Category Archives: Browsers

Is Firefox the new Internet Explorer for Mac users?

firefox-logoIf you have been using Mac for as long as I have, you remember the days when they came with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer pre-installed. Even if it wasn’t installed, there was a time when it was available for download on the Mac. It was the must have-browser, even if you used a different one like Netscape, Firefox or Safari.

Why would you still need Internet Explorer on your computer? At the time there were many websites that would not work in any other browser. In fact, many websites, especially banking sites, demanded you have IE installed; they wouldn’t even let you proceed without using it. There were other sites that would not load properly unless you were using Explorer. You would access a website, realize it wasn’t working right, try it in Explorer and everything would be fine.

Well, those days are long gone, or are they? Microsoft doesn’t even make a Mac compatible version of Internet Explorer anymore. However, there are still sites that do not run properly in all browsers. I encountered one this morning. I was in Safari and a specific website would not function properly. I tried over and over again and got nowhere. What did I do? I opened Firefox and tried it there. It worked perfectly.

In fact, there are many sites that, just like in the past with Internet Explorer, will state that they run best in Firefox. At my previous employer, we had a site we accessed constantly, but it would only work in Firefox.

While I choose to use Safari as my default browser on my Mac, I still have Firefox installed for those times that I encounter those sites that require it to work properly. Does this mean that Firefox is the new Internet Explorer for Mac users? I’d say it is — not only for Mac users, but for Windows users as well.

5 Reasons Pinterest is a Better Search Engine than Google

pinterest_badge_redDespite its premise, platform, and overall demographic (crafty women), Pinterest comes out as one of the world’s most accurate search engines. Even better than actual search engines, like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Sure, it was made as a social media website, and for leisure or entertainment time, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less accurate as a searchable device. Whatever the magic formula, Pinterest’s creators seem to have nailed down the best way to search photos without receiving a plateful of spam.

5. Pinterest is more visually appealing

Hosting large, quality photos, Pinterest gives users an accurate overview of each post. This eye-catching perk shows what each link will hold, as well as providing a short customer-written response, so there’s no need to worry about keyword or phrase stuffing. Every single search query is organic.

4. Its results are more dynamic

No matter the topic, Pinterest shows users an array of results and related topics, where traditional search engines tend to stick within a single comfort zone. For instance, if searching “tech,” Pinterest brings up news articles, products, must-have articles, fabric patterns, etc. In contrast, Google shows a mixture of electronic and college websites. Which option is more helpful?

3. It doesn’t correct our spelling or grammar

Non-traditional spelling is practically a norm now; having search terms automatically “fixed” requires a re-search, taking time and falsely adjusting our saved search features. Pinterest sidesteps this auto adjustment, allowing correct searches to take place on a first-time basis. Users save on time and results, all in one helpful swoop.

2. No ads

No pop ups, banners, or videos that play automatically. It’s searching uninterrupted.

1. There’s no spam

Without paid searches or keyword stuffing put into web pages, searches bring up actual relevant information. Users don’t have to waste time scanning for content that relates to their needs, and clicks won’t be wasted on sites scamming for traffic. With Pinterest, users know they’re gaining relevant, organic searches that actually hold useful information – not paragraphs of filler that reads in circles. No scanning, no pop-up ads, and no spammy content. For a population used to all of the above as the everyday norm, Pinterest’s search engine approach is a truly novel idea.

Updates from Google I/O – What is New on Google Play and Chrome

 900M Androids

Once again, the Google I/O event was an opportunity for Google to showcase what magic and innovation they have been cooking up in their labs. This year, they did not disappoint and came through as usual. Here is my take on what I loved about the new developer tools.

900 million Androids activations as of 2013 was probably the big opening news during the event. The android ecosystem is truly amazing and continues to grow. Another notable addition was Cloud Save when gaming which allows you to pause a game and continue playing on other devices.

 Google Play

I0 Public View

 Optimization was also a big deal during the event. Google now offers optimization tips to help you see where you can improve your apps. This includes giving you such services like App Translation Services and tablet usage to help you determine where your users are coming from and how you can make their experiences better.

Referral tracking is another new feature to help you determine which ads are most effective. By showing which channels are bringing you most traffic, usage metrics will also be available together in the same place without having to navigate to Google Analytics.

Revenue Graphs now allow you to see revenue streams at your fingertips down to specific countries and time. Beta Testing & Staged Rollouts were also introduced to help you manage app rollouts.

Chrome

I0

Chrome was created to make the Web a better place. Google announced that the Chrome user growth has now reached 750 million active users. With most of this increasing new growth is coming from mobile, Google showcased a demo of Web GL which comes to Chrome that was not available just last year.

The browser is a means and not an end in itself, and Google seems to be concentrating on bringing Chrome capabilities to mobile by increasing JavaScript speeds. The introduction of WebP image format was also showcased with an animated GIF of a cat.

Video formats encoded in H.264 and VP9 were also showcased, with the later being 69 percent smaller which would translate to less bandwidth costs. To enable adoption of these new technologies, Google introduced data compression on Chrome for Mobile to enable web pages load faster. It was also announced that YouTube will soon be offering support for the new VP9 video format.

Autocomplete for checkout has also been simplified to make shopping on mobile phones much easier. One you do an initial checkup, Chrome saves up all of your info. The next time you come to fill out the checkout form, it is automatically populated saving time.

You can also build your own HTML tags with the introduction of web components which is where Google wants to take web development.

A nice demo of a game using Web sockets to keep different devices synchronized during gameplay was also showcased.

Manage your to-do list on Android, iOS, and Chrome with Any.DO

Any.DO started as an Android-only solution to the public’s to-do list blues, and it did a damn good job of cheering us up. As a result, Any.DO became a both popular and critically acclaimed app by tech blogs everywhere. Personally, I’ve been a regular user of Any.DO for the past six months or so and I appreciate its minimalistic approach to list-making.

The strength of Any.DO lies in its simplicity. Rather than overcomplicating a simple task manager with endless menus and options, the focus is placed on entering tasks under simple headings like Today, Tomorrow, This Week, or Later.  The app is definitely gorgeous with bold typography and basic colour schemes, and though the Android version is clean and free of cheesy effects, the iOS app is (nauseatingly) made to look like crumpled paper.

It appears that the designers took some inspiration from Windows Phone, but you won’t hear me complaining about borrowing a few aesthetics from the most beautiful software ever. The app displays black text on a white background by default, but a dark theme allows you to reverse the coloration. Above all, it’s clean.

And if you’re in the market for a new task manager there’s never been a better time to pick up this app, especially now that it syncs across all the major platforms (only Windows Phone 7 is missing). Syncing is automatic once you register with the service or choose to sign up via Facebook.

The iOS App

iOS Any.DO - Home in Landscape
Any.DO on iOS in Landscape

Additional gesture-based controls have been implemented in the iOS version: drag down from the top of the screen to enter a new task (hold down after dragging to enter an item with your voice) and swipe right to cross out a completed task. Additionally, when entering an item for your list the app attempts to predict what you’re trying to type. It’s moderately useful at times — finishing “Buy” with “milk and bread” saves a bit of time) — and when the app adds a handy phone button beside names that exist in your address book.

Tapping on a task brings up a menu that allows you to set it to a higher priority, move it to a specific folder, assign a due date or note, or share it with friends. You can also drag items around to reorder and prioritize certain tasks over others, much like in the Android app. The iOS version takes better advantage of screen real estate than its Android counterpart, however, displaying a calendar alongside your task list when the device is in landscape mode. But with luck, this feature will appear on Android soon.

The Chrome App

Any.DO Chrome - Web Browsing
Any.DO while browsing in Chrome.

Of course, given its home on conventional desktops and laptops, the Any.DO Chrome app lacks the gesture-based controls of its mobile brethren. But the aesthetic remains consistent, though you’re unable to change the color scheme from the default white. Check marks are used to indicate completed tasks instead of swiping, but can still be reorganized by clicking and dragging. The app opens from an icon to the right of the address bar and drops down over your current browsing session — no need to open a new tab or window. But the option to pop Any.DO out into its own window is there for those of you who’d prefer.

Conclusion

As a light user of task-based apps, Any.DO is the one and only solution to my needs. The new Chrome and iOS apps mean I can finally sync lists across my Nexus S, iPad, and MacBook Pro (running Mac OSX and Windows 8 Release Preview).

The fact remains, however, that if you’re a heavy user the lists can get a bit cumbersome. Most items end up lumped into the Today category if they don’t have a due date so lists can get out of hand if you don’t pay attention. I still think it’s worth a try for anyone in need of a new task manager since it’s free and using folders may lessen the organizational load. If you do try it out, let us know what you think.

[nggallery id=14]

How to navigate the web with your keyboard and gleeBox

I love keyboard shortcuts. I find using a mouse, menus and clicking to be an incredibly inefficient way of doing things. I spent a lot of time in college working with Adobe programs and using three and four character keyboard shortcuts to get things done faster. So when I found gleeBox and the amount of time-saving shorthand it had to offer. I was pretty excited.

GleeBox is a browser add-on available for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox. Once installed, pushing the G key will bring up the dialogue box. From here you can input a variety of commands as simple as opening a search page in a new window, to sharing whatever page you happen to be viewing with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, or Gmail with the input of a simple command.

Pushing the period key will show a list of open tabs.

Pushing the Period (.) key will bring up a list of the current tabs you have open in your browsers. From there you can use your arrow keys to select the tab you want.

!share fb automatically shares your current page on your Facebook profile

There are also functions such as :wp and :tube that will allow you to search for a term on Wikipedia and YouTube respectively.

The amount of options available are endless due the ability to customize actions. This allows you to tailor gleeBox to do things that you typically do while browsing. I like to share websites with my friends on Facebook and the ability to share a link without having open up a different page and copy and paste the URL is really pretty cool for me. I am not much of a Twitter person, but the command that will automatically share whatever page you are on with a shortened URL would also seem to be pretty handy.

All in all gleeBox is a pretty cool and useful app. The amount of default commands available, and the ability to customize, means the sky is the limit.

Finally, here’s a link to a list of default commands: http://thegleebox.com/manual.html

How to Reset Your Cr-48 Chromebook to its Default Factory Settings

Google’s Cr-48 Chromebook was distributed to beta testers in February 2011 and was public’s the first glimpse at a netbook running the Chrome OS. Since its release, the Cr-48 has undergone a number of updates, and on occasion, the software changes create a problem that can be hard to fix with the limited number of resources available for Chrome OS issues. Not to worry, follow these steps to reset your Cr-48 to its default factory settings and you’ll be back in no time.

Note:  Friendly reminder that selling your Cr-48 is against the TOS — don’t be that guy!

1. Remove the battery and flip on the ‘Dev’ switch

Power down your Chromebook, flip it over and remove the battery. The Chromebook engineers cleverly hid the Dev switch behind a piece of black tape. The tape covering the switch can be found right next to the battery pins (see below). Flip that very tiny switch, and do so carefully.

Bottom view
Bottom view after battery is removed
The hidden 'Dev' switch

2. Boot into Developer Mode

Turn on the power and allow it to boot until you reach the Sad Chromebook screen. At this point, hit Ctrl+D to enter Developer Mode and initiate the wiping of your partition. The wiping initiates automatically and takes just a few minutes. When the “recovery” has completed, you’ll be prompted to reboot. Turn off the Chromebook and move on to step 3.

When you see the sad Chromebook, hit Ctrl+D
Down the rabbit hole

3. Power down and flip off the ‘Dev’ switch

Pretty self-explanatory, but we don’t want to stay in Developer Mode, so once again remove the battery and put the switch in its original ‘off’ position.

4. Reboot and reconfigure

You should be able to reboot now and you’ll be greeted with one final message to let you know you’re back in Normal Mode. After a minute or so, you’ll be prompted to connect and configure.

Transitioning back to Normal Mode
You're done!

That wasn’t so hard! In fact, once you’re configured, Chrome OS will automatically update, so you’ll be exactly where you want to be. Start to finish, this shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with your Cr-48. Heck, maybe you want to try to install Ubuntu Linux on it. The worst that can happen is that you’ll be out 15 minutes. Have at it!

A fond farewell to vertical tabs in Google Chrome

Tabbed browsing is nothing new, but I’ve always felt that something wasn’t quite right with how tabs were displayed. After an enthusiastic web browsing session, I’d often end up with a horizontal disaster of disorganized tabs. With computer displays getting wider and not taller, why were browsers cramming tabs into my precious vertical space?

Horizontal Tabs in Google Chrome

When I discovered an add-on for Firefox called Tree Style Tab in 2009, and I was so excited that I wrote an article about it that same day to spread the good news: Finally, tabs done right! Moving tabs to the side of the browser window made them easier to manage (and Tree Style Tab automatically organizes them into hierarchical groups), plus it made better use of my 1,920 horizontal pixels.

Like many people, Google Chrome had caught my eye as a blazing fast way to browse the internet. It took some time, but the development team behind Chrome eventually added a basic version of vertical tabs to their Beta channel. Vertical tabs weren’t “officially” a feature – in fact, I’m sure many of you didn’t know they even existed in Chrome – but the guide I wrote to enabling vertical tabs in Google Chrome is one of the all-time most popular articles on Techerator. By combining Chrome’s rudimentary vertical tabs with the New Tabs At End extension, I was able to enjoy Chrome almost as much as Firefox.

The Infinite Version giveth and the Infinite Version taketh away

Google Chrome has released 15 major versions since it was first released in 2008. To keep up with that extraordinary rate of deployment, the Chrome team built an industry-changing automatic updater into the browser to make sure users always had the newest version without even thinking about it.

One of my favorite articles about Chrome’s update system is Jeff Atwood’s “The Infinite Version,” where he states:

Chrome is so fluid that it has transcended software versioning altogether.

Like Pavlov’s dogs, I’ve been conditioned to associate software updates with new features and better performance. But there’s a reverse side to that coin: features can be taken away, too. With the release of Chrome Beta 16, vertical tabs have been officially removed from the browser. The Beta channel is a direct preview of what’s coming in future stable versions, so within a few weeks vertical tabs will no longer exist in Chrome.

The removal of vertical tabs came as a surprise when my browser automatically updated, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected. As with most Google “experiments”, there’s always a clear disclaimer that features can break or disappear at any time. That being said, vertical tabs had been around in Chrome long enough that it was a shock when they magically disappeared, especially since the auto-updater doesn’t notify you when things have changed.

Chrome is based on the open-source Chromium project, and one of the benefits of open-source projects is that they’re fairly transparent. Dozens of bug reports were filed after vertical tabs were removed, to which a Chromium developer tersely replied:

Sidetabs were an experiment that didn’t pan out. They’re in a half-working state and should be removed, says Glen.

We’ll try to come up with other approaches for this use case.

This caused a flurry of other bug reports to be filed (warning, this one has quite a bit of NSFW language). It’s clear that users aren’t happy about the change, especially since there currently is no clear plan to add a better version of vertical tabs back to the browser.

Now what?

Unfortunately, unless the developers on the Chrome and Chromium teams relent, you probably won’t be seeing the return of vertical tabs in the near future. You do have a few options, though.

  1. Let the Chromium team know how you feel. Add a post to the missing vertical tabs bug report and Star the issue so they know you’re interested.
  2. Use Firefox with Tree Style Tab. Firefox has taken some hits because of Chrome’s tremendous performance and minimalistic UI, but the Mozilla team has made leaps and bounds with their browser and it’s definitely worth using. Firefox version 8 was just released, too.
  3. Check out some of the vertical tab extensions for Chrome. These extensions have some major limitations because they can’t really modify Chrome’s user interface, but if you’re a die-hard Chrome user, it’s your only option.

As for me, I’ve switched back to good ol’ Firefox. My affair with Chrome was wonderful while it lasted (we’ll always have version 15…), but I’m going to stick with the browser that gives me vertical tabs.

Google Music Beta Soon To Meet Google Music Store

I’ve been using Google Music (beta) for several months now, and if you haven’t already, request an invitation for yourself. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the simple interface, the surprisingly full set of features, and the nearly unlimited cloud space…but reports of the upcoming Google Music Store make this service all the sweeter.

Google announced the long-anticipated Google music download service at the All Things Digital Conference in Hong Kong around mid-October. The release is placing emphasis on the idea that the store won’t simply sell music, but will add a “twist” with social recommendations by exploiting Google’s rising star Google+, allowing users to share their favorite music with friends as a single-play track. The major concern now is timeliness and selection — Google is having a difficult time closing deals with Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group, a problem that has ailed other internet music services like eMusic.

A new store may be just the touch that Google Music needs to become a viable replacement for iTunes or Zune Marketplace. The browser-based application comes with the basic features you’d expect in a music manager (albums, playlists, artwork) along with some nice surprises, like a “Instant Mix” tool that lets you select a single song to generate a playlist of similar music. The Google Music blog, Magnifier, offers daily free songs from all genres to jazz up your collection. The Android app lets you stream from your library without needing any local storage, though downloading to your device is an option. The ability to instantly add music to your library from your phone may give Google the bump it needs to compete with the likes of Apple and Amazon.

Google Music (beta)

Google is making a serious effort to dethrone Apple as the king of integrated music services, and with Google+ as its social ace in the hole, it may have a shot. Google hasn’t officially announced a specific date, but insists the Google music store will be here “soon.”

But one question remains:  now that Google has developed a strategy for competing with established “paid” internet music stores, will it make moves against Pandora and Spotify to really put a stranglehold on the music distribution business?

When Will We See A Chrome OS Tablet?

Some time ago, I became one of the lucky few selected to beta test the first Chromebook, the Cr-48. I didn’t expect a lot from a notebook that was nothing more than a browser, and it delivered exactly what it claimed — a fast-booting OS with a browser…and very little more. The newer Samsung and Acer Chromebooks have greatly improved specs over the Cr-48, but they still leave a lot to be desired.

Will you ever see me running around with a Chromebook purchased with my own money? Not any time soon. There is simply too much functionality that I want in my notebooks that the Chrome browser can’t deliver (yet). Buggy and prone to frequent crashing, I’m a long way from sold.

So, I don’t think the Chromebook will fulfill my needs, but what about a Chome OS tablet? Hmm…now there’s an idea.

OK, so it’s not exactly my idea. Google has been hinting toward a tablet iteration of Chrome OS since at least early 2010 when it was leaked that Google was teaming with HTC to develop and answer to the iPad. That never came to fruition, and Google once again raised our hopes by releasing a tablet rendering and suggesting that a Chrome OS tablet was coming to Verizon in late November 2010. Again, our hopes were dashed. Will we ever see the Chrome OS tablet?

Google has left a few clues to suggest that the Chrome OS tablet is somewhere in their immediate development plans:

  • The Chrome OS source code now has a revision that includes “CrOS Touch” in the user-agent string instead of just “CrOS.” According to the log, this should let websites optimized for a tablet experience easily adapt to accommodate Chrome OS tablet devices.
  • The source code also seems to be making room for a virtual keyboard written in browser-supported SVG. A touch UI keyboard would be essential for a tablet in an Apple-defined market.
  • Google has confirmed code for a Chrome OS tablet. OK, great start…but that was April.

But what about Android tablets? Is Google going to find itself in a position where it is pitting its two operating systems against each other? Combine that with lackluster early reviews for Chrome OS and you have to wonder what exactly the strategy is here. I can see a Chrome tablet succeeding but where does that leave Android tablets? And better yet — why would somebody prefer a Google Chrome OS tablet over a Google Android OS tablet?

My prediction is pessimistic. Chrome OS is a neat idea, but it has limited production use. As a tablet, the OS seems ideal, but that space is already occupied by their own Android devices.

When will we see the Chrome OS tablet? I think sometime in 2012. When will we see its demise? Probably a year or so after its release. That will have to be my position until Google can convince me they have some ideas in mind for separating Android and Chrome OS.

Windows Phone 7: Where’s my Browser?

Padlock
Microsoft has locked itself out of the competition.

With the release of the Mango update back in September, Microsoft undoubtedly improved Internet Explorer on their Windows Phone platform. WP7 now features a full-fledged version of IE9 designed specifically mobile devices, which is leaps and bounds ahead of the browser that was available before the update.

However, many WP7 users like me would love to have Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, or even Safari on their handsets. Why are these popular third-party browsers nowhere to be found on the platform?

Blame Microsoft

For some reason, the folks in Redmond have decided that all web browsing on their mobile OS should be based on Internet Explorer, meaning that any third-party browsers must use the IE rendering engine that is native to the phone.

Developers are limited to customizing the UI of the browser, while using the rendering engine of the phone’s native IE9 Mobile. A few developers have done just that, with varying success. A couple of the most notable browsers available in the Marketplace, Browser+ and Browse On, have done well to improve the lacking interface of IE, but still have their problems.

If Mozilla or Google were to bring their beloved browsers to the platform, they’d without a doubt be great. Unfortunately, they have no plans to do so, thanks to the restrictive nature of Microsoft’s platform.

Microsoft has told developers they’re welcome to try to make a good web browser with Silverlight, the technology that most apps are built with on WP7. As a developer, that doesn’t sound like fun at all. It’s not surprising that Mozilla is ignoring the platform entirely.

Google has several apps available for Android and iOS, including Google+. On WP7, Google currently has nothing more than a Google Search application that, upon clicking on a search result, opens the target page in Internet Explorer. Good grief.

It appears that Microsoft’s close-minded approach to third-party support is keeping some of the industry’s largest hitters away from the platform, which is effectively limiting the platform’s ability to grow into a respectable player in the smartphone market. Frustrating third-party developers is a sure-fire way to frustrate your user base, which is a questionable approach for a company that is trying to strengthen their position in a highly competitive market. Hopefully Microsoft changes their stance on this issue, not only for their own benefit, but for the benefit of their users, and for the benefit of the smartphone market as a whole.