Ny Explorer – Nytt gränssnitt

När jag studerade på universitetet så kommer jag ihåg hur vi läste om Microsoft och hur de skröt om sina användaranalyser. De hade till och med haft en utredning om från vilken vinkel en ikon skulle kasta skugga för att vara som mest “användarvänlig”.

Min fråga är, var tog den avdelningen vägen!? I varje ny version av någon produkt från Microsoft de senaste åren har de vänt upp och ner på sitt eget gränssnitt. Microsoft Office 2007 fick en total makeover. Windows Vista (eller ska jag säga Windows 7 eftersom ingen körde Visa?) möblerade om ordentligt i filhanteringen. Nu kom nyligen Internet Explorer 9 och visst har Microsoft lyckats med att förvirra även där.

En så pass “enkel” sak som att ladda hem en fil. Denna funktion har fungerat i stort sätt oförändrat i Internet Explorer sedan version 4. I senaste versionen av Internet Explorer så kommer denna dialog inte upp som vanligt utan lägger sig istället som en liten informationsruta längst ner i Internet Explorer. Vilken användarvänlighetsexpert kom på detta? Jag kan inte komma på någon fördel med att “gömma” den längst ner i bilden?

En av de återkommande anledningarna jag hört för att använda Microsofts programvara är att “användarna känner igen sig”. Nu har snart Microsoft sänk sig själva med detta.

Missuppfatta mig inte nu, Microsofts produkter är bra men de är inte oersättliga. Om de fortsätter med att missgynna sina trogna användare så kommer de nog att tappa i sin för närvarande dominerande marknadsställning.

Google opens Knols – wiki on ads?

Google opened the doors for the public to the beta Knols. While Knols are very similar to Wikis there are two main overall design differences between the two. First of all while Wikis are “community authored” with a group of people behind most articles the Knols are author dependant. Whoever posts a Knol first becomes the author and moderator of the article. Secondly Knols have a direct interface to Google AdSense making it easy for the author to include ads in the articles, something few community based wikis allow (at least not to the benefit of the authors).

When writing Knols you have several options for each Knol you write (and by the way, Google defines “Knol” as a unit of Knowledge).

As an author you can choose to inlcude other authors or have an open (or moderated) author system much like the Wikis.

The information published in a Knol can be published under three different licenses that the author may choose from; “CC Attribution 3.0”, “CC Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0” and finally “All rights reserved”.

While I do not believe the wikis are in danger (and specifically the Wikipedia) the Knol does open up much more towards companies who might up until now found it pointless to give their information away for free. Being able to publish copyrighted material without losing control over it and at the same time gaining from AdSense published on those pages might interest some.

Firefox 3.0 follow up

After a few weeks of Firefox 3 usage I must say I now do not miss Internet Explorer at all. With the add-ons available I’ve managed to customize my web browser exactly how I want it (only a few innovative ideas I have myself are missing).

It’s proven it’s stable and fast, I’ve used it on a mixture of laptops and operating systems (Ubuntu 8.04 and several Windows versions) and everywhere it has worked as perfect as could be expected.

As I earlier argued it has several advantages over Internet Explorer and I will now go in depth on one of the advantages: AddOns.

Firefox AddOns are programs that extend the functionality of the web browser and I will rank the best I’ve come across so far.

Recommended addons
Everywhere I install Firefox I always install 2 particular AddOns, Adblock Plus and NoScript. These two make surfing the web safer and faster and despite NoScript requering some interaction when visiting new sites I do not find this bothers me at all. The ad-blocker works fantasticly with the EasyList subscription that contains some standard filters for ads.

After the two “essential” Addons I usually pick up the IE Tab addon.  With this addon you can choose to open sites or links in a tab that is powered by Internet Explorer. You can also write a filter so that some pages (like Windowsupdate.com, Microsoft.com and such) are always opened in IE Tab, this saves you from having to switch browser for sites programmed entierly for Internet Explorer.

If you not only just surf the web but also use FTP the FireFTP addon is worth a look. While being far from the best FTP client I’ve seen it gets the job done and is very easy to use.

Del.icio.us have been a great tool for bookmark handling and the latest installment of a Firefox addon does not dissapoint. Easy interface and installation, though a word of caution: if you run NoScipt make sure to have del.icio.us on the whitelist for scripts or the installation will fail.

Those where my recommendations for now, since I’m soon on a holiday I don’t think I will have time to check out all the developer addons available but I sure will when I get back to work.

HTML 5.0 Interesting changes

On a slow day at work I finally got time to browse through the changes in the propsed HTML 5.0 standard (Editor’s Draft 6 July 2008). The fith version of HTML will come in two flavours, standard HTML and XHTML. More or less the significant difference is that XHTML will not allow any errors in the XML-structure whereas the HTML-version will render the source as best as it can.

There are some interesting new features incoming by the looks of it, many of them seem influenced by what up until now have been solved using scripts. A quick look at the changes in elements shows us that we are handed the tools to further differenciate between layout and semantic.

Removed Elements
Almost all “legacy”1 layout elements are removed such as BASEFONT, BIG, CENTER, FONT, FRAME, FRAMESET, NOFRAMES, S, STRIKE, TT and U. Most of these are hardly used anymore anyway but I guess there are a few sites out there that will miss the FRAMES-support (allthough IFRAME is still around).  There are a few other removed elements as well; ACRONYM (which is replaced by the aptly named ABBR), APPLET (replaced by EMBED like all other embeded material), DIR (replaced by CSS or simply UL/OL), ISINDEX and XMP.

Added Elements
As previously noted the added elements often reflect semantic structures in HTML. HEADER and FOOTER are two examples, these display as their names implies header and footer information in their current context. This can be used to display chapter headings in a document and other similar information. Also new are the elements ARTICLE and ASIDE which are used to define areas of information in the current document. For example ARTICLE could refer to a single post, a blog entry, a written article or similar and has the ability to stand alone from the rest of the content. An ASIDE is used within an ARTICLE to add information related to the article but to be displayed seperately like in a column next to the main article.

NAV is a new element to mark the navigation of a site. For example “previous” and “next” link are typical navigation elements and should be enclosed in a NAV element.

There are many other new elements in HTML 5.0 but those are beyond the scope of this small review I’m afraid. Read the full HTML 5.0 document for further information.

Changed Attributes and Events
The attribute ACCESSKEY is the only one removed and this is likely due to the addition of the KBD element which replaces it’s functionallity. An interesting addition is DRAGGABLE which is a boolean value which makes an element draggable by the user, this attibute is also followed by several new event types (onDrag, onDragend, onDragenter, onDragleave, onDragover, onDragstart and onDrop). This element togheter with the attribute CONTENTEDITABLE  makes a great couple for future on-line applications.

Other new useful events added in HTML 5.0 are for example onMousewheel, onScroll and onResize which all do what they sound like.

All in all HTML 5.0 is no revolution but adds some convenient elements for more detailed semantic structures within HTML. It also takes out legacy formating elements and suggests the use of CSS to solve all the layout issues. Hopefully the drafts will soon become a new standard because of what I’ve seen so far it looks promising.


1. Wow, this is the first time I’ve used the word legacy in a HTML context! The only other (in)famous element I can think of that was removed is good old BLINK.

OpenSolaris 2008.05 – interesting but not yet for me.

I downloaded and tried OpenSolaris 2008.05. I had high hopes this would be “as easy as Ubuntu” but with the stability I rememberd from my days at the University or the few Unix boxes I’ve come across during my work. I downloaded the CD to try out on a virtual VMWare machine (latest version 1.0.6).

Downloading and burning a live CD posed no problem and booting it up was as easy as any other LiveCD. A slight dissapointment was the text-interface for choosing keyboard layout and locale, even for being a text-layout which I could accept it was a very boring text-layout.

After bootup the problems began. First thing I noticed was that I had no network. Apparently the Network Auto-Magic (NWAM) wasn’t magic enough to understand my network card. After some digging on the Internet I found the reason was not the network card but rather some other drivers in VMWare that OpenSolaris had problems with. This issue will most likely be gone in a future patch of either VMWare or OpenSolaris.

The first thing that struck me, before the network errors above, was how Linux-like the installation was with Gnome as desktop manager. I of course expected it to be very similar but not to this degree. Much of the “standard” Linux software was included. I was a bit dissapointed that Gnome was the only window manager found on the system, I had hoped to see the “old” look and feel from my University days (allthough I quickly switched to Gnome at the University when that was opened up as an option on the UltraSparcs we where using).

Next I tried to install the distribution to my virtual machine, and not run it as a live CD anymore. This was a very easy procedure, just add all the information needed and then start the installation. Having asked all questions first the installation then completed on it’s own but to me it felt quite slow.

Overall the impressions was mixed. While not impressed by the “first try” I am impressed about what I’ve read about OpenSolaris. The Zetabyte File System (ZFS) available and the support for high end machines with high availability (or so they claim but they are Sun so I take their word for it!). However since it has current legal problems with full integration with the Linux world (OpenSolaris is released under the CDDL license while most of the Linux world are distributed under the currently non-compatible GPL license). I hope in future versions this operating system will bring about a stable open source platform generally available.

Firefox 3 evaluation

Firefox logoWith the release of Firefox 3 I finally made the switch on all my computers to have this as the main web browser instead of Internet Explorer that used to be standard on some of my windows machines (I have too many computers I use daily). There where several reasons I switched and I thought I’d publish them so perhaps other people could find the same benefits I saw.

First of all I have no love for Microsoft in general, while they have some good products I do not find Internet Explorer to be one of them. They seem to invest as little as possible in it and only making changes when “forced” by an outside source (take tabed browsing for example, it wasn’t included into Internet Explorer until Firefox started using it). I’d also like to point out that other web browsers like Safari and Opera might also be great but I haven’t had the time to get acquainted with them. This also only concerns desktop/laptop browsers, on my Wii and phone I use Opera!

Why did I choose Firefox as my main browser? Here is the simple list:

  • Security – this is probably the main reason. Firefox out of the box is a slightly lesser target for hackers at the moment but while that might change there are several other factors making Firefox the number one security choice and one of them is the addon NoScript. A really nifty little program that simply stops all scripts on all pages you visit. With a simple click you can activate a single domain to use scripts either always or just temporarily for your current visit. This really improves security while browsing the Internet. While some pages look terrible these days without scripting ability you can always choose to trust those that you want to visit (and remember you used to trust ALL of them). This still doesnt save you if your favourite site is targeted by a cross-site scripting attack but at least being conservative with who may run scripts on your computer makes the odds work against you being a target.
  • Speed – the rendering engine of Firefox 3 seems faster, I do not know if this is true of just a perception of mine. It may also help that I’ve installed AdBlock Plus. This is another great addon that makes you able to block all incoming adds before they are downloaded, you can either manually block different ad-vendors by domain or different filters or you can also choose to subscribe to a kind of blacklist filter. With the blacklist filter “EasyList” most of the ads are gone! Visiting ad heavy site used to be very slow but with all the flash graphics and different connections to ad servers but with the filter in place you get to download what you really came from and not all the crap the site tries to throw at you. I’ve also found this very helpfull while being out with my laptop and wanting to conserve the amount of traffic I use while browsing the web.
  • AddOns – I’ve allready mentioned two addons but still the ability to customize your browser deserves special mention as well. While the average guy might not be able to develop addons for Firefox the open interface makes it perfect for everybody wanting to add their own idea to the web browser. This is clearly a popular feature and when visiting the official addon site you can download almost anything you could think of to pimp your browser.
  • Privacy – while maybe not a reason to install the web browser at my own computers the privacy settings and features of firefox are very well to my liking, when I use a public computer I use Firefox if they have it since the ability to remove personal data is made so easy.
  • Bookmarks / History – a fresh take on bookmarks and history is made in Firefox 3. I don’t know if I’m alone in having stoped to add bookmarks for everything but the improvements really support my way of browsing. The history list is made part of the bookmarks with features to visit the latest sites (also available in most browsers with history of course) but also the most visited sites. If you choose to skip bookmarks all togheter (like I usually do) and just type the URL the dropdown that used to be only the domains is expanded with domain, icon, title and a small description of the site. This really helps casual browsing and is a nice looking feature.
  • Open Source – while not a major benefit in itself I am a strong supporter of open source and if there are two products, one open source and one proprietary software I would go for the open source alternative any day (on a private level, this might be different in a business point of view depending on the situation).

While there are major improvements in choosing Firefox there are of course also drawbacks. Most of these are minor and will probably change with time. There are a few sites that just doesnt work well in Firefox and one of them is my on-line bank which at the moment only accepts Internet Explorer. These sites are very rare though and I think most site administrators are adapting to the fact that Firefox is becoming one of the major browsers.

Firefox is no longer a browser trying to catch up with Internet Explorer, Firefox just took the lead. Now let’s see some healthy competition and more innovate features ahead in all browsers.