Firefox 3: Lost a Few Extensions, Found Others… No Smooth Sailing Though

Several of my favorite Firefox extensions did not make it to 3.0 for compatibility reasons, but I found functional equivalents for almost all.  Amongst the (temporary)  losses is  Zoho QuickRead, being replaced by OpenITOnline (The Zoho Team tells me QuickRead will be FF3 compatible in a few days The FF3 compatible Zoho QuickRead update is now available).

OpenITOnline is a handy extension that allows you to read documents online without the need to first download, then open them in the relevant Office applications.  The file formats currently handled are:

  • Documents (*.doc, *.rtf, *.odt, *.sxw)
  • Spreadsheets (*.xls, *.csv, *.ods, *.sxc)
  • Presentations (*.ppt, *.pps, *.odp, *.sxi)
  • Images (*.jpg, *.gif,*.png)

There’s an easy guided setup, where I changed the default Zoho Viewer to the relevant “active” services, i.e. Zoho Writer, Sheet and Show.  OpenITOnline also supports Google Docs and ThinkFree.

My old-style extension was replaced by the functionally richer new one.  The PayPal Plugin became a casualty, just days after I had discovered it.

The upgrade itself was anything but smooth sailing, and I’m not referring to the initial download fiasco.  The new Firefox appeared to work fine on the Vista PC, but exhibited strange behavior on two XP machines.

It simply did not “remember” the settings for two key extensions: every single time I started Firefox I got flooded by pop-up windows to configure Gmail Manager (one window for each account) and had to go through the hoops of setting up Foxmarks. For a while I thought the extensions were to blame, or perhaps a strange interaction with some of the new extensions – once you’re on the wrong track, you can spend hours uninstalling/ reinstalling them in various sequences.  But then I noticed some of my default settings were gone, homepage reset, cookie handling and history tracking all changed.  Weirdest of all was the fact that the “OK” button did not work on any configuration/setup screen.

So now I knew something was wrong with Firefox itself – to cut a long story short, I could fix one of the laptops by some magic sequence of uninstalling/reinstalling everything a few times, but the other one was hopeless.  I had to resort to brute force: uninstall Firefox, wipe out all related directories (those ugly documents etc.. \user\ local data\whatever paths), then System Restore to the day before the Firefox upgrade, then install everything again, followed buy repeated Windows and McAfee updates that the system forgot due to the Restore.  It was ugly.

Now Firefox 3 (almost) works, except that the “Use my choice for all cookies from this site” button does not seem to do anything. (Update: It’s damn frustrating having to hit the same button a zillion times!)

I lost about half a day, and more importantly at a time I really couldn’t afford it, had more urgent things to do.  Not the first time, and I’m afraid not the last one either.  But this time I’ve decided to do something about it: I’m presenting a virtual invoice to Mozilla, for the productive time lost.

Of course this invoice won’t ever be paid.. but I already feel better. Every time a software company hijacks my productive time, I will create a Virtual Invoice.  (I already have another one in the queue, for Microsoftcoming soon).


Web Applications on the Desktop

The latest trend in Web Applications is – surprise, surprise! – going back on to the desktop. e Adobe Air and Mozilla Prism are two technologies that help Web Apps behave more .. hm, surprise, surprise! … desktop-like. Full circle? Why the “move to the cloud” circus if we’re coming back to the desktop anyway?

Well, we’re not. We’re just doing web apps differently. Matthew Gertner, former CTO of Allpeers (in the deadpool) who is currently working on Prism provides his perspective on TechCrunch. I can’t even attempt to add to the technical discussion, so I’ll play the dumb business user (won’t be too difficult smile_sarcastic) and explain what I see from that angle.

First of all, there appears to be some confusion in this dialogue: Google Gears and Single Site Browsers (SSBs) are two different animals, even if Gears has future extension plans.

  • Gears is all about offline access, which, let’s face it, make sense, until we have “always-on, everywhere” connectivity. It’s data access, and it’s good, albeit somewhat cludgy.
  • SSB’s are all about convenience: instead of just having tabs in the browser, certain applications now have their own window, can be minimized, when closed can show up in the systray ..etc – in other words they behave like desktop applications. When the everything-in-a-browser concept became popular we all worked on 15-17″ displays. Today huge displays are affordable and popular – but now that I have all this screen real-estate, I’d like to be able to display 3-4 windows at a time – not flip-flopping between, but have them all available. I can’t do that with the browser tabs, unless I launch multiple browsers ( waste of resources) or find the way to detach some tabs – that’s what SSB’s do.

A commenter on TechCrunch asks:

So it is progress to send things back to being one window with no tabs?
Wasn’t the point of tabs to put all of those windows into one?

No. The point was not having to install myriad applications that need to be patched, the data files scanned for viruses ..etc. Now, I consider myself progressive, and like to support the future trend just out of principle, but I am first of all a user, and nothing convinces a user better then their own pain. So here are a few examples of my own pain with desktop computing, just from the last two days.

  • I turned on an older laptop I don’t often use nowadays, and I literally had no access to it, the damn thing kept itself busy for an hour with Windows Update, McAfee update, (I killed the virus can), Foldershare sync and Copernic desktop search indexing. In other words, it was struggling just to stay up-to-date, and I could only get to use it an hours or so later.
  • The very reason I turned it on is that even though I now have a screamer desktop, I have to fall back on the slow laptops any time I need to edit a PDF file: my trusted old Adobe Acrobat 6 is not supported on Vista, and I am not about to cough up the price when I don’t need new functionality, so I have to keep the old junk running, just to avoid losing functionality I paid for. I won’t have to do this forever, some of the Web-based Acrobat alternatives are getting pretty good…
  • I’m in the middle of a major paper elimination project: throwing away boxes of expired folders, keeping only electronic copies of the crucial stuff. This involved hours of installing and uninstalling obsolete software this afternoon: Turbotax versions all the way from 1996 only so I can read the .tax file once and convert it to PDF. Intuit now offers Turbotax entirely online, and while I haven’t found any info on how long they support retrieval of old returns, as the years go by I’m sure they will address it – and I don’t have to install anything.
  • A few hours later the old PC started to choke: it ran out of hardware space. Impossible! Just a few months ago I removed all my photos, that’s a huge gain, I should have ample space. Yeah, right, it turns out Foldershare, which I use to keep the 3 household computers in sync accumulated over 10G in its trash folders, which is nothing on the new PC, but a third of the old laptop’s 30Mb storage capacity. And would you believe there’s no setup option to auto-clear trash from time to time? (It can auto-delete your real files, just not trash.)

Personal computers, and the desktop computing model were liberating in the 80’s, when they got us off the dumb green terminals, which we could only access at work, that is those of use who worked at large corporations who could afford a mainframe. PC’s were expensive enough that any one of us only owned one, if any, and the ability to work on that single machine actually meant increased access and mobility. But as we upgrade, we tend to keep the older computers, and I bet most of my readers have more than one computer in their household, let alone business.

Keeping all of them up-to-date, having the same Application versions on all, synchronizing data is becoming more and more of a pain. Just as computing shifted to the Client model in the late 80’s, we’re facing another shift now, and the move off the desktop, on to the Cloud will be just as liberating as getting onto it was 20 years ago. Access to applications and data will no longer will be tied to a particular piece of hardware and we don’t worry about updates, maintenance – offload it to the Service Provider.

In other words Software as a Service is increasingly all about the second “S”.


Desktopized Web-Applications are a Great Convenience

Mozilla Lab’s Prism, which allows you to ‘desktopize’ your web applications – i.e. represent them by a desktop icon and run them in their own window – is generally well received, so I’m really surprised at Josh Catone’s assessment on Read/WriteWeb (one of my favorite sites):

Except for the minor convenience of running oft-used web apps in their own dedicated window and making them accessible via a desktop icon, Prism isn’t really all that exciting in its current form. It doesn’t offer much of a benefit over bookmarks and your current browser window.

Sure, offline access will be great, when it’s here… but don’t underestimate the importance of users’ convenience, Josh!

I love the fact that about the only program need to launch is FireFox – but I often find the browser too restricting. Now that large LCD’s are getting less expensive, more and more of us find ourselves working on 24″, 32″ ..etc screens – the browser does not allow smart use of all that real-estate. For example I like to use different window sizes for different (web) apps, and often want side-by-side windows, which I could not get using FireFox tabs. Launching another browser session was a rather resource-wasting workaround.

I’ve been using Zoho Writer, Sheet and Show in a desktopized form for almost a year now (literally, since the tool Zoho uses is called “desktopize”). The pic to the right shows part of my desktop, with 3 Zoho icons. They all pop up in my pre-set window size and position, and disappear to the system tray, even if I close my main browser session.

If this “convenience feature” becomes more mainstream, with Mozilla, Adobe and whoever else backing it, I believe it will lead to increased migration to Web applications, so I’m all for it.

Related posts: Read/WriteWeb, CrunchGear, Download Squad, WebProNews, CyberNet, Digital Trends, TechBlog, Compiler, RIApedia, Google Blogoscoped, Mike Chambers, The Universal Desktop, Jeremy’s Blog, Mashable!