Google Brings Back Offline Support to Gmail, Adds Offline Docs and Calendar

Ever since the demise of Google Gears back in December 2009, we’ve always been yearning to get some kind of offline support back to our essential Google applications. Finally, they’ve added offline mode to Gmail, Docs and Calendars. However, it’s only available through the Chrome web browser.

Why only Chrome, you ask? Well, Google says that other browsers haven’t implemented the specifications that are needed to run their Offline Mode, specifically the FileSystem API. Will we see Mozilla make room for Google’s Offline Mode anytime soon? Probably not.

To get your sans-Internet Gmail shenanigans going, you’ll need the Gmail Offline app from the Chrome App Store. From there, it’s just a matter of clicking on it whenever you don’t have a connection. The interface should look very familiar to tablet users, since it looks almost identical to the Gmail tablet web interface. Once you establish an Internet connection, the Gmail Offline app will automatically synchronize everything.

Offline Google Docs and Calendar are a little different from Offline Gmail. You won’t need an extension or app, since they both work seamlessly between online and offline modes. All you have to do is head into the upper-right corner and click the gear icon. From there it’s just a matter of checking the box for offline access. If you’re not yet seeing this option, Google is slowly rolling out the new feature throughout the week, so be patient.

At the moment, Docs and Calendar are view-only in offline mode, but Google is making it a point to edit offline in the future.


Write Blog Posts From Inside Your Browser with ScribeFire

ScribeFire

blogThat seems kind of obvious, doesn’t it? Blogging from insider your browser, I mean. That’s how most people do it — go to whatever blogging site they use, log in, and start typing.

But that’s not necessarily the best way. And it’s not the most convenient, either, especially if you have more than one blog. So, what is the best way? That depends on your needs. But a good choice is a browser extension called ScribeFire.

Let’s take a look at ScribeFire and what it can do.

A little about ScribeFire

ScribeFire ScribeFire is an extension for Google Chrome (it also works with Chromium, Chrome’s Open Source cousin), Safari, Firefox, and Opera. It adds a WYSIWYG blog editor to your browser that supports posting to most blogging platforms, including WordPress, Blogger, Movable Type, Posterous, and Tumblr.

Instead of logging into each blog, you can just pop open a ScribeFire window, type a post, and then publish that post with a couple of clicks. You can also save drafts on your computer to post later.

Now that all the background information is out of the way, let’s walk through how to work with ScribeFire.

Getting set up

The first thing that you’ll want to do is install ScribeFire. Just follow one of these links:

Once ScribeFire is installed, click the toolbar icon to open it. Then, click Add a New Blog. In the window that opens, enter the URL to your blog, select the type of blog it is from the Blog Type dropdown list, and enter your user name and password. After that, click Finish.

Adding a blog

Now you’re ready to go.

Writing posts

You’ve set up your blog or blogs. You probably want to start posting. To do that, select the blog for which you want to write the post from the BLOG list in the top-left corner. If you’ve only got one blog, then it’s already selected. Then, click Start a New Post. The WYSIWYG editor opens. Just start typing.

Editing a post

You can add various types of formatting to your post, like bold and italic text, indents, or highlighting. You can also add links, images, and YouTube videos as well as lists. You can’t add tables or actual headings in WYSIWYG mode, though.

But if you know some basic HTML, you can add a bit more formatting. Just click Switch to HTML Mode. In the HTML editor, add HTML tags (including the ones for headings and tables).

You can also add tags to your post by typing them in the TAGS field on the left of the ScribeFire window. You don’t need to do that, but it can help the folks who read your blog find posts on a specific topic faster.

Editing HTML

Once you’re done, click Publish to send the post to your blog. Or click Save Progress if you’re offline or still have some work to do later. ScribeFire saves your work to your hard drive and opens the unfinished/unpublished post the next time you start it up.

Moving your data between computers

If you’re using ScribeFire on more than one computer — say, your desktop and a laptop — and you have several blogs, it’s a lot of work to re-enter the information for each blog. Instead, you can back up your data. Click Transfer your ScribeFire data to/from another computer.

Transfer data

Then, do one of the following:

  • Click Export. A new browser tab containing some information opens. Copy and past that information into a text editor, then save it to your hard drive or something like your Dropbox account.
  • Click Choose File. Find the file that you saved, and then click Open. You’ll be prompted to close and then reopen ScribeFire.

ScribeFire is an easy-to-use and flexible tool for blogging. While it’s not a fully-featured as tools like BlogJet, ecto, or MarsEdit, ScribeFire is more than capable of handling most of your blogging needs. And you can’t beat the price.

Photo credit: svilen001

Firebug add-on for Firefox is known to slow Gmail

Firebug is a free, open source add-on for Firefox that provides essential tools for web developers. If you have Firebug installed and have logged into Gmail recently, however, you’ll be greeted with an intimidating message that states:

“Firebug is known to make Gmail slow unless it is configured correctly.”

This message also contains a link to “Fix This”, but you will notice that Google only provides a few vague sentences explaining that you need to disable Firebug for Gmail, and if that doesn’t work you should disable Firebug altogether. That isn’t very helpful, so in this article I’ll explain the procedure with more detail.

First off, I don’t know exactly why Firebug and Gmail aren’t getting along. I’ve been running Firebug for years and have never noticed excessive slowness with Gmail, but apparently others have not been so fortunate.

The easiest way to disable Firebug for a specific site is to browse to the site causing problems and press Shift + F12. This hotkey automatically disables Firebug for the current website you are browsing.

Alternatively, you can open the Firebug development panel by clicking the small bug icon in the Firefox status bar (if your status bar is hidden, you can also press the F12 key to open Firebug). In the top left corner of the Firebug panel, click the orange bug icon and select “Deactivate Firebug for This Site”.

Firebug will continue to operate on other websites, but when you browse to sites you explicitly disabled, the Firebug logo will turn grey to indicate it is no longer working.

If you continue having problems after deactivating Firebug for Gmail, you may be required to disable the add-on entirely. To do this, open Firefox add-ons by pressing CTRL + SHIFT + A, locate Firebug, click Disable, and restart your browser.

Disabling the Firebug add-on in Firefox

 

Mozilla Officially Releases Firefox 5.0

It looks like Mozilla is following through with their promise to churn out new releases of Firefox faster than ever. After just three months of Firefox 4.0’s official release, Mozilla is hitting the ground running with Firefox 5.0, which is out now for your downloading pleasure.

What’s new in this freshly updated version of Mozilla’s web browser? Well, you won’t see much change as far as good looks go — the GUI is practically identical to Firefox 4.0, but 5.0 now comes with support for CSS animations, as well as the usual improvements to JavaScript and memory performance.

Perhaps the biggest change to Firefox 5.0 is the relocation of the Do-Not-Track setting, which is now positioned at the very top of the Privacy tab in Options to increase discoverability. Do-Not-Track is a setting that was introduced with Firefox 4.0 that gives you the option to opt-out of websites tracking you for purposes such as catered advertisements. This should definitely strike a harmonious chord with privacy buffs. Firefox users on Android are getting the Do-Not-Track feature for the first time with 5.0, making it the first web browser to support this feature across multiple platforms.

Mozilla also included a new feature that will make closing tabs a bit more easier. They will now stay the same size while you’re closing them (very similar to Chrome tabs), that way you’re not jumping around the whole time.

However, you probably won’t notice a huge overall difference between Firefox 4.0 and Firefox 5.0, which should make you wonder if it’s worth upgrading. If add-on and plugin compatibility is an issue for you, I would steer clear for at least a short while until the developers update their add-ons to be compatible with the new version. About half of my add-ons are not compatible yet and most users who upgrade should expect the same outcome. If these aren’t of any concern, upgrade to 5.0. Happy browsing!

Make Your Searches More Social With Wajam

Wajam

How do you find out about things? I’m talking about things like interesting places to visit while on vacation, a good place to eat, whether or not a particular bicycle seat is worth buying. Well, that and more.

Chances are you take one of two routes. One, you turn to your favorite search engine. Or two, you ask a friend or someone in your social network a question or three.

What if you were able to combine those two approaches and make your searches a bit more social? Well, Wajam tries to do just that. And, for the most part, it succeeds.

Wajam?

Let’s look at the concept and the technology. The idea behind Wajam is to improve the results that a search engine returns by combining those results with mentions of, say, that product or place from your online social network. More on how to combine the two in a few paragraphs.

Wajam itself is a browser extension for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer. Once installed, it works in the background and adds results derived from your social network to the results from Google, Bing, Yahoo, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and Blekko.

Getting started

Head over to the Wajam and log in using either your Twitter or Facebook login information. Wajam links to your account. When you start searching (more on this in a moment), will add hits from your network. And once you’ve logged in, you can download and install the extension for your browser.

But what happens if, say, you logged in using your Facebook account but want to add your Twitter account to Wajam? On the Wajam Web site, click the Sources tab. Then, click the icon for Twitter.

Wajam Sources tab

But it’s not just your Twitter and Facebook friends. If you have an account with the bookmarking service Delicious, you can link that account to Wajam. You can also upload a bookmark file from your computer to the Wajam dashboard. That’s a potentially great feature: using your past choices to help enhance your searches.

Using Wajam

There are two ways you can do that. The first way is to head over to your favorite search engine and plug in a search. The search engine will do its thing, but at the top of the results Wajam adds mentions from your social networks about what you’re searching for.

Wajam search results

If one of the results from Wajam fits you bill, then just click a link to jump to that page. You’ll notice the Wajam toolbar at the top of the page. You can use the toolbar to share what you’ve found on Facebook or Twitter.

Wajam toolbar

The second way to search is within Wajam itself. When logged in, click the Home tab. You’re taken to a search engine that actually combs your social networks and uploaded bookmarks (if any) for matches.

Wajam internal search

Click a link to open it. Again, you reach the page you get the Wajam toolbar that lets you share that page on Facebook or Twitter.

On the other hand …

The results themselves can vary. For example, I wanted to find some places to do indoor bouldering in Toronto (where I live) — I searched for bouldering Toronto using Google. The results that came back from Wajam were … well, interesting. I got a tweet from a musician who did a show in Toronto, and a pointer to a blog mentioning a company with an office in Boulder, Colorado. The results from Google, in this case, were more focused.

Also, the freshness of the information can be a bit of a problem. The two results I mentioned in the last paragraph were two months and two years old, respectively. You can sort the results by relevance, newest mentions, and older mentions. But a useful addition to Wajam would be a way to set a range of dates over which to perform a search.

While Wajam has an extension for Google Chrome, I wasn’t able to download and install it in Chromium (the Open Source version of Chrome). That’s strange, because every other Chrome extension I’ve tried with Chromium has installed and has worked.

Final thoughts

Wajam takes search to an interesting new place. By adding a social element, your search results are potentially better targeted and focused to your needs. And, you’d hope, with that social element you’re also getting an element of trust in your results — opinions or just links from people whose opinions matter to you.

I’m not sure that Wajam fully achieves those goals. At least, not yet. But it’s definitely worth taking a closer look at Wajam.

3 Secure Ways to Store Your Passwords

If you’re anything like me, you probably have all your passwords jammed into a text file or stored in your browser somewhere for easy retrieval when you need them.  While convenient, you may want to consider more secure ways to store your passwords to prevent your account(s) from being hacked.

The following applications and services are free, easy to use, and absolutely capable of protecting your sensitive data from peering eyes.

KeePassX

KeePassX is perhaps the most popular method of storing passwords and is an open-source application available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.  It can store a variety of usernames, passwords, URLs and more in a single, encrypted database. Being compatible across multiple platforms, the database can be easily exported, moved, and imported into KeePassX on other computers.

Password Dragon

You may consider Password Dragon a lightweight version of KeePassX. Also open-source and compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux, Password Dragon stores all of your passwords in an BlowfishJ-encrypted database that you can access with a master password.  You can also bypass the GUI and access your passwords via command line.

PassPack

You may be a bit weary of the concept of storing passwords online, but this can be an excellent option for those that need to be able to access data from any location, on any device.  PassPack offers both free and professional accounts for individuals or businesses, and allows you to securely share your passwords with anyone you wish.  For the security-conscious, PassPack provides disposable logins for use on public computers and two-factor authentication with a virtual keyboard to deter keystroke-logging programs.

So now that you know that there are free applications out there dedicated to providing you with an easy, secure method of storing your passwords, stop using Notepad and put your Post-its away!

TweetDeck for Chrome is a Flexible, Lightweight Version of its Desktop Counterpart

TweetDeck Desktop is arguably one of the best desktop Twitter clients for power users. It offers endless columns of information, multiple account support, and many features that Twitter itself had to copy. This app can basically do it all, and might even be getting purchased for $50 million by Twitter.

My only major complaint is that TweetDeck Desktop runs on Adobe Air, and while I have no qualms with the technology itself, it often suffers from major performance problems, especially when starting the app for the first time. With a modest seven columns (okay, maybe that’s not modest?), I usually need to “warm up” TweetDeck like I used to warm up my ’97 Ford Escort in a brutal North Dakota January.

With the launch of Google Chrome’s web store, an app store for its popular web browser, TweetDeck jumped off the Adobe Air bandwagon and onto the new Chrome platform. The result: a screaming fast, delightfully useful version of TweetDeck that runs directly from your browser.

To get started, head over to the Chrome web store (while using Chrome, obviously), and install TweetDeck for Chrome.

Once you have TweetDeck installed in Chrome, you can access it from any new tab page (press CTRL + T) or, alternatively, install the TweetDeck Launcher extension to open TweetDeck directly from your browser’s toolbar.

My favorite part about getting started with TweetDeck for Chrome was that I didn’t have to reconfigure my columns or information. If you already have TweetDeck for Desktop installed on your computer, it can automatically import your settings. Otherwise, you can log in with your TweetDeck account which should also restore most of your settings (although I think it only restores custom columns).

TweetDeck for Chrome in the New Tab page
Skip the tedious configuration process by importing from TweetDeck Desktop

Note: You’ll have to approve the import process through TweetDeck desktop before the data can be imported to TweetDeck for Chrome.

The first thing you’ll notice: TweetDeck for Chrome is crazy fast. Opening columns for two Twitter accounts, Facebook, and a couple of search columns takes mere seconds. Even better, those columns are immediately usable (I’d usually have to wait several minutes before TweetDeck Desktop would let me actually interact with it.

If you’re combining multiple accounts and social networks in TweetDeck, you’ll probably be greeted by a few “merged” columns that showcase messages from all of your accounts together. I’m not wild about this (I like my Facebooks kept separate from my Twitters), so I opted to delete those columns and instead make account-specific columns. Hey, some people like their pickles cucumbered.

To add new columns or accounts to TweetDeck for Chrome, just click the TweetDeck > button in the top left. This will present you with all of the fantastic options you’d expect from all TweetDeck clients.

To delete a column, click the wrench icon that appears when you hover over the column and then click the red Delete button at the bottom of the column. Clicking the wrench icon also gives you the option to edit notifications for that column. You can also move any column when in wrench-mode (but it appears this is the only time you can drag-and-drop columns, otherwise they remain locked).

Overall, TweetDeck for Chrome is probably my new favorite desktop Twitter client. It might take a little bit of time to get used to opening a separate Chrome window to run it on a second monitor, but it’s worth it for the performance and the fantastic feature set.

Convert Web Pages to PDF, Quickly and Easily

Even though we live in an increasingly digital world, many people still can’t let go of paper. Look around any office (even your home office) and you’ll see a hard copy of some content from one website or another. The next time you’re on public transit, take a peek at your fellow passengers; chances are at least one of them is reading a printed web page.

But if you look closely at those print outs, you’ll see that there’s often a lot of paper wasted. When you print a web page, you’re printing exactly what you’re seeing on screen. All menus, headers, images, and other cruft. And let’s be honest: not all websites have a printer-friendly version.

If you need to print a web page, you can do it while saving some paper and ink. How? with a couple of nifty services called Print Friendly and Joliprint.

Print Friendly

Print Friendly takes a web page, cleans out things like ads and navigation menus, and leaves you with a plain page. From there, you can either print the page immediately or convert it to a PDF file. All you have to do is copy the URL of the page, then go to the Print Friendly website. From there, paste the URL into a field and click Print Preview.

Enter the URL

After a few seconds, a printer-friendly version of the page appears. In the preview, you can delete certain elements, change the size of the font, or get rid of all images on the page.

Setting options

Then, click either Print or PDF. If you click PDF, the service generates a stripped-down PDF file. The file is plain, but readable.

The resulting PDF

There’s also an email button, but I’ve never been able to get it to work for me.

Joliprint

Joliprint is somewhat similar to Print Friendly. The main differences are that you can’t delete elements on a page and Joliprint only creates PDF files. But it creates those files with a little more style than Print Friendly.

As with Print Friendly, you only need to copy and paste a URL into a field at the Joliprint website and then click joliprint it!.

Enter the URL

After a few seconds, you’re asked to download a PDF. And a nice PDF is it, too. It’s laid out in two columns and in a very nice, very readable font.

What a pretty PDF

Making Things Easier

Copying a URL, going to either site, pasting a URL in a field, and then clicking a button is a bit of a chore. You can cut out the a lot of that by adding a bookmarklet to your web browser. You can find instructions for doing that with Print Friendly and Joliprint at their websites. Once you add the bookmarklet, all you need to do is click a button.

If you have a website or blog, you can also add a Print Friendly or Joliprint button to it. It gives visitors to your site or blog an opportunity to generate a printer-friendly version of a post or a page. No need for you to worry about server-side trickery or using Cascading Style Sheets to create a printer-enabled version of your pages.

Print Friendly and Joliprint aren’t the only services to do this on the web, but they both do a great job, and are quick and easy to use. Both are great for archiving web content and printing. And best of all, they save time, paper, and ink.

Restore the old-style status bar in Firefox 4 with Status-4-Evar

Update: As pointed out in the comments, the Tree Style Tab add-on was causing Firefox 4’s status bar to display in the bottom right corner of the browser. Status-4-Evar fixes this problem, and allows for a high degree of customization of the new status bar.

One of the major changes in Firefox 4 was a completely new status bar – or lack thereof. The status bar has been renamed the “Add-on Bar” and is disabled by default. Taking a cue from Chrome, URLs and status information is shown in as-needed in a small bar that hovers at the bottom of the browser window.

If you want to restore the original status bar functionality from previous versions of Firefox, Status-4-Evar brings back some of the old features and lets you specify exactly how you want things to appear.

A simple fix with Status-4-Evar

Simply download and install Status-4-Evar, then restart Firefox. If you don’t notice anything different right away, you’ll need to enable Firefox 4’s “Add-on bar” by clicking the Firefox menu, opening Options, and selecting “Add-on Bar”. You can also press Ctrl + /.

By default, Status-4-Evar will make all the little things right in the world: URL information will appear in the bottom left, the loading progress bar will appear somewhere in the middle, and add-ons will appear in the bottom right.

Status-4-Evar can do significantly more than just move things around in your status bar too. To access its options, open the Firefox Add-on Manager by pressing Ctrl + Shift + A and click Options under Status-4-Evar.

You’ll quickly find the developer of Status-4-Evar put a lot of time into this add-on; you can change the position of almost all elements in the status bar and even move them to different positions within the browser like the URL bar. This allows you to move the progress bar to the URL bar, just like the Fission add-on I covered in my Firefox add-ons for netbooks article.

If you find yourself missing the extra space that the only-show-when-needed hover status bar gave you, you can set Status-4-Evar to automatically hide itself after a customizable period of time.

Were you bothered by the new status bar in Firefox 4, or am I completely off my rocker? Share with me in the comments below.

Internet Explorer 9: If Chrome jumped off a bridge…

There’s no doubt that Google has done something right with its increasingly popular web browser. I wrote an article earlier this year about my switch to Chrome from Firefox, mainly because the good folks at Mozilla decided that they should copy many of the core elements from Google’s acclaimed browser. It’s not that this is a bad thing, but it made me realize that if Chrome is good enough for Mozilla to copy, it must be worth using.

Now comes along Internet Explorer 9, fully compatible with Vista SP2 and Windows 7. As a web developer, I really couldn’t care less about another iteration of the worst browser in the history of the internet which constantly forces me to write two versions of my CSS. But as a tech enthusiast, I was curious to check it out to see if Microsoft could do anything to fix the problems that have plagued their browser for years.

I went to download the browser at http://www.beautyoftheweb.com/, fresh off the assembly line, and I’ve been using it almost exclusively since its release on March 14th, 2011. Not surprisingly, the newly designed browser looked very familiar.

To be fair, I expected it to look familiar; Internet Explorer typically doesn’t change too radically from release to release. But I am surprised, however, that it looked more like Chrome than Internet Explorer 8. Microsoft has streamlined the UI, providing as many pixels for page viewing as possible. But to be different, instead of utilizing the space above the address bar for tabs, Ballmer & Company decided to shrink the address bar down and squeeze the tabs into the space next to them, leaving an entire row of wasted space at the top of the window. The new design is definitely welcome, but it still feels like they missed the mark just a bit.

Bridge
Image courtesy of Brian @ http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/370994

Aside from copying Chrome’s robust feature set and minimalist UI, they have added a few nice features, such as the ability to pin a website to your task bar. If you have a particular web site that you visit frequently, it is now easy to get there with a single click, saving precious seconds of your time and extending the life of your mouse a few clicks at a time. Unfortunately, this feature is only compatible with Windows 7.

Overall, IE9 is a huge improvement in design, features, and speed for Microsoft’s web browser. While many of the changes are a few years behind their competitors, it is without a doubt a step in the right direction. However, I can’t help but feel like IE9 is the crippled result of Google Chrome jumping off a bridge and landing on the rocks below.

If only Microsoft would do something to wean Windows XP users off of IE6…