Deanna's father underwent open heart surgery for mitral valve replacement a week ago and is still in the intensive care unit. We've been in Louisiana visiting this week and I'm away from my computer more than usual - hence the dearth of blog posting (and most other normal Asa activity, for that matter.) It's still not clear when we'll be returning so expect the blog posting poverty to continue for a while.
February 2006 Archives
If you're interested in being a part of Firefox's global marketing campaign, head over to Firefox Flicks and learn how you can get your Firefox 30 second ad in front of an amazing panel of judges, win some great prizes, and have your work on display to millions of people.
Oh, and for behind the scenes access to the Flicks project, you can visit the Flicks Backstage blog.
(Thanks to Digg for the reminder to post on this again.)
Check out our very own Alex Polvi with some awesome off the string tricks.
For someone that thinks so highly of his own tech smarts, Dave Winer can't seem to tell the difference between a random Google Adsense participant and the official Firefox website.
Take a look at what Dave thinks is the correct place to download Firefox here and then take a look at the official Firefox page here and see if you can tell which one is the right place to download Firefox.
If you can pick the right site, you're one up on the self-proclaimed "Creator of RSS".
Several months ago I received an email from the IE team's Amar Gandhi (we'd previously bumped into each other at Gnomedex and had some good browser discussions.) Amar wanted to talk about how browsers presented the user with information about web feeds (RSS and friends) and what could be done to improve consistency in this area. That sounded like a great idea so we set up a meeting.
Amar and Jane, both program managers, came down to Mountain View to talk about the Firefox feed icon and shortly afterwards they announced that they'd be adopting our icon in IE 7. I think this was a great move to bring some consistency to web feed discovery and presentation and will certainly help our Firefox efforts to un-geekify technology so that it's more acceptable to mainstream users.
Today I read over at Opera Watch that Opera is falling into line behind IE and adopting the Firefox icon too. Good for them.
A recently released study, A Crawler-based Study of Spyware on the Web (PDF) conducted by Alexander Moshchuk, Tanya Bragin, Steven D. Gribble, and Henry M. Levy of the Department of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington which crawled the web to determine threats facing Internet Explorer and Firefox found that "1.5% of the URLs we crawled in May exploited IE security flaws to install spyware without prompting the user. While this may seem like a small percentage, consider that 1 in 67 Web pages that we examined contained malicious content targeting browser flaws," while for Firefox "only 0.08% of examined URLs performed a drive-by download installation, but all of these required user consent in order to succeed. We found no drive-by attacks that exploited vulnerabilities in Firefox."
The lessons here are 1. don't run an unpatched browser, 2. unpatched IE is nearly 20 times more likely to be attacked out there on the web than unpatched Firefox, and 3. paying close attention to everything that happens when you surf is a good way to prevent attacks if you're a Firefox user while IE users really have no defenses since the attacks exploit holes in the unpatched browser that simply can't be avoided by paying close attention.
This study compared Firefox 1.0.6 to IE 6, then the latest two end user releases from Microsoft and Mozilla. Today, 1.0.6 is dated and Firefox 1.5, a major upgrade with many significant security improvements, is available for users. Unfortunately, IE 6, released way back in 2001, is still the best you can get from Microsoft.
The first public release of the Songbird music player is now available. Songbird is based on XULRunner, the technology platform derived from the Firefox code base. Give it a try and let them know what you think.
If you've got something you want to say to me that's not topical to a post here, I'm sure you can find my email address. It's just not that difficult. Hint: look over to the left on the front page of this blog.
I've already started deleting off-topic posts, noting so with a comment in that post. Going forward, I'm likely to just start deleting them wholesale with no comment so please try to keep comments relevant to the post you're commenting in.
There's a new Firefox book on the shelves and this one is quite good. It's written by Blake Ross, firefox co-creator. I was somewhat involved in the technical reviews during the books development (completely pro bono) so you know it'll be helpful, fun, and easy to use -- just like Firefox itself :-)
The book is a fantastic guide for people who don't read this blog. That means your family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, etc. If you're spreading the word about Firefox, and you run into people who are a bit skeptical about making the transition from IE, especially if you can't be there to look over their shoulder for the first few weeks of using Firefox, this book would be an ideal tool help them get over that initial hesitation. The book also includes an nice little introduction to the Thunderbird email client from Mozilla as well, which for most people does require a bit more help in getting set up and getting comfortable with.
One other reason you might want to buy this book is that it's a really good guide for people who are spreading Firefox. After having read through it a few times, I've found myself changing some of the language I use when helping others get going with Firefox. The overall style and tone of the book is worth absorbing for anyone that spends significant time helping IE users migrate to and get the most out of Firefox.
note: when this post falls off of the front page, I'll have added a link over in the left sidebar for future use.
George Ou over at ZDNet writes: "It's a mystery why Mozilla is operating in secrecy with Open Source code and one can only speculate about the motivations."
I've uncovered a few mysteries of my own:
1. It's a mystery why George's colleague, Joris Evers, as well as George's editor, Dan Farber, managed to find our complete disclosure.
2. It's a mystery why George didn't ask anyone at Mozilla if he was unable to find it.
3. It's a mystery why, when George was corrected on this point by his editor, he acknowledged this with nothing more than an "Update" at the bottom that says that Mozilla "seems to have" posted more details. Anyone skimming the ZDNet page still sees "Firefox 1.5 patches undisclosed security holes
With all these mysteries, one can only speculate about the motivations. George previously wrote an article asking "Is the Firefox honeymoon over?" George, what are your motivations? Are you in bed with Microsoft? Nevermind, these accusations are completely unfounded -- just like your article.
George goes on to write, "The problem is that we don't know what all but one of these security fixes are and that seems to fly in the face of the Open Source mantra." The real problem is that George didn't do any research before writing his article, and that seems to fly in the face of basic journalistic integrity.
And if those failings alone weren't enough to have his editors cringing, when George was was confronted about his mendacity, he lashed out at his commenters with all the charm and wit of a high-school student, calling them zealots and labeling their arguments "nonsense" and "double-speak."
There's only one final mystery in all of this for me, why on Earth does ZDNet give this guy a stump to stand on?
update: It looks like George has retracted his blog post, and like only the most responsible journalists, he's laying the blame squarely on someone else's shoulders. Good work, George. Real classy.
A thunderbird (and possibly Firefox too) extension that I think would rock:
Notify the user with an information bar that says "This email with an unsubscribe link appears to be a scam" when ever a link matched up with one of the bad guys listed in Lashback's database.
Anyone out there want to tackle that one?
I've downloaded the preview of IE 7's second beta release. (I am correct, aren't I, that this isn't actually Beta 2, but rather a preview of Beta 2? Please correct me if I'm wrong. I'm seeing a lot of reporting that calls this Beta 2.)
It's really nice to see Microsoft come around to the growing public sentiment that IE 6 and below have been in desperate need of an update. The web has changed pretty dramatically since the late '90s when Microsoft was still trying to make a better browser and IE users are suffering all of the changes for the worse and missing out on some of the changes for the better. I'm particularly gratified that it was Firefox that forced this realization on them and to see Microsoft following Firefox's lead when it comes to end-user features is a solid indicator that we're doing good work.
There's no doubt in my mind that the IE 7 project is a direct result of the work we've done to provide people with a better web experience through Firefox, and IE's inclusion of Firefox features, from tabbed browing, to web feed (RSS and others) support and pop-up blocking, is a validation of the pioneering, user-focused work we've done in building Firefox.
Yes, that was a lot of self-congratulations, but I think it's completely warranted. We've done some pretty amazing work here at Mozilla over the last few years, and causing the largest software company in the world to get up off its butt and start thinking about users again, I count as a major accomplishment. (I do hope it is the case that Microsoft is indeed thinking about the needs of today's web users and not just responding to the significant erosion in their marketshare over the last year. Whether it's the former or the latter, users will benefit, the question is just how much and for how long.)
OK, so what do I think about IE 7 Beta 2 Preview, you ask? I haven't been using it very long but here are my initial thoughts:
- On Launch
- There's a nice page with options to turn on the Phishing filters, set your language and location, and join the customer experience program. This is a pretty nice way to introduce a couple of new features and maybe we should consider something similar. We could replace our current "first start page" (not the default home page, rather that page that opens only once on the first launch of a new version of the product) with a chrome page to offer some basic configurations options or feature introductions. What do you think?
- Tabbed Browsing
- Firefox really brought tabbed browsing into the mainstream. (I didn't say we invented it, that credit belongs to Adam Stiles and his Netcaptor browser,) and it's nice to see IE following our lead here with their own implementation. They've picked up most of our tabbed browsing user experience, from shortcut keys to behavioral defaults, and they're making some minor changes that we've also experimented with, and added a couple of features of their own.
- There's a close tab button on each tab. This was once the way we did it, and is available now as an extension. I think we'll be returning to this for the upcoming release.
- There's a new tab button to the right of right-most tab. In the legacy Mozilla browser, we had a new tab button to the left of the left-most tab. There are extensions that let you add this button to the tab strip and our releases come with the ability to add this button when customizing toolbars, though it can't be added to the tab bar.
- I think I like the tab overflow solution. We've never implemented a solution because almost all widgets fail in some major way making them almost unusable. IE's solution, the rightmost and leftmost tabs behave sort of like scroll buttons, is interesting and doesn't suffer from some of the usability issues of the other possible solutions, but it's still not great.
- The "quick tabs" feature is nice. It's a tiled view of each tab that shows up in the main content area and is used for navigation or closing tabs. There are several great extensions that offer a similar experience, but IE's seems the cleanest and easiest to use. We should probably just adopt something similar to that.
- In addition to the button for the tiled view, "quick tab" is also a menu button. The menu gives you a list of open tabs, with your current tab in the middle of the list, the tabs to the left are above in the menu list and the tabs to the right are below in the menu list. This is a nice feature. I think we should do something similar. I like IE's new convention of representing position in menus like this (see history below.)
- Firefox also popularized the simple search field integration in the browser toolbar, powered by multiple search services. Microsoft has basically lifted this feature directly from Firefox with only minor differences in the implementation.
- There's an option to set a new search provider as the default when installing a new search provider. This is kind of interesting. Our system is such that whatever provider you're using, that's the default. It will show in new windows and on relaunch. IE seems to have a default that's more permanent and treats the user switching to a different provider as a temporary change which is reverted in new windows or after a relaunch. I'm really not sure which is better but it's nice to see that IE is including this basic search capability that Firefox introduced a couple of years ago.
- A nice feature in IE's search is the ability to easily remove search providers. We should definitely do this. It's been a longstanding request from some of our users and I can't think of any good reasons not to offer it.
- IE, like safari, uses gray text, rather than distinct icons, to identify the search provider in the search field.
- Subscription (feeds and whatnot)
- Feeds have been around for a while, but it wasn't until Firefox 1.0 and the tens of millions of people getting exposed to feeds through Firefox's Live Bookmarks, that the idea of including them in the core browser feature set sounded like a good idea. IE, like Safari before it, is jumping on this feature whole hog. IE will be mimicking Safari's feed view and the Firefox Feed View extension with some minor additions. This is an area where I think we'd all do well, as browser makers, to focus on a standard interface and user experience and I think that IE's agreeing to adopt the Firefox feed icon and now this feed view is a good sign that's happening.
- IE's feed discovery highlights "new" feed content with a small sprite in the top right corner of the feeds menu button and the feeds button's menu offers multiple feeds if the site offers multiple feeds. We also have a menu pop-up for multiple feeds, but I think our icon isn't as obviously a menu button as is IE's and so it may not be so obvious to users when multiple feeds exist for a single page.
- Clicking the feed button loads their styled up feed view.
- IE's feed view has a type down search field that searches against all the content in the feed. This is nice and I think we should look into doing something similar when we reintroduce feed view in Firefox 2.
- IE's feed view offers sort (in both directions) on Date and Title. I'm not sure how useful sort on Title is, but sorting on date is a nice feature for sure, and one that Safari already includes. We should consider adding this.
- IE's feed view offers filter by category and that's also a useful feature feature.
- IE's feed view offers a nice big box at the top explaining that you're viewing a feed and how to subscribe to the feed as well as a handy subscribe button and a nice confirmation box replaces the instructional box at successful subscribe. I really like this kind of inline help. It may not be necessary in a couple of years, but right now the overwhelming majority of people need to learn how to consume and use feeds and this feature will be very helpful for that.
- It looks like subscribed feeds are forced into a single feeds folder (but it can have sub-folders, just no mixing with the rest of favorites, for example.) I'm not terribly fond of this because it divorces feeds, which are really just another view on a piece of content, from the rest of your bookmarked content.
- I also noticed that Windows will check for updates to your feeds even when IE isn't running. That's pretty nice. I wonder what it would take to develop a small service that did something similar for Firefox. It's nice to be the OS.
- IE offers to play a sound when a feed is discovered. I'm not sure this is particularly useful except as a training device. Much like the inline help box I mentioned above, this probably won't be necessary in a couple of years.
- IE offers a real page zoom. It's available from the Page menu or from a menu button in the far right corner of the status bar. This is full page zoom, images and everything - just like Opera. I haven't investigated how this will impact plugins or other dynamic content yet, but I imagine there will be some interesting issues that arise from this feature. Opera has had this feature forever. Maybe it's time to consider it for Firefox. Certainly, if we can do it in a way that's attractive and doesn't degrade the readability of the content (will this require Cairo?) then we ought to seriously consider it. I like IE's quick zoom button in the status bar that toggles through 100%, 125%, 150% and then back to 100%. That's a nice touch.
- I noticed that JS errors trigger a warning button in the status bar. I've seen that before in IE but it seems to be on by default now. I'm assuming this is temporary and will be removed before IE 7 is RTM.
- I crashed twice with this build, but that's expected with this kind of preview.
- What I didn't expect, and am happy to see, is that IE 7 breaks a lot of websites. This means that they're hacking on the core rendering technologies and that can only be good. And not just sites like slashdot and digg, but even Microsoft's own msnbc site is totally borked in this preview.
- I really like the integrated back/forward history. There's a single menu hung off of the forward button that contains both back and forward session history. Your current page is highlighted in the middle of the list with pages that are back in your history listed below the current page and pages forward in history listed above. Mousing over the entries adds a nice little menu icon of an arrow pointing in the forward or backward direction. This is also a nice touch, but may be more about education than long-term usability.
- There's a new sidebar menu thing. I don't care for this at all. It feels like "yet another widget" that users have to learn to use with no appreciable value. It pops up from the "star" button on the toolbar/tab bar/menu bar and offers favorites, feeds, and history. It doesn't shrink to fit its contents, neither does it fill up the available vertical space in the browser window. A button in this strange popup thing turns it into a more traditional explorer bar. Within the new pop-up widget, a single click expands folders and navigates links. Mousing over an item highlights it and offers a quick delete "x" button off to the right. I wonder how many people will accidentally delete items trying to navigate to them. This menu uses the same kind of menu icon that appears on mouseover that's found in the session history menu button, the feed list, and probably elsewhere in the app.
- The home button is a menu button with options to change or remove home page(s). Change allows you to add more tabs to your home. I think this is a bit overkill but I understand the desire to educate users about the new feature and one way is just to expose all the options right up at the top level like this. Firefox supports multiple home pages in tabs, but we don't cascade a big series of menus off the main toolbar to demonstrate that.
- The menu bar is disabled by default and replaced by two menus, Page and Tools for most common menu needs. You can re-enable it, now called the "classic menu bar" by going to the Tools -> Toolbars sub-menu.
- All additional toolbars seem to be "locked" between the tab strip and the navigation bar. This includes the "classic menu bar", "links" bar, and any third party toolbars. I'm not a fan of that and I think there will be some toolbar makers that don't appreciate having their toolbars forced into that spot.
- There are a couple of new menu items in the classic menu bar, View->Security Report and View->International URL but both grayed out and I haven't found any sites that enables them. For the record, Firefox has supported International Domain Names for some time, and it's nice to see IE doing the same.
- Microsoft has included a phishing filter. I'm not fond of tying users to a single service provider like this and much prefer giving our users the option of using different services like Netcraft's, Spoofstick, or Google's very cool Safe Browsing extension.
- IE's improved pop-up blocker has a couple of configuration options that seem pretty reasonable. It can be set for high (block all popups) medium (block most automatic popups) and low (allow popups from secure sites.) It can also play a sound when pop-up is blocked. There are also settings for requested pop-ups, let IE decide, new window, new tab. I noticed some pop-ups getting past the blocker, though the windows seemed empty or contained some corrupted content. Microsoft releasing a browser with a pop-up blocker (first with XPSP2 and now with IE7) is pretty amazing when you think about it and I again think Firefox deserves pretty much all of the credit for this happening. Unwanted pop-ups on the web will be vanquished :-)
- Active X seems to be disabled by default. Nice to see that change given the checkered past with security.
- It looks like they've broken plugins, or maybe this is a result of disabling active-x by default, but I'm unable to play flash games and the like.
- Other Notes
- IE 7 requires windows validation to install.
- Installation takes forever -- at least for me it did. (several minutes on a fast machine with plenty of RAM)
- Installation requires a restart to complete. Why? I thought they weren't messing with any Windows kernel code.
So there are my quick thoughts. Le me know what you thought of the IE preview, or what you think about my post here here. I haven't actually used it enough to make a lot of comments on what I like and what I don't like about the actual UI. Initially I'm bothered by the removal of the menubar and the location of the buttons scattered on the tab bar, as well as some other issues, but I'll hold off on that until I've had a couple of weeks to use those features and see how they wear.
Oh, and like any other pre-release software, be careful using this. It isn't very stable and there is already a known exploits in this IE 7 pre-release
that could allow an attacker to take over your machine (and found in the first 15 minutes! wow.)
It has become more and more obvious to western internet sites that they will need to cater to Firefox users. With reports showing that more than 1 in 10 users in the US, and nearly 1 in 3 users in several large European countries, are accessing the web through Firefox, it's simply becoming a fact of doing business on the web that the days of writing to IE are over.
In the far east, it's not quite there yet. Firefox usage in countries like China, Korea, and Japan is considerably lower. But they're not sitting around waiting. Organizations that respect their users are already taking steps to make Firefox a first class citizen.
A perfect example of this is a company called Naver. I had the opportunity to visit Naver this winter in Seoul, Korea, and was very impressed by their plans for supporting Firefox and web standards. Naver.com is Korea's largest portal/search site with about 14 million individuals using their services every day! That's pretty awesome for a country with a population under 50 million -- they reach about 45% of all intenet users in Korea.
Naver has made the decision that all of their users matter, not just the majority using IE. To find and fix all of the problems that Firefox exposes in Naver.com is a huge amount of work. But rather than throwing their hands in the air and saying they don't have the resources to identify and fix all of these issues for a very small minority of their user base, Naver has decided to take another rout. They're engaging this community of Firefox users to help them bring their site up to speed for Firefox. They've agreed to fix all of the problems that their Firefox users can discover and report to them. This partnership will allow the company and its users to work together to solve a problem they both face and it demonstrates that Naver understands the relationship that exists on today's web between the commercial services and the community that gives those services their value.
You can read more about this effort in a post by Channy Yun over at Spread Firefox.
Let me also point out that Channy is responsible for the redesign of Korea's second largest portal site, Daum, converting the entire operation to a standards-based system that fully supports Firefox.
Our user base in Korea is small, but even a small group of people, working directly with the companies providing the services they rely on, can make a big difference. Soon, the largest two players online in Korea will support Firefox. Kudos to Naver and Daum, and to their communities of users, all working together to make this happen.