Short Nerd Chief

Posts Tagged ‘browsers’

IE7 vs. Safari 3.1 vs. Firefox 3 beta 4

Posted by Fred on March 20, 2008

ie7_logosafari_logo firefox_logo 

Apple has released another update of its Safari browser for Windows, and claims in usual hyperbolic Cupertino fashion that it is “the fastest, easiest-to-use web browser in the world.”  Mozilla is on beta 4 of the next version of Firefox, and Microsoft released IE7 not that long ago (and is beginning to test IE8).  So I decided to do a few quick tests to see how much Safari has improved.  When it was originally released, I kept it installed for about 15 minutes before returning to FF.  For purposes of the following, I created a new FF profile with no extensions, but kept everything else as a stock install.  The test PC is a Compaq Presario A900 notebook (1.6 Ghz dual-core Pentium, 2 GB RAM, Vista Home Premium SP1), which is squarely middle-of-the-road these days.

For the first test, I loaded the default home page of each browser (MSN for IE, Firefox Start for Firefox and Apple Start for Safari) and used the Vista Sphere Timer gadget to time the startup time.  I did this three times and averaged the results:

IE7 Firefox 3.0 b4 Safari 3.1
7.15 sec 5.70 sec 6.63 sec

Firefox has an advantage in this test, as the Google-driven start page is sparse and relatively graphic-free. While I’d argue that this is relevant as indicative of design philosophy, nevertheless I set the default home page to be about:blank in all three browsers and ran the test again:

IE7 Firefox Safari
4.04 sec 3.30 sec 2.64 sec

Safari is noticeably zippier when not asked to load the Apple start page.  How many users ever change the default start page, however?  In any event, the differences here are minor.  Apple also claims superior HTML and JavaScript rendering speed for its new browser, based on tests using iBench 5.0, a test suite developed in 2003 by PC Magazine and VeriTest.  It has been criticized, however, for giving Safari an advantage because Safari reports that a page is loaded before calculating layout of the page.  Other tests show different results.  I decided to use the JS test at Celtic Kane, running each browser through the test ten times:

IE7 Firefox Safari
1336.3 ms 676.7 ms 394.6 ms

Test results are only as good as the test, but this test tends to support Apple’s claims regarding JavaScript speed.  I have not, however, noticed much of a real-world difference on AJAX-heavy sites like Gmail.  Finally, I opened four tabs in each browser to check memory use.  In this case, two different Gmail accounts, Google Reader and my blog Dashboard at wordpress.com.  It appears Mozilla’s efforts are paying off:

IE7 Firefox Safari
189.96 MB 63.64 MB 131.62 MB

Benchmarks don’t tell the whole story, of course, and each browser has additional advantages.  Safari has SnapBack, resizable text areas and proprietary color and font management.  Firefox has an open and extendible structure, which allows users to add virtually any conceivable functionality via extensions.  IE has ActiveX (which is as much curse as blessing, of course, and achievable in the other browsers with some tweaking) and a shrinking but still sizable library of sites that work better (and sometimes only) in IE.  The latter also comes preinstalled on the dominant OS, obviously.  I plan to use each browser extensively over the next week or so and cover features and real-world performance later.

Posted in internet, software, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

500 million Firefox downloads – go test your lexicon, donate some rice

Posted by Fred on February 22, 2008

TMlogo_750x750.thumbnailOn or about February 20, someone became the 500 millionth download of Mozilla Firefox. The evangelists at Spread Firefox suggest celebrating by playing the test-your-vocabulary-and-donate-food game at Free Rice:

In honor of the 500 million download mark we’re celebrating by raising 500,000,000 grains of rice in one day to help feed the world’s poor. Since we have reached the milestone, it is time to flock to freerice.com and attempt to push the days total over 1/2 billion. This is just a foreshadow to where one day Firefox will be. Food for thought, uh, better yet, Food for Lives; if we reach 500 million grains of rice, that’s a direct contribution in feeding 25,000 people for one day! Donate now, http://freerice.com.

 

freeRiceLogoFree Rice describes itself as a sister site of the world poverty site, Poverty.com, with two goals — to provide English vocabulary to everyone for free and to help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free. The rice comes from advertisers who buy space on the game page. For every vocabulary word you get right, the site donates 20 grains of rice. Each question is a new page view, which means a payment from an advertiser which can be used to buy rice. More words = more ads = more money for rice.

freerice 

I was going gangbusters for a while and then got hung up on formicary, which means “anthill”.  There are 55 possible levels in the game; I hit 50 before declining a bit.  1500 grains of rice won’t go far (it’s only 15% of the amount needed to feed one person for one day, assuming a 2,000 calorie diet), but at least now I know what formicary means.

[via AppScout]

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Skyfire set to unveil "game-changing" mobile browser

Posted by Fred on January 28, 2008

logo

In advance of Demo 2008, Skyfire Labs (formerly known as DVC Labs) has announced a new mobile browser, also known as Skyfire.  The browser application will work similarly to Microsoft’s Deepfish or Opera Mini, in which web pages will first be processed by Skyfire’s proxy servers before being sent to a user’s mobile device.  This could speed up page loads, but more importantly will allow use of AJAX, Flash, Java and audio and video in a way not supported by other mobile browsers (even the iPhone).  Here’s how Skyfire describes it:

Today at the DEMO 08 conference, Skyfire unveiled a new mobile browser that makes browsing on a smartphone just like browsing on a PC. For the first time ever, smartphone users can experience the “real Web” to access and interact with any Web site built with any Web technology, including dynamic Flash, advanced Ajax, Java and more – at the same speeds they are accustomed to on their PC. With this free downloadable browser, users can finally watch videos from the real YouTube, stay connected with their friends on the full-feature PC versions of Facebook and MySpace, and listen to any Web music service like Last.fm. Before Skyfire, users painfully waited for these Flash and Ajax-heavy sites to render – often resulting in error messages or crashes.

You can’t download it yet, although you can sign up for the private beta list.  There is a demo of the interface on youtube (see below).  Skyfire has also posted some images of the browser showing popular websites.  Here are some side by side comparisons of Skyfire and Pocket Internet Explorer (on my Motorola Q9h).  Comparing some of the sites isn’t very easy – many of the sites default to loading a mobile version of the page, and there’s no simple way in IE to overrule that browser detection.

ESPN:

espn espn-pie

Facebook:

facebook facebook-PIE

Google Maps:

google_maps maps-pie

Obviously, Skyfire looks like it would be a vast improvement, although improving on IE isn’t hard, which is why the Moto Q comes with Opera Mobile as the default browser instead of IE.  Even Opera Mobile has its faults, however. It doesn’t zoom and scroll the way Skyfire promises to  or the way its sibling Opera Mini does. It doesn’t do Flash or Java, either.

With all the promise of Skyfire, I have two primary concerns based on currently available information:

  • A proxy browsing experience is only as good as the proxy servers.  Opera Mini has scaled very well, serving more than 1 billion pages a month with no real noticeable drag.  Deepfish, on the other hand, scaled badly and now appears to be abandoned.
  • Related to the first (servers cost money) is what the business model for Skyfire will be.  The company is looking for partners in three areas: OEM bundling of Skyfire with hardware or other services, branded editions of Skyfire with custom logos, start pages and links, and in-browser advertising.  None of these seem like very easy sells.  Will the carriers really embrace a technology that relies on third-party proxy servers? Will they be willing to install and maintain their own servers for Skyfire? Neither seems particularly likely, as the carriers like to maintain control and actively block use of browsers like Opera Mini.  Advertising seems even worse — users dislike advertising, and with only a 320×240 QVGA screen to work with, devoting very many pixels to ads would be self-defeating.

Proxy servers are probably the best answer to mobile browsing on basic hardware, but a standalone company seems ill-suited to providing the infrastructure.  opera can do it, as they make money from Opera Mobile, they make money from embedded Opera and they make money from advertising on their own sites.  Microsoft could do it, even if they show little interest at the moment in Deepfish.  It’s not clear if Skyfire can do it, but I wish them luck.

[via about a bazillion blog posts, although the first was at Engadget]

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Happy Birthday, Mozilla

Posted by Fred on January 25, 2008

FF_cake A Mozilla Firefox cake, created by Download Squad and Slashfood blogger and professional pastry chef Shayna Glick in honor of the tenth anniversary of the Netscape announcement setting the Netscape navigator source code free.  The code was released as Mozilla Milestone 3 in 1999, and eventually gave rise to a browser-only release, Phoenix 0.1, in September 2002.  Phoenix then became Firefox in February 2004 (after a brief prelude as Firebird), and the rest is, as they say, history.  The developers are working on Firefox 3, currently officially available as Beta 2 (which is what I use daily), although the open source nature of the project means that you can always download a nightly build.

My history with Mozilla products dates to Mozilla 0.6, released in December 2000. I had used Navigator before that, of course, beginning when I got it on a disc from my first ISP in December 1994.  At some point, however, IE took over and I only used Mozilla to either make some sort of statement or when I was in one of my “play around with Linux” phases.  I’m not sure when Firefox took over permanently, but it was probably around the 0.9 release in June 2004.  They’ve come a long way – my father-in-law uses Firefox exclusively, and my kids just think of Firefox as “the Internet.”

As an aside, I hope people don’t actually eat that cake. Black icing tends to have disastrous consequences if you don’t have a toothbrush handy:

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Firefox 3 Beta 2 Released

Posted by Fred on December 19, 2007

Mozilla released the second beta of Firefox 3 yesterday. As always, there’s a bunch of under-the-hood changes affecting security, speed and stability (better protection against cross-site JSON data leaks, 30 plugged memory leaks, Cairo). But there are some interesting UI and front-end functionality changes.  The biggest such change appears to be to the location bar. It’s a whole lot prettier and easier to read. Compare FF3 to IE7:

locationbar_dropdown.png

vs.

ie7_locationbar.png

Firefox provides more information, and the list is just easier on the eyes.  The new beta also greatly enhances auto-completion on the location bar.  Type in a word, and Firefox will provide suggestions based on your bookmarks and browsing history.  The browser searches against URLs, but also titles and tags (assuming you’ve added tags to your bookmarks):

ff3_autocomplete.png

This could be very useful for people like me.  I hardly ever bookmark anything, and have taken to treating Google like a giant bookmark list (I never claimed to be either organized or bright).  The feature would be even more useful if more sites actually gave their pages useful titles.  But that’s a gripe for another day.  Mozilla continues to make improvements to the Places feature that collects bookmarks and history in a single interface.  It’s probably not a new feature, but I just noticed that you can now delete individual entries from the browser history – now you can cover tracks without making it obvious that you covered your tracks, since nothing says Inappropriate Browsing! more than an empty history list:

history_delete.png

Finally, the developers have improved the download manager (which is already a lot better than FF2, with pause-and-resume, etc.).  The Downloads window tells you where a file came from, and when and where you saved it.  You can also search the downloads list:

ff3b2_dlmgr.png

If you’re running FF3b1, update now for the security fixes if nothing else.  If you’re not, the usual caveats about running beta software apply, although this beta has only crashed once (strangely enough, it closed upon hitting the stop button on a RealPlayer stream).  The only big downside is that the browser remains a memory hog. I’m using 189 MB right now (granted, I do have 10 open tabs). IE7 shows only about 50 MB with 10 tabs open (yes, I know the memory footprint isn’t really comparable, given IE’s hooks into Windows).  FF3 also sports a new welcome page, complete with killer robot and straight-out-of-70s-prog-rock font.  At first I wondered where they came up with this:

ff3b2_robot.png

But then I realized someone’s been jamming to prog rock:

triumph-just_a_game.jpg

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Firefox 3 Beta 1 released

Posted by Fred on November 21, 2007

 firefox3-title.png

Monday night, the Mozilla crew officially released the first beta of Firefox 3. This is hardly new news, but I was traveling yesterday so this was my first chance to check it out.  I had tried some of the early alphas of 3.0 (Gran Paradiso), but haven’t really used it much lately.  Many of the changes from 2.0 are under the hood – check the release notes for details on security and performance changes.

As has already been much discussed, the new version makes significant changes to the way bookmarks and related information are organized.  At the end of the URL address bar is a star:

fx3_star.png

Click the star once to add a bookmark to the base bookmark folder using the site’s reported name as the bookmark name.  Firefox will report that the site has been added with a different star:

fx3_star_on.png

Click the star again, and you can rename the bookmark, add it to a folder or add tags for metadata:

fx3_edit_bookmark.png

That is a handy organizational tool – you may never need the Organize Bookmarks menu again.  Those tags come in very handy in the new Places feature.  Firefox 3 adds a new folder to the Links bar, conveniently called Places.  It’s full of information about, um, places:

fx3_places.png

Here you’ll find quick access to your most recently bookmarked pages (Firefox 3 calls them starred pages, which makes sense given the new way to add bookmarks), recently visited bookmarks, most visited bookmarks, recently/most frequently used tags and overall most visited pages.  This could be useful for navigation, but it will also just be interesting in the way Google Reader trends is interesting – what sites do you really visit the most?

The other new feature that I liked immediately is the elimination of the extension whitelist.  You’ll recall the extension two-step from Firefox 2 if you added an extension from the developer’s site or somewhere other than the Mozilla Addons site  – click allow, add to whitelist, install again.  Now you just click Allow in the warning bar that appears at the top of the screen and the install proceeds automatically.

Like all Firefox betas, this one’s not quite ready for prime time.  If you rely on extensions, most of them will not work – only Adblock Plus worked upon install for me.  Firefox will offer to check for updates, but this will most certainly fail.  Some developers have posted beta versions on their own sites, so check the Addons page for links.  I successfully updated Download Statusbar this way.   If the extension was updated for the Firefox 3 alphas, you can make it work on the beta yourself (this may also work to go from 2.0 to 3.0b1, but it may not).  Here’s how to do it using a stock XP install:

  1. Download, but do not install, the extension file (it will have a *.xpi filename).  You can right-click on the install button and choose “Save as…”
  2. Rename the file, changing *.xpi to *.zip.  The xpi files are just compressed files, but most decompression utilities don’t know this.
  3. Unzip the renamed file, and open the install.rdf file in a text editor.  Notepad will work just fine, but third-party editors are easier to work with due to the way Notepad deals with line breaks.
  4. Search for something that looks like this: “<em:maxVersion>3.0a8</em:maxVersion>”  This entry tells Firefox not to allow installation on anything more recent than 3.0 alpha 8.  Change it to 3.0b1.  You can also change it to 3.0 to make it work on anything up to the 3.0 final release, or an even higher number if you want, but I change it to this because you never know whether it will actually work with later versions.  Plus, hopefully the developer will release an official update.  Save the install.rdf file.
  5. Select all the files and folders in the folder you unzipped in step 3, right-click and choose Send To > Compressed (zipped)Folder to create a new *.zip file.  Windows will by default give it a name based on one of the files in the compressed archive.
  6. Rename it back to *.xpi. I usually just rename it to what we started with in step 1.
  7. Drag this new *.xpi file and drop it on an open Firefox window to start the install.  After a restart, you should be good to go.  This process worked for several of my extensions, including Forecastfox, Linkification and Stylish.

The onle thing I had hoped the developers would address that they didn’t was memory usage.  Firefox is still a memory hog (120 MB right now, with  five tabs open and seven extensions installed).

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Initial Thoughts on Flock

Posted by Fred on October 31, 2007

As I mentioned yesterday, i decided to give the “social browser” Flock another try. The Flock team is still not out with version 1.0, but I installed RC3 to see how the product had improved over the last couple of years. Flock is an attempt to combine the Firefox 2.0 codebase with added features geared toward social media, such as Facebook, YouTube, delicious and blogs. By and large, it does this adequately, although a social networking evangelist like Robert Scoble or Pete Cashmore would be a better test subject than yours truly, who doesn’t use Facebook or post every photo to Flickr. Anyway, first the good…

Sidebar gadgets and gizmos, oh my

I open the sidebar in FF about as often as I did the one in IE5, which is to say almost never. Yes, you can use it for feeds or bookmarks or history, but I almost never do. Flock attempts to turn the sidebar into an asset, not just a bunch of collapsed pixels.

sidebar_icons.png

Each of the small icons on the big tab represents a Flock feature. From here, you can open the My World portal (more on that later), the People Sidebar, the Media Bar, the Feeds Sidebar, the Favorite Sites Sidebar, the Accounts and Services Sidebar, the Web Clipboard Sidebar, the Blog Editor or the Photo Uploader.

my_world.png

The My World portal opens as a default tab in Flock or can be accessed via a button. It combines three of the main subject areas of Flock (links, feeds and media) on a single page. The Favorite Sites column shows links from your Favorites list. When I installed Flock, it imported my FF bookmarks, plus added links for Flock, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Flickr, Photobucket, Piczo, delicious, magnolia and Twitter, so this column is a mishmash of bookmarks and social networking services. The Feeds column shows feeds you add via Flock. Right now, it shows only my own blog, which is added automatically when you configure the blog editor. The media column, not shown in the screenshot, contains items (photos, video, etc.) added via the Media Bar.

favorite_sites.png

The Favorite Sites Sidebar serves two purposes. At the top is a sidebar similar to the bookmarks sidebar in FF or the Favorites sidebar in IE7. Flock calls these Local Favorites. At the bottom of the sidebar are Online Favorites. Once you configure a delicious or Magnolia account, online bookmarks appear in the sidebar. This would provide an advantage if you use Flock on multiple computers, as the Online Favorites would be the same on any machine configured for your account. Similar functionality is available in FF, and I prefer to use a bookmarks synchronizer so I don’t have to rely on delicious.

clipboard.png

The Web Clipboard is, in my opinion, the best of the Flock sidebars. You can drag any text, link or media to the sidebar, and it will sit there waiting for you to do something with it. Click on “Blog” and the Flock Blog Editor opens with a new post created including the clipped text, link or media. It’s a boon for bloggers — instead of starring items in Google Reader or leaving a bunch of tabs open, drag interesting links to the Web Clipboard to post about later. There are two downsides to the Clipboard that make it less useful, and which the Flock team should address. First, you can’t always drag a title link from Google Reader to the sidebar. If you do, it sometime just shows up as Google Reader (208) and a link to http://www.google.com/reader/view. At least it did a few times for me. Sometimes it works. Second, it would be nice to be able to clip images and then upload them to a blog instead of hot-linking them. This is slightly less questionable ethically. It’s still probably copyright infringement, but at least you’re not using someone else’s bandwidth to serve the images. You could conceivably work around this by using the Photo Uploader tool and linking to Photobucket in the blog post, but that’s kludgy at best. All in all, though, I like the Web Clipboard.

Media

Flock also has a media bar, which appears between the links bar and the tab bar when opened:

media_bar.png

The Media Bar is set up to handle photo and video streams from Flickr (shown above), Facebook, YouTube, Photobucket and Truveo. All but Facebook come predefined with public streams (most popular, Interestingness, etc.), so you can peruse popular media. You can also add your own streams, and any time Flock discovers embedded media from these services, it offers to add it to the Media Bar. From there, you can tag media for the My World page. Flock also puts a little ribbon over embedded streams that lets you email or blog the video, which is how the football video in my previous post was added. If you hover over a video stream in the Media Bar, you get a little pop-up window to play the video in, such as this one from Truveo:

truveo.png

The Media Bar seems useful if you watch a lot of online video. I don’t, but I can see the attraction.

Blogging Tools

blog_editor.png

As discussed above, Flock’s sidebar(s) and Media Bar provide tools for cataloging, saving and organizing information. Much of this can be turned into blog posts. Once you have a link, image, video or text you want to blog about, you can use the Flock Blog Editor. The Blog Editor opens in a pop-up window instead of a sidebar. The tools it provides are rudimentary compared to a dedicated blogging tool like Ecto or Windows Live Writer or even compared to most blog software like WordPress or Blogger, but most of the basics are covered. It allows you to add tags, and prompts for categories before the post is published (on WordPress; the process is likely different for other systems). I liked the editor, mostly because I had been using the WordPress Press It! bookmarklet, which has one glaring weakness. In its default configuration, the bookmarklet replaces the page you are blogging about with the “create a post” page, so you lose the page you are writing about. You can work around this by middle clicking or reconfigure it by hand, but it’s much better IMO to have the post open in a separate pop-up, particularly as a blog editor doesn’t need a full window. Overall, that’s all pretty good.

My problems with Flock are relatively minor, but annoying, so we’ll use bullets:

  • The interface is cluttered because the browser tries to do so much. Between the tab of sidebar icons and the sidebar and the media bar, it overwhelms. The default Flock theme helps, as it’s a soothing silver and blue, but the clutter takes some getting used to. On the other hand, it’s not clear what if anything the developers can do about it.
  • Flock can’t import FF extensions, so you have to reinstall addons that are useful. If you have a lot, this is a pain. Luckily, most FF extensions work in Flock. It would be nice if there was a way to import extensions when you import bookmarks and browsing history, but that’s probably not possible given the architecture of FF.
  • Flock pops up a lot of notifications as you browse. It tells you when a page contains an RSS feed, when a page contains embedded media and what you can do with the information on the sidebar. This is in addition to the default FF notifications like blocked pop-up windows. You can always turn these off, but they are distracting. And orange.

Overall, I liked Flock, but I don’t see enough that is compelling to cause me to shift from Firefox, especially with FF 3.0 coming out before too long. If you use a lot of social networking services, it would be even more useful.

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Do You Flock?

Posted by Fred on October 30, 2007

Harry McCracken loves Flock.  I tried Flock out a couple of years ago, back before there was a Facebook or YouTube or Flickr for it to integrate with, and came away unimpressed.  I still don’t do Facebook, but it sounds interesting, so I’m downloading again to see what’s changed.  The pace of development is better than it used to be, but still pretty darn slow.

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