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.

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
Ghostery blocks some ads from being displayed

[Download Ghostery]

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…

“Catch” the New Way to Organize Notes with Smartphones and Browsers

We’ve all done it; emailed yourself a note or reminder while at work or on the go, then weeding through your bursting inbox trying to find it. There is the option of a mailbox search with keywords, but it’s pretty much a bust if you can’t find something in 10 seconds.

Catch Notes

With the birth of the smartphone, this act of note-taking has become even worse, as using the inbox search option on your phone is more painful than admitting to liking a certain teen idol with a prepubescent voice and hippie hair.

Have no fear.  You can keep your idol obsession in the closet and manage to stay organized quickly, securely, and all in one place, no matter where you go.

Enter Catch Notes.

Catch Notes is the quintessential note keeper of the universe, and there are several ways to input a note (or an infinite number of ‘em). From basic browser to mobile input, and even an option to email notes to your Catch account for later, this application goes above and beyond the old fashion pen and paper method, syncing your notes and account to any device of your choosing and making it available 24/7.

Available for Android, iPhone and iPad, this free (yes, FREE!) application not only keeps notes, it gives you the option to share those notes (in text or link) through several different methods:  email, SMS, Facebook, Twitter or any application on Android that accepts shared content.

Catch Notes mobile app.

Don’t have a smartphone? Catch Notes also has browser extensions available for IE8, Firefox and Chrome, so now you can “bookmark” your favorite Techerator articles in Catch Notes and have them all in one place versus having to add them to your “Favorites” and sort it out from there.  And for added security, Catch Notes gives you the option to set a four-digit login PIN to keep your notes secret and safe in case anyone tries to light-finger your precious cargo.

There are other note taking applications out there, like Evernote and Springpad, but if you want something light, quick, and easy to use, Catch Notes is your best bet.  Of course, it’s all preference. As an aspiring novelist (but current spotty blogger) I use Catch Notes to “write down” my story ideas. Not only can I write it down, but I can also attach photos, just in case I find something that inspires a project or a piece. The downside is that it only allows one photo per note.

On the brighter side, though, if you have an existing Google or Facebook account you can simply use it to login to Catch Notes versus creating another account you may not use if you find Catch Notes isn’t for you.

Previous logo: 3banana

Lastly, I can’t help but be bummed out that Catch decided to change its name a few months ago (September to be exact). Formerly known as “3banana,” complete with a Chiquita label, the company decided on a name change to better fit its mission and embody the functions of the app. Its current icon?  A simple orange box with a white “C.” Simple and easy, just like Catch Notes.

For more information on Catch Notes, visit their website or their blog to see what progress this app is making. It’s a great way to stay in the loop on upgrades and new features.

Time to Upgrade: Google Ending Support for Internet Explorer 6 Soon

Google recently announced that as of March 1st, 2010, they will no longer be supporting Internet Explorer 6 in their web applications, starting with Google Docs and Google Sites.  It’s safe to assume that many of their other web applications will soon follow, as they promise that this year will be a “great year for Google Apps”.

If you’re currently using Internet Explorer 6 – no need to worry.  There are many other great browsers available (including updated versions of Internet Explorer) that remain fully supported.  Check out some of my recommendations below before March 1st rolls around to make sure you’re prepared for Google’s new changes.

Mozilla Firefox 3.0+ (Windows, Mac, Linux)

Firefox is a powerful and highly customizable browser that has been a fan among computer enthusiasts for years.  It’s not just for the “we’re better than Microsoft” crowd anymore – Firefox has been highly adopted among all users because of its great add-on support and improved security over Internet Explorer.

If you try out Mozilla Firefox, be sure to check out our coverage of Firefox and Firefox add-ons.

Google Chrome 4.0+ (Windows, Mac, Linux)

Chrome is a relatively new contender to the browser market, but it has already made a sizable impact in a short amount of time.  Boasting incredible speeds and using a content-focused design, Chrome has rapidly gained market share and provides a very modern browsing experience.

Chrome recently added support for extensions (known to Firefox users as add-ons) which has been a draw for users desiring a customized experience.

Check out more articles about Google Chrome.

Safari 3.0+ (Mac, Windows)

Safari is a browser originally designed by Apple for the Mac operating system, and is also available for Windows.  Safari boasts many useful features and offers fast web performance that keeps it on the same playing field as Chrome and Firefox.

Internet Explorer 7.0+ (Windows)

Internet Explorer is one of the most ubiquitous browsers available and also holds the largest share in the browser market.  Available on all Windows-based PCs, Internet Explorer has added many features and security improvements in recent versions.

How to Access Gmail Without an Internet Connection

gmail-offline-thumbWe all love the freedom and accessibility provided by keeping our email in the digital “cloud“, but an inevitable problem always arises: what do we do when we aren’t able to access the internet?  Or, as we recently discovered, what do we do when the our web-based email provider crashes?

One solution is to activate Gmail’s Offline mode, which allows you to store copies of your emails on your computer using Google Gears (Gears is an extension for Firefox and Internet Explorer that allows internet content to be stored and synchronized on your hard drive).  When connected to Gmail, Gears will store your emails on your computer and periodically check to make sure they are updated.  If you want to access Gmail offline, Gears will allow you to use it like normal (aside from the fact that you can’t send or receive messages until you connect).

Activating Offline Gmail

Step One: Login to your Gmail account and go to the Gmail Labs page.  Click the Enable button for Offline.  Click Save Changes.

gmail-labs-offline

Step Two: In your inbox, click the Offline button in the top right of the screen.

gmail-labs-offline-mode

If you haven’t already installed Google Gears, you will be prompted to do so now.  Please take heed of the message that you shouldn’t install Offline Gmail if you’re using a public or shared computer.  Click the Install button and follow the procedures to install Google Gears.  You will have to restart your browser once the installation is finished.

gmail-labs-offline-gears

Step 3: After you have installed Gears and restarted your browser, log back into your Gmail account.  You will now be prompted to allow Gmail to store messages to your computer.  Check the “I trust this site” box and click Allow.

gmail-labs-offline-gears-allow

You will also be given the opportunity to create shortcuts for Offline Gmail.

gmail-labs-offline-shortcuts

Offline Gmail will now be installed and will begin storing your messages on your computer.  This process will take some time (depending on the size of your inbox and attachments).  If you interrupt the downloading process, it will resume when you log back into Gmail.

gmail-labs-offline-downloading

A new Offline icon will be visible in the top right of your inbox (right next to the green Gmail Labs beaker).  The Offline icon will indicate current status of your local email copies and also allow you to enter “Flaky Internet Mode” if you’re having trouble connecting.

Now that you have Offline Gmail installed, you can access your email without an internet connection just by opening the shortcuts you saved to your computer.  You’ll have access to all emails stored by Google Gears, but you won’t be able to download new messages or compose messages until you connect to the internet.  Any gadgets you have activated will also be unavailable until you enter online mode again.

Offline Gmail is especially useful if you’ve got a netbook or laptop and need to access your emails on the go.  Offline Gmail saves 3 months of previous emails by default (which can be adjusted) and even stores copies of your attachments.  You can even continue composing new messages, they will just be stored in your Outbox until you have internet access.

Have any tips for staying connected when you’re off the grid?  Share them with us in the comments.