Sunday 27 March 2011

My [blank] review of Firefox version 4

N.B. This is not a professional technical overview of the new Firefox. These are just a few random thoughts on my preferred browser.

Okay, it's here; I've installed it and now, I am trying to see what the entire hubbub is about. Right off the bat, I have to chuckle. Somewhere, somebody is sitting around cogitating when they get a brilliant idea. "Hey, let's move this over there, and put that back here." Oh lord, I beseech you to spare me from brilliant ideas. Just when I get used to things a certain way, somebody moves my cheese.

I "discovered" some time ago the benefit of right clicking on a link then choosing "Open Link in New Tab". The problem with clicking on any link is that the current page moves to the linked page and yes, you can click on the Back button but that does slow things down. When I'm searching in Google, it's convenient to leave the original page of search items open then open each search item in a new tab. Once you've finished looking at a search item you can close the tab and go back to your original list to look for further info.

Guess what? The popup right click menu had as item number two, "Open Link in New Tab". Version 4 now has this as menu item number one. Makes sense but how long is it going to take for me to remember to not blindly click on item number two? Ahhhh! - Geesh. I just looked it up on Google and found that Ctrl + Left Click opens a link in a new tab. [slaps forehead] Oh my gawd, I'm an idiot! [laughs] We get so focused on doing what we want to do, we hardly ever stop to check if there may be a simpler slash faster way of doing things which in the long run will save us scads of time and effort.

The new default position of the home button is off to the right hand side of the address bar. Fortunately, I knew and I use the speed key combination of Alt + Home to return me to my preferred starting position of Google. Nevertheless, after fiddling around, I did manage to figure out how to modify the bar with View, Toolbars, Customize. By the way, the first couple of times I tried to do this, my changes wouldn't stick. I'm not sure why. Oh yeah, the search button or should I say search input box? Do I really need slash want this? I've always opened a new tab, hit Alt + Home to get to "my" home page of Google then starting my search. After all, I'm leaving my list of search items there for consultation as I open any items in new tabs. Why have a search input box? To each his own.

Several reviews have talked about how Chrome's minimalist user interface seems to have been influential in the new designs of both Firefox and IE that is, paring things down. It's a good point Google was making. Once we know what the heck we're doing, why clutter up the screen with a lot of unnecessary stuff? Let's focus on the web and the page we're trying to look at.

By the way, why use Firefox and not IE? In the beginning, my user experience was not dictated by the user interface. I was doing some web development with JavaScript for the company I work for and I found the debugger and error checker in Firefox easier to use than what IE was offering. I still tested in IE as I wanted to be cross-browser compatible, but I used Firefox for all my main development work. It was then I discovered how Microsoft for some ungodly reason had done a bad job with their browser. Now this is IE version 6 we're talking about, supposedly the worst browser ever released on the market according to the pundits. In Microsoft's implementation of JavaScript, they added all sorts of "non standard" extensions to JavaScript. I had written stuff in IE; got it to work just fine then it would fail in Firefox. When I investigated, I discovered Microsoft's JavaScript objects had methods and properties which were proprietary to IE; nobody else in the market - Firefox, Safari, Opera - recognized them. Why did they do that? I eventually figured out how to write in a "standard" way using code universally accepted by the W3.Org but that led me to always do my initial work in Firefox then test in other browsers.

Rich Internet Application
This is more of a sidebar than actually talking about this new version of Firefox, bear with me. Back when my development work was going whole hog, I was looking for that elusive RIA (Rich Internet Application) to provide me with a UI (User Interface) framework for my development. Could I have an all-inclusive "app" for the web? Everything I had written up to that point had been relatively simple code, completely my own stuff or code snippets I had plagiarized from the Net. One "library" I did look at extensively - I actually got my company to buy a copy so I could play with it - was a JavaScript library called Bindows. If you're a developer, I'm sure you will be fascinated like I was at the potential of the UI and its application of AJAX. Visit the Bindows web site and look at the demo. At the end of the day though, I stopped my development work for my company and abandoned not just Bindows, but web development altogether. [chuckles] As a manager, I am supposed to manage not play with the toys. My programmers get to have all the fun while I waste my day writing reports nobody reads. [sigh] What a meaningful life.

Firefox Sync
I have a desktop at work. This service supposedly will allow me to sync my Firefox settings with my laptop. Sounds pretty good. According to Wikipedia: Firefox Sync allows users to synchronize bookmarks, browsing history, preferences, passwords, filled forms, and last 25 opened tabs across multiple computers. Firefox Sync keeps user data on Mozilla servers, but the data is encrypted in such a way that no third party, not even Mozilla, can access user information.

I haven't used this service so I'm not going to say it's good or bad. But I am scratching my head. My laptop is here; my desktop is there (I'm looking at it), and yet, I have to send my info all the way to California.

Keyboard shortcuts
I am a big nut about using the keyboard. I have my hands on the keyboard typing most of the time so I find it a bit of a pain to always have to go to the mouse to do something. Surprising enough, there are tons of keyboard shortcuts that the average person never bothers to learn. Too bad; they are real time savers.

How to close a tab
Ctrl + F4 or Ctrl + W. Okay, this isn't a Firefox thing; it's a Windows keyboard shortcut for its multiple document interface (MDI).

Open a new tab
Ctrl + T

Cycle through the open tabs
Ctrl + Tab. Or Ctrl + Shift + Tab to go backwards. Don't forget that in Windows, Alt + Tab allows you to cycle through open applications.

Open a link in a new tab
Ctrl + left mouse click

Open a link in a new window
Shift + left mouse click

Turn caret browsing on/off
F7. I can see you scratching your head thinking, "What the heck is caret browsing?" Try it. It puts a text-like cursor on the screen as you would see in a word processor so you can highlight and copy text. A pretty nifty alternative to trying to highlight text with your mouse.

Final Word
Can I or anybody have a final word on any of this? You use something; it becomes familiar; you stick with it. Sometimes familiarity is far important than a supposed sleeker user interface or speed. You just like to call up an app, click on whatever and get what you're looking for. You do not want to be spending minutes of valuable time horsing around with the menu and buttons or going through the Help trying to figure out how something works. After all, you're not a professional tech person whose job, no meaning of life is to play with toys. No, you actually have a job or a hobby whose primary goal does not entail developing computer skills per se but to be achieving something completely unrelated to computers. A computer is merely a means to an ends, a tool in arriving at your destination.

I'm writing this in the morning. I just went to my kitchen to grab a second cup of coffee. My coffee make is on the left hand side of my kitchen counter. Imagine that I come home one day and somebody has moved it to the right hand side of the counter. I walk in; reach for the coffee pot and this person goes, "Ta-da! Look at how much better that is."

Really? Listen you little jerk wad, I haven't got time to be horsing around with your s**t. The meaning of my life is not defined on where the coffee maker is located but on getting a cup of coffee and moving on to my real purpose in life. If you were actually in my kitchen at this moment, I would pick up the coffee pot and beat you and your entire development team senseless. Does your job description actually say that your job defines your value in the workplace by just moving stuff around? I moved to Office 2007 and its ribbon. Maybe the next generation of users who have nothing to compare this to will just accept it and get on with their lives but after over two years, I have to admit to still not being familiar with it and I still ask myself periodically, "Why?" I switched to Windows 7 and once again, you guys think your changes to the UI to be brilliant. I'm here to tell you that they're not. My purpose in life is not defined by having to periodically re-learn Windows every time the boys in Redmond decide to foist a new version on us and have to change something in order to get us to fork over more money to Bill. XP worked just fine, thank you very much.

Gee, do I sound frustrated? Okay, I like Firefox. It is my preferred browser. But like any piece of software I have to "suffer" through the next upgrade. I install it then I grit my teeth preparing myself to plough through the Help as I try to figure out sometimes how basic, basic things now function because some subtle change has, well, moved my cheese.


Wikipedia: Firefox
Mozilla Firefox is a free and open source web browser descended from the Mozilla Application Suite and managed by Mozilla Corporation. As of February 2011, Firefox is the second most widely used browser with approximately 30% of worldwide usage share of web browsers. The browser has had particular success in Germany and Poland, where it is the most popular browser with 60% usage and 47% respectively.

Wikipedia: Firefox 4
Mozilla Firefox 4 is the latest version of the Mozilla Firefox web browser, released on March 22, 2011.

Wikipedia: Firefox Sync
Firefox Sync allows users to synchronize bookmarks, browsing history, preferences, passwords, filled forms, and last 25 opened tabs across multiple computers. Firefox Sync keeps user data on Mozilla servers, but the data is encrypted in such a way that no third party, not even Mozilla, can access user information.

NJN Network - Mar 23/2011
Internet Exporer 9 wins speed race then stumbles by Stephen Pate
Actual use of Internet Explorer 9 can be a painful experience while Firefox 4 is smooth

Wikipedia: Who moved my cheese?
Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life, published in 1998, is a motivational book by Spencer Johnson written in the style of a parable or business fable. It describes change in one's work and life, and four typical reactions to said change by two mice and two "littlepeople", during their hunt for cheese. A New York Times business bestseller since release, Who Moved My Cheese? remained on the list for almost five years and spent over 200 weeks on Publishers Weekly's hardcover nonfiction list.


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