Technology Roundup

Firefox (aka Red Panda) Not Spying on You
Firefox (aka Red Panda) busy Not Spying on You

A 1 May Ars article and 30 April Wired article mention that a UK company known as Gamma International is selling spyware that pretends to be Mozilla Firefox. Both articles mention that repressive governments have used it to spy on dissidents, but it’s unclear from the article whether the company purposely sells to evil governments or whether it sells this to anybody, including foreign governments. The Wired article mentions that Gamma markets it to governments in general and so, if pressed, would probably say that it’s not meant to be used by evil governments – just people like the FBI trying to catch criminals. Either way, Mozilla has sued for trademark infringement. I applaud them for doing so. Governments may have both legitimate and illegitimate reasons for spying on computer communications, but I don’t think they should be abusing the good will of other companies to do it. Imagine if Gamma was selling Ford cars that were bugged. No one would want to buy a Ford car for fear it might be a bugged version. Come on, guys! Figure out a solution that doesn’t screw over the folks at Mozilla.

Also on 1 May Ars had a story about how Google Glass could be exploited. My first instinct is that this was a PR nightmare for Google. They’re putting these devices into the hands of users as part of a beta test and generate media buzz and someone goes and figures out how the glasses could be rooted, allowing someone to take recordings (video, photo, and audio) without you knowing what’s going on.  On second read, however, I realized this is PERFECT for Google (well, perfect would have been no exploits, but that’s not realistic).  Right now they aren’t trying to get this device out to the public – they’re trying to find all the problems that would make it DOA when it goes out to the public. Almost nobody in the general public is following these stories and so they won’t be spooked by it. And Google gets to fix the devices before they get out there.  In fact, it could even be spun as, “No, don’t worry about those fears – we handled it during the beta period.”

When I discussed the story with my wife we were trying to figure out the worst possible scenarios. Like no one is probably going to wear Google Glass during sex. No one I know who has glasses wears them during sex – they end up getting knocked about. But even if you did, it’s probably not going to show the parts most people care about (compared to a camera you’re not wearing) most of the time. More likely would be photos of you spouse and others you live with in various states of undress. But what’s even scarier to me is someone turning on the camera when you don’t know it’s on and then taking photos that make you look like a jerk – and could get you fired or thrown in jail. For example, in a public bathroom or locker-room.  Or a shot that makes it look like you were taking a breast shot of someone. Would someone really believe the “I was hacked” defense?

Luckily, for now the exploit can only happen if someone has possession of your Google Glass.  Given how much these things cost, I doubt anyone’s going to be letting anyone else use it out of their line of sight.

On a quick note: I’d wondered why my current WordPress theme (if you’re reading this before I’ve switched over to Twenty Thirteen at the end of May) hadn’t been updated to incorporate the newest features. In lots of other WP sites I have, the themes have been constantly updating.  Turns out that the developer stopped working on WP themes a couple years ago.  Bummer!

KDE Browsers Part 1: The Arguments

I’ve been using web browsers since Internet Explorer 1 and Netscape Navigator 3. I’ve blogged about my browser history quite a bit. I’ve ended up using Chrome on all my platforms. It works on Linux and Windows and I can have my bookmarks synced up across all those platforms. Now, I’m not a huge user of bookmarks. From my earliest days back in the 1990s when I used to perfectly curate my bookmarks into folders and subfolders to the mid-2000s when Epiphany and Firefox implemented tags on bookmarks, pretty much anything I’ve ever bookmarked has gone into a status of “out of sight== out of mind”. In fact, the only way I’ve been able to effectively use bookmarks is to use the space under the address bar to store them so I can see them. This is what Chrome looks like on my machines:

My Chrome and its bookmarks
My Chrome and its bookmarks

However, the following facts remain: I still rarely use those bookmarks. Even smaller is the set that includes bookmarks I’ve needed across my different machines running Chrome. Also, I can export/import the current set of bookmarks – which haven’t changed in months. So while I’d miss the ability to sync across computers if I abandoned Chrome, it wouldn’t affect me in the real world.

But Chrome’s working perfectly for me. It’s fast, it’s sleak. I’ve replaced Firefox with it on all my computers. Why abandon it? Well, as I mentioned a couple days ago, I’m really into KDE now and it doesn’t quite integrate correctly with KDE. I’m not talking about the theming, that was easy to fix. It’s more to do with all the neat bits of KDE that it doesn’t work well with. First of all, and this one is hearsay, it doesn’t work correctly with KDE’s activities. Second, it doesn’t work well with the KGet download manager. Third, it doesn’t work as cleanly with the other KDE tech – although a recent update made it finally work nicely with KWallet.

So which KDE browser to use? There’s the official browswer, Konqueror, and there’s the new semi-official browser, Rekonq. I haven’t had a good experience with Konqueror since the old KDE 3.x days, but nowadays webkit can be swapped in as the rendering backend. With Rekonq and Chrome also based on webkit, the real differentiator will be Javascript performance. This is the component into which all browser research is being poured into nowadays. Have the Konqueror and Rekonq teams kept up with the big boys? With so much based on Javascript, this could outweigh all the KDE benefits and throw me right back to Chrome. So this’ll be key.

I’ll probably start off with Rekonq. Since it and Konqueror are both so tightly integrated into KDE, they share bookmarks and KWallet for passwords so I shouldn’t lose any functionality going to Konqueror if Rekonq isn’t up to speed. The fact that it will allow me to directly send RSS feeds to Akgregator is great! The usage of embedded apps is also a great leverage of KDE tech instead of possibly unstable plugins. Also, the way the new tab page is implemented looks pretty awesome – similar to Chrome, but more accessible. The visual suggestions on the URL bar also look to be pretty awesome. So I’m going to set Rekonq as my default browser in KDE and use it for a week and see how it goes. If it proves unable to handle my needs, I’ll write about it and switch to Konqueror. If both fail before a week is up, I’ll definitely blog about that and go back to Chrome. Here’s to experimentation!

Rekonq new tab page
Rekonq new tab page

Initial impression – it’s a bit slower on all sites – maybe it needs time to build up its cache. Strangely, using the flash uploader in WordPress causes it to use the Gnome file dialog instead of the KDE dialog. I thought that was quite odd. I like the tab previews although it’s something I rarely use:

Rekonq tab preview
Rekonq tab preview

I am getting this weird error in Google docs. Wonder if this has anything to do with the slowness?

Rekonq Google Docs Error
Rekonq Google Docs Error

Top 200 Photos: #166

From NYC to our nation’s Capital for today’s Top 200 Photo.

photo #166 is:
Very cold

As I mentioned before, we loved to go to the National Zoo to go see the Pandas. Well, thanks to Tai Shan, the zoo got a huge injection of donations which it used to revitalize its Asian section of the zoo. Eventually they got a pair of fire foxes. The fire fox is also known as the red panda. Back when we were in college I was visiting Danielle during summer classes and we took a trip to Syracuse. While there we went to the zoo. I saw they had a sign for a red panda. Whoa! I only knew about the black and white ones! I was quite annoyed that it was just some raccoon-looking thing.

Whenever we try to take Dave or Dan somewhere, out of the ordinary stuff happens. In yesterday’s photo we took Dave to Manhattan. We were unable to see the Empire State Building because it was closed due to high winds. This photo is from when Dave came to visit and we went to DC so he could see the Zoo. It rained like crazy all day, making the Zoo a pain and making DC very muddy. And it hadn’t rained in weeks.  But, these little guys did look super-cute (kawaii) all wet like that.

Happy Birthday Firefox!

"I made it, now what?"
Firefox is now 5 years old

I can’t believe Firefox has been around for five years!  I remember first being introduced to tabs and it totally changing the way I surf the web.  Back then it was a plucky upstart and didn’t even work with many websites that had been coded specifically for Internet Explorer.  Now it has around 20% market share!

My History with Browsers Part 1: A History Lesson of Sorts

At first I used Internet Explorer because we had a free trial of MSN.  Then we switched to MCI, who used Netscape (although you could also use IE) and I mostly used Netscape.  I think this was around Netscape 4 or 5.  I really liked Netscape A LOT and used it almost to the exclusivity of Internet Explorer.  Of course, those were the exciting days when every few months Netscape and Internet Explorer would release a new version.  As I’ve commented in previous posts, whether or not Firefox ever gains a dominant share (and the same with Linux vs Windows), its mere presence will necessitate innovation from Microsoft.  You may have noticed that IE stayed at version 6 for a very long time until Firefox started getting really popular.  But I digress.  Netscape had all the best plugins and I thought it was the ultimate in the Web experiences.  I coded all of my websites with Netscape in mind. 

I heard about Opera and checked it out, but it was racked with annoying ads if you didn’t get the pay version.  I couldn’t understand why anyone would buy a browser when MS and Netscape gave theirs away free.  Sure, Netscape had a version you could pay for, but I never did understand what that gave you.  Tech support?  Who the heck needs tech support on a web browser?  (I felt the same way about Realplayer)  If Opera had tabs at the time, I didn’t notice.  I uninstalled it pretty much the next day.

Then in High School I became a Microsoft Fanboy at some time.  I remember getting mad that AOL kept locking MS Messenger out of its client.  After all, in my experience, MS Messenger was the first client I could use to access both Buddy lists and I didn’t see a point in having two programs open at once – back in the days when we pined for 128 MB of RAM!  So I started using Internet Explorer.  So as Netscape fell to the wayside, I didn’t even notice that more and more websites were become discriminatory towards non-IE browsers.

I did temporarily go back to Netscape 7 (or 8?  was there an 8?) when they integrated with AIM (must have been around the time that AOL bought the company).  I thought it was pretty neat.  However, by that time I had moved onto using Trillian and using Netscape for AIM while using Trillian for Yahoo and MSN seemed to be a step backwards and I only used Netscape for a month at max.

Then one day I went to the computer labs in the engineering library at Cornell.  This must have been either Junior Year or Senior Year because prior to then I had never really used the school library resources.  But Junior year I moved off campus so I had an incentive to use the labs in the library.  At the time it was called Phoenix and was version 0.7 or 0.8 – something like that.  But I immediately fell in love!  (Or relatively immediately – after playing with it for a few consecutive days)  Once I discovered tabs I could never go back to IE for this opening a new instance of the browser for every link was just too annoying.  Not only that, but in those days Firefox was lightning fast!  (Something I hope they return to in the near future)

I immediately started using Firefox and got my then-girlfriend (now wife) to start using it.  I forget if she was sold on tabbed browsing or when I later found out that it was much more secure than IE.  I tend to think it’s the latter because she’s always gone for practicality over glitz.  Then we started to see the prejudices against non-IE browsers.  For example, I couldn’t pay my Verizon bill online.  I called up and complained and they said they were working on it.  Same with a bank or two.  It still continues to this day one some DRM (digital restrictions management) heavy sites such as Movielink and Netflix for movie downloads.  Well, those websites simply stopped getting my patronage.  (Well, I stopped renting from Movielink so they lost money on their policies.  Netflix – I use for renting physical discs).

Recently, after having been with the Gospel of Firefox for about three to five years, I’ve started to branch out a bit and check out other browsers to see what they have to offer.  On Linux I’ve switched to Epiphany for a few reasons. 

1) It integrates better with Gnome
2) They implemented what Firefox will call places in Firefox 3 a long time ago, and
3) It has the same Gecko rendering engine, but uses up far fewer resources than Firefox.  I’ve been using it for maybe 6 months now and I prefer it over Firefox on Linux

In KDE I’ve used Konqueror which uses the KHTML backend, which Apple took for Safari and has contributed back to the community as Webkit.  It renders pages much more crisply than Gecko-based browsers and was the first or second backend to pass the Acid 2 test.  I like it a lot although it seems to have taken the approach that they will not kludge up the codebase by supporting deprecated standards.  I say that because it seems to render some pages incorrectly that I’ve coded with my old HTML books that date back to the early to mid 1990s.

All of that has caused me to also check out other browsers on Windows.  For instance, as I mentioned a few months ago, I moved my primary browsing from Firefox over to Flock, which is also based on Firefox/Gecko.  The flickr and Facebook integration as well as a few other things (auto-bookmark to delicious) have had me very happy using this browser.  However, Flock isn’t perfect.  For one thing, its performance makes Firefox look like it flies.  (And everyone knows that Firefox has become a huge resource hog)

So I decided to continue the search for the perfect browser.  Just as IE didn’t cut it and forced me to find web browsing bliss in Firefox, perhaps there’s more out there worth checking out.  So recently I decided to check out Opera again.  It’ll be interesting for me to look at since it’ll be the first time since I used Netscape Communicator/Navigator that I’ll have one program with Web browser, email, IRC, etc.  I never did use most of those features with Netscape, my ISP always had its own email program.  So will it be too slow or too much bloat?  I hear some people still like Mozilla Suite/Seamonkey, but I suspect they’re in the minority.  If it turns out that I do like Opera, it may cause a lot of people to switch.  I can directly point to my switching to Firefox as responsible for at least six to eight people switching.  Stay tuned for part 2!

Blogged with Flock

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Enough is enough!

I was trying to pay my Verizon Wireless bill a few weeks ago and it kept having problems. I checked the credit card number, the expiration date, and every other field, but it was still not working. Finally I got fed up enough to call tech support rather than risk being locked out or something. So I gave them a call and the lady says to me, “oh, you’re using Firefox aren’t you?”
“Yes I am” (because I don’t like viruses and other M$ exploits taking over my computer)
“Oh well, I’m sorry, but you can’t use that browser here to pay your bills.”
“What?”
“Oh, don’t worry, our engineers are working on it.”

I was thoroughly ticked off! WTF was this setup M$ had with vendors to purposely make the code so that it wouldn’t work with Firefox? I should be able to use whichever browser I choose to surf the internet.

Then today I tried to watch a clip online in the Windows Media Streaming format and it didn’t work. As soon as I went into my Internet Explorer browser it began to play. Microsoft can’t continue this policy or they will lose in a big way. They are counting on people saying, “I can’t use my browser to view WMVs? I’m going back to IE.” But what people will actually do is get mad at what M$ is trying to do. They are infringing upon our rights to use our computers however we want to use them.

I know they are scared if they actually play nice that people will finally see they are a good software company, but not a great one. However, enough is enough! Users need to be able to use their computers in whatever manner they wish, including using outside browsers.