Thursday, August 21, 2008


Once I was the sort of new computer pseudo-geek who foolishly enters every emerging bit of whiz-bang without a second thought. I was an unabashed “early adopter.” Show me a list of plug-ins, add-ons, extensions or utilities and I’d spend the rest of the week downloading them at 2400 bytes/sec over the hum, buzz, squeal, whistle, drone modem on my dedicated phone line. When a new version of an application came out I was first in line to install it. I went from Word 1.0 to 3.6 on forty-two sequential steps without hesitation.

Surprisingly it was then the right thing to do. The first generations of all of these goodies were both ground-breaking and unstable. They did things that hadn’t been done before, making them indispensable once you tried them. But, they crashed, stumbled and always seemed to lack some critical functionality that the next version update was addressing.

That’s all changed now. Reasonable stability has emerged and the improvements are so microscopically incremental that moving me to shift from a long established pattern takes a real break-through. Now, I will confess that I moved to Vista only six months after its release. But, my excuse was that I was upgrading to a new system with all of the horsepower to run it. I’ve not been disappointed in that choice. I also upgraded to Office 2007 and have finally gotten used to the cursed “Ribbon.”

It took some Vista incompatibility to wean me from Eudora as my email client. The fact that Qualcomm cut the program loose helped me make the transition to Outlook and while I don’t really like it, I’ve found that the integration of email, calendar, contacts and the rest of Office makes it functional for me.

My epiphany this time came with a new release item in a monthly computer mag I read about Firefox 3.0.1. I had used Netscape in the early days and was slow to accept Internet Explorer until around version 5.0. By then Netscape had gotten convoluted with plug-ins and integrated email which I didn’t like and Microsoft had undermined the display code to often leave Web pages unviewable in Netscape. I went to IE and stayed.

Doing software reviews, I had to look at Opera, Safari, Phoenix and others. Some were small and quick; some were large and unstable; all were marginal in comparison to IE for everyday use. I looked at Firefox when the buzz started. I tried it and didn’t like it.

Then Firefox offered tabbed browsing. I tried it again and thought maybe they had it right. The browser still seemed confusing to me with a need for an apparently endless search for “extensions” to do stuff that should have been in the application to begin with. After a two week test, I abandoned it.

But, I’m not close-minded. When the magazine said version 3.0 was great I tried it again. My conclusion is that this time they’ve got it right. And, it works in Vista!!!

The tabbed browsing options are faster and more stable than IE. I set up a half-dozen of my default work pages as my “home” and they are all there when I launch Firefox. The integrated password/username extension, called Sxipper, logs me in everywhere including an MS Exchange mail server and a college online course software as well as returning me with one click to any previously registered shopping site. New registrations are saved optionally by just clicking on a pop-up. Personal data (as much or as little as you choose to list) can be auto-filled on Web-page forms with just a click.

Shifting from IE is a no-brainer. When you install Firefox it will ask you if you want to import bookmarks or favorites from another browser. Click and it’s done. Adding and organizing nested bookmark folders is a giant step up from IE as well. Finding the sites you need really works easier with the “Awesome Bar”—the system takes “auto-fill” to an entirely new level.

Searches with Google or Yahoo are enhanced with a nifty extension called Surf Canyon. Get a Google hit list and choose a site as you normally would. When you return to the list, Surf Canyon will have added a sub-folder of additional sites supplemental to the one you just looked at. The drill-down research potential is incredible.

Previous iterations of Firefox exhibited some incompatibility with text manipulation on my blog host and college online instruction site, but the latest version has corrected that significant shortcoming for me. Opening of linked pages from a site can be done in a new browser window or a new tab by setting a default option, making a much cleaner and quicker multi-page viewing experience.

The “Links” toolbar from IE is called the “Bookmarks Toolbar” in Firefox and it works the same way, except that re-arranging along the bar and moving back and forth from bookmarks folders is a lot easier. Identifying icons for sites seem to be captured more quickly and retained more consistently than with IE. Handling of RSS feeds and updates are flawless.

In short, I’m now a Firefox convert. Unless something surprising occurs that hasn’t manifested itself in the last two weeks of testing, I think I’ll stay.

1 comment:

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