boogdesign posts

Longer posts on standards based web design, portable web development and Linux, intermingled with some stuff on my other nerd interests.

Rob Crowther, London, UK based Blogger, Web Developer, Web Designer and System Administrator - read my Curriculum Vitae

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Category: Product Reviews

31/08/08

10:01:24 pm Permalink IE8 Beta 2

Categories: General, Product Reviews

I previously did a review of the first IE8 beta, the second one came out a few days ago so I thought it would be worth a follow up post. Here are the main things I noticed:

  • Activities are now called 'Accelerators' though otherwise seem to be largely the same, so the main difference might be the renaming of the Firefox Add-on.
  • Suggested sites - which looks like a less interactive StumbleUpon.
  • Search suggestions - a more useful search auto-complete which looks quite cool, I've not come across any documentation on how to implement providers, however.
  • 'Compatibility' mode - the IE team have followed my (ha!) suggestion and enabling IE7 compatibility no longer requires a restart of the browser, simply click a toolbar button and the page reloads. By default it will render in standards mode on the general internet and in compatibility mode on intranets. This has not been a completely popular decision, but I'm not sure why. We all knew the main argument against 'standards mode by default' is that it would break thousands of intranets, and this seems to me like a practical solution to that problem.

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06/03/08

11:58:47 am Permalink IE8 Beta 1 - A Review

Categories: General, Product Reviews

Product Review: Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1

Microsoft released the first Beta for Internet Explorer 8 the other day, so I downloaded it and installed it on a virtual machine so I could test it out. This post records my first impressions, even if it took me two weeks to actually finish it off and publish it :)

First stage was the install, which looks much the same as the installer for IE7, I selected 'Choose my settings' to make sure I didn't miss anything.

The first option is also familiar from IE7, nice of it not to change my default search provider to Live anyway.

Next was 'Select activity providers' - this is a new feature in IE8, more on this below.

The 'Safety filter' - much the same as in IE7.

Finally, because I'd selected 'Go online and select more activity providers,' I got to the activity providers page.

Although all the options come from Microsoft, there were a few examples which weren't driven from Microsoft's data. I selected Yahoo! as my mapping provider as well as a few other non-standard ones.

So the first test, how does IE8 render my website? Answer, quite well actually!

The home page looks a lot more like it does in Firefox than it does in IE7 (below). Though a visual test of one web page is hardly thorough, it does seem likely that this will be MS's most standards compliant browser yet.

The blog itself also looks OK, no major issues for me so far!

However, on the JS front, things were not quite so rosy, mostly thanks to some of the many 'blog decorators' I've got going on in the sidebar. But this gives me an opportunity to show off one of the first things I really liked about IE8 - the new 'done with errors' dialogue.

You can expand to see all the errors in a list (in IE7, only one error shows at a time) and it also has that very convenient 'Copy details to clipboard' button.

That's not all on the error handling front, I got to see the other neat new feature, which seemed mostly to get caused by msn.com. The initial error message is much like before:

But what it does after that is a bit more clever. Each tab in IE8 runs in a separate process, a feature known as LCIE, so a crash is not fatal to the browser. As you can see in the image below, when a tab crashes it is simply restarted and the rest of the tabs are unaffected.

There's also a whole collection of (very Firebug like) developer tools built in to the browser, allowing JScript debugging without installing one of MS's Visual Studio variants. The tools menu as also had a bit of an update, to emphasise the privacy features.

Activities are a major new feature of IE8, it's basically a way of taking advantage of other resources on the internet to enhance the information you can see on your current page, similar to the way the Firefox Operator Add-on is supposed to work with Microformats. For example, below I have selected the post code on my 'About Us' page and then right clicked - I get a choice of 'activities' for my selection.

I select 'Map with Yahoo!' and a map appears in a floating frame.

There is apparently a more direct interface than right clicking, but I couldn't get it to appear reliably. Selecting some text sometimes causes a little button with an arrow on it to appear:

So enough praise, there are several things I didn't like so much. First up, WebSlices - basically a sort of single item RSS feed embedded in a web page. This is quite exiting for the Microformats community because the format for embedding the item is based on hAtom. Unfortunately it isn't actually valid hAtom, and also seems to be solving the exact same problem as Microsummaries which has been in Firefox for over a year. So with two existing (though admittedly de-facto) standards to choose from, Microsoft chose to implement neither of them and go their own way. There may be very good reasons for this, of course, but it's the sort of thing that makes you wonder how serious they really are about following web standards.

The next point of complaint is the IE7 mode. Generally a good idea - switch the browser back to an older rendering engine so that any pages which are seriously broken by IE8's new standards compliance have a chance of working, users have a simple 'make this site work' button to press. The implementation, however, is just plain bad. They've gone to all the trouble of making their browser crash proof with the LCIE stuff, but then have a feature as important as 'Emulate IE7' force you to restart the whole browser before it has any effect. So if you have eight tabs open, and only one website which doesn't work, you still have to close all seven other tabs to get that one page to work.

As a web developer you can trigger the IE7 rendering mode from your web page by either sending an HTTP header, or using an http-equiv meta element in your HTML:

<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=7" />

Be warned however, the browser, even in 'IE7 mode', still believes it's IE8 in my (limited) testing. So if you're using conditional comments like these, they won't be picked up:

<!--[if IE 7]>
<link rel="stylesheet" href="/styles/ie7.css" type="text/css"/>
<![endif]-->

Overall then, I'm quite impressed. The activities stuff is quite smoothly implemented, the improvements for web developers are excellent and the move towards standards compliance is commendable - 4 out of 5. I hope they continue to make improvements before the final release.
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12/06/07

06:49:50 pm Permalink Safari for Windows - A Review

Categories: General, Product Reviews

Product Review: Safari 3.0 Beta for Windows

I spent most of the afternoon fannying around with Safari on Windows in one way or another, so I thought I'd write up my first impressions. First off, things I liked:
  • Fast Javascript - javascript heavy web pages (for example, GMail) worked really quickly and were very responsive
  • Fast rendering with position:fixed and iframes - this seems to be a combination that really slows down Firefox (and remember, anything which has a GoogleAd unit on it has on iframe, I ended up re-redesigning this website as a result), just scrolling up and down the page becomes an effort, but in Safari everything remains smooth
  • Safari toolbar customisation dialogue
    It's pretty - there's no getting around it, not just the overall look of the browser, but the little icons in alert windows and the semi-transparent configuration popups are all very nice
  • Safari RSS view
    Excellent default view of RSS feeds - even better than IE's, and loads better than Firefox
  • Snapback - this is nifty, can be used as a short term bookmark thing but, by default, will 'snap you back' to the first page you visited on a site, or your search results if you were visiting a site from Google
  • Safari bug reporting dialogue
    Bug reporting tool - looks nice and easy to use, allows you to attach a screenshot and the page source by ticking checkboxes
  • Resize text field - a great idea, but I could only get it to resize textarea elements rather than any text input. It also had an interesting effect on the post page of this blog
  • Safari activity window
    Activity window - shows the file size of every page element, very neat, though of course with Firefox it's a simple matter of getting an extension to do this
But there's also a list of things I didn't like:
  • Safari tab preferences dialogue
    Can't make all links open in tabs - links which open a new window, open a new window, in Firefox everything opens in a tab. There is a 'merge windows' option, but I'd rather it just opened the links into a tab in the first place
  • Safari general preferences dialogue
    Can't 'choose where to save every file' - I have a whole hierarchy on my hard drive for saving files into, so that I can find them later, but Safari makes me first save the file and then manually move it where I want it to go
  • Single or double click doesn't select whole address - on Windows clicking on the address bar selects the whole text (on Linux, double click does the same), in both Firefox and IE, and then you can immediately start typing knowing you'll replace it, Safari only selects to the nearest full stop either side, so you have to click and drag to select the whole address
  • Auto-complete sometimes interferes with typing address in - this happened to me a couple of times, I assume it's really a bug, but Safari would become so obsessed with providing me with autocomplete options in the address bar that it wouldn't let me type a new URL in (first noticed after I'd visited the Washington Post website, couldn't type a second 'w' into the address bar sometimes)
  • Can't resize window by border - although it's nice that the chrome doesn't waste any screen real estate, I'm used to being able to resize my app windows from any border
  • Safari bookmarks manager
    Can't detach bookmark manager, and ctrl+click doesn't work - in fact I couldn't get any tab to detach, maybe I was doing it wrong, but according to the help file ctrl+clicking the bookmarks icon was supposed to open it in a tab instead of over the top of whatever you have open, it didn't
  • No extensions - &amp;#58;&amp;#39;&amp;#40; this is the killer for me as far as everyday browsing is concerned, I've gotten used to the seven or eight extensions I use regularly in Firefox and it seems unlikely they would all be replicated in Safari, though it seems there's some activity in the Safari extensions area, and also the possibility of doing your own development with Apple and WebKit components
Overall, I'm probably not quite as underwhelmed as most Apple developers seem to be, also the security exploits, discovered within hours of the launch immediately detract from the twelfth reason why Apple thinks we'll love Safari. Also, while the browser is fast (and it's still only a beta, remember) I don't think that alone will be enough to garner significant market share - after all Opera has been faster than both IE and Firefox for a long time but lacks the ubiquity of the former and the customisabilty of the latter. Certainly I don't see myself using it as a regular browser in the near future - 3 out of 5.
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25/10/06

01:25:31 pm Permalink Upgrading to Firefox 2.0 on Windows XP

Categories: General, Product Reviews

This morning I upgraded to Firefox 2.0, though I didn't install the official build &amp;#58;&amp;#41; There were a number of obstacles to overcome to get everything working the way I wanted it, here is my story...

The first thing I did was make a backup of my entire profile directory, I did this by right clicking on the folder (C:\Documents and Settings\[user name]\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox on most Windows systems) and creating a 7Zip archive of it. This meant that I could try the upgrade multiple times by going back to my previous configuration - the process I arrived at here was the result of three false starts.

Next I uninstalled some extensions I knew I wouldn't need - I'd had TabBrowser extensions installed but disabled for a long time, and I knew Firefox 2.0 came with built in spell checking so I uninstalled Spellbound too. I don't think this was strictly necessary, but I did it anyway.

The first issue I discovered was that there was no version of LiveHTTPHeaders available for Firefox 2.0, though there is a patch for the install.rdf. I found that if I updated the extensions\{8f8fe09b-0bd3-4470-bc1b-8cad42b8203a}\install.rdf file in my profile using this patch before I attempted to run Firefox 2.0 then LiveHTTPHeaders seems to work fine. (This will probably work for other extensions too, but I didn't try it because I didn't need to)

Now I did my install, I used a build from plala.or.jp, this comes as a self extracting executable - I just ran it and directed it to output into my Program Files directory, then set up a shortcut by right clicking on firefox.exe. Double-clicking the shortcut starts the upgrade process.

Next up I got my locale and dictionary stuff sorted - first the British English Language Pack and then the British English Dictionary, no problems there.

Finally, I wanted to get my favourite Pinball Theme installed. I did a load of hacking around to get the beta version working on my release, but in the last few hours the 2.0 version has become available &amp;#58;&amp;#68; Good job too, the beta version didn't look too good in some places.

So now I'm all updated and happily browsing with Firefox 2.0!


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13/08/03

01:26:51 am Permalink Linux on a PDA

Categories: Gadgets, Linux, Product Reviews

Bought a reconditioned Sharp Zaurus 5500 before the weekend. It had to be a reconditioned one because they've apparently discontinued the model, it's been replaced by the 5600 in the US (more memory, faster processor) but everyone seems uncertain if/when it will be released in the UK. Given that the credit limit extension on my card would just get spent on something else otherwise, and I wasn't brave enough to order direct from the States, I settled for a reconditioned 5500 from Expansys.

So far it's been quite interesting, the file system is a good deal more complicated than a PocketPC device (and even a standard Linux install), but at least you can install Bash and look at it all properly &amp;#58;&amp;#41;

Managed to sync it with Outlook tonight, will be trying to get Qtopia installed on my RH9 system in the near future. One thing I will complain about is the eBook readers - Microsoft Reader on PocketPC is very nice, feels like reading a book with page numbers and nice anti-aliased fonts and everything (and it was free), but the best I've found for the Zaurus is the Sharp eBook Reader, which costs 30. I managed to convert some books to zTxt format but they just display as one long document, without paragraph or page breaks, which is a bit uncomfortable to read. You can at least make bookmarks, which is the only thing holding me back, at the moment, from just switching to HTML and viewing everything in the Opera browser instead.


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