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.

Conclusions

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:

Download Squad
RC3.Org

Performancing for Firefox

firefoxIf you use Firefox as your internet browser and you blog, you owe it to yourself to check out Performancing for Firefox, a plugin that allows you to create a blog post within a split screen right in your Firefox window. This makes it easy to add the links, images and content from one screen, as opposed to clicking around in tabs to get the links, etc. you need.

The extension supports multiple blogs, and it works with most of the major blogging platforms. As Duncan Riley points out, all it needs to be nearly perfect is the ability to easily include Technorati tags.

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Washington Post: Firefox Moves Farther Ahead

firefoxRob Pegoraro of the Washington Post has an article today about the advantages that Firefox 1.5 has over Internet Explorer. He and other high-profile writers are starting to put into words what I and many others have been thinking.

Namely, that Firefox has moved so far ahead of Internet Explorer that the browser race, at least for those tech savvy enough to understand the feature differential, is over. Firefox has won.

Rob applauds Firefox’s new automatic update system, it’s better security and its tabbed browsing. Those are great advantages for sure, but here are the reasons I believe Firefox has won the war.

1) Tabbed Browsing– this is not the reason I stay with Firefox, it’s the reason I tried it in the first place. A core feature that gives Firefox a commanding lead. Internet Explorer will soon add this feature, but it’s too little, too late.

2) Extensions- there are so many extensions and add-ons for Firefox that you can basically create your own browser. This is the reason I stay with Firefox.

Here are the ones I have installed: BugMeNot (avoids have to register at a lot of free sites); Greasemonkey (see item 3 below); Onfolio integration (allows me to use my beloved Onfolio with Firefox); del.icio.us (allows me to tab my del.icio.us bookmarks with the click of a button); Sage (a currently less than perfect integrated RSS reader with great potential- it will be my default reader when a couple of much needed features are added); Extended Status Bar (just because it’s cool); Word Count (which helps me with my writing of posts, comments and articles); and Always Remember Password (which doesn’t work in Firefox 1.5, but hopefully will soon).

3) Greasemonkey, which allows me to add even more customizations, including the Blogger “keep current time” script.

4) Google Toolbar for Firefox- now the best thing about Internet Explorer works in Firefox.

5) The infinitely customizable toolbars. Here’s mine, but the possibilities are endless.

firefoxtb-781860

Internet Explorer will keep a lot of corporate users as well as those who don’t feel comfortable moving beyond what’s pre-installed on their computers. But for the rest of use, the war it over. It’s Firefox.

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Firefox Development Map

firefoxNow that I’ve pretty much switched to Firefox for all of my internet browsing, I was interested to see the development plans and priorities for future versions.

I find Version 1.5 to be stable and, with the addition of extensions and Greasemonkey scripts, very configurable. Integrated RSS functionality is a top priority for Version 2. If implemented well, that will be very useful.

Without some radical move, like going open source, I don’t see how Microsoft can keep up with Firefox in the implemention race. I was originally pulling for Firefox to make a dent in the browser market in order to create competition. Now I’m pulling for Internet Explorer to stay in the game for the same reason.

Interesting times for internet users. As long as both products stay in the game, the users win.

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Rethinking Firefox

firefoxI’ve said a few times that I wasn’t all that impressed with Firefox. That was true at the time and it’s mostly true now. But here’s a confession: I’ve been using Firefox as my primary browser for the past few months.

It comes down to two things: tabbed browsing and, more importantly, the many extensions (a nerd word for add-ons) that are available for Firefox.

I have done the following to my initial installation of Firefox:

1) Added the Google Toolbar. Some Firefox purists argue that Google is “bad like Microsoft” and you don’t need the Google Toolbar. That’s hogwash. The Google Toolbar is a great add-on to any browser.

2) Performed the speed tweaks outlined here. Some comment that some or all of them are unnecessary, but things seem to go faster after the tweak. It may be the placebo effect, but it feels good.

3) Added the Bugmenot extension. I hate having to register to read free sites, with this add-on I don’t have to.

4) Added the extension that makes Blogger (the front-end I use to create, but not host, this site) always use the current date. Otherwise it uses the date and time a post was initially created and I often save posts as drafts for days or even weeks before I post them. This add-on saves me a lot of headaches.

5) Added the Onfolio Firefox extension. This allows me to use my beloved Onfolio in Firefox.

There are hundreds of other extensions, but these are the ones that I use everyday. Once Internet Explorer adds tabbed browsing (scheduled to be included in the upcoming new version), I always figured I’d switch back to it. But with all of these extra features to choose from I may not.

Who’d of thunk it?

Two cautionary notes:

a) It takes a little work to get the hang of finding and installing these extensions, but once you do it once you can do it again and it’s very worth it.

b) I just installed the newest version of Firefox (RC 1.5) and that broke all of my extensions. Some of them are available for this new version. Others, like the Onfolio one, don’t yet work in this version. Google Toolbar says is does, but it doesn’t. I suspect this will all get fixed before too long.

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