Always Get Better

Never stop looking for ways to improve

August 6th, 2011
Mochila Firefox
Creative Commons License photo credit: jmerelo

So I got tired of using Firefox 3.6 in my Ubuntu machine and decided to upgrade to the newest version (5.0). It’s understandable that the package maintainers responsible for Ubuntu don’t put bleeding-edge cutting-edge releases in the distribution due to the possibility of introducing unstable elements into the user experience. But Firefox 4 has been out for over a year, and the migration to 5 is well underway.

Fortunately, it couldn’t be much easier to get the newest official release using our good friend aptitude.

In a terminal window, add the Mozilla team’s stable Firefox repository by issuing the following command:


sudo add-apt-repository ppa:mozillateam/firefox-stable

Next, perform an update to get the package listing, and upgrade to install the newest browser:


sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade

That’s it – you’re done! Your shortcuts are even updated, and any bookmarks or open tabs you might have had on the go are carried forward.

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy this process was.

April 13th, 2009
European Flag
Creative Commons License photo credit: rockcohen

The EU wants to stop Microsoft from bundling Internet Explorer with its operating system. In today’s day and age, how does this make sense? The charge is led by Opera, who claims that having Internet Explorer ship with Windows unfairly limits competitors from getting through to customers.

Any web designer will tell you that Internet Explorer is one of the most challenging browsers to target since it basically ignores web standards and renders web pages in its own proprietary way. So the design pattern we follow is:

1. Design web site using sane browsers
2. Mutilate our markup so it renders as desired on Internet Explorer

Apologies for the digression, but the point is there is a lot of work needed to make web sites work properly for one web browser. Why do it? Depending on the site, up to 65% of your visitors will be using some version of Internet Explorer – not because it is any “better” but simply because they don’t know about alternatives or haven’t taken the time to try them. Likewise for Safari among Apple users – most people don’t customize their computing experience and simply deal with their default settings.

In that regard, Opera’s proposal makes sense – force vendors to include 3rd party browsers along with Internet Explorer on new machines. But… which browsers should be included? Firefox, Opera, Safari, Netscape? What about the dozens (hundreds?) of others? Who chooses which ones are “mainstream” enough to be included?

The biggest problem I have with this is that Microsoft has done nothing to prevet users from switching web browsers. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, your first move upon booting a new PC is to download Firefox/Chrome and ditch Internet Explorer (that’s one of the main advantages I get from targeting a technical audience).

Suiong Microsoft is not the answer – we need to work on the unwashed masses and teach people to make their own/better choices when it comes to their web browsing experience. While we’re at it, perhaps we can all learn to keep our systems patched as well…

December 19th, 2008

Having worked with Online Applications for a number of years, I am rarely happy to be introduced to a new web browser. A new web browser means another test case – every line of code has to be verified against all of the major browsers before going into production. Another browser means new faults to watch for and program around, which translates to longer time to market. When I first heard about Google Chrome I thought to myself “great. Here we go again.”

As far as actually using the thing, it took a long time. My preference has been Firefox for quite some time and although I have flirted with other browsers I always found myself preferring the usability of the software Mozilla’s team has put together for us. So when Chrome first came across my desk I didn’t invest much time into trying out its features. What a mistake!

Over the past couple of weeks I have found myself moving over to Chrome. After I got over the absence of the usual interface I began to relax; as it turns out, you don’t need a lot of buttons to navigate the World Wide Web. Google has once again simplified common usage patterns down to tasks that anticipate what you intend to accomplish and hide unneeded options.

Most Visited Sites
The handiest feature by far is the grid of most visited sites that greets you when you create a new tab. I will never again have to type the url to access my mail and analytics.

Draggable Tabs
On Firefox I often found myself wanting to create separate windows for specific tabs. I’d have to copy and paste the url into a new instance. With Chrome I just grab the tab and rip it out of the pane – presto chango – new window! I can even drag tabs between windows to create and destroy Chrome instances as desired. Very useful.

Basically, Firefox has been relegated to online banking. My new weapon of choice is Google Chrome, and for the time being I doubt I will be looking back. The download manager could stand to be updated, but otherwise it is a slick and mature product.

December 3rd, 2008

The Ontario government has a program designed to provide funding for the purposes of building broadband internet infrastructure in rural communities. The Rural Connections Broadband Program has earmarked millions of dollars to build new infrastructure, which will bring high-speed Internet to communities where low population densities preclude the construction of more traditional networks (such as cable).

This is great for users who, until now, have only been able to dream about leaving dial-up behind and joining the rest of the world.  Unfortunately, the solution to rural internet involves either unreliable satellite installations, or line-of-site cellular towers.

I can say from experience that the line-of-site towers work great but they are only able to service a limited number of users.  Service providers don’t want to admit they are over-selling their towers resulting in dropped connections and complete outages for their subscribers.  Trees are another problem; much of rural Ontario exists within bushland, so unless homeowners are willing to shell out for 90-foot towers on their home, they still may not get to count on their Internet.

Although, I will admit, the cost of a tower would be far less than the cost of laying underground cable.

August 12th, 2008

Today I learned that Internet Explorer limits the site of GET requests to 2,083 characters.  Any URL longer than this cannot be used by the web browser.

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/208427

I can’t help but wonder where that number comes from?  The closest power is 11 (2^11=2048), which doesn’t correspond at all to this limit.  Is it arbitrary?  Other web browsers (Firefox, Safari) do not have this limitation.

April 16th, 2008

By default, windows 2003 Server is locked down and won’t display ASP.NET pages.

To enable them you must set its status to Allowed within the Web Service Extensions of IIS.

April 3rd, 2008

In order to change my password on a remote Windows 2003 server, I recently needed to send a Ctrl+Alt+Del sequence to the host. By default, doing this sends that sequence to your own machine.

To send the command to the hosting server, type Ctrl+Alt+End.