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Tag: extensions

What it will take to get me to switch to Chrome

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Firefox. But, given Firefox’s slow start-time and Google’s Chrome browser’s recently announced support for extensions, I did a recent re-evaluation of my browser choice. Although I’ve chosen to stick with Firefox, the comparison of the two browsers is now much closer than its ever been before to the point where I think, if the pace of Chrome development continues, I could actually switch within a few months. What I would need are:

  • Full browser synchMozilla Weave is probably the most important extension in my Firefox install. Weave provides a secure and fast method for me to have the same set of bookmarks, browser history, passwords, and preferences between every copy of Firefox that I run (i.e. on my work computer vs. on my personal computer). This has made it easier for me to not only continue research between browser sessions, but also to quickly get up to productivity on any computer with a working Firefox installation. While Chrome now supports bookmark synchronization, the lack of a history or a secure password synch makes it harder for me to have the same degree of flexibility that I have with Firefox. What’s ironic, though, is that a few years ago, I was very reliant on Google’s Browser Synch Firefox extension to do the same thing, and found Firefox to be a lot less flexible when Google stopped updating it. But, this historical precedent means I’m relatively confident it should be easy for Google to introduce a similar feature for Chrome.
  • A Firebug-like web development tool – Chrome has a lot of useful web development tools but, up until now, I have yet to see a platform built into Chrome (or any other browser) which has the same level of sophistication and feature set as Firefox’s Firebug extension. For most people, this isn’t that relevant, but as someone who’s done a fair amount of web development in the past and expect to continue to do so in the future, the lack of something as versatile and easy-to-use as Firebug is a big downside to me. With the opening up of Chrome to extension developers, I’m hopeful that it will only be a matter of time until something comparable to Firebug is developed for Chrome
  • Extensions to replicate the Greasemonkey hacks I use -Another Firefox extension which I’ve come to rely heavily on is Greasemonkey. It’s a bit difficult to explain how Greasemonkey works to someone who’s never used it, but what it basically does is allow you to install little scripts which can add extra functions to your Firefox browsing experience. These scripts can be found on repositories like Userscripts. Some scripts I’ve become attached to include Google Image Relinker (which lets me go straight to an image from Google Images and skip the intermediary site), LongURL Mobile Expander (which lets me see where shortened URLs, like those from TinyURL or Bit.ly, are actually pointing), and Friendfeed Force Word Wrap (which forces word wrap on improperly formatted Friendfeed entries). Because most of these are pretty minor browser modifications, I am hopeful that these functions will emerge when Chrome’s extension developer community gets large enough.
  • Advanced web standard support – I think its pretty odd that despite being a major proponent of the HTML5 standard and new rich browser technologies like WebGL and Native Client, that Chrome has yet to truly distance itself from its browser peers in terms of support for these new standards. True, the technologies themselves are still under development and very few websites exist which support them, but a differentiated level of support for these new technologies would give me a whole set of reasons to pick Chrome over its browser peers, especially given the direction I expect the rich web to move.

Now, in the off chance someone from Mozilla is reading this, what could Mozilla do to keep me firmly in the Firefox camp?

  • Faster release cycle – It’s difficult to maintain a constant technological edge when your software is open source, but a faster release cycle will help prolong the advantages that the Mozilla ecosystem currently have like a strong extension and theme developer community, a large user base, and a rich set of experimental projects (like Weave and JetPack and Ubiquity).
  • Faster startup time – I appreciate that my startup speed issues with Firefox may be entirely due to the fact that I have hefty extensions like Greasemonkey and Weave installed, but given that my current build of Chrome has some 16 extensions (including the Chrome version of AdBlock and Google Gears) and still loads much faster than Firefox, I believe that significant opportunity for memory management and start-time improvement still exists within the Firefox code base.
  • Better web app integration – The Chrome browser was clearly designed to run web applications. It makes it easy to load individual applications in their own windows and to set up web applications as default handlers for specific file types and events. While Firefox has come a long way in terms of its advanced web technology support, I don’t feel that enough attention has been dedicated to making the web application experience nearly as seamless. Whether this means an overhaul of the Prism project or a new way of handling browser events, I’m not sure, but this is a direction where the gap between Chrome and Firefox can and should be closed.
  • Firefox everywhere – I have been painfully disappointed in the slow roll-out of the Fennec mobile Firefox project. In a world where Safari, Opera, and Internet Explorer all have fully functioning mobile browsers, there’s no reason Firefox should be behind in this arena. Fennec also makes the Firefox value proposition more compelling with Weave as a means of synchronizing settings and bookmarks between the two.
  • More progress on experimental UI – I have been an enormous fan of the innovations in browser use which I consider to be pioneered by Mozilla – tabbed browsing, extensions, browser skinning, the “awesome bar”, etc. One way for Mozilla to stay ahead of the curve, even if they are only “on par” along other dimensions with their peers, is to continue to push on progress in the Mozilla Labs research projects like Ubiquity and JetPack, or a smarter way to integrate Yahoo Pipes!, or something akin to Cooliris’s technology (to throw out a few random ideas).
  • Advanced web technology support – Ditto as with the Google Chrome comment above.

With all of this said, I’m actually fairly happy that there are so many aggressive development efforts underway by the browser makers of our era. It looks like the future of the web will be an interesting place!

(Image credit) (Image credit – Greasemonkey) (Image credit – Fennec)

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The Third Coming …. of Firefox

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Today marks the release of the third version of Firefox. I’ve posted before on why Firefox is my favorite browser, and this latest version improves on what was already a pretty good thing:

  • Speed – Firefox 3 is now MUCH faster than it used to be. You can see it in the smoother scrolling, the more rapid handling of Javascript (which helps with the loading of web pages AND extensions)
  • Memory – As much as I used to love Firefox, the one thing I absolutely detested about it was its inability to reduce its memory footprint. This was especially a problem for me given the sheer number of extensions that I have loaded. Thanks to an improved cycle collector, you can now run Firefox 3 for hours without worrying about it slowly taking up more and more memory.
  • The “Awesome” Bar – Most browsers have fairly ho-hum location bars – about all you can do is type in URL’s and hit ENTER to visit the appropriate page. Not so in Firefox 3 – the location bar (or “Awesome Bar” as some have called it) is now your interface to all of your bookmarks and even your history. Just by typing in words, Firefox 3 will search its built-in SQLite database for any bookmarks you have or websites that you just visited who’s titles or URL’s match the words that you just typed. Just visited a CNET article on the iPhone and want to go back to it? Just start typing in the Awesome Bar “iPhone” and it will highlight all the most recent pages you’ve visited or any bookmarks you have that have the word “iPhone” in it.

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  • Awesome Bar continued – Firefox 3’s Awesome Bar also gives you rapid access to your bookmarks and to a new tagging feature which lets you quickly bookmark the current page you’re on just by clicking on the little star icon. Click a second time to either store the bookmark in the right folder or to tag the page you’re bookmarking with a description which also becomes searchable when you use the Awesome Bar!
  • Security – Every time you visit a secure site (i.e. your bank, your investment account, etc.), Firefox 3 now displays an icon in the Awesome Bar which gives additional information about the identity of the site in question (so you avoid being scammed) as well as additional information about the site so that you can be 100% confident that the information you’re passing on is safe and secure.
  • Password Manager – This isn’t your dad’s password manager (aka from Firefox 2) – this is a smart password manager. One of my pet peeves about most browsers is that after entering a password and hitting enter, the browser will ask you if you want it to remember the password – but, they don’t let you see if the password you entered is the right one before you say “yes” – Firefox 2 has now fixed this problem with a very sleek and minimalist password remember-er feature which fits as a small bar at the top of the screen.
  • Select text that’s not next to each other – This would require 1000 words to describe… or just a picture (just use Ctrl to select the pieces of text):

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  • Extensions – Not only does Firefox 3 have a new and better integrated Addons manager, but almost all of the major extensions have been updated (and those that haven’t are probably now obsolete thanks to a UI or performance enhancement made in the upgrade). And, as in my previous Firefox oriented posts, below are my current swath of extensions:
    • Adblock Plus – This is an extension which actually blocks advertisements from my site (I think the only internet ads I’ve seen since Firefox 1.5 are the Gmail ones).
    • Better GCal and Better Gmail 2 – These two extensions are compiled by Gina Trapani of LifeHacker fame and are collections of Greasemonkey scripts which enhance the user interface for Google Calendar and GMail, the former letting me see multi-line events in calendar-view and the latter giving me access to a Launchy/Quicksilver-like interface so that I can use my keyboard to completely control Gmail.
    • dragdropupload – This extension is Windows only, but basically allows you to side-step the awkwardness of using the “browse…” button to find whatever file you’re attempting to upload or select by letting you drag and drop the file from a Windows Explorer window. Sounds kinda useless, but saves me a lot of time. The other day when I was at a friend’s place who lacked the extension, I found myself completely flabbergasted, as I had gotten so used to just dragging-and-dropping!
    • Firebug – Hands down, the best web developer tool of all time.
    • ForecastFox – An old favorite of mine, it lets me see a constantly updated weather status and forecast so I always know what I can wear tomorrow and how warm/cold it is once I leave my overly air conditioned/heated room.
    • Google Gears – Google’s answer to growing demand for offline capability in web application support – I use it as it gives me the ability to read my beloved Google Reader offline and support offline work in Google Docs.
    • Greasemonkey – I’ve waxed lyrical over this extension before – basically it allows users to use simple Javascript to alter or extend the functionality of a site. Case in point, I use the Greasemonkey script “Advanced Google Keys” to provide me a keyboard interface with which to navigate through Google Search results with. Instead of scrolling up and down and clicking on the next or previous links to get to the next page or using the middle mouse button to open a link in the next page, I use the up and down arrow keys to navigate through the search results, left and right arrow keys to move to the next or previous page, and using the ‘t’ key, I can switch between opening links when I hit enter in new tabs or in the current window. And this is only the beginning of what these Greasemonkey scripts can do!
    • Link Alert – This is a slightly newer extension for me, but what it does is provide me a visual cue in the form of a small icon which shows up next to the cursor which describes to me when a link I’m about to click will open in a new window, or is a PDF, or is a picture, or an RSS feed, or a Word document, etc. etc. Very useful in doing web design and in saving bandwidth when I know that I don’t have the connection speed to load up a massive PDF.
    • Scrapbook – A very useful extension which lets you save/store and even annotate web pages that you find online so that you can see them later. I’ve not only used this to store important pages (e.g. airplane tickets, hotel bookings) but also to assist me in research by providing a library for me to store web pages which I can annotate in.
    • Mozilla Weave – I was saddened to discover that Google was no longer updating their Browser Synch extension which had helped get me through the period of senior year when my laptop was broken, requiring me to eke out time on my lab computers and on my roommate Eric’s spare computer. Thankfully, it turns out Mozilla is beta-ing a new service called Weave to perform essentially the same task. It’s still in its infancy, so I’m not willing to entrust it to store my passwords and more sensitive information like cookies, but it is currently helping me synchronize bookmarks and history between the various computers which I’m currently running Firefox on.
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More Firefox

In a previous post, I explained some of the myriad reasons that I’m a big fan of Firefox and gave a list of some of the most useful extensions that I use. As I am always discovering new things, here are some of the additional discoveries I’ve made with Firefox which have made it all the more useful for me:

  1. Gmail Skins – For those who use gmail, Gmail skins allow you to customize the look of your gmail interface. I’ve turned the navigation/command bar traditionally on the left-hand-side and converted it to a one-line menu which I’ve moved to the top of the page. I’ve also disabled the invitations manager, used a new color theme (because I don’t like Google’s default), and added a side-bar to my gmail window where you can link the left-hand column of your google personal page as a side-bar to your gmail window. In my case, I’ve used this to make it easy to access my calendar, google reader feed, and the local weather on the same interface as my email.
  2. BugMeNot – BugMeNot is a service which allows you to bypass compulsory web registration on a variety of online websites and magazines by supplying free, public passwords and usernames [no premium accounts, sorry] for a variety of webpages (ie New York Times, Washington Post, etc). The BugMeNot extension lets you quickly right-click on websites to just throw in BugMeNot access information so you never have to trouble yourself with that.
  3. Mouse Gestures – Tim recommended these to me. Basically, they key your browser to react to specific gestures using your mouse. For instance, if I hold the right mouse button down and drag to the left or to the right, I move forward or backwards in the history. If I make a L-shape while holding the right button down, I close the current window or tab, if I drag up, I create a new tab, if I drag down, I create a new window. There’s even a place to download new gestures, if you want more. I’ll admit I don’t use all the gestures, but I have found the gestures make it very easy to handle multi-tab browsing, especially when I don’t feel like using keyboard shortcuts.
  4. Keyword browsing – I mentioned before that I am a big fan of the bookmark system in Firefox as it allows me to assign keywords, letting me type “reader” to get to my google reader page, “gmail” to get to my gmail page, etc. But, it was a pain to enter keywords, because Firefox, by default, does not let you enter keywords. You have to right-click on the bookmark, select “properties”, and then enter the information. The OpenBook extension changes that — now, by default, you can enter a keyword for every bookmark.
  5. Additionally, I have discovered that Firefox has keyword searching as well. Its difficult to describe in any other way than in usage, but, if I wanted to search for directions to San Francisco International Airport, before I would type “maps.google.com” and then type in “SFO” in the search bar. Now, in the location bar (which you can get to with a simple Alt+D or Ctrl+L), I can just type in “map SFO” and it’ll do all of that. If I want to search Wikipedia, I can type “w open source”, if I want to search IMDB, I can type “imdb Tom Cruise” — you get the idea.
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FireFox rules

I just thought I’d be a nerd and explain the multitude of actually usable reasons (I don’t care that your browser renders in superHexAscii2.454 if I don’t use it) why I like Firefox:
 
  1. Tabbed Browsing – This is to me, hands down, the main reason that I chose to use Mozilla products from the get go (yes, I was one of those tech nerds who was using Mozilla back when their icon was a Godzilla breathing fire). One would think that with both Windows and the Mac employing some form of taskbar, that it would actually be very simple to switch between program windows when you’re browsing the web, but for one reason or another, its always a bit awkward. Tabbing, on other hand, allows you to be reading multiple pages at the same time, all in the same window. In Firefox, you can use Ctrl+T to create a new tab, you can also click Ctrl while you click on a link to open it in a new tab, use the context menu when you right click on a link to open a specific link in a new tab, or even use your midde-click button to force things to open in a new tab. It cuts down on clutter in my taskbar (and to my understanding, memory usage by your computer) and is particularly helpful when I’m doing Google or Wikipedia searches to have one tab be my search results and all the other tabs to be links in the search result.
  2. Integrated Search Engine – Firefox comes with several search engines programmed in by default on the upper-right-hand textbar in the browser screen. You don’t have to go to google or yahoo or wikipedia to do your searches, all you have to do is click on the textbar, type, and hit enter.
  3. Download manager – A lot of people already have programs like Gozilla, but Firefox comes built-in with a download manager (hit Ctrl+Shift+D) allowing a quick and easy place to find the information on the names, sizes, and locations of the files you’ve downloaded, and gives you a way to quickly pause, resume, and restart downloads.
  4. Customizability – I may never buy a Mac, but I like the way Safari looks so I’ve happened to pick a Safari/iMac like skin for my Firefox browser (and also for my Thunderbird email program which is also, by the way, made by the Mozilla people). I understand there are mods for Internet Explorer, but the fact that themes are so custom-built into Firefox and so easy to use/deploy is another plus
  5. Bookmarks – I remember trying to use the Internet Explorer bookmark manager … that’s why I never had bookmarks in IE. In Firefox, the Bookmarks manager is a great deal more intuitive (its organized in a similar fashion to Windows Explorer), and a great deal more useful. I’ve set up a lot of my bookmarks so that I can quickly type say “menu” in my location bar and it’ll jump straight to what Harvard Dining Services is offering for the day.
  6. Rendering Engine – As a person who used to have to help manage websites, I can remember the nightmare of trying to get web code to work in both Internet Explorer and Netscape — that was one of the big reasons I kept both browsers on my computer so that I could see the occasional website which did not work. For the most part, I have not seen a website that hasn’t been rendered correctly in Firefox (although I have seen many websites that just aren’t rendered well in IE).
  7. Internal Search – You hit Ctrl+F, type any phrase and Firefox starts searching AS YOU TYPE the window that you’re looking at.
  8. Extensions – I think the number two reason that I choose to use Mozilla are the wealth of extensions and addons that exist (and are, for the most part, located in a central location), making my life a good deal easier, such as:
    1. AdBlock – Lets you block banners and Flash and internal frames with just a click. It also lets you specify RegExpns and URLs of websites which feed advertisements to allow you to craft smarter blocking systems. Better still, an Extension called the Adblock Filterset.G comes built in with a list of websites and RegExpns which have more or less killed almost all the advertisements that I’ve ever encountered. I don’t even see Google Ads anymore 🙂
    2. ForecastFox – Puts weather icons in the bottom right of my screen which let me quickly check the weather. It seems kinda stupid, but its very helpful, especially on the damn east coast where the weather changes every two hours.
    3. Google Toolbar for Firefox – I have to say this is a MUCH better toolbar than the one for Internet Explorer. It provides more or less all of the same functionality (except for popup blocking but that’s because Firefox has its own popup blocker) but is more customizable and detects phishing sites (website scams where a website pretends to be your EBay account just to get your account information).
    4. IE Tab – For the occasional website that requires Internet Explorer, this extension allows you to render websites with Internet Explorer in Firefox. You can even set it so that any website which you know looks better or works better in IE (ie Windows Update, Microsoft Sharepoint servers) will by default be rendered in the Internet Explorer engine rather than Firefox’s.
    5. Sage – I used to rely on Google’s Feed Readers and my My.Yahoo start page to aggregate RSS feeds, but now, I just use Sage, which allows me to quickly scan all my RSS feeds and provides a useful SKINNABLE interface such that I can quickly read the stuff that I want to check everyday.
    6. All-In-One Sidebar – A really useful extension which takes advantage and really upgrades the sidebar that comes with Firefox. It lets you customize the Sidebar, and puts all sorts of functionality into it (ie puts your download manager there, your extension manager, etc)
    7. Deepest Sender – I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I use this extension to update my Blogger and LJ.
    8. Scrapbook – Ever wanted to save a website that you’ve really liked but know that you probably won’t get everything (ie the specific text that you’ve typed, the specific graphic that you’ve set it at, etc etc) because Internet Explorer’s save feature only saves the raw HTML and image files? Scrapbook makes it so that it saves EVERYTHING about the page.
    9. Image Toolbar – Something that I actually missed from Internet Explorer was the little icons that pop up when your mouse is over an image that lets you copy or save the image. This extension brings those icons back :-).

I actually have several more extensions installed (ie an IRC chat extension, a web developer extension, a nice Calculator which lets you type expressions [like on a graphing calculator] which it will then evaluate, and some random aesthetic and web design ones, but I think listing eight reasons and nine extensions is sufficient 🙂

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