Tag Archives | Firefox

Ten Questions About Google Chrome

(UPDATE! I’m conducting a poll about Chrome–please go here to take it, and to get a recap of all of Technologizer’s Chrome coverage.)

Four years ago, I blogged about rumors that Google was working on a Web browser. I found ’em intriguing, as anyone would, but no such browser ever appeared, and Google became an enthusiastic Firefox booster. The blogosphere pretty much stopped pondering the possibility of a Google browser, and so did I.

Today brings news that the rumors were apparently premature, not wrong: Google Blogoscoped has published an amazing comic book by Understanding Comics’ Scott McCloud introducing Chrome, Google’s browser. (UPDATE: I’ve condensed the comic into a highlight reel.) Over at All Things Digital, Kara Swisher says that Chrome may be formally announced as soon as tomorrow. (UPDATE: Kara dropped me a note to say she’s confirmed Chrome will arrive on Tuesday.) (EVEN FURTHER UPDATE: The Google Blog now says that Chrome will be available for download tomorrow; it’s Windows-only at the moment, but Mac and Linux versions are in the works.)

Earlier rumors of a “Gbrowser” had it as being based on Mozilla, as Firefox is, but the comic book says that Chrome is built on top of Webkit, the browser platform that also serves as the basis for Apple’s Safari. Chrome has a highly tab-centric user interface, advanced memory management to prevent the browser from getting bogged down as you open up tabs, a fast JavaScript virtual machine, sandboxing to prevent malware from doing damage to your PC, built-in Gears for offline applications, a framework for plug ins, and more. I’ve never tried to judge a software product by assessing a comic book about it before, but it’s clear that Chrome is an ambitious attempt to launch a truly new Web browser–not a rebranded version of Mozilla or a me-too clone of anything else that’s out there.

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Ubiquity: The Command Line is Back…in Your Browser

In a real sense, the last major innovation in Web navigation happened back in 1992. That’s when Mosiac, the first graphical browser showed up, introducing the idea of moving around the Web by pointing and clicking on words and pictures. It works really well. But Aza Raskin of Mozilla Labs, the research arm of the organization behind Firefox, has come up with Ubiquity, a fascinating new way to use the Web. And it’s fascinating in part because its text-based interface is in some ways a return to the Internet’s command-line origins.

Ubiquity is a Firefox extension that works in Windows and OS X (Linux support is still incomplete). Install it, and you can call it up by typing <Ctrl><Space> in Windows or <Option><Space> on a Mac. What you get is a window that pops up above the Web page you’re on in Firefox, with a command line that you can type natura-language commands into.

Type Google and one or more keywords, for instance, and Ubiquity will Google for you, previewing the first few links and letting you press <Return> to go to Google’s results for the words you searched for:

Type Map and an address, and you get a Google Maps preview; press <Return> to go to Google Maps…

Type Weather and a city, and you get…well, you know:

Ubiquity is an open platform that Web service providers can add their services to; already, it includes support for an array of ’em, including Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Yelp, Wikipedia, TinyURL, Gmail, and a bunch more. If you’re a Twitter addict, you can Tweet from Ubiquity:

In a way that’s reminiscent of the Greasemonkey extension, Ubiquity can modify Web pages on the fly. For instance, if you highlight an address on a page, call up Ubiquity, type Map, and then choose to insert the map in the current Web page, you can turn this snippet of Google’s “Contact Us” page…

…into this:

(This is a nifty effect; I’m trying to think of instances where it might be useful, though…and coming up a bit short.)

Besides the command line, Ubiquity has a context-sensitive menu that you can bring up by highlighting information on a Web page and then doing a right-click. You can use this to translate information from one language to another, for example:

Ubiquity already has a pretty extensive bag of tricks, but Raskin says the real goal is to make it capable of doing extremely sophisticated natural-language mashups that let users take advantage of multiple Web sites and services without ever leaving the Ubiquity window. Here’s his mockup of a fancy travel command:

So what’s my initial take on Ubiquity? Mozilla calls it an experiment, and that seems about right: It’s a neat idea that’s worth exploring. It’ll be interesting to see whether it appeals mostly to nerds–as command-line approaches to computing have for the last fifteen or twenty years–or has more widespread appeal. I know I’m going to leave it installed and try out it out…and will keep an eye on it to see how it evolves.

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Mossberg on Flock: Neat, Innovative, Not for Everyone

Over at All Things Digital, Walt Mossberg has reviewed the beta version of Flock 2.0, the new iteration of the product that I declared my favorite Web browser last fall. Walt likes all the stuff that Flock offers for multi-tasking social network fans–built-in support for Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, a bunch of blogging platforms, and a lot more. Ultimately, though, his bottom line is less than a rave:

“Flock does a good job at the tasks it sets for itself, but I would recommend it for only the heaviest and most impatient social networkers. For most others, Flock is overkill.”

Oddly enough, even though I spend most of my time in Flock these days and like it a lot, I can’t quibble with that assessment. In fact, when people ask me what browser to use, I recommend Firefox just as often as I do Flock–and if the person in question isn’t into social networking and media sharing, I tell them without hesitation that Firefox is their best option. (Walt takes Flock to task for being busy, and he’s right: For folks who want to take advantage of all its features, dealing with the clutter is worth it, but it’s probably intimidating and unneccesary if you’re not already a pretty sophisticated user of the Web.)

The best thing about Flock 2.0 is that the Flock crew quickly came out with a version built on top of Firefox 3.0. When that browser came out, I was worried that I wouldn’t get the 3.0 goodness for months, if at all–but I’m enjoying features like the Awesome Bar as much as if I was using them in Firefox rather than Flock.

I’ve said this before, but we live in a wonderful era for browser fans: Between Firefox, Flock, Safari, Opera, and, yes, Internet Explorer, there’s something for everybody, and nearly all sites that matter work equally well in all of them. (Exceptions remain, such as the inexcusably IE-only Walmart Music Store.) If Flock sounds intriguing, there’s no downside to downloading it and giving it a whirl. I agree with Walt that it’s overkill for a lot of people. But for some of us, it’s exactly the right browser, and I hope it’s successful enough to be around for a very long time.

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One Possible Future for the Browser

Where is the Web going? Jesse James Garrett–the influential founder of Web design firm Adaptive Path–is in as good a position as anyone to provide smart answers to that question. And he’s just delivered some in the form of a next-generation browser interface called Aurora.

Don’t get too excited–Aurora is pretty much just a pie-in-the-sky idea at the moment, which Garrett and Adaptive Path have come up with in collaboration with Mozilla Labs, the research arm of the organization behind Firefox. It’s not the next version of Firefox, or anything else that’s going to arrive any time soon in any form. As Mike Arrington explains over at TechCrunch, Adaptive Path is releasing Aurora to “inspire and engage” the community of Web developers. Maybe folks will find it compelling enough to turn Aurora, or parts of it, into reality. Or maybe not.

In any event, it’s fun to look at what Aurora involves in its current theoretical state. Adaptive Path is releasing a series of videos about the interface, starting with one that went live tonight. Here’s that video–like most videos produced by technology companies to show how something that doesn’t exist yet might work in the real world, it has a slightly cheesy, Epcot Centerish vibe. But it does a reasonably good job of conveying Aurora’s basics…

A few quick thoughts:

One of the features described I liked most is one of the simplest. All the Aurora browser’s tools disappear until you need them, opening up more room for the Web page you’re on. Why can’t Firefox and IE and Safari do this…like now? In fact, why can’t all applications work this way? (I know that many of ’em have a full-screen mode, but it’s always optional, not the default way of doing things.)

Aurora looks like an OS/application interface, not a mere browser one. It takes over the screen, includes data-wrangling features, and even lets the user create charts–as if it could be, at least in part, a replacement for Firefox, Windows, and Excel. Which kind of makes sense, since so much of what operating systems and applications have traditionally done for us is migrating into the browser and onto the Internet.

Parts of Aurora look like a certain OS I know. Namely Apple’s Leopard–you could tell me that some of the functionality in the video is the next generation of the OS X Dock and Exposé and I’d believe you. Again, it’s interesting to see a future browser that would take as many cues from operating systems as from current browsers, which have changed remarkably little in basic concepts since Netscape Navigator 1.0.

Parts of Aurora look confusing. Or maybe it’s just the video that’s confusing.  “The placement of objects in the spatial view left to right and top to bottom is largely automatic,” says the video’s narration. “The browser analyzes the content of everything that flows through it, noting semantic similarities between objects and placing them near one another…strong associations between objects are noted as clusters.” I only sort of understand what it’s talking about. Aurora would only be a successful, of course, if users found it completely intuitive and didn’t need to think about this stuff. (Real people never use words like “semantic” when discussing the data in their lives; Web geeks can’t discuss data without doing so.)

I’m not even going to hazard a guess as to whether Aurora will ever amount to anything, and based on the first video, at least, I think it’s most interesting as a conversation starter. The Adaptive Path site has more info on the project, and will link to the rest of the Aurora videos as they’re released.


Firefox: The #1 Browser on Technologizer

When I was at PC World, I enjoyed following the browser wars by periodically checking in to see what browsers were being used by PCWorld.com visitors. It was fun to watch the Little Browser That Could chug along, gaining market share little by little; when I blogged back in February, just over a third of PCWorld.com visitors were using Firefox.

I thought of that when I saw a story over at TGDaily reporting on a new study that says that 20 percent of all Web users are now on Firefox. And I wondered: What’s the story here on Technologizer?

Turn out that Technologizer visitors love Firefox even more than PCWorld.com ones do–in this site’s brief life, 58 percent of visits have come from people using Mozilla’s browser. Only 30 percent used Internet Explorer, the browser that still dominates the Web, albeit a heckuva lot less so than it did a few years ago.

A shade under 9 percent use Apple’s Safaril just under 2 percent use Opera. And those are the only browsers with more than a teeny-tiny market share here.

Technologizer is a new site that doesn’t have gazillions of visitors yet, so this breakdown is likely subject to radical change as we grow. For now, though, you seem to be a pretty discerning bunch when it comes to browser usage…

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