Tag Archives: Mozilla Firefox

The Browser Wars: Another Milestone

(This is a copy of my Loose Wire Sevice column, produced for newspapers and other print publications. Hence lack of links)

By Jeremy Wagstaff

As you know, I’m into milestones, and another one has been passed in recent days: Microsoft’s market share of browsers is down below 60%.

Now this may not sound very exciting to you, but it is. And you are to be congratulated. Because it’s you who have made it happen.

Let me explain.

A couple of years ago, when I started training journalists on things digital, I used to ask them what browser they used. They either answered Internet Explorer—Microsoft’s browser, which comes with Windows—or they would look blankly at me.

The truth is that since the demise of Netscape in the late 1990s, there really hasn’t been much of a battle between the browsers. Most Windows users accepted Internet Explorer, while Mac users settled for the Apple browser Safari.

So when I would ask the class whether they had heard of Firefox, the Open Source browser, they would again look blank, or bored, or both.

That was then and this is now, two years on.

Now most of them have heard of Firefox, and many of them have it installed on their computers.

Not only that: Most of them have tried out Google’s own browser, Chrome.

Indeed, nowadays, when I venture a peek over shoulders at cafes and in offices, I see many more Firefoxes (or Chromes) than I used to.

So it doesn’t surprise me to read that, according to research company Net Applications, Internet Explorer’s market share has, for the first time in more than a decade, fallen below 60%.

Of course, 60% still sounds like a good chunk of the market, but remember this: Internet Explorer is the default browser on Windows computers, which still occupy most of the world’s desktops. Last year that figure was nearly 68%. Two years ago, when I started the training course, the figure was 77%. Back in 2003 it was 95%.

Compare this with Firefox, which is now on nearly a quarter of the world’s computers. And while Chrome has only a small share—6.7%—it is growing at quite a clip. A year ago that figure was closer to 2%.

Some of this may be down to a ruling in Europe which has forced Microsoft to offer 12 different browsers. But more likely is that people are getting smarter—more demanding—about what is on their computers.

After all, we spend a lot more time in our browser than we used to. Most of us now use webmail, rather than a separate email application. A lot of us use tools like Google Docs, rather than Microsoft Office. And, of course, there are productivity killers like Facebook, all of which are primarily accessed through the browser.

So what makes these other browsers so appealing?

Well, Internet Explorer is considered notoriously insecure, for one. Lots of bad things are supposed to happen if you use for online banking etc. And users like their browsers fast and light. But perhaps most importantly, Firefox—and increasingly Chrome—offer a range of plug-ins (little bits of software that, well, plug in, to your browser to do extra things for you, from tell you the time in Timbuktu to letting you save clips to online databases, or to Facebook).

This, I think, is part of a broader trend that Microsoft and others haven’t figured out yet.

I see an increasing number of people using Gmail, Google’s webmail service, and I’ve noticed that all these people have customized their interface. This wouldn’t have happened even a year ago. Now they’re exploring beneath the hood of the default settings, and changing their environment to suit their moods and work styles. Some of these changes are small—background colours or themes—but they’re also more productivity-oriented, adding labels and filters to their workflow.

This is great. This is just what they should be doing. But it’s also part of a bigger trend that I believe explains the inexorable shift away from the default.

The simple truth is that as we spend more time in the browser we’re less likely to just go with what’s given to us. We want our browser to be as good as possible and because the changes we make to our online services are movable feasts: If I’ve changed the background on my Gmail to black, shifting to another browser isn’t going to reset it back to boring white.

There’s another factor at play here. Websites used to look very different depending on what browser you used. That’s changed, as developers follow standards more closely (what’s called being “standards compliant”). This gives us users a lot more flexibility—we don’t feel like we’re going to break something on our computer, or not be able to access, say, our banking website—if we’ve left the reservation and installed another browser.

The next step: the browser replaces your operating system. Google is onto it. 

An Index Of Blogging Clients

July 2009 Update: added BlogDesk. So far I’ve not been able to find anything apart from Windows Live Writer that works with WordPress page for Windows. (Ecto’s latest release apparently does support it.) 

Blogging clients allow you to prepare posts and then upload them directly. Useful for

  • composing drafts of posts offline
  • easier editing of HTML
  • easier inserting and handling of photos
  • easier editing of existing posts

Here’s a list of the ones I know of. Any additions welcome.

  • Qumana include easy text formatting and image insertion, simple Technorati tagging, and advertising insertion with Q Ads. Make money from your blog content by inserting the ads of your choice with the built-in Q Ads tool. (free: XP/Mac)
  • ecto a feature-rich desktop blogging client for MacOSX and Windows, supporting a wide range of weblog systems, such as Blogger, Blojsom, Drupal, MovableType, Nucleus, TypePad, WordPress, and more. (free; thanks Joost)
  • w.bloggar  The tireless Marcelo Cabral who runs it constantly updates the software to work with new blogging sites. It’s free, but he welcomes donations.
  • Post2Blog handy blog editor with live spell-checking support for pro-bloggers. ($40, Windows only)
  • SharpMT good for MovableType and TypePad. Windows only; free.
  • Windows Live Writer “makes it easier to compose compelling blog posts using Windows Live Spaces or your current blog service.” Free, XP only
  • Zempt Offers a lot of useful features, including assigning more than one category to a post. Zempt is also free but would be happy to get donations. Works with all Movable Type compatible sites. (Windows, Linux, Mac.)
  • BlogJet a new version, 2.0, is out that supports YouTube and Flickr. I used to use this all the time, and plan to try this one. $40, though, is still $40. Windows only
  • BlogWizard allows you to create, edit and publish your blog entries to the server where your weBlog is located. BlogWizard works with all major weBlog services that support the Blogger xml-rpc engine. BlogWizard has an easy to use WysiWyg interface, in which you can manipulate the text anyway you want, make it bold, bigger, smaller, insert images and hyperlinks. Costs: $23
  • Blogger for Word Blogger toolbar will be added to Word allowing you to publish to your blog, save drafts and edit posts (Free; XP and Word required)
  • MacJournal lets you publish your work as a blog to any of the popular blogging services, including your .mac account. Also possible to keep your journal at your fingertips, even when you’re on the road. (Macs only; $35)
  • BlogDesk BlogdDesk BlogDesk is free, works with WordPress, MovableType, Drupal, Serendipity and ExpressionEngine.
  • MarsEdit: Mac only, but very capable, according to Mike Rohde (thanks, Mike)

Also note that Microsoft Office 2007 lets you post to a blog, and include some pretty cool features.  So does Flock. There are also some Firefox extensions:

  • Performancing Heavy duty extension with all the bells and whistles
  • Deepest Sender instead of having to go to the Update page on LiveJournal/WordPress/Blogger/whatever, or loading up a separate client program, all you have to do is hit Ctrl+, or click the button in your toolbar, and you can start posting.

Links

WordPress has a list of blogging clients here. No mention of support for pages.

Another good list here.

The Thin Yellow Lines of Innovation

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Maybe you’ve already noticed this, but I very much like this feature in Google Chrome that lets you see at a glance matches for a search term within a page. The matches appear as yellow lines within the scroll bar (see above) so you can easily access them by dragging the scroll bar itself.b

Another nice twist with Chrome is that it will tell you how many matches there are on a page, and tell you which one you’re currently viewing:

image 

Nice touch. I still think the Firefox search trick of being able to highlight all instances of a search term within the page is very helpful:

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Which helps to make the matching words stand out on the page (along with the extra option of matching case:

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What’s interesting here is the innovation in a feature that has, elsewhere, become largely moribund. Check out the search box in Microsoft Word 2007:

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You can choose the Reading Highlight button to, well, highlight those terms you’re looking for, but frankly, I only just found that feature and I’ve been using Word for years. The features in Chrome and Firefox I found pretty much straightaway.

And the feature doesn’t really detract from the fact that the Find box itself is pretty poorly designed, and short of features. Surely in a program that is about processing words, this would be a feature you’d have a whole team working on to improve?

Bottom line: While old software stands still, we’re seeing a lot of incremental but valuable improvements in the new software—browsers, basically—and I think therein lies a lesson. Microsoft et al, you need to turn your attention to these small things, that may not be very belly or whistly (sorry, just wanted to use the word ‘belly’) but which we all use. A lot.

Loyalty to a program, whether it’s a browser or a word processor, may often come down to these small things.

Loose Bits, Nov 7 2006

  • Bleeding Edge, always worth a look, points to a new Firefox extension for saving material off the web: Zotero. It not only does a great job of storing globs of web pages or the whole thing but it has an academic bent too, allowing you to store bibiographic information too. That said, it’s not musty: It lets you assign tags to stuff you’ve saved, lets you relate one item to another, and makes exporting everything you’ve saved pretty easy too. Reminds me a little of the excellent ScrapBook, another clip-saving tool. Full, updated Loose Wire list of them here.
  • Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine pours a little cold water over Boratmania. Part of me agrees with him; I’ve only been able to take Ali G and Borat in small doses (though we do have all the DVDs.) The best bit is actually watching my wife laugh at his antics. Trust me: Cohen crosses most cultural boundaries.
  • Playing around with a newsreader called Omea, which I like. I have stuck with FeedDemon, but its lack of support for Firefox and memory appetite, has pushed me to find alternatives. What’s your favorite aggregator?

A Chip off the Old Flock

Flock, which I wrote about a few months back, is now in public beta (meaning ordinary folks can use it without too much weeping). TechCrunch carries an interview with the folks behind it.

What’s so good about it? Well, it’s all about trying to build Web 2.0 into the browser, so the browser isn’t so much a browser as a tool to upload photos, blog, read RSS, that kind of thing. You can drag a photo and publish it, view photos across the top of the browser, search faster (the search box includes results that update as you type the word.)

I’m most interested in the blogging tool. And while it’s better, it sure ain’t perfect. I’d like to see a proper editor with all the features of an editor, including shortcuts (Control + k for inserting link seems to be a pretty well-defined standard, for example.) That said, it seems a tad more stable than BlogJet, for which one would have to pay money.

How does these guys make money? Mainly through selling the spots in the search box at the top right corner, I believe. Yahoo! seems to rule the roost at the moment, and it doesn’t seem possible to change that as the default without opening a separate preferences window, unless I’m missing something. I assume that extra step is deliberate, something most folks wouldn’t bother to do.

Anyway, another browser can’t be bad news. I’m not going to dump Firefox for now, but I think I’ll keep Flock a-flickering too for now.

technorati tags:, ,

Blogged with Flock

Downloading Causes Firefox to Hang

If opening the Downloads window in Firefox or downloading files are freezing the program, try deleting your download history. If this still causes a hang, try this fix from the MozillaZine Knowledge Base:

  • Find your profile folder. In Windows XP it’s here: C:Documents and Settings<Windows login/user name>Application DataMozillaProfiles<Profile name>********.slt%APPDATA%MozillaProfiles<Profile name>********.slt
  • Find and deete the file downloads.rdf.

Firefox should work fine now.

Opera Gets Widgetized

The Opera browser continues to impress, even as it becomes less and less relevant in the face of the mighty Firefox. This week Opera’s preview puts widgets on stage according to CNET :

Opera Software on Tuesday plans to release a second preview version of Opera 9, the next version of its namesake Web browser. For the first time, the new version will include support for so-called widgets, Opera representative Thomas Ford said. Widgets are essentially small browser windows that display information taken from the Internet on a user’s desktop. The notion is similar in concept to the widget idea that Apple Computer uses in the Dashboard feature of Mac OS X.

“It is really a big jump for us into Web applications,” Ford said. “They give people the information they want right on the desktop. Even if it is a Web page, people don’t have to go to the browser to see it.”

Actually Windows users have had access to widgets for a while, via Klips and Konfabulator, now bought and rebranded by the folks at Yahoo! as straight Widgets. I’m a big fan of widgets but I find I don’t use them as much as I should. It’ll be interesting to see how Opera handles it. The preview version also includes support for BitTorrent, the file distribution protocol.

Directory Of Clipping Savers

Update Nov 7 2006: A new kid on the block for Firefox 2.0 users: Zotero. (Thanks, Charles)

I recently wrote in WSJ.com (subscription required) about how to save snippets of information while you’re browsing. I didn’t have space to mention all the options I — or readers — came across, so here’s the beginnings of a list. Please feel free to let me know about more: The basic criterion is that the service lets the user easily capture material they’ve found on the Internet (for stuff that’s more socially oriented, check out my Directory of Social Annotation Tools).

  • Zotero. It not only does a great job of storing globs of web pages or the whole thing but it has an academic bent too, allowing you to store bibiographic information too.
  • ContentSaver:   is both a browser add-in and an Office-style application at the same time: With the additional toolbar and the extended shortcut menus in the browser, you can easily gather material during your Internet research. 35 EUR (Thanks, Ganesh)
  • eSnips:    Save real web content not just links: relevant paragraphs and images you find on any web site….oh yes, and links too. 1GB free
  • wists.com: The idea is to bridge the gap between blogging and bookmarking. It aims to make simple list blogging as easy as bookmarking and make bookmarking take advantages of weblog publishing, with automatic thumbnail image creation etc. (David Galbraith)
  • Net Snippets: The friendly, intuitive way to maximize the effective use of information from the Internet and online research
  • Jeteye: enables users to create, send, view and share any type of online content, add notes and annotations and save it all in user organized Jetpaks™ through an easy drag and drop interface.
  • Google Notebook: makes web research of all kinds – from planning a vacation to researching a school paper to buying a car – easier and more efficient by enabling you to clip and gather information even while you’re browsing the web.
  • ClipMate: ClipMate saves time and makes you more productive by adding clipboard functions that the Windows clipboard leaves out – starting with the ability to hold thousands of “clips”, instead of just one. ($35)
  • Clipmarks: Clip and tag anything on the web
  • Onfolio: a PC application for collection, organizing and sharing information you find online. ($30 to $150)
  • EverNoteQuickly create, organize and find any type of notes on an endless, digital roll of paper. (from free to $35)
  • ScrapBook: a Firefox extension which helps you to save Web pages and easily manage collections. Key features are lightness, speed, accuracy and multi-language support.
  • Omea Reader: Free and easy to use RSS reader, NNTP news reader, and web bookmark manager. It’s fast, it aggregates, and it keeps you organized.

My personal favorites? I love ScrapBook because it lets me save stuff in folders on my own computer. Clipmarks is great for online stuff, and the tagging/folder mix is powerful. EverNote has its moments but for all its interface ingenuity, it’s not easy to organise stuff.

An Opera whinge:

Some readers have pointed to Opera’s ‘Notes’ (Flash Demo) function which is neat, but doesn’t do as much as ScrapBook (there’s also a Firefox extension called QuickNote which performs more or less the same tricks as the Opera Notes. And besides, I’m still mad at Opera for not supporting drag and drop. What is it with them?  (Sad to say that, because I think Opera have been great in improving interface design. But I think they’ve dropped the ball. Back in February 2003 I was wowed (WSJ.com link; subscription only, I’m afraid) I wrote:

Just when I thought software had become as innovative as a bacon sandwich, something came along to prove me wrong. There is software out there that is innovative and that actually makes things easier. It’s a Web browser made by a Norwegian company called Opera Software ASA and its latest incarnation, released last month, is a real gem.

Of course, that was before Firefox came along and stole my heart.