Category Archives: Browsers

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.

Have you subscribed to our RSS feed yet? You should!

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.

Foxmarks – Synchronize Bookmarks Across Multiple Computers

foxmarks_logo.pngA couple years ago I wrote about Google Browser Sync, a slick extension for Firefox that allows you to synchronize bookmarks, cookies, history, and even tabs across multiple computers.

A similiar FREE tool is Foxmarks Bookmark Syncronizer, though Foxmarks focuses exclusively on… well, synchronizing bookmarks.

I’ve been using Foxmarks for several weeks now, and it has become one of my favorite extensions for Firefox. Review version: 2.0.45

Installation and Initial Sync

Once you install Foxmarks, you will be greeted with a setup wizard.

foxmarks_setup.png

Once you create (or log into) your account, you must then make a choice. Foxmarks needs to know how you wish to handle any differences between the bookmarks already existing on your computer and those on their sever (if any).

foxmarks_initial_sync.png

Be sure to read the choices carefully! For my initial setup, the first and third options are best. For adding additional computers, I tend to use the option to keep bookmarks on the server.

After the initial sync is finished, Foxmarks will run silently in the background, keeping your bookmarks updated.

General Usage

foxmarks_icon.pngUsing Foxmarks is so easy, a drunken cockroach could do it. Quite frankly, there is very little to do. While it’s running, you will see its icon in the bottom right corner of your browser.

By clicking the icon, you can bring up the Foxmarks settings, including the advanced option to force an overwrite of bookmarks either on the server or the local computer. There’s not much else to do. If you need help, find a drunken cockroach.

Online Accessibility

This is one of my favorite aspects of Foxmarks, one that made me convert to it from Google Browser Sync. At any point, you may log into my.foxmarks.com and manage your bookmarks.

If you add, edit, or delete a bookmark on the server, Foxmarks will push it out to all of your computers the next them they sync. The control freak in me loves this ability.

my_foxmarks.png

Did you see the sharing button in the screenshot above? That’s right, you can also share specific folders of bookmarks with other people. You can share as many folders as you want in various formats, including as a web page, RSS feed, or even as a widget for your own web site or blog. Nice!

foxmarks_sharing.png

If you find yourself using multiple computers frequently (at work, at home, on the road, etc), you owe it to yourself to try Foxmarks. It’s one of my essential Firefox extensions now.

If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe to our feed for future updates.