The Greatest Firefox Extension Ever

nosquint-logoUntil today, I have unsuccessfully waged my own private war against tiny text size on the internet.  Some sites use a default text size that renders microscopically on larger monitors at higher resolutions.  Changing the default text size at the browser level isn’t a solution, because then the text size on many sites is way too big.  It has been extremely frustrating.

Occasionally I google around in search of a solution.  Today I found one.  And based on 30 minutes of surfing around and actually being able to read the words on pages, I proclaim it the greatest Firefox extension ever.

NoSquint is the long awaited answer to the text size problem.

It allows you to set a default zoom level for all pages within Firefox (the suggested 120% works well for me).  The best part is that you can also set individual zoom levels on a per site basis.  This allows me to automatically increase the absurdly small Netvibes text to 140% and the almost as absurdly small My Yahoo text to 130%.

This may be the most significant advance in my internet experience since broadband.

I am very happy, though I can’t resist firing one last shot across the bow of the young and eagle-eyed developers who ignore text size issues: why does it take an extension to do what the sites themselves should already offer via the personalization settings?

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Very Annoying Firefox Video Problem

I love Firefox.  But I am having a problem that may force me back to Internet Explorer.

Can someone please tell me why, why a million times why, when I want to watch a video of the Loch Ness Monster (how do they know it’s a monster, but I digress) or just about any other non-YouTube video, I get this:


I can’t believe in this day and age when everything is about online video, Firefox can’t figure out how to play a frickin’ video.  And if this is some stupid thing Microsoft is causing, why some hacker in Sweden or somewhere hasn’t hacked away this annoyance.  I tried this, and it didn’t help.

This really irritates me.

Buggy Like a Fox?

firefoxI love Firefox, and it is hard for me to imagine changing browsers.  But I have had nothing but crash after crash since updating to version a couple of days ago.  Among the many web sites that consistently crash Firefox, but work in IE, are the Time Warner, Houston page, Feedburner and Webshots (which is a great application for hosting images like the one below).

UPDATE:  Actually Webshots is great for losing photos when it died.  I lost this one and tons more.

I expect I am not the only person having these problems.


Down to 999,999

firefoxEd Bott says there’s one less reason to use Firefox, now that someone has made an add-on that replicates Firefox’s find box.

That’s a neat feature, but the fact remains that Firefox has left IE in the dust.  From time to time, IE might close the gap a little, but barring some radical open source move from Microsoft, the race for the power user is over.

One add-on to replicate one feature is simply not going to matter in the long run.  In the time it took to write that one add-on, hundreds of Firefox plugins were likely written, updated, etc.  There is too much developer support behind Firefox for IE to regain the momentum.

There are, of course, millions and millions of Windows users who don’t know anything about Firefox.  So it’s not like IE is going to fade into oblivion.

But I can’t think of a legitimate reason why a tech savvy power user would prefer IE over Firefox.

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Itchy Fingers in the Blogosphere

Amy Gahran has an interesting post today about the itchy finger syndrome- when you click the “Publish” button too quickly and post something to your blog that a moment later you wish you hadn’t.

She tells of this post by Dave Winer, which went through several post-publication edits, all of which were, for some reason, grabbed and posted by Ian Bettridge.

There’s a lesson here, as Amy suggests. But first a little related business.

I saw those earlier posts by Dave too, in my feed reader. But I didn’t save them, and I certainly wouldn’t post them. Anyone should have the right to reconsider what they write the same way they can reconsider what they say in a conversation. If I am arguing with Dave about something, I’d rather respond to what he says and agrees with than what he said and later retracted.

Back to the itchy finger.

As Amy points out, once you post something, it will get picked up by your blog’s feed. It will also often get picked up by Google and Technorati and sometimes by Techmeme and the other memetrackers. Once that happens, it is a part of the permanent record.

A related problem is that any modification to a post will generally go back into your feed as a new item. So if you do 3 edits to an original post, that post will show up in your feed 4 times.

While we all try to avoid it, everyone has to edit posts for typos, broken links, etc. from time to time, and this is viewed by most as an unavoidable part of the process.

But when you change substantive parts of your post, the original content is still out there in your feed. Amy is correct- there’s no way to get it back.

Having said that, I’m not sure that’s such a big deal in many cases. Had Dave been talking to us as opposed to posting, he very likely would have said the same sort of stuff, refining his stated position (stated being the important word there) as he thought about it and heard our reactions. He would have ended up at the same place, and we would have heard the evolution of his position.

As Amy points out, however, when you remove something because you have reconsidered your position, it’s a good idea to explain what you did and why. Having said that, I suspect Dave removed the post more out of a desire to avoid a hassle than a change of heart (I don’t want to get involved in this debate, but I will say that I did not find Dave’s original post objectionable and I think there is a marginal utility to extreme political correctness that is wholly lost to some.)

Avoiding an itchy finger is certainly a good idea when possible. But at the end of the day, blogs are about conversation. And most conversations start at once place and end at another. Even if you’re talking to yourself.

That’s not such a bad thing.

UPDATE: Amy has more thoughts about editing posts.

The Race is On: Firefox vs Opera


It wasn’t all that long ago that I didn’t get the big deal about Firefox. Eventually, I saw the light and it has been my favorite browser for many months.

So when my inclination is to dismiss Opera as a non-factor in the browser race, I have to look past it and take a closer look.

Will Langford has a great post comparing Firefox 1.5 with Opera 9. Using his post as a roadmap, let’s see what Opera might have to offer.

Here’s a sceenshot of the Opera interface. Tabs, with Google-like simplicity. OK, but I don’t buy the car for the color so let’s keep going.

Opera is easy as pie to download and install (after I shut down Zone Alarm, which frustratingly prevents the Windows installer from operating). It automatically found and added my bookmarks, but not my home page- it used an Opera page instead.

Things look the same in Opera. In fact, my personal portal looks prettier and cleaner in Opera. It took me a second to figure out where the “Home” link is- you click in the address bar and a menu pops up. This seems unnecessary to me. I like the X-delete button in the tabs. Firefox should do this, without the need for an extension.

Opera has built-in BitTorrent support. I have tried these applications before and I always end up uninstalling them. So for heavy BitTorrent users I can see how this might be a nice feature, but I don’t need or want it.

It also has built-in chat (IRC) support. I guess people still use IRC, but I haven’t for many years- ever since the infamous RanchoRoom days of the mid-nineties. So here is another feature that I don’t really want.

You can select your favorite search engine, which is nothing new, but Opera includes eBay and Download.Com. Cool. I like the way that feature works. I would love an easy way to add custom searches (IMDB, AllMusic, etc.) to this list.

There is a content blocker, but there are extensions for Firefox that do that too.

Like Will, I am impressed by the thumbnail preview that pops up when you hover over a tab. Another nice feature that is better then any Firefox extensions that I know of.

Another feature that I really like is the built-in Notes feature. It works much like the Notes feature in Outlook, but it would be more useful since it is more proximate when you need to write a note while browsing, researching, etc.

The sessions feature works a lot like Google Browser Sync, which sounds better in theory than practice. I am about ready to uninstall it from this computer.

I like the Tools>Delete Private Data function.

Will ran some numbers and concluded that Opera uses less RAM and has less memory leakage problems than Firefox. There is nothing more frustrating than writing a long blog post, only to have Firefox crash before you publish it. This is a big advantage for Opera.

I have been surfing around with Opera a little today. It seems as fast as Firefox (though I miss the status bar at the bottom of the screen that tells me if the target page is loading or stalled).


There’s not enough here for me to switch from Firefox, but Opera is definitely a player in the browser race, and that’s a good thing for consumers. Competition will make all of the browsers better.

Kent’s Firefox Toolbar Wishlist

Mathew Ingram isn’t impressed with the new version of the Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer. Mike Arrington likes it.

Having once idiotically said that I didn’t see what the big deal was about Firefox, I now use it exclusively. So I don’t get to try out the new Google Toolbar.

When Google does update the Google Toolbar for Firefox, here are 5 things I’d like to see added (the things I really want added, like embedded Delicious and Flickr searches aren’t feasible since Google fell asleep and let Yahoo buy those sites first):

1) Bloglines support. Build a plugin or let Bloglines build one that alerts me when my blogroll content is updated. Even better, let me read the new content in a pop up window, or click on a link to pull up my Bloglines page.

2) Technorati AND Google Blog Search support. Give me an option to search via Technorati and Google Blog Search from the toolbar and to easily see a list of other blogs that link to the page I am reading. Google may feel that Technorati is a competitor to its blog search feature. I don’t think so, but if Google bought Technorati like I’ve been telling it to, that would solve any perceived problem.

3) Give me multiple auto-fill options. I want to have my home and business particulars available at the click of a button. Multiple credit card information would be a plus too.

4) Wikipedia support. Let me search words and phrases in Wikipedia the way I can with Google and Google Groups, etc.

5) Embed a Pandora player. If Google wants to buy Pandora, fine. That would be a great kick-start to and advantage for the rumored Google Music site. But either way, give me a one click play button for my Pandora account.

Oil Meet Water: Link Tracking in Firefox

firefoxFirefox developer Darin Fisher posted recently that the Firefox development team is adding a feature that will notify a designated server every time a link is clicked on. The idea is that, every time a visitor clicks on a link that includes this feature, Firefox will send notification pings to the designated server.

Correctly anticipating the community response, Darin assures us that “this change is being considered with the utmost regard for user privacy.” The idea, he says, is to enable commonly used link tracking mechanisms to get out of the critical path and thereby reduce the time required for visitors to see the page they clicked on.

Leaving aside the bigger question of why anyone should be allowed to track our comings and goings from a web site (lots of sites do this, including, to an extent, Newsome.Org, which currently uses Google Analytics for traffic analysis purposes), let’s think about this for a second.

Wishful Thinking

In a perfect world, no one would do any sort of link tracking and we could all come and go in perfect and blissful privacy. Of course in a perfect world, everyone would turn in all of their weapons too, and we’d live in peaceful, weapon-free harmony. Since people are as unlikely to stop link tracking as they are to destroy all their weapons, we have to deal with the fact that link tracking and traffic analysis are here to stay.

We also have to keep in mind, however, that privacy is both an important requirement of most web users and a rallying cry for both reasonable people and the lunatic fringe any time someone screams that someone else is trying to take it away. So Firefox has to proceed carefully and with caution.

Here in the Real World

If we have to accept link tracking, does the proposed Firefox implementation improve things? Embedding objects and redirecting links in the name of traffic analysis is not my area of expertise, so I have to go on what I’m told and logic.

First of all, if this implementation will, in fact, materially reduce server loads and wait times as I move from one page to the next, I’m all for it. On the other hand, if it will only marginally do so, but will further erode my already limited privacy, them I’m not for it. Also, I wouldn’t want to encourage even more link tracking by making it too easy.

Just to show off my math skills, let’s do some formulas on the whiteboard:

Faster surfing + equal privacy = OK

Much faster surfing + only slightly less privacy = Probably OK

Much faster surfing + materially less privacy = Not OK

Anything + more link tracking and similar stuff = Not OK

Let me put my slide rule back in my pocket and we’ll continue.

Will It Work With What We Have?

Another issue that I wonder about but can’t address is whether this new approach will be usable by and embraced by all of the tracking services and implementations currently in use. In other words, can Google Analytics use this implementation to make its service more efficient? If so, would it?

I don’t have the know-how or the inclination to change the way I handle my traffic analysis just to save a few milliseconds between pages, and I bet most other bloggers feel the same way. Ease of implementation seems to me to be the key to widespread effectiveness.

Opting Out

One potentially saving grace is that this feature can be disabled via your Firefox configuration. Granted, not many people will know about the feature (pinging, unlike some redirects, is invisible) or enough about the issue to think of disabling it, but it’s better to have the ability and not use it than to want it and not have it.


The jury’s still out on this feature. My knee-jerk reaction is that it’s a bad idea, because Firefox is supposed to be one of the freedom fighters working to keep “The Man” out of our hair and off our computers. But if all it does is make something that’s going to happen anyway less intrusive, then maybe it’s OK.

As is often the case, the devil will be in the details.

More Discussion on this issue at:

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