Chrome browser, Pinboard site lead the list of recent changes

Spent some time housekeeping on the blog tonight, including updating the software and services in use page.

Google’s Chrome browser, version 10, has replaced an increasingly buggy Firefox. I am really digging the way extensions have their own little button row.

I’ve also noted that I had to dump Mozy for Crashplan last month after Mozy’s mega-price hike. Public bookmark keeper Delicious got dumped for not-free replacement Pinboard. Also 1Password is on my Android phone, iPad and Macs instead of old reliable Wallet, which seemed to be pretending Android didn’t exist. And 1Password needs Dropbox to sync so I’ve added a free account there.

Finally, I cut the section on instant messaging clients, which I never use much anymore. Good bye, Adium.

Foxmarks browser sync adds great password syncing feature

Don’t you love it when software designers listen to their customers? Gives me a warm feeling all over. So kudos to the authors of the incredibly useful Firefox bookmark synchronization add-on Foxmarks. After the demise of Google’s great browser synching tool back in June, I turned to Foxmarks to keep everything in tune on my various Macs. But unlike Google, Foxmarks only synced bookmarks, not passwords, cookies or browsing history. Of the three missing features, syncing passwords was easily the most useful. So I’m happy to report that Foxmarks new version 2.5 adds a solid password syncing capability.

The implementation is straightforward and easy to use. Password syncing is off by default so you must first go to Foxmarks’ preferences and activate it. The first sync requires that you create a password for password syncing and obviously you should create a long, twisty, turny one. The first sync was pretty darn quick. Then on other computers, you simply activate the feature and input the password.

I’m not a computer security expert but it does appear that Foxmarks has taken good care with the new feature. Transfers between browsers and the Foxmarks server are encrypted. And if you don’t trust Foxmarks, you can name your own server. If you ever want to erase all the passwords, there’s a handy button in Foxmarks’ preferences called “Delete Passwords From Server.” Furthermore, I would never trust Firefox to save passwords for critical web sites like my bank in the first place, so Foxmarks’ security is less than a critical need for me.

I do have one problem or issue with the new password sync feature. If Foxmark encounters a conflict — you have different passwords for the same web address — it presents a conflict resolution dialogue box. It shows both passwords blotted out. But just hit the giant, how-did-I-miss-it-earlier button labeled “Show Passwords” to see exactly what’s been saved on each. But the two conflicting passwords are both blanked out with dots so how are you supposed to know which one is correct? And there’s no option to simply type in the current password for that web site. Needs improvement here.

Overall, I highly recommend Foxmarks for keeping browsers on all your computers every-more-completely in sync. And, frankly, there’s not a lot of competition. Firefox’s own Weave project is still stuck at the 0.1 beta point and I haven’t seen any action with Google’s now abandoned but open sourced offering.

Semi-related aside: when Firefox notified me that there was an upgrade available for Foxmarks, it also decided to offer me the chance to install a few other popular add-ons. I decided to see if ColorfulTabs might help me sort through bunches of open pages. The add-on colorizes each tab you have open in Firefox with a different color (see picture below). After about 10 seconds, I decided that the various colors were more distracting than useful. It’s easier to simply read the black text in each tab to see what page it’s on. The clashing colors distracted my brain as I tried to read across the tabs. No thanks.

Firefox browser with colorfultabs add-on installed


Google browser sync: Iā€™m not dead yet (July 9, 2008)

Google browser sync is dead. Now what? (June 14, 2008)

Google browser sync: I’m not dead yet

About a month ago, I noted the bad news that Google was ending development of one of the most useful Firefox add-ons ever, the Google browser sync extension. This nifty piece of code not only kept your bookmarks synced between different computers (across different operating systems, too) but also coordinated browsing history, cookies and passwords. Foxmarks, which I switched over to, only supports syncing bookmarks, so far. And the Mozilla’s Weave project is still in an early beta stage. So it’s nice to hear on the official Google open source blog today (via Jeremy Zawodny’s link blog) that the company is throwing open the doors to programmers everywhere and anywhere to keep Google browser sync alive:

“Open Sourcing the Google Browser Sync client was something we’d always planned to do, and we’re pleased to say that the code for it is now yours for the taking. Given our recent decision to discontinue support for Browser Sync, we wanted to make sure that the code for it was available for the developer community to use and improve. While we’re no longer doing active development, we’ve released the code in the hopes that those folks who asked for it will use it to develop something cool. For example, it would be great to see the server ported to Google App Engine, or support for Firefox 3 implemented.”

Now we have some competition, I suppose, between privately-coded Foxmarks and open-sourced Weave and Google browser sync. That should lead to good progress in a hurry — I hope.

p.s. Exciting to make an allusion to the great flick “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” “Life of Bryan” in my headline. Here’s the clip:

Firefox 3.0 for Mac improves on an already fine browser

Last month, I first noticed that version 3 of the Firefox browser was nearing completion and downloaded the “release candidate” for some early trial runs. Yesterday, Mozilla released the finished 3.0 Firefox and I’ve updated all my Macs. I’m hardly alone. The download counter at Mozilla is getting close to 9 million on just the second day.

Over 8 million downloads on day two

Several of the new features are truly great little additions. The smarter auto-complete list is probably my favorite. In the prior version, when you started typing a web address, Firefox would try to guess what you wanted but usually ended up offering a whole bunch of deep links within sites when you really just wanted the main site. The new auto-complete uses a combination of the total frequency of past visits along with recent visits and comes up with smarter choices. A couple of minors changes, like triple-clicking to select a paragraph of text and improvements to opening a bunch of tabs at once, round out a very nice upgrade.

I’m also glad that most of my favorite add-ins, including Google Notebooks and Delicious bookmarks, have made the jump to 3.0 compatibility. As I noted the other day, however, Google has ended development of its excellent browser sync product. I’m now using Foxmarks to keep bookmarks in sync but I’m suffering from a huge loss of capabilities since Google’s product also synced history, cookies and other stuff. Hopefully, some more capable alternatives will crop up and/or Foxmarks will add features. Meanwhile, any other add-ins that people recommend?

p.s. there are some great tips and tricks for using the new Firefox over at Lifehacker. I especially needed the one showing how to delete mistyped web addresses that then get onto your auto-complete list. Blech.

Google browser sync is dead. Now what?

As a guy with far too many computers, well, at least four that I use on a regular basis, keeping things in sync is kind of hopeless. Instead, some computer gets assigned a certain task and all the related files. I use my Macbook Pro for email, for example, and digital photography lives mainly on my iMac, oh he with the big screen.

But some tasks can’t be penned in so easily, particularly browsing the Internet. I’m just as likely to read web sites or my Bloglines feeds on any computer in he house. So it was a great day around these parts when Google introduced their browser sync extension for Firefox, which “continuously synchronizes your browser settings ā€“ including bookmarks, history, persistent cookies, and saved passwords ā€“ across your computers.” The add-on also kept track of which sites you had open when you last closed a browser and offered to open them when you next opened a browser.

Unfortunately, the browser sync program has become the latest victim of Google’s shifting priorities. There won’t be a version for the new Firefox 3.0 browser and the existing extension for the prior version of Firefox wil bite the dust soon (news I first read on Lifehacker). So it’s time to move on and find an alternative.

Logo of Foxmarks Firefox extensionMany people are talking about an extension called Foxmarks, so I’m giving it a go. One limitation versus the old Google sync is that Foxmarks only keeps track of bookmarks, not cookies, history or saved passwords. You sign up on the Foxmarks site, which serves as the main repository for all your bookmarks and gives you access to them from any computer, which is an added little bonus. The first sync was incredibly fast. But Foxmarks doesn’t work continuously. It seems to just sync when you quite or request a manual sync. So either remember to sync manually after you’ve added a few new bookmarks or don’t let Firefox crash. I’ll report back after using it for a bit.

logo of mozilla weave projectEven with Foxmarks, I’m still lacking a more comprehensive browser sync solution. Some people are touting Weave, an entire browser syncing platform that Mozilla introduced back in December. But it’s a 0.1 release, not something I’m going to trust with all my important data.

UPDATE: Techmeme is collecting various responses, including:

– The semi-official word from Google, via the Google Operating System blog.

– Cybernotes points to a round up it did last September of various sync options.

Next version of Firefox gets ready for prime time

icon for firefox web browserSeems like the Mozilla project has been working on the 3.0 upgrade to free, open source browser Firefox since time began but really it’s only been since the Pleistocene Era. Finally, we’ve arrived at the so-called release candidate (download here), or the almost, not quite but really almost finished beta version. I was hanging around reading other people’s tweets on Twitter when I saw Mac expert John Siracusa mention it and link to the download page. So, I guess it’s about time to cowboy up and try it.

I’m usually not big on beta software, but it’s the weekend. At first, I grew very apprehensive when, reading way down the list of improvements, I eventually happened upon this sentence: “Please note that installing Firefox 3 will overwrite your existing installation of Firefox on Mac OS X and Linux.” Hmm. That’s a little scary. But I was comforted just three lines later when told: “You can remove Firefox 3 through the Control Panel in the Start Menu on Windows, by removing the Firefox application on OS X, or by removing the firefox folder on Linux. Removing Firefox 3 won’t remove your bookmarks, web browsing history, extensions or other add-ons.”

Some of the cool new features I’m looking forward to (and which I’ll be reporting back on shortly):
— Full page zoom: from the View menu and via keyboard shortcuts, the new zooming feature lets you zoom in and out of entire pages, scaling the layout, text and images, or optionally only the text size. Your settings will be remembered whenever you return to the site.
–Optimized Open in Tabs behavior: opening a folder of bookmarks in tabs now appends the new tabs rather than overwriting.
–Triple-clicking selects a paragraph.
–Integration with the Mac: the new Firefox theme makes toolbars, icons, and other user interface elements look like a native OS X application. Firefox also uses OS X widgets and supports Growl for notifications of completed downloads and available updates. A combined back and forward control make it even easier to move between web pages.
–Location bar & auto-complete: Results are returned according to their frequency (a combination of frequency and recency of visits to that page) ensuring that you’re seeing the most relevant matches. An adaptive learning algorithm further tunes the results to your patterns!
–Speed: improvements to our JavaScript engine as well as profile guided optimizations have resulted in continued improvements in performance. Compared to Firefox 2, web applications like Google Mail and Zoho Office run twice as fast in Firefox 3, and the popular SunSpider test from Apple shows improvements over previous releases.

Stay tuned.