Surfs up

firefoxRecently a lot colleagues and friends have been telling me about how awesome browser x is or why I should use browser y and at the back end of last month Windows users booted their machines to be greeted by an update informing them that there were other browsers besides IE and were prompted to decide which one they wanted to use. I wonder if any of them realised just how big of a decision they were faced with? I took the time to investigate all of the browsers that people recommended, but found myself going back to the browser that I had been using all along, Firefox.

Right off the bat I’m going to say that I think IE sucks; nobody should brag about scoring 55% on the Acid 3 test. For sure 55% is an improvement on 20%, but it’s a long way behind the competition, most of whom are chalking up 100%. I want to use a browser that is standards compliant and I want you to use one even more; as a web developer I don’t appreciate having to blight my HTML with hacks just to get my pages to render/function correctly in IE. Acid test scores were not what drove me back to Firefox though, after all, the current version of Firefox scores only 94% in comparison to Opera, Safari and Chrome, all of which are in the top marks club I mentioned earlier.

Firefox isn’t the fastest browser either, it is fast, but Safari is no slouch and Chrome is Usain Bolt fast. Where Firefox wins is in the content blocking department and it’s all thanks to the open source community and the add ons that they produce and maintain. Content blocking seems to be a rather controversial subject and mainly because by content blocking people generally mean ad blocking. This slashdot article discusses an experiment performed by Ars Technia where content was hidden from users of popular ad blocking tools. I understand why people like Ken Fisher, the founder of Ars Technia, object to ad blocking, I just think they are missing the point entirely: I value my browsing experience more highly that I value your business model. I actively block certain content in webpages using NoScript and AdBlockPlus, adverts are included in this. With NoScript and AdBlock Plus I can decide what I want to see and what I want to allow, Opera, Safari and Chrome all provide an ‘all or nothing’ option, but none of them offer the granularity of control that I want need. I do not want random code from random 3rd party sites being executed on my machine, I do not wish to be tracked across the web, I do not want hideous [Flash based] adverts hoovering up all of the resources on my laptop and I certainly don’t want, and this is a particular bug bear of mine, stupid ad word type adverts which pop up an annoying box whenever the mouse happens to move across particular words on the page.  If you decide that your site cannot exist without these things and place your content behind a paywall then I accept that, but don’t expect to me sign up.

If Apple ever decide to implement proper support for add ons in Safari then I’m there, but all the time things have been hacked together as Input Managers that require me to run Safari in 32 bit mode I’m not. Likewise, if Google ever decide to allow proper content blocking then I might consider switching to Chrome, but I think this is unlikely as they have failed to add the necessary hooks even with direct coaching from Giorgio Maone. All of the currently available Chrome content blockers use an easily circumventable CSS hiding approach that can be coded around in about 3 minutes which isn’t that surprising when you consider that Google make a sizeable amount from adverts themselves! So like I said, around the world in a multitude of browsers only to discover that the grass was greener on my side.

Open for business?

Since the turn of this year, the government in the Netherlands has been required to utilize open source software and the [ISO ratified] ODF format for reading, publishing and exchanging information, there is some flexibility, but when open source software is not used, special reasons have to be given. I think this is a really important and positive step to have taken, since forcing a move away from the closed world of Microsoft Office guarantees that the people, groups and organizations that cannot afford an expensive Microsoft Office license, or those who use an OS not supported by Microsoft are not forced to either miss out on the information or use a pirated version of the software. Open Office (OOo) is available free of charge to users of Windows, Mac OS X and the various flavours of Linux, both for personal and business use, supports all of your old .doc Word files and is at least as secure as Microsoft Office.

So why do so many businesses insist on using Microsoft Office? “Because our customers do.”, just isn’t a good enough reason, seize the initiative and be a leader for once. You might like it.

After thought: As a software developer, I can understand that if your customer specifically asks you to produce code that can be built using Microsoft Visual C++ that you are obliged to do so (-ish), but that doesn’t mean that you have to use Microsoft Visual Studio. Why not make use of a cross platform, open source, IDE like Eclipse or NetBeans and just use the Visual C++ compiler? Expanding your CV with such transferable skills must surely be a good thing?