deserved? More importantly, is BLAG worth installing over a more popular distro, such as Fedora, SUSE, or the venerable Ubuntu? Let’s find out. Continue reading Review: BLAG 60001 – Linux Without Boundaries?

Fix Common Fedora Core 6 Issues

Fedora Core 1 was the first Linux distribution I used extensively. As a result, Fedora has always felt like “home” to me, and I’ve tried every version since. Recently I installed Fedora Core 6 (Zod) from scratch, and decided to put together this little document on addressing some issues that I found.

Since this is not really a review, but rather a quick “how-to” based on what I did, I make a few assumptions:

  • You have (or will) install the x86 version of Fedora. Of course, there are similarities for the other architectures, such as x86-64, but some of the issues that I address are specific to x86.
  • You have an Nvidia graphics card. I do not use any ATI cards, so I can not help here. If you want to install the ATI driver, I suggest you start by looking here.
  • In my case, I’m using GNOME. If you prefer KDE then understand that some of the menu structures will be different.
  • You are smart enough to know how to install and use Linux. While none of this should break your system, I am not responsible for any damage that may result. That’s my standard disclaimer.

Now, on to business. Whenever you see the sharp sign (or hash) “#”, it means to run the following command as the “root” user. You can become root in the Terminal by typing “su -” and then your root password. If you are reading this, I assume you already know that, so let’s get started.

Add a couple of package repositories.

To enable the installation of some extra software, let’s enable two extra repositories. The first is Livna (rpm.livna.org) and the second is FreshRPMs (freshrpms.net).

# rpm -ivh http://rpm.livna.org/livna-release-6.rpm

# rpm -ihv http://ayo.freshrpms.net/fedora/linux/6/i386/RPMS.freshrpms/freshrpms-release-1.1-1.fc.noarch.rpm

By doing this, you will easily be able to install the Nvidia graphics driver. I believe you need Livna to install the ATI driver as well.
Once they are installed, use “yum” to update your system.

# yum update

Get the correct kernel.

Due to a known bug, the Anaconda installer may install an i586 kernel rather than i686. While the system is still usable, you will run into trouble if you decide to install graphics drivers or any other kernel modules. If this is the case, this is how to fix it.

# yum install yum-utils
# yumdownloader kernel-2.6.18-1.2849.fc6.i686
# rpm -Uvh –replacefiles –replacepkgs kernel-2.6.18-1.2849.fc6.i686.rpm

At the time of this writing, the kernel number ending in 2849 is the latest. Keep in mind that the number may eventually change, and you will need to adjust accordingly. If you have yet to install Fedora 6, I believe you can bypass this bug by booting the installer with the “linux i686” option.

Install the Nvidia graphics driver.

# yum install kmod-nvidia

Once you fix the kernel issue (if you were affected), you can install the graphics driver. You will need to restart X (or just reboot) before the new driver will work. To check if the new drivers are working, open a Terminal and type:

$ glxgears

If the resulting frame-rate numbers are at least in the hundreds (if not thousands), then your graphics drivers are successfully working.

Fix your screen resolution.

After I installed the Nvidia driver, the maximum display resolution on my 19″ LCD was reduced to 1024×768. Thankfully, this was easily fixed by going to System – Administration – Display – “Hardware” tab. In my case, I selected my correct monitor type (LCD Panel 1280×1024) From there I was able to choose my preferred maximum resolution.

Install the Adobe Flash player.

Now let’s add the repository to install/update the Flash player. We’re going to download the file with the repository information to the appropriate directory in Fedora, and then use yum to install the player. There’s more Fedora-specific information on this site.

# cd /etc/yum.repos.d/
# wget http://macromedia.mplug.org/macromedia-i386.repo
# yum update
# yum install flash-plugin

Make DVDs work.

Of course, it is old news by now that a number of Linux distributions do not provide DVD or MP3 support “out of the box” for legal reasons. Still, most users would like option of using this media. One way to make DVDs work is to install Xine.

# yum install xine xine-lib xine-lib-extras-nonfree xine-skins libdvdcss

This will give you DVD support with the Xine player.

And MP3s, too.

Yes, MP3 is a proprietary codec, and Fedora does not provide default support for it based on legal reasons. I don’t blame them at all for this decision, but if you need to play MP3s, that ability is not far away. Provided that you have the extra repositories enabled, execute the following command:

# yum install gstreamer-plugins-ugly libmad libid3tag

Now you will have MP3 support in Rhythmbox.

As an aside, if you want to “rip” CDs in the Gnome environment to either OGG or MP3, then I recommend Grip.

# yum install grip

While we’re at it, I also recommend Videolan-client as a media player, as it can play lots of differing formats.

# yum install vlc

Read NTFS.

If you need to “see” your NTFS drive (if you have one), install kmod-ntfs.

# yum install kmod-ntfs

Mine is a Linux-only machine, so this is all the help I can offer.

Make Nautilus better.

I prefer that Nautilus NOT open every folder in a new window. To simply fix this, open any window, such as your home folder, then choose Edit -> Preferences. Now select the “Behavior” tab. Near the top put a check next to “Always open in browser windows.” Curiously, Ubuntu does this by default.

While this is by no means comprehensive, it should give you a good start in increasing the functionality of your Fedora Core 6 system. If you have any tips that you would like to share, please feel free to comment below.

Here are some additional resources for configuring your Fedora system:

http://www.fedoraforum.org/

http://www.fedorafaq.org/

— Brian Bondari

December 2006

Fedora Core 2 – Review

05.22.04

Greetings everyone. Believe it or not, I’m going to attempt my first Linux distro review. First, allow me to say that I have only been using Linux for about 5 months, so I’m a comparative newbie to many in the Linux world. I don’t make presumptions to know everything. With that in mind, this review is not geared toward the Linux veteran, but for people who have more curiosity than experience with Linux.

First some hardware specs:
Motherboard: MSI “865 Neo2-PFS (Platinum Edition)” i865PE Chipset
Processor: Intel Celeron 2.0GHz (Yes I know it’s lame. I care not.)
Video Card: ATI Radeon 9500 Pro
RAM: 1024MB Kingston PC2700
Sound Card: Soundblaster Live 5.1
Hard Disks: 120GB WD “Special Edition” IDE; 40GB Seagate IDE
Optical Drives: Lite-on DVD-ROM; Sony CD-RW
Mouse: Logitech MX300 (USB)

My brief experience with Linux so far centers mainly around Fedora Core 1. Naturally, I was excited to try FC2 (Tettnang). I downloaded the 4GB DVD iso using BitTorrent, and burned it on my Mac. From there, I did a clean install of FC2. The slick, python-based Anaconda installer is very similar to FC1, and in my opinion is easier than a Windows XP install. I chose a slightly modified “Desktop” install, which took roughly 20 minutes to complete on my system. The installer correctly identified ALL of my hardware, and upon first boot I had full networking, sound, and video. My 3-button mouse had full functionality as well. The only problem is that I do not yet have full 3D-acceleration. FC2 has dropped XFree86 in favor of X.org, and as far as I know ATI has not yet released a driver that will support X.org. If I’m wrong, let me know.

FC2 booting FC2 Desktop

Grub is the default bootloader for FC2, and during the installation it correctly identified that I also had a Windows installation and allowed me to painlessly set up a dual-boot. Somewhat humorously, it labeled the Windows partition as “Other”, but it was simple to relabel it using the “Edit” button.

Some highlights of FC2 include kernel 2.6.5, Gnome 2.6, KDE 3.2.2, Mozilla 1.6, and the GIMP 2.0. The default desktop is Gnome, which is fine with me. If you’ve never used it, Gnome 2.6 takes some getting used to. To explain, Nautilus, the file manager, is now “spatial”, focusing more on drag & drop and productivity. In a nutshell, each folder opens a new window, and files open in their respective applications rather than opening within the file manager. At first, I disliked this “spatial” UI, citing that it felt too much like Mac OS 9/Win95 for me. But, it is slowly growing on me. The best part is that switching back to the older “browser-styled” navigation scheme is easy. Simply fire up GConf (Fedora -> System Tools -> Configuration Editor) and browse to /apps/nautilus/preferences. Now check “always_use_browser”. Voila, you are now back to the old style. /* If you had any windows open, you may have to re-log in to Gnome for the changes to take effect. Also, you can fire up GConf at the terminal by typing $ gconf-editor */

Gnome 2.6 Always use browser Spatial

One of the first things I do on any Linux install is add my user name to the /etc/sudoers file. It’s a good idea to do this, because then you can execute the sudo command to make changes outside your home directory instead of running as root in the terminal. Coming from an OS X background, this makes sense to me. Fire up your favorite editor (nano in my case) and proceed as follows:

$ su
[enter your root password]
# nano -w /etc/sudoers
[now under “User privilege specification”, you should see root ALL=(ALL) ALL. In my case I’ll add brian ALL=(ALL) ALL. Substitute your user name for mine.]
[press ctrl+x to exit nano]
[press y then enter to save changes]
# exit

[EDIT] Since posting this review, I have since learned that adding your username to the etc/sudoers file is a controversial security risk. Perhaps a better way is to investigate ‘visudo.’

Now when you execute a command that requires root privileges, simply add sudo in front of it and give it your user password instead of the root password.

There are at least three ways to update software packages on FC2. The obvious one is up2date, which notifies you of updated packages by changing the blue check in the bottom right of the “tray” into a red exclamation mark. A less obvious, but more powerful method of updating is through yum. Open a terminal, and type:

$ sudo yum update
[enter your user password]
$ sudo yum upgrade

Voila, your system is up to date. You should also be aware that a port of Debian’s apt is also available for Fedora. One of the first things I do on a Fedora install is download and install apt.

Download the rpm, and install it with:
$ sudo rpm -Uvh apt-[package-name].rpm

Once it’s installed, type:
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install synaptic

Synaptic is a GUI frontend for apt that makes installing software a cinch. Both yum and apt automatically handle dependencies, helping to eliminate the dreaded “RPM Hell.” From what I’ve read, up2date is slowly being phased out in favor of yum or apt.

For legal reasons, FC2 doesn’t come with built-in MP3 support. However, this is easily remedied with synaptic (Fedora -> System Tools -> Synaptic Package Manager). Or type:

$ sudo synaptic

Use synaptic to browse the available packages, and install xmms-mp3 as seen in the picture. You now have mp3 support.

MP3 Support

I like to use my computer as an FTP server,so I set one up using vsftpd. I’ve had no crashes or stability problems. One of my biggest pet peeves about FC1 was that I would occasionally have to activate my NIC (eth0) manually after a reboot. I’m pleased to say that I have not had that problem with FC2.

Conclusion:
Positives: FC2 is a stable, reliable, professional distro that will only improve in coming months. There’s a plethora of help available on the web, and it’s easy to find support because it’s one of the more popular distros. I appreciate having the power of apt/synaptic available as well. FC2 feels noticeably faster than FC1, due in part to the nature of the 2.6 kernel. I’ve tried a lot of Linux distros, and for some reason I keep coming back to Fedora. Perhaps I’m just partial to the Bluecurve theme.

Negatives: FC2 does not have as much out of the box support and user-friendliness as other distros, such as Mandrake 10 Official. One has to do more installing and configuring of extra packages, such as the Flash player, and obtaining mp3/java support/3D acceleration. Thankfully, none of this is too difficult. Like its predecessors, FC2 is still only optimized for i386. Perhaps I’m out of line here, but who still uses 386s? More importantly, who would attempt to run kernel 2.6 and the latest KDE/Gnome on a 386? Even though FC2 is noticeably faster than FC1, I would really like to see FC2 optimized for at least i586!

Habibbijan’s recommendation and rating:
FC2 is a fine workhorse of a distro that won’t appeal too much to the Arch/Gentoo/Slackware crowd, but is stable and flexible nonetheless. However, unless you enjoy growing pains, wait a month or two to allow it to mature a bit before installing it. 8.5 out of 10.