July 12, 2005
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More on Browsers

Last issue, MHenry wrote a nice little article comparing the user interfaces of the Firefox and Opera browsers, which garnered him quite a bit of email; his response is below. It also got us an email from fytosit, who said, "I read in many places about people using Firefox. Can someone use Maxthon, compare it to Firefox and tell me which is best?"

At the risk of opening a can of worms, we asked COBOLdinosaur the Page Editor for the Browser Issues topic area, to comment. In his inimitably blunt way, he did.

Maxthon is not standards compliant, therefore it has no relevance. The only reason I keep Internet Explorer installed is because of market share. I don't really care how good something is or how it looks. If it is not standards compliant then it is worthless to me; not worth the time to download.

If I were to review it, it would would be an unbalanced and biased opinion because I start from the premise that anything non-standard does not deserve to be in the market place and the quicker it gets killed the better.

The acid test for all browsers is:

if (document.all) alert ('This browser is non-standard crap and deserves to die');

Firefox vs. Opera redux

In the last newsletter, I wrote an article comparing Opera to Firefox. For the most part, the replies I got were complimentary. Many agreed that Firefox left something to be desired, some pointed out that they preferred yet another alternative browser called Maxthon. Most simply wrote to tell me how to set up Opera so I could use Outlook for email instead of Opera, (special thanks to all of you who did so). I thought overall, people who read the article got the point I was trying to make about Opera's interface. Then a couple of other emails came in.

I try to maintain a thick skin when dealing with people who disagree with anything I have written. Usually, these people honestly hold a differing opinion and are merely sharing their point of view. Then there are others: the unwashed, the ugly, the unkind and the downright rude.

In preparing this article, I debated whether to write it at all. But then I was reminded of a line from McClintock starring John Wayne:
"I know I'm gonna use good judgment. I haven't lost my temper in 40 years, but pilgrim, you caused a lot of trouble this morning, might have got somebody killed... and somebody oughta belt you in the mouth. But I won't, I won't. The hell I won't."
[Belts man in the mouth]

So, in deference to the Duke and despite my better judgment, I'm going to share a couple of the emails I received.

The first comes from a reader whose last name is Peacock. He writes:

"I disagree with MHenry's "Firefox and Opera" article. I installed Opera to do my own comparison. 2 minutes after using it I found several claims that are false. One claim is that Opera is faster than IE. This is so far from true it is pathetic. On the same machine Opera is noticeably slower than IE; AND I found Firefox is noticeably faster than IE. One huge issue I have is that the address bar in Opera does not have a "GO" button next to it when installed. This alone made me uninstall it. An address bar "GO" button is a mandatory item, and can not be absent. There are other items, but overall Opera is wanting."

Wow, I'm impressed. Mr. Peacock apparently has some sort of lab set up to do benchmark test on computer speeds. I mean, surely he wouldn't just run it in his house and expect us to take it as fact, would he?

Oh yeah, one other small detail: I never claimed Opera was faster than Firefox! Honest, I double-checked just to make sure. Never did. Not once. You know why? I don't have a lab set up to test computers! One thing I hate is being accused of lying when I didn't say anything. And if you can't figure out how to use a browser without a Go button, you have my sincere sympathies.

The next one is my favorite. A Mr. Onate wrote a lengthy diatribe accusing me of all kinds of foulness. Apparently, I'm in a league with Hitler, Satan and the boogeyman. Here's an excerpt:

"...To keep this short, I take insult [sic] from that article for:

But mainly:
  • A page editor issuing opinions as unaccurate [sic] as those of some newbie from a gaming forum
  • Such page editor being in charge of web related TAs
  • Such page editor/ EE member associated with Macromedia products
But, foremost:
  • A web developer / Page editor / EE member being so desperately ignorant about issues this simple and not a single soul there to stop this article from seeing the light of day..."
  • "... It makes me so sick I don't even want to touch it. I don't even feel comfortable complaining about it, I feel like I'm commenting on the writings of the common 14 y/o rampaging through open web forums."
Wow, I'm glad he kept it short (believe me, it doesn't stop there). I guess the main thing I did wrong was to criticize the UI of Firefox. Apparently, that's not allowed. When a "superior tool" is introduced, no one should ever be allowed to question why the interface isn't nearly as user-friendly as others. That's what makes it superior y'see -- the ability to be above any criticisms. Kinda like SuperSoftware or something.

I guess it's my fault. I forgot Rule One: "Never assume." I should have written that I was merely comparing the interface and user experience of the two browsers. As a designer myself, I was more interested in the design of the two browsers. I didn't make claims that one was faster, stronger nor that one could out bench-press the other. I didn't question the morality of open source vs. commercial software and I certainly didn't suggest that everyone using Firefox was an idiot -- although my critics don't mind comparing me to a 14-year-old for saying that Opera has a better interface.

Can we ever stop the Hate?? Can't we all just get along??

This is my last word on this topic. No matter how many ugly emails I get, I won't mention it again. That's not to say I won't criticize Firefox anymore, I'm just saying I won't publicly call out my critics again (unless my Editor asks me to). Besides, my next article is going to be critical of Google and that one I may not survive.

In conclusion, there is one more comment I would like to share. I saw this in a thread on Opera's site. I think it kinda says it all:

"Well, go [to] Google [and] type 'best browser' then click 'I'm feeling lucky' you are on Firefox.com but type 'best internet experience' [and] you are now on Opera.com."

Tip for New Members: Who are the Experts?

Just who are all these people who answer your questions at Experts Exchange? In some ways, it's a lot easier to say who they aren't.

They're people scattered all over the globe who volunteer their time and expertise to help others. They range from the sole proprietor of a database company to the network administrator at a Fortune 500 multinational corporation; from an amateur web designer to the guy who wrote the book; from a high school freshman to someone whose first computer used punch cards.

More to the point, because they're volunteers -- just as the Page Editors, Moderators, Cleanup Volunteers and Administrators are -- they deserve the respect and considerator you would give to someone who is doing you a favor. Your behavior towards the Experts as individuals and as a group goes a long way towards getting your answers.

Remember, the Expert you decide to flame might be the only person who can actually help you solve your problem.

The Day I Invented iTunes

SidFishes is one of EE's best Access Experts; like many of us, he says "Many times I don't know the -right- way to do things... but I usually find a way...". He has some tips, tricks, samples, and other entertaining stuff on his website.

Let me tell you about the day I invented iTunes.

Unlike Al Gore, it's true. Well sort of. I didn't invent it. But I should have. And therein lies my tale. I had "The Idea" way back in 1997. At the time I was in a band, struggling to get noticed in a world of bands. In the mid 90s, we had a distribution deal with an independent distributor. Short story shorter, we ended up not getting paid for most of the CDs sold through them. We couldn't afford the loss of the product but we chalked it up to experience. The next distributor we talked to asked for 100 play copies (freebies for radio and print). We sent them and the company promptly folded, leaving us with 100 fewer copies and a very bad opinion of the music industry. How did this lead me to "The Idea"? A bit more history is required.

I'd been using computers since the days of the Apple IIe and the IBM PC, so I was fairly literate as a "user", but certainly had no programming or development experience. In 1993, I'd heard about this latest greatest thing in the computer world. It was called the World Wide Web. I knew I had to "get on", even though I wasn't really sure what that meant.

I remember vividly the day in 1994, I hooked up to the Edmonton Freenet at 9600 kbps using a borrowed Toshiba 1200 laptop (green screen, 10MB HD, weighed about as much as Thanksgiving Turkey). Back in those days, the NCSA Mosaic web browser hadn't been developed yet and all browsing was done using Lynx for DOS, a textual link browser. It was plain, a bit confusing and unbelievably exciting. I remember thinking to myself, "I'm looking at information on a computer in Switzerland." Now that dates me huh? Worse yet, I remember watching B&W TV and playing Pong (and liking it). As cool as it was, the Web was not yet ready for prime time, at least for someone like me.

Then in late 1994 or early 1995, I got my first look at the Mosaic (later to become Netscape). OK, now this is interesting. Almost as soon as I saw the thing, I knew our band had to be on the web. If I could browse a site in Switzerland, someone in Switzerland could find out about us. And that might mean they'd book us for the fabled "European Tour" (which, sadly, they never did). At the very least they might want a CD.

After several months we had our first website. But talk about a straight up learning curve. There was almost no information on how to do this. And what there was, was confusing. There was no Internet For Dummies. Not that I would have ever read something with a title like that but that's a whole other column.

The first year in its existence, our website got over 3000 visitors. It was amazing. Of course way back then, the web was a much smaller place so there weren't nearly as many choices and generating traffic on a site was a lot easier. But 3000 visitors -- from around the world. Cool.

The first web site incarnation was pretty much what we all now call a business card site -- some contact information, band bios and some pictures and even online order form. No security, no online payment processing and not too exciting by today's standards, but not bad for back then. It was online at a time when companies like Coke (1998) and Sony (1996) weren't. Cool.

One day in my travels on the web, I noticed some chat about this company called Progressive Networks (later to become Real Networks) and this software I could download (at 14.4 kbps by then... oooh) which would allow me to record an audio file digitally, put it on my website and people could listen to it. For a band trying to get their music heard, this seemed like the Holy Grail. Within a week I had one of the first band websites in Canada and maybe North America with audio. Way Cool.

Now we press the FFWD button a bit to early 1997 and a conversation I had in a Denny's in Calgary, before or after a gig. I don't quite remember. We'd just been screwed twice by distributors and were getting frustrated by our lack of progress and how much it was costing us to get exactly nowhere. It was a bit more of a spew on my part than an actual conversation as my tablemates politely nodded and said "uhuh ... oh ...hmmm". The highlights of the spew where something like this:

"There are these new technologies. MP3 compression (1996), CD burning (1995), web based eCommerce. Independent Bands need a way to get their music heard. Independent Bands need a way to sell their music. Most CDs suck except for one or two songs -- except ours. People should be able to buy music for a buck or two. Not a whole CD. Just the song or songs they want. Maybe they could order a CD with the songs they picked. They should be able to preview the music on the website, purchase it on the website and download it from the website. What a great flippin' idea!"

Sound familiar? At the end of that conversation I was so jazzed by the concept, I went and wrote it all down and said, "I need to start a company and make this happen. It's the Next Big Thing." Nothing stood between me and success but failure. Problem was I couldn't convince anyone around me that this was anything but some obscure tech thing that might be interesting but had no real long-term viability.

You must realize that this is all taking place in Edmonton and Calgary. Not exactly beacons of high tech at the time. People were (and mostly still are) more interested in sucking as much oil out of the ground as possible...and cows. Technology and Art, especially the combination of the two, were simply not on anyone's radar. The other little problem was that I was flat broke, in the hole actually, and living in a warehouse.

In hindsight, I should have hitchhiked to Palo Alto and knocked on doors until someone listened. I didn't. Instead, I made a weak attempt at getting the thing done. Threw up my hands and said "The technology's too new, too expensive, I've no help, I live in a warehouse, I eat 3 times a week whether I need to or not. I give up. Let someone else do it."

Several have tried and failed. I never thought Napster (1999) would fly. I remember the first time I checked it out. I thought, "Cool, but how in the world do they think the can get away with this?" You could smell mega-lawsuit from Day One. Other attempts from the recording industry have been spectacular flops. Napster 2.0? Give me a break. Personally, I think the music industry listened too much to the software community whispering in their ear. Don't sell music, license it. Restrict its use. Make people keep paying. KaChing!

What the industry didn't and mostly still doesn't understand is that music is Art. It is a business, yes. Artists and people involved in producing and distributing music need to eat more than 3 times a week. (Notice I mention Artists first?) But the reason mainstream music has become so insipid and un-listenable is that the people involved in making it think of the business before they think of the art. It's a recipe for crap.

Imagine some freakish world where The White Album stopped playing after a period of time and required you to upgrade to The White Album v2.0. I imagine the industry is wishing they'd figured a way to do it back then. They are sure trying hard now. iTunes seems to be getting a lot of the things right, although I still think it is too restrictive in terms of secondary use, but at least you can get what you want, when you want and artists and the business are making some money.

Looking back, I can't say that "The Idea" would have worked at the time. Maybe it needed 10 years of incubation and technology advancements for it to fly. Maybe I'd be having lunch with Steve Jobs discussing the way we could interface my website business with his iPod. Maybe. The thing about a good idea is that if you don't do it, make it happen, someone else will.

If you have an idea, stick with it. Starve. Push. Hitchhike. Go places you don't think you can. Take risks. Lose it all. Win Big. It's what being an entrepreneur is all about. Don't get caught saying, "Reminds me of the time I invented..."

Hmmm. Maybe Al did invent the Internet after all.

More News and Notes
Nata's Corner: Phishing for pheedback

woman in specticals In my last column, I asked you all to take this quiz and email me with the results. I don't know how many of you actually took the quiz, but about seventy of you sent in your results, and sent some interesting comments as well.

The good news is that four people scored 100 per cent out of ten questions. Directly to the point was the comment of cmt5 -- who got 10 of 10 -- who said the quiz was "easy if you check out the link in the status bar." garyfgowans, another member who had a perfect score, added, "I've certainly had a few 'dodgy' attempts to con information out of me. The more obvious ones come from 'organisations' that I don't deal with, or they arrive at email addresses (I have several) that I don't use for such activities. I'm also fairly pedantic about spelling and grammar, which usually helps me spot the suspect mails (though I have seen some howlers on 'official' sites.)" Nice to know someone's been paying attention.

Two people didn't send in their results; instead, they said that the quiz wasn't very good (don't blame me -- I didn't have anything to do with writing it). jellywick said "you can't tell from a screen shot if something is legitimate or a fraud e.g. you have to be able to check out the hyperlinks and see if they actually go where they say they are going to know if something is legitimate," and went on to say that they all look like phishing attempts. ssdidave had the same opinion, saying "Some of the ones they say were legit have warnings not to use them anyway."

About 20 per cent of you said that you missed half of them, but half of those said it was because they thought all of them were fake. I don't know if I like the fact that you're all suspicious of everything -- but that's for another day. As g7tnz pointed out, "That was because I was convinced they were ALL suspect. One or two I guessed 'might' have been genuine, and it turned out they were, but I followed the policy that I would have used if it were a real situation and not what I knew to be a test. That is err on the side of safety. If it looks at all iffy -- then it is. At least I got all the wrong ones right."

Most of you got at least seven of ten right (although one of you gave him/herself a "D" grade, in true EE spirit, for 70 per cent), and most of the incorrect choices were errors on the side of caution. Havin_it observed, "I liked how every 'why' for the legitimate sites included a caveat along the lines of: '...but it could still have been a phish, smart guy!" This approach is laudable, since we are only ever 'safe' until our complacency/arrogance surpasses our actual knowledge... Also good to see this test was aimed squarely at the most in-need audience: those using Outlook Express and routinely enjoying full HTML content."

And I had to laugh at the comment from Georgebaz, who said, "My result was only 60% correct answers. I am sending you this in the hope that I am not communicating with phishing fraud artists." No, George, you're not.

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