Privacy: Ghostery helps you elude online trackers in all browsers

Ghostery browser add-on
Ghostery browser add-on
Ghostery shows you who is tracking you and let's you stop them.

Browser cookies are the black helicopters of the Internet age. Everyone seems to believe they’re only used for a secret, evil purpose.

I guess it depends on your definition of evil. Companies use cookies  to store information about Internet users. That information is coupled with other data collected via “tags, web bugs, pixels and beacons that are included on web pages in order to get an idea of your online behavior.” That idea helps them deliver ads and marketing messages to you online. Probably the biggest problem is that this is done without you knowing that you’re building a customer profile simply by reading blogs and watching videos.

Ghostery is a free browser add-on that exposes who is tracking your behavior and allows you to block them. It is available for Firefox, Safari, Google Chrome, Opera, Internet Explorer and Apple iOS. That’s right – you can use it on your iPhone.

When setting up the add-0n, it’s easiest to go with a broad brush by blocking all third-party extensions and cookies. It doesn’t seem to do any harm (depending on your definition of harm).

For example, it blocks almost all the social media sharing buttons you see on web content. So if you use them a lot to “Like” pages, tweet stories and add to social bookmarking services, you’re going to miss them. But it’s easy enough to allow the functions you want by clicking on the ghost icon at the bottom of your browser. That will bring up an info box that tells you what is blocked and lets you unblock it. You can also click through to get information on the service that is tracking your behavior.

That window also lets you temporarily turn off the blocking. Once you do that, Ghostery still identifies the trackers and gives you the same information.

One of the benefits seems to be increased browser speed. Sometimes the blocking takes time but overall pages load faster without the third-party extensions.

Another casualty is advertising. Some ads are blocked. Sometimes the space is there but no ad can be seen. Annoying pop-over ads still appear but don’t show any advertisement. I still have to close out the ad space to continue reading.

Other than that, I don’t seem to be missing any functionality, except my online banking site seems to be glitchy while Ghostery is blocking trackers. Pausing the blocks lets me do what I need to do though.

I see two problems for publishers though:

First, Ghostery can block your analytics – Google Analytics and Omniture for example. That means your stats could take a hit even if you’re only tracking traffic to pages not who is reading them.

Second, if you run a metered paywall – a limit to the number of pages that can be viewed for free – Ghostery can let readers bypass those limits since they rely on information in cookies. But it doesn’t break down paywalls that protect certain pages.

What I like about Ghostery

I don’t need a tin foil hat anymore. The add-on makes me feel invisible to all kinds of tracking. Since not all of it is evil, I have the ability to accept the services that I want to use. It’s easy to use and worth the time to install.

Ghostery blocks some ads from being displayed

[Download Ghostery]

HTML5 and the Future of Mobile Apps and Gaming

HTML5 will change the way we view mobile apps, and will change the way we think about how software has to be viewed on a mobile device. It will even change the way we view desktop applications. HTML5 is the biggest game changer since Apple’s App Store.

But if what I am saying is right, then why hasn’t this all come true yet? The reasons are many, some minor and easily overcome, and some not so much. Let’s start with an explanation of what HTML5 and JavaScript advancements are already doing in the mobile world.

HTML5 is the new HTML standard.

Major enhancements such as the <“video”> tag, CSS3 animations and better JavaScript support are what have made HTML5 such a hot topic. With the power of HTML5, web developers and programmers can write software in a cross-platform language and save significant time and effort.

HTML 5 Development Platforms

Some companies, such as Sencha who developed Sencha Touch, and Prism Technologies who developed PhoneGap, have created mobile development platforms that reach from Android and iOS all the way back to Blackberry and Windows Phone 7. The reason these platforms are so flexible is because they utilizes HTML5, advanced JavaScript and CSS3 to replicate a native app using a web browser.

I’ve had experience using Sencha Touch and PhoneGap (PhoneGap makes it easy for users to load HTML5 libraries into a native app “wrapper”, which can access hardware-specific functions such as the camera and accelerometer, for distribution on an app market) and have found that while it is very useful while building information and text driven applications, it is not very effective in creating graphically intense applications such as ones with photo galleries, interactive menus, or games. This leads me to why HTML5 has its limits in the mobile world today.

Mobile Browsers

Each mobile OS has a browser that is used to generate the HTML5 application. The problem is that not every browser was created equal, especially when it comes to HTML5 support. When looking at HTML5 on an iOS devices such as an iPhone 4s, HTML5 is very responsive and smooth.

This is not so true with Android and Blackberry. Although Android has good support for most of HTML5, it has many “artifacts” or poorly handled graphical renderings that make it slower, less attractive, and overall less responsive than its iOS counterpart. This is the main reason development of HTML5 has not surpassed development of native applications to date. There are a few other limitations to HTML5 such as hardware support when accessing components like the camera or file systems, but HTML5 hopes to circumvent that soon with future standards.

The conclusion is that HTML5, while being very powerful and flexible when used with JavaScript and CSS3, is not yet a suitable replacement for native development and therefore one must first consider the goal of the said application before deciding to proceed with development in HTML5 or native environments.

But don’t forget, according to Strategy Analytics, more than 1 billion HTML5 supported phones will be sold worldwide by 2013. Read more here.

You can read more about mobile HTML5 support here.

Firefox Tip: How to Prevent JavaScript Code from Resizing Your Browser Window

Have you ever been browsing the internet, opened a new link, and suddenly had your entire browser window change size?  This is a trick that web developers can easily do with JavaScript (and was heavily used in the “older” days of the internet) but has become a nuisance in modern times.  If I’ve got a pile of tabs open, I don’t like my newly-opened tab kicking my browser to 680×480 just because an antique webpage was built to that resolution.

If you’re using Firefox, there is a very simple way to prevent websites from resizing your browser window without disabling JavaScript altogether.  Sure, disabling JavaScript is the kill-all solution (and would be more secure for your browser), but there are way too many legitimate uses for JavaScript for me to suggest doing that.

Disabling JavaScript’s Ability to Resize Your Browser Window in Firefox

Note: In this guide, I’ll be using Firefox version 3.6.8.  Details in this procedure may vary according to your version.

Step 1: In Firefox, click Tools then select Options.

Step 2: Click the Content tab, then click the Advanced… button to the right of Enable JavaScript.

Step 3: Uncheck the box that says “Move or resize existing windows“.

That’s it!  Those pesky websites won’t be able to resize your browser window anymore.  Make sure to check out the rest of our articles about Firefox!

Image credit: Mixy Lorenzo (seriously, how good does that cupcake look?)

How to Enable Vertical Tabs in Google Chrome

Update: Vertical tabs have now been removed by the Chrome development team. Read more: A fond farewell to vertical tabs in Google Chrome

I’ve been using Google’s Chrome web browser exclusively for a few months now, but one of the things I miss most about Firefox is the ability to view my tabs vertically rather than across the top of my browser.  I’m a pretty aggressive tab user, and it isn’t uncommon for me to get inundated with 15-20 tabs – these aren’t easy to manage, especially on a small screen.

Unfortunately, I’m not here to tell you that the full, hierarchical functionality of Firefox’s Tree Style Tabs is available for Chrome.  However, there is a very easy way to enable a simple version of vertical tabs in recent versions of Google’s browser without installing any extra software.

I’m not exactly sure when this feature was included in Chrome, so I’d recommend updating to the newest version of Chrome before following this guide.  You will also need to disable any custom browser themes – failing to do so will cause some major rendering problems in Chrome.

Enabling vertical tabs is much easier in new versions of Google Chrome. To get started, open Chrome and type about:flags in the URL bar and press enter. This will take you to Chrome’s hidden experimental settings page.

Click Enable under Side Tabs.

Click the Restart Now button at the bottom of the page.

To activate side tabs, right click on a tab in Chrome and select Use Side Tabs. That’s it!

Original Method

To enable vertical tabs, right click any shortcut to Chrome and select Properties.  You can usually find a shortcut to Chrome in the Start Menu and potentially on your desktop.

Locate the Target field and add –enable-vertical-tabs to the end of the string as shown below.  Note the two dashes at the beginning and include a space between chrome.exe and the new code.

C:\Users\ewondrasek\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\Application\chrome.exe --enable-vertical-tabs

Click Ok to save the changes, close any instances of Chrome you currently have open, then re-open Chrome.  You will now have vertical tabs!

Vertical tabs in Chrome are still experimental, so don’t be surprised to encounter graphical glitches.  For example, when vertical tabs are enabled, Chrome no longer seems to be aware of the Windows task bar when maximized and just covers it up.  You should also keep in mind that since this feature isn’t official, it could easily disappear in newer versions of Chrome.

Even though it’s a bit buggy, I’m excited that we’re one step closer to having legitimate vertical tab support in Chrome.  I’m hopeful that we’ll soon see a full version of this feature with support for tree hierarchies.

If you want a less-hacky (but not as well integrated) version of vertical tabs, check out the VerticalTabs extension for Chrome.

Image credit: Matt Biddulph