25
Feb 10

Browser Ballot

Browser ballot. Ballot?

What, like an election? You mean, it’s more than a mere choice, it’s a personal statement of belief, a vote?

It appears that way. Each browser has its manifesto. A page held on a politically neutral website that outlines what the browser stands for.

What the hell?

Today I was doing some Windows updates on a client’s computer, and after I rebooted I saw something that led me to believe their machine had a trojan or spyware. For there was no branding, no explanation, just a box that popped up in an unfamiliar window saying that I had an important choice to make.

This has to be dodgy, right? A virus. Someone trying to steal my data.

The only important choice I have to make right now is what to have for dinner.

No, it’s the European Union ruling against Microsoft, telling them that they have to provide users with a choice of browser. A browser ballot. Yay! I get to vote!

It’s like returning home after your cleaner has been only to find someone took your wooden floor away, and left you a note saying you have an important choice to make. You need to choose what type of floor you would like to use from now on. Wait, you surely bought that floor along with the rest of the house? Like five years ago!

NO! Because a floor is distinctly different to a house. Lots of different people make floors! You should be given a choice! Otherwise it’s unfair on everyone who makes floors!

What the hell? Where is my floor? It’s my house, get out!

This only applies to Microsoft, mind. Your floor would only be temporarily removed if you bought a Microsoft house as your home, not an Apple one, or a Ubuntu one. Oh, and it only applies to Microsoft Homes purchased in the last 10 years. Oh, and it doesn’t apply to Microsoft Mansions (i.e. servers) or mobile homes of any sort (iPod, Windows Mobile). Only middle class homes. It’s because Microsoft are the Barratt Homes of computers. Their bigness makes them inherently bad.

Ok so the difficulty with this metaphor is that everyone in the world knows the difference between a floor and a house, but not everyone in the world knows the difference between a browser and an operating system. You, dear reader, are excused if you do not know the difference, deep down. It’s okay. You are quite normal.

Wait. Even worse to think. More people will vote in this arbitrary browser ballot in the UK than will vote in the general election. Many, many more people. That is so wrong it hurts.

Back on topic, let’s get this straight.

Anyone who actually knows what a browser is has already made their choice.

The remainder (75% of actual people – that is – living human beings with souls who just want to go on the internet without any hassles) do not care.

They will have a decision process forced upon them, be told the decision is important, (what, like abortion? Like looking for a new job?) and then be confounded with a load of options they don’t understand. If they click the window away, it will install a shortcut to the desktop, and come up again on next reboot.

I work in the field of IT Consultancy, and I can testify that to the majority of users, this decision is not as important as who to vote for on X Factor.

The consequence: IT Support will be picking up the pieces, after the sorry mess caused by a load of unsuspecting users who accidentally installed the wrong browser because they had no idea where to click, thus losing all of their settings, saved passwords, and not to mention being bloody confounded because the browser they chose didn’t have the latest version of Adobe Flash, etc.

Make it go away.

My mother doesn’t even know the difference between the address bar and a mouse. Give her a change of browser and she will have to go to night classes again just to learn how to do a Google search. Seriously.

Hell, even the BBC, in tech articles, regularly get operating system and browser confused. That’s how tech savvy we are: rightly or wrongly, our own media can’t even get it right. (Cringe.)

In the name of liberation, choice, freedom? It smacks of jealousy, of fanatical technocracy. It’s almost a religious war. Sure as anything isn’t politics. Or regulation for that matter.

The global tech industry requires solid, effective, and rational sector regulation. The EU has proven its worthlessness once again by entirely missing the point and unleashing its mindless red tape on an easy target. Path of least resistance. What a weak bunch.

It’s micro legislation, and it undermines the fact that the industry is suffering a dearth of real regulation, such as in cyber security, or in the environmental challenges.

Nit-picking at the big guy on a tiny point of interest does nobody any favours.

It’s straight bananas, except far worse.

It sure as anything wasn’t for anti-monopoly reasons because for one, browsers are not a major source of income for anyone (except those who only make browsers… cough cough) and secondly because this will do nothing to put a leash onto the fact Microsoft have cornered the corporate IT market – where the money is.

This is the techno-democracy-brigade equivalent of shouting fire in a crowded theatre.

I’m starting to feel sorry for large conglomerates (for the random outburst of legislation that clearly applies to nobody else) and feeling anger towards libertarian organisations who supposedly want the world to be a better place.

I’m starting to mutter under my breath words like political correctness gone MAD, and I sound like one of those awful Daily Mail readers.

What’s going on with the world?


03
Sep 08

Google Chrome web browser review – first impressions

Preamble

A browser schizophrenic like me changes browsers all the time.  Of course, we use different tools for different jobs, and especially those developing sites use a number of browsers at the same time.

That said, I go through phases, as with most things in life.  My long-loved Opera phase between about 2004-2006, was eventually spurned for IE which I used avidly for a couple of years, but very recently (Summer 08) I had come back to Opera.

The move back to Opera was a painful one for me, but I forced myself, because I knew it was right, morally, ethically, and socially.  I was becoming a social outcast, my friends weren’t hanging out with me any more.  Even my own family were beginning to reject me and consider me an outcast.  I couldn’t let go, but in the end I had re-taught myself that Opera was indeed far superior.  Of course, I’m always switching between browsers regardless, but we’re talking about the holy grail of browser preference here:

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\http\shell\open\command] (OMGOMGMGMOG)

(Yes, that’s the ‘default browser’ setting for the uninitiated.)

Not to mention: [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Main] “Check_Associations”=”No” and “IgnoreDefCheck”=”Yes”

New fave browser: Google Chrome.

I’ve even changed my default browser registry settings.  Bold, very bold.

I continue to use the ‘top three’ (IE7, Opera, and Firefox – for me they are in that order) regularly, but after downloading Google Chrome, I have found that the switch between my top-two IE7 & Opera, to Chrome will be so easy that I have already replaced Opera with Chrome as my favoured browser.

Enough about my OCD though, let’s take a look at the thing.

First impression #1: It’s fast, so very fast.

“what the hell, my internet connection is actually pretty fast”.

That’s because pages are THERE before you’ve even clicked them.

Opera once dubbed itself as the ‘fastest browser’, but you haven’t seen a fast browser until you’ve seen Google Chrome.

  1. Page rendering is noticeably much faster than IE7, Opera, and Firefox.  There’s the wow-factor!
  2. Screen redraw is lightning fast, and makes for a genuinely different and more enjoyable browsing experience.
  3. The wonderful DNS pre-fetch feature is an absolute boon.
  4. Window launch time is disgustingly fast, and it appears to outrun even Opera by quite a way.  Let’s not even talk about IE7’s window launch time.  (See below.)
We are obviously talking intelligent precaching and rendering.

First impression #2: Clean interface.

Google Chrome confirms my suspicion that we are entering a user interface simplicity renaissance, where we spurn silly programs with a million granularly-settable options and configurable toolbars that allows the program to morph into anything we want and behave in any manner, for something that someone has thought about lots in the first place, and calls its users just to accept and get on with their lives.  (It’s better that way, it really is.  It’s analagous to having a benign dictator who knows what’s best – it means you don’t have to think too much.  Perish the thought in real life, of course.)

  1. No, the lack of a million interface or network settings options doesn’t bug me.  There once was a day I wanted my application to be infinitely configurable.  For example, Chrome has no option to be able to leave the application open when closing last tab, or indeed to confirm closing the application (one of the more annoying default settings in IE7).  This would have wound me up in the past, but I’m thinking, “who cares really?”
  2. No wasted screen space.  A brilliant user interface principle.
  3. A little bit of screen animation.  Nothing schmancy, nothing Powerpointingly embarrassingly fade-zoom-kappowy, just a few little sexy minimalistic touches.  When you drag a tab out of the tab bar, stuff goes a bit transparent.  When you drag that out casted window back into the fold (i.e. drag the window back into the previous window’s tab bar), stuff slides around a bit.  The thoughtful, subtle Apple iPhone style touches like that bring Chrome a gentle aesthetic appeal.  Not too much though, we’d never like to be accused of form over function.

First impression #3: built-in task manager and multiple processes!

No, this point is not just for geeks.

It is just brilliant.  The process-per-tab approach, which is one supposedly to be adopted by Microsoft in their upcoming release of Internet Explorer 8, is necessary nowadays.  When your browser crashes, that’s annoying.  When your browser crashed because your ADD kicked-in whilst typing an essay of a message to a friend, and you went off looking at some crap on Ebay which caused the crash: that’s when it gets annoying, because it was as a direct result of your inability to focus on something that caused you a huge waste of time and writing.  And when you can’t blame your computer for you losing stuff, that’s when it hurts the most.  Anyway, hurrah, because that’s a thing of the past!

First impression #4: Intuitive

Builds on navigational success of IE7, Opera, and Firefox.  Most of the standard keyboard shortcuts you expect to work will do so.  Eg. CTRL-T to open new tab, CTRL-Tab or CTRL-Shift-Tab to switch between tabs,  CTRL-N to open a new window, ALT-D to focus the address bar (CTRL-E does this too, as the address bar is multifunctional and also acts as search bar).  CTRL-F or F3 act as search, ALT-Enter when focus is in the address bar opens the address in another window leaving the current one intact: it’s all there.

First impression #5: Ability to re-size any text entry box

It’s a simple thing, but I haven’t seen it implemented as a native function in any other browser.  Google Chrome allows any text input box on a website to be re-sized by dragging the handle in the bottom-right corner, should you want to.

First impression #6: Text entry is saved

Google Chrome ‘remembers’ what you typed in your text entry box.  If you navigate away from the page accidentally, and you’ve spent the last 2 hours composing a facebook message or writing a document online, hitting the back button will bring a gasp of relief to you.  Sure, Opera has done that for a while too – but it’s a sensible feature in today’s day-and-age, when more and more people are shifting their application usage to online apps, using Google Docs as their wordprocessor or spreadsheet app, or sending messages on a social networking site rather than by email.

What else is cool?

Incognito mode.  Porn mode.  Incognito mode.  Porn mode.

CTRL-SHIFT-N = porn mode.  End of.  I’m sorry, it brings up a new window with an icon of a man with a trenchcoat and hat.  That’s porn mode.  That man is inappropriate and shouldn’t be trusted with children.  Porn mode.

Incognito is different: a bit anonymous, just like everyone else, fitting into the crowd quite easily, perhaps with an elusive identity, that would be a guy wearing a pair of Clarke’s shoes and an M&S suit. Incognito man would be boring.

Trenchcoat and hat man is not boring, he’s on list 99 and it’s porn mode.

From Google help: “For times when you want to browse in stealth mode, for example, to plan surprises like gifts or birthdays”… BLESS THEM, they actually mean “for times you want to browse porn, which is what the internet gets used for most”.  They and their analytics should know.  Pah.

Seriously though, porn mode is awesome.  We should all use it, all the time, on all websites.  Because if we don’t then some random who bought your hard disk from Ebay could find out you were frequenting strange internet forums about self harm for the last 20 years, or alternatively keeping Royal Bank of Scotland customer details on it.  (The two examples cited are completely random, except for the second one.)

It’s just a shame there isn’t a global setting for ‘incognito’ mode, which I would turn on in an instant.

What’s not so cool

Application shortcuts.  These are sad and wrong.  Why would I want Google Chrome to add shortcuts to places I use for actual application shortcuts (eg. Start Menu, Desktop, QuickLaunch, the latter two of which I must say at this point I would NEVER use for this anyway)?

A Google Chrome application shortcut is not an application shortcut, it’s a shortcut to a web page that when clicked, opens the web page in Google Chrome except without the joy of you being able to change the address or browse away from that page.

Firstly that’s self-referencial therefore a pointless function.

Secondly it’s really annoying if you do it, which you won’t after the first time of doing it purely to see what it does.

No thanks, I’ll just use browser favourites.

Frustrations

What’s with the focus issue?  If you delete all the text in a text input box, the input box can sometimes lose focus.  So when you press backspace again (eg. when there’s nothing left to delete, everyone does this, it’s like pressing Clear on your calculator 10 times even though you know it’s waiting for the next calculation), it navigates back a page!  Thank goodness for saved text-entry!

CTRL-Arrow keyboard navigation in text input boxes is unintuitive and sometimes inconsistent.

I want my CTRL-Arrow keyboard navigation to honour punctuation marks and spaces (i.e. not to bypass them like they don’t exist).  Whilst this sounds a little picky, the following traits may be observed that are a departure from what we are used-to:

Example #1: your cursor is at the end of a paragraph, and you would expect CTRL-RightArrow to move cursor to just before first word of next paragraph, but instead it moves it to the end of first word in next paragraph.  This is not as much an inconsistency as an unintuitive feature.  That said, this one depends on what you are used-to.

Example #2: CTRL-LeftArrow moves to the beginning of each previous word, and CTRL-RightArrow moves to the end of each next word.  That’s fine, and consistent, if a little different to what we are used-to.  However if you have a full stop (period) at the end of your sentence, and you CTRL-RightArrow through the sentence, the text, you really want that cursor to be landed just before the first word in the next sentence.  The same applies for any punctuation mark (parenthesis, comma, etc), and this departure from the norm is not a welcome one.  Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer the notepad way of navigating text.

Example #3: You have inserted a space after the last word in a string of text you are writing.  You then navigate back to change your text, then you want to continue the sentence by navigating forward using CTRL-Arrow.  However, that space you left is easily forgotton, as when you CTRL-RightArrow to after the last word in the string, the cursor is place directly at the end of that word, rather than after that space you added. This potentially leaves you with spaces in your text entry that you are unaware of.  Ok, we are editing for web here, and it doesn’t matter – but it’s an issue of principle, and I don’t like it.  Some WYSIWYG editors may choose to honour double-spaces or even triple spaces using an &nbsp.  Since you don’t have the option to turn on paragraph markings like you do in a Word Processor, this frustrates me.

Bookmarking: to add a bookmark, you click the star.  Sure, obvious.  A box has then popped-up asking where you would like to put the bookmark.  But wait, it hasn’t actually added the bookmark at this point, or has it?  In order to close that little box and add the bookmark just there, you have to press the close button.  That button should really say “go ahead, add the bookmark” (or “Add” for short).  After all, if you are going to have to click something to get rid of that box, it may as well be a “complete this transaction” button rather than a “thanks, now get rid of this box” one.  Also, as that little star button lights up when the page you are visiting is already in your bookmarks, one would suspect it was a visual toggle, and therefore when you pressed the star OFF a website, it would toggle it out of your bookmarks – this is not so.

Some bugs

This is where my post gets a little less relevant, after all I expect there are hundreds of bugs, in fact given it’s one of those funky Web v 2.00 style things where we say something is constantly in Beta (yawn), I suppose we can’t call them bugs at all.  Whatever, here are the ones that bugged me:

  1. Triple-clicking a line in a text-box highlights the whole line (this is odd) then if you action that in a WYSIWYG editor, it neglects to eg. bold the first character of that line.  Noticed this in WordPress and some other websites.
  2. I’ve noticed a number of page rendering bugs where lines should be there, and they go away if you minimise then maximise the page, for example.  Expect to see a few of these.
  3. Also seen a number of text selection bugs.  For example, you are in a text input box and you SHIFT-DownArrow, to select multiple lines of text.  The cursor randomly stops at a line with no special text features on it.  You try again, it stops at the same line.

Off-topic

Launch time.

With my housemate Tom sitting next to me tonight, I launched IE7.  We counted: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 (WHAT?!), 9, 10, 11, and now my default start page has loaded, Google.co.uk.  We both laughed.

Launch Google Chrome, we didn’t even get to 1.  This made us laugh more.  (That’s because we are geeks.)  Of course, this is likely to be an operating system memory management issue, but I have NO browser plugins installed other than the standard you’d expect such as Flash, etc (which are bundled with Chrome anyway) no silly toolbars, and I regularly keep my browser’s history and cache clear.  IE7 launche usually a little quicker than this, but it doesn’t make it any less relevant as a comparison.

Summary

So, after an hour of using it, it’s my new default browser.  That’s impressive.