Firefox 3 first thoughts

Well I’ve only been using Firefox 3 for a very, very short while, but thought I’d make a few notes on my initial thoughts. I’ve not tried the beta or release candidate versions at all, so this is a real first impression.

To start with it is worth noting that I’ve only installed the Windows version, since I’m suffering using Microsoft on the desktop for a while. This is partly due to a couple of hardware failures, partly office reorganisations that are as yet unfinished, and partly forcing myself to keep my hand in – unfortunately I have to.

The first thing I noticed was that it was much faster and more responsive. Firefox 2 has, particularly in the past few weeks, been pausing for periods for no apparent reason. The second observation was that the memory footprint was much, much smaller, so this may well be linked. I tend to use a reasonable number of tabs when browsing and have been keeping an eye on the memory usage recently. I’ve been trimming things down to around 12 open tabs at a time and was amazed that Firefox was using between 200M and 260M, with no sign of reducing when tabs were closed. After installing Firefox 3 I checked and found that it was running at pretty much exactly half that, around 100M to 130M with the same 12 tabs as before the upgrade!

Part of this reduced footprint may be down to the few extensions that are now disabled due to incompatibility. With a major upgrade it is probably time to take a look through the extensions I’m using to see if any are no longer relevant. A few quick highlights of my extension usage are…

Bookmark Sync and Sort – sadly this is no longer compatible, and from a quick investigation it hasn’t been updated for a good while now, and the referenced home page has gone. Time to look for an alternative it seems. All this was doing was backing up my bookmarks to a WebDav folder on my intranet server, and at first glance there seems to be no obvious alternative. With a bit more digging I’ve found two, or perhaps just the one, options:

  • Foxmarks – I ignored this first time round since it was linked to a service, but further investigation shows that you can use it with either WebDav or FTP, as well as install a server component. The original Foxmarks was based on the OSAF Cosmo server, but it looks as though this has been replaced by the Chandler project, so a little more investigation is required.
  • Sitebar – another one I passed over when finding Bookmark Sync and Sort. Again it is linked to a service, but it seems that you can download the server component if you want to. Sadly, according the the Mozilla Addons site it doesn’t currently support Firefox 3, but it does have the advantage of being open source which Foxmarks doesn’t seem to be. Again, more investigation is required.

Firebug, IE Tab (remember this is on Windows!), It’s All Text!, Speed Dial and Web Developer are all available for Firefox 3, so that just leaves…

Tab Mix Plus – not having this one is a bit painful, although partly because I’m not sure what features I’m missing that were part of it and what may now be officially available that I haven’t found yet! That said, I’ve just noted that there is a newer version, just not listed on the Mozilla Addons site. I’ll have to give it a try and then work out what options I’m using that it provides – the session manager, the new tab button and undo closed tabs spring to mind.

There are a couple of other incompatible ones listed on my install. Google Photos Screensaver I think I had disabled anyway and RealPlayer Browser Plugin I hadn’t noticed before – although is probably responsible for blindingly easy downloads from YouTube etc. 🙂

That’s what leaps out at me, bar the slight interface changes. No doubt more differences will become obvious over time.

Broadband smoke and mirrors

I’ve just been reading an article titled Broadband Britain cheaper and faster than ever on the Silicon website. Whilst it is true that prices have fallen and speeds have increased it started me thinking about how far things had progressed since I first got an internet connection.

I was quite a late starter for home internet, I didn’t get my first dial-up account until 1996. I had been using it at work since around 1990, but the urge to get it at home didn’t hit until later. By this time there was already talk about ‘broadband’, and I signed up with Demon Internet with the hope that the promised cable modems would be available quite soon – well, that’s what Nynex were promising. Sometime in the next 6 months they said. Nynex were taken over by Cable & Wireless and the 6 months promise was kept going through until 2001, so that’s about 5 years later! During that time I survived on 56k dial-up. In 2001 my employer paid for an ISDN line to be installed and things got a little better, although primarily due to the extra line and no online charges rather than the speed.

In late 2001 my employer decided to cease trading (a whole different story!), so I had the prospect of returning to dial-up. Thankfully this was about the same time as the ‘wires only’ trials started, so I switched from Demon to Nildram and went ADSL. This was at the beginning of 2002, so finally, 6 years later, I had a speed boost to 512k. The key thing about being ‘wires only’ was that I didn’t have the hassle of the nasty USB ‘frog’ that came with ADSL up until then, so it was an altogether more pleasant experience with Linux.

At that time the cost was a little over £30 a month, not cheap, but orders of magnitude cheaper than an equivalent ISDN package, and only a little more than dial-up with a flat charge instead of paying per minute – and with the added advantage of not tying up your phone line. If we fast forward now to 2007, about 5 years on, I was still with Nildram, I was still paying £30 a month and the speed was still 512k. Checks with BT indicated that the line, which runs for 2.89km from my local exchange, can only handle 512k. I was warned that if I switched to the new ADSL services that offered ‘up to 8Mb’ the line might ‘rate adapt’ to a lower speed than the 512k. Now in 2008 things haven’t changed on that line. My how far we have come with broadband speeds in the past 6 years!

To be fair you can get broadband cheaper now. This has been done in two ways as far as I can see. Firstly there’s the reduced specification packages – most people don’t want fixed IP addresses, etc.. Secondly there’s the bundled packages that are pretty much ‘lost leaders’ or ‘sweeteners’ for other services. I have also abandoned Nildram and moved to another supplier making a significant saving and getting 8 IP addresses instead of just the one (although I’ve not yet revamped my network to take full advantage of that).

Speed wise things have only really changed a little, and then only if you are pretty close to the exchange. Annoyingly, whilst I am 2.89km from my ‘local’ exchange, only a couple of hundred yards up the road people are 1.79km away from their ‘local’ exchange – a different one! My speed has improved though, by virtue of taking advantage of the old ISDN wiring for a second, business line. For some strange reason this is rated at 3.5Mb instead of the 512k of the line next to it on the wall. I know the cable from the telegraph pole is identical since it was replaced when the ISDN line was installed. Presumably there is something drastically different in the cable quality or route to the green box just down the road!

My home line has switched to a bundled service. I’m a little concerned that this may be ‘unbundled’ at some point, since I’ve read that it can be very difficult to re-bundle it if you need to. Unbundling would appear to have no real value to the end user, since it is the quality and length of the BT cable from the exchange that dictates the speed, and this is still the same, bundled or unbundled. I’ve noted that Newnet, a local company, are doing some unbundling and offering up to 24Mb, but having spoken to them I don’t see any likelihood that my 512k line will be any faster. Until BT upgrade their cabling things won’t improve. Ironically, nipping back to 2002 again briefly, I got a phone call from NTL offering me cable broadband a matter of weeks after going live with ADSL. As soon as they were honest enough to drop the ‘6 months’ promise they finally delivered – a bit late though. Cable would seem to be the best option for faster speeds, but sadly in my area we are on Nynex cabling, which apparently is of poor quality, and NTL had no plans to upgrade it. It remains to be seen what Virgin Media will do with it.

Here goes nothing

Right, all has been thoroughly tested and bedded in on my test server. All content has been migrated from my old Blosxom installation to my new WordPress one. I’ve even had the chance to take it through an upgrade before going live 🙂

I’ve spent quite a bit of time mapping out the links in the old Blosxom setup to put together a set of Apache mod_rewrite rules to map the content across. Partly this will manage any Google search matches into the correct place following the migration, but since I don’t see this as a high traffic site attracting tons of interest it was mainly an exercise how closely I could match the content across in as few rules as possible. It’s amazing what some people will do for fun!

So far I’ve been very impressed with WordPress, well, so much so that I’ve put a good chunk of work into migrating across and will probably be looking to migrate another site across. The other site is not a blog as such, so this will be another interesting exercise. This time testing the flexibility of WordPress

So now it is time to upload the database and web directory to my main web server, and as the post title says, here goes nothing…

A Wiki I like!

Anyone that has seen my posts on a number of (generally Linux) mailing lists, may well be aware that there are a couple of web ‘technologies’ that I’m not too keen on. One is forums, and I’m still holding fast on that one. Another is the Wiki. In the past I’ve not been too keen on the idea as they seem to provide no real control over the formatting of the information you put in. I’ve downloaded and tried a couple. Twiki comes to mind with a strange system of filling in a form to then be emailed a link to the download.

Well I think I may have found one I actually like and may well use – shock, horror. I’ve never had much issue with the general concept (unlike forums), and having somewhere internally to dump information with little formatting that has easier access than a directory full of almost randomly named text files does sound appealing. Having used the HantsLUG wiki to put a few articles up, I’ve since had in the back of my mind to try a local wiki again. Mediawiki has been one on my list, but having found previous attempts with wiki packages to have left me cold I’ve been in no particular rush.

Continue reading “A Wiki I like!”


Several months back, well probably last year in fact, I borrowed a couple of books from the library on XML, XHTML and the related standards with a view to revamping a few websites I look after. Good intentions, but lack of time meant I did little more than scan through the chapters and read a few sections before returning the books. Fast forwarding to the end of last week and this weekend and I’m back considering the long overdue overhaul of some of my websites – particularly my company one as it will be hitting the Yellow Pages shortly (yay, lookout for ‘Linux’ in the Yellow Pages!). Anyway, I did a bit of searching and reading around on sites like the W3C, W3Schools and a selection of other hits that came up and seemed to get nowhere. They all concentrate so hard on explaining what XML is, why it is good and a few references to the fact that XHTML brings XML to the web via updates to HTML, but none of them give any decent examples of how to actually use it. It all makes sense to me, or appears to, in concept. It all sounds very nice and I’m itching to get going, but whereas I could pick up a text editor and knock out some HTML pages quite quickly back in the days of Netscape 1.x; then as things progressed add in the new features, a bit of Javascript when needed and tidy things up with a bit of CSS; this next stage seems shrouded in a complete lack of any practical examples.

Continue reading “XML, XSL, XHTML, etc.”

Planet bug

By the looks of things there is a bug in the Planet software that HantsLUG is using. I’ve just been tidying up my posts to ensure that my HTML is correct. The fact that each individual entry is then stitched together left me with a few teething problems unfortunately.

Anyway, all is now working fine, but in the process I had to escape some sections of quoted HTML. This left me with a whole load of < and > characters converted to &#60; and &#62; entries in there. This is fine except when it occurs in the title line of the RSS feed that Planet works with. In this case the first & of the escape secuence is escaped itself, so you end up with &#60; and &#62; actually showing up in the text because the first & has been replaced by &amp; (and you should see how this entry looks in raw HTML!).

Blosxom hack

Well after a bit of reading through the code for Blosxom I’ve tracked down the right place to put a temporary hack in to create the required entry into the RSS output. It lacks the seconds information on the time so I have manually set them to :00 (not a major issue, but untidy to my mind). There also doesn’t appear to be a suitable variable to use for the timezone information. For now I’ve done another nasty manual configuration of +0100, but clearly this isn’t going to work well once the clocks go back again! The question is will this hack actually work beyond a visual inspection of the output!

Here’s the diff from the original Blosxom code for anyone interested:

< rss story   <item>\n   <title>$title</title>\n   <link>$url/$yr/$mo_num/$da#$fn
</link>\n<description>$body</description>\n   </item>\n
> rss story   <item>\n   <title>$title</title>\n   <link>$url/$yr/$mo_num/$da#$fn
</link>\n<description>$body</description>\n   <pubDate>$dw, $da $mo $yr $ti:00 +0
100</pubDate>\n   </item>\n

Splitting the Atom

OK, a very quick update here to note that I’ve made a few modifications to my Blosxom install. First off I’ve added a calendar plugin (currently on the left hand side). Nothing fancy, but looks to do the job – and I’m hoping that the movement between months will present some live links once I’ve got some posts in more than just the single month!

The second one is the new Atom feed. This is partly a stop gap pending getting an RSS 2.0 feed working properly, but I’ll probably leave it there. This took a little bit of playing around with to get it working, but in the end all that was needed was installing XML/ which came in the libxml-parser-perl Debian package. This brought a small selection of other packages with it, but I’ll investigate that later 🙂