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September 09, 2008

Webtop Wars & Security Patches for Google Chrome Browser

Several days after its beta release, and it looks like Google's new Chrome browser suffers from security flaws much the same as its competitors. CNET News' Security blog posted about a number of security patches already released by Google. Also, yesterday Google established a Google Chrome Releases blog to let users know about releases, fixes, security updates, and other changes.

Just remember, Chrome is a beta release so it's a work in progress. Microsoft's IE8 beta has also been well underway, with the first beta released back in March and the second beta released two weeks ago. IE8's beta sports a number of interesting new features, which are detailed at Wikipedia's IE8 page -- just remember it's an unofficial source.

And of course, Firefox 3 beat them both with an official release earlier this summer. I haven't seen this much excitement and competition over new browsers since the dot.com era.

Opera was made free some time ago, but it doesn't look like it's helped their market share in any noticeable fashion. I've typically shunned using their browser due to various incompatibilities reported by users, and I've augmented both IE and Firefox with various add-ons and plugins to get most of Opera's benefits. I actually find their Opera Mini browser to be more compelling, as it offers a different browser toolset on my BlackBerry than its bundled browser.

And let's not forget Safari, both on Apple PCs and the iPhone/iPod Touch devices. Granted, that's a different platform than Windows.

This time, Google has a vested interest in having some control over your webtop, particularly in light of their expanding applications list (think Google Apps). As defined at Wikipedia:

"A web desktop or webtop is a desktop environment embedded in a web browser or similar client application. A webtop integrates web applications, web services, client-server applications, application servers, and applications on the local client into a desktop environment using the desktop metaphor. Web desktops provide an environment similar to that of Windows, Mac, or a graphical user interface on Unix and Linux systems. It is a virtual desktop running in a web browser. In a webtop the applications, data, files, configuration, settings, and access privileges reside remotely over the network. Much of the computing takes place remotely. The browser is primarily used for display and input purposes."
That's a fair definition. However, Google is going to have to work hard to compete in light of IE's and Firefox's established presences. ZDNet's Hardware 2.0 blog posts the question, "Is Google’s Chrome sliding into obscurity?" In tracking Chrome's usage hourly, after initial increases in market share, it has started to slide back over the past few days.

So while I'm glad to see another major player, especially one generally committed to adhering to web standards, I'm also beginning to think that after the initial media hype free pass is over, Google will need to deliver a fast, safe, stable, feature-rich, and innovative browsing experience to win over, and more importantly, keep the minds and hearts of its users. And that includes being very, very transparent on the data privacy aspects, both when using its normal mode and private browsing mode. I'm not so sure that a search engine company will be able to do that since it's an inherent conflict with their business model. But as I said in my prior post, I'm glad to see the competition intensify as we'll benefit by seeing more rapid and innovative developments on our webtop.

I don't see Chrome ending up as most people's primary browser -- IE and Firefox will continue to dominate there -- but as a secondary or tertiary browser, it may be used for more niche purposes. But I also think people are willing to cut Google some slack for now, considering this is their very first release. After all, the other browsers have been out for years, so Google has to catch up quickly. They did pretty well with Gmail, but again, I don't use it for any sensitive information because it's "read" by their automated services. Truth be told, I still prefer Yahoo's classic e-mail interface, having tried their new one and went back to the old one. It just works the way I like.

So far, I've pretty much filed Chrome under the category of "Google needed a web browser for their webtop offerings". We'll just have to see if they convince us otherwise.

Topic(s):   Privacy & Security  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink

September 05, 2008

What You Need to Know About Chrome, Google's Shiny New Browser

Google just released a beta of Chrome, throwing their hat into the browser wars. A couple of thoughts on what this means, and what you need to know about it if you want to try it:

First, the Google Chrome browser sports an interesting minimalist design and some unique features (particularly how it approaches the tab metaphor and stability). Google has thoughtfully outlined them in video, and check out Walt Mossberg's practical perspective, including a good description of its pros and cons. It is, after all, a beta or test release.

Chrome sports two browsing modes: Default and Incognito. Those who are concerned over their browser breadcrumb trails will likely welcome Incognito, which is meant to allow you to surf without Chrome saving the information after you close the window. Of course, there are other ways to track your web activities, particularly in corporate environments, so don't get too comfortable with this. Even some personal firewalls keep logs on web sites visited.

That brings me to the next point -- privacy. Why would the leading search engine company, skilled at tracking data across the web, release a web browser? How much of your personal web surfing information is being tracked and recorded by Chrome, either stored locally on your PC or sent back to Google? The conspiracy theorists are having a field day with this. After all, Google tracks more of your web activities while you're logged into your Google account than as an anonymous user. So why wouldn't they do the same with a browser they developed?

Well, the jury is still out on this one, particularly on its increased reliance upon a user's browsing history. Fortunately for us, Chrome is an open source software project -- which means that others can look at the code and see what it is doing. This is one of the great reasons why I frequently look to use open source software. Second, here's a post by Google's Matt Cutts which attempts to explain what does and doesn't get sent between your PC and Google when you use Chrome. I for one appreciated the transparency, and am hoping that it's a fairly complete accounting of which types of data are being transferred, and under which use cases. Although it should be noted that Matt isn't on the Chrome development team, as he's the head of Google's webspam team. So while well-intended and useful, consider that it's somewhat secondhand information.

Just as importantly, Google is more than ever jumping into mainstream software development (I'd be hard-pressed to get more fundamental than how we access the web and its rich content). Along with Google Apps, this pits them directly against the market share-dominant Microsoft on yet another level. However, it would also be naive to ignore the information and relationships gained from Chrome users to further enhance and develop their search services, where Microsoft has never quite "gotten it" in my opinion. Chrome also gives Google a browser by which it can serve up its other web apps without fear that Microsoft will alter IE in some proprietary or anticompetitive manner. This isn't to say that Chrome is superior to all other browsers, as it still has some issues and is missing several key features. But it gives Google a platform over which it didn't have control previously.

Despite the privacy concerns, which should be more formally addressed to users' comfort level, I'm always glad to see another major player in the browser market. If you think about it, web browsing really hasn't changed all that much from the mid-90's. Sure, there have been a number of new enhancements such as tabbed browsing and inline searching, but the underlying mechanics have remained the same for well over 10 years.

Also, how many of us are genuinely irked when we have one browser tab crash and it crashes your entire browsing session, whether it be IE, Firefox, or whatever -- especially when you have a dozen or more open tabs at the moment? Sure, they'll offer to reopen your last set of open pages, but then you've lost all the forward/back browsing capability for each one, so you can't easily track around to re-find that site you found in the middle of your surfing. Your browsing history might have it, but you'll have to hunt for it.

Using this as an example, I'm glad to see that each Chrome tab runs separately in memory from the other tabs, so that when one tab crashes, it doesn't crash the others. With Google's savvy, ease of use, and advanced technologies in simple wrappings, it's going to up the ante among web browser developers and keep them on their toes. That nudge has been a long time in coming, as evidenced in Walt Mossberg's observations:

"Meanwhile, Microsoft hasn’t been sitting still. The second beta version of IE8 is the best edition of Internet Explorer in years. It is packed with new features of its own, some of which are similar to those in Chrome, and some of which, in my view, top Chrome’s features."
Whether you're in the Google or Microsoft camp, or just want a better browser, that's good news for all of us.

Topic(s):   Privacy & Security  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink

July 25, 2007

Put IE6 & 7 on Steroids with Free IE7Pro Add-in

I've always liked the extra browser features found in Opera, Maxthon, and Firefox. Yet many people, particularly business users, still use IE as their primary browser. While IE7 adds more features over IE6 and has improved somewhat in security (although ActiveX remains a concern), it's still lacking in power user features.

Enter IE7Pro, a free program that adds mouse gestures, better tab management, ad and flash ad blocking, crash recovery, accidental tab closure recovery, tab history, and a lot more to both IE6 and IE7.

Mouse gestures are a particular favorite of mine, as it lets me just right-click and glide my mouse either left or right to instantly go back or forward. Other gestures can be used for refreshing a page, switching between tabs, and more. Searching for particular words on a long web page? IE7Pro's inline search works much like CTRL-F, but it also allows you to highlight all hits in yellow highlighter for easy skimming.

Another of IE7Pro's cool features is taking a screenshot of an entire web page, instantly from top to bottom -- without having to scroll. Perfect for preserving a snapshot in time. Accidentally closed the wrong tab? No problem, as IE7Pro keeps track of your tab history of previously visited sites and also has a dedicated feature for reopening the last closed tab for quick access.

Ever visit a web site with flash ads? Especially ones that love to play video ads with blaring music or announcers that make everyone in the vicinity jump and wonder what you're up to? No problem -- IE7Pro simply blocks them and displays "Flash Blocked" in a light-colored box where the ad should be. Upon mousing over the blocked ad, it displays "Click to restore flash". Just click, and that particular flash ad or animation appears.

All this in a small package too. IE7Pro is a tiny download at 1.3 MB. Sure, the other browsers have had these features for some time, but if you want to bring IE into the present and get more out of it, IE7Pro is worth a test drive.

Topic(s):   Trick or Treat  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink

May 16, 2007

Speech Recognition Comeback Via Cell Phones?

Speech recognition has been around for a long time, but hasn't enjoyed much traction. Products like Dragon Naturally Speaking were useful if one was prepared to spend the requisite time training and correcting it. Another problem was transferring around the large speech files between computers as it was speaker-dependent.

New services are popping out of the Web 2.0 world, making it much easier for people to use their phones to communicate with others in a variety of ways. You could probably call some of these services "Phone 2.0".

For instance, Jott provides a service whereby you can leave a short voice message and have it sent to others (or yourself) as text messages or e-mails. Or, it can send along the voice message. Jott uses a combination of speech recognition technology and human transcribers to convert your voice messages into text.

Of course, this may raise privacy and confidentiality concerns for some. For Jott to work, you need to add the recipients' contact information into Jott's site so it can send your messages to them. Jott is perfect for those times when you need to tell several people, "I'm running late," or "The meeting was changed to ten." Since you can set up groups, it beats having to call each person individually or have one tell all the rest.

While Jott says they "hide personal info from the people doing transcription", there's at least a temporary record being made, so it's best to be prudent with messages going through an intermediary. Also, the one-year-old Jott doesn't seem to have much of a business model yet, so what's going to happen to all of that personal and contact information we enter? Jott does have a posted privacy policy, but doubts may linger.

For more, see "Jott Networks Bridges Voice, Text Worlds" at Law.com.

As the article mentions, Microsoft recently completed the acquisition of one of my favorite phone services, Tellme Networks. Simply call 1-800-555-TELL (8355), and speak keywords like "weather", "traffic", or even "blackjack" to play a game with a very convincing and humorous Sean Connery impersonation. Additional voice prompts are given and it recognizes your vocal responses. Granted, sometimes I've had to repeat myself, particularly in noisy locations, but it works and it's free.

Cell phones are also becoming a focal point for other technologies. Location-based services such as GPS-like navigation and social networking "friend locators" are catching on. So expect to see even further convergence of messaging and location-based services from cellular and third-party providers. In other words, watch for even more services to connect the Jotts.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink

April 18, 2007

Collaboration Thoughts: Google "Presently", Parallel Processing, Simplification and Savvy Execution

Google is rounding out their web office apps with a PowerPoint clone. Mike Arrington at TechCrunch blogged on the announcement yesterday at the Web 2.0 expo. As a word play on Writely, Google's collaborative word processor, Google fans are now eager awaiting "Presently".

Although it's still early, I tend to agree with Google CEO Eric Schmidt's comment that it isn't a threat to Microsoft -- yet. With Office 2007's release and obvious refinements (particularly the ribbon bar), enterprise and legal markets are already sitting up, taking notice, and planning their upgrades. However, in this Web 2.0 era of business at the speed of broadband, waiting for revisions to roundtrip through multiple people is becoming more and more burdensome and costly. Think serial processing vs. parallel processing. Core Single vs. Core Duo.

Would I trust Google's web tools with confidential or sensitive data? [Update: No. A major concern I do not see going away any time soon is how easily a third party will give up records under subpoena, or threat thereof, when there may be defenses or other protections available to the data owner. There may also be security concerns]. But there have been times when I've been collaborating with one or more CLE presenters when it would have been incredibly helpful to work on the same presentation file concurrently.

I also like Workshare's Professional Suite's "Manage Changes" feature, particularly for Word documents. It goes Track Changes a few times better as it allows you to import and manage revisions from multiple reviewers within the same document, enabling a more flexible review and revision process.

Collaborative technology can definitely help, but it's not a panacea by itself. It doesn't eliminate the need of those involved in the process to understand and identify more efficient ways of conducting business.

I recently re-read the Corporate Counsel article, "Seven Sigma: GE lawyers take a low-tech road to come up with a high-tech way to draft contracts quickly" (I believe it was the Jan. 2007 issue, no web link available). It describes how GE's law department -- using only sticky notes -- tore apart and simplified the process for drafting contracts, cutting their document length, complexity, and execution time dramatically. Then they implemented the technology to facilitate it. If they would have tried to automate their existing voluminous contract forms around the old process, I seriously doubt the gains would have been anywhere near as rewarding.

Web 2.0 has been getting a lot of hype, along with criticism for over-hype. Some of it is probably deserved, but businesses and their lawyers would do well to give it a spin. Before the ride is over, it'll likely get people thinking and moving in a new direction.

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management  |  Legal Technology  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink

October 14, 2006

First Legal Tech Mashup?

For some time, I've been wondering when (not if) the legal software market would jump in and find value with mashups (i.e., combining two separate services to provide a unique new service) and other Web 2.0 technology applications. See ProgrammableWeb for a long list of mashups.

So I was immediately interested upon seeing a link to this in my inbox:

Mashups to Re-Map the Legal Tech Market?
By John K. Waters
Special to Law.com
October 10, 2006

Synaptec's LawBase case management package "has integrated the 10.5.5 version of its flagship product with Google Maps. That integration brings an emblematic Web 2.0 buzzword to a market that has yet to feel much of an impact from the new Web-as-a-development-platform IT paradigm. (Emphasis on "yet.")"

In this vertical market of "let's do what everyone else is doing", it usually takes one or more innovators to test the waters before others jump in. Let's hope this is the beginning of yet another such cycle. Via posts like this, first movers like Synaptec are getting a good PR buzz for their efforts.

Looking further ahead, I find the potential ability to track and map claims, incidents, suits, IP seizures, facilities, or other items by geographic location to have compelling value. Personally, I'd want to know what Google and other services do with the geographic data being parsed through their systems, although one could likely sanitize it somewhat. Regardless, there's a lot of untapped value in them thar maps! For example, just take a look at Zillow.com if you're house-hunting or looking to sell.

It's easy to see why in-house counsel would find mapping technology useful as well, both in managing claims and cases, and not to mention outside counsel and related costs.

Topic(s):   Legal Technology  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

September 02, 2006

Google Spreadsheets

Some light blog reading turns up Google Spreadsheets as well. It allows you to upload and download spreadsheets in Excel .XLS or .CSV (comma separated value) file formats. Again, the defining feature is the real-time concurrent collaboration. Multiple people can edit and view at the same time.

Now with word processing, I can see where simultaneous edits makes sense -- for instance, a group of authors working on the same article. With spreadsheets, though, a group would need to be more careful not to disrupt dependent formulas and cell logic. In this instance, it may make more sense to agree as to who will develop the calculations, and then allow others to enter or modify the data as needed.

In any event, it's a nice addition to the Google family, with the caveat to use good judgment with sensitive data.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

September 01, 2006

Writely is Back

Just noticed that Writely is now accepting new registrations -- finally. As I posted previously, it was temporarily closed to new sign-ups after Google acquired it months ago. Writely is a free web-based collaborative word processor. You may want to read their terms of service along the way, and I wouldn't store sensitive information in such a service. Be that as it may, it's a useful evolutionary step to augment word processing with online collaboration. To learn more about Writely, visit the Writely Help Center.

In other news, Google will be releasing a premium version of its collaboration services later this year. This week, Google released Google Apps for Your Domain, a group of free, hosted communication and collaboration tools such as email, instant messaging and Web authoring tools.

As the linked article above describes, Google is going to have an uphill road in convincing conventional enterprise IT management that they are a serious enterprise player. I see their services having more immediate appeal to small to mid-sized companies. Google needs to demonstrate how their services will enable an organization's business drivers and strategies, with sufficient security and support, to such an extent that companies will want to displace current technology and vendors for it. Cost savings alone may not be enough, although it's effective at times.

It wouldn't surprise me if some form of Writely will be included in one of those offerings, perhaps geared with better focus on security and protection of confidential data. Google's strategy appears aimed at attacking Microsoft and other large technology providers at their soft underbelly -- the SMB market, where pricing and IT support costs are more sensitive. Not a bad first step for a company perceived as mainly a consumer web service provider.

Either way, the Web 2.0 juggernaut continues to move forward with Google among those leading the charge.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

August 31, 2006

Refreshing Internet Explorer

While alternative browsers are all the rage, the practical reality is that many organizations use Internet Explorer as their main browser. One reason is wider compatibility with the plethora of web sites and their embedded multimedia. However, have you ever noticed that sometimes a particular web site just won't load or update properly, and doing a Refresh (F5 or Refresh button) just doesn't help?

You see, contrary to its plain meaning, the standard Refresh feature may not actually refresh content by pulling it down from the web site. Instead, it checks the temporary copy of the web site it just downloaded to your hard drive (the local "cache"). Sometimes the cache gets messed up ("corrupted"), and IE dutifully keeps trying to load that messed up copy. Also, most offices have a proxy server to allow shared Internet access to its users, which may also have a stored copy of the web page.

In some cases, it helps to delete your local browser cache on your hard drive, which takes six mouse clicks (Tools, Internet Options, Delete Files, Delete all offline content, OK, OK). Not difficult, but somewhat annoying. Another option is to force IE to do a full refresh by grabbing a fresh copy of the web site:

Simply press CTRL-F5 or hold down the CTRL key while clicking on the Refresh button in IE's toolbar.

In my experience, most people simply don't know about this second refresh feature. It's in the IE online help, but who reads that anymore? (Okay, I do.) Those who update web site content should also find this very helpful. There's been a number of times when I've updated LawTech Guru, pressed F5 to refresh, and nothing happened. CTRL-F5 did the trick. Quite refreshing.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Trick or Treat  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

August 20, 2006

Wisconsin Lawyer: Finding and Using RSS Feeds

A lot of legal professionals read blogs. However, except for the tech-savvy, many still don't know how to use RSS feeds and readers to make this task easier and more productive. So if you're relatively new to RSS feeds or would like to pick up more web resources for finding legal content in RSS subscription form, read on. Bonnie Shucha just published a good RSS primer in this month's Wisconsin Lawyer. She's the head of reference at the U.W. Law Library, Madison, and past president of the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin.

Bonnie does a nice job of explaining RSS and how to use it in plain language, its pros and cons, and more. Some of the legal feeds mentioned have a Wisconsin flavor given its readership, but several others covered will have broader appeal. For instance, while many use Technorati to search the blogosphere, Bonnie tells us how to use Yahoo!'s Advanced Search for limiting its results to RSS feeds, very nice.

I found the link to Newspapers with RSS Feeds a worthwhile visit (courtesy of The Media Drop, but note there's an updated list). Also noteworthy is her mention of Current Law Journal Content from Washington & Lee Law School Library, which searches a whopping 1,236 law reviews and journals and has some RSS feed capabilities. Check out Bonnie's other links to make your search for online legal content a bit easier and fruitful. The WisBar site also republishes prior Technology articles from the bar magazine.

If information is power, then savvy use of RSS feeds is a must-have to tame the information overload beast.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (2)

June 13, 2006

I'd Like Some Gravy With My Mashup, Please

"Web 2.0" and "Software as a Service" (or SaaS) have been bandied about as the latest buzzwords. Try to get anyone to define them, and you hear a lot of generalities. However, "Mashups" tend to be a bit more tangible, especially when you throw in some examples.

Simply put, a mashup is "a website or web application that uses content from more than one source to create a completely new service." (from Wikipedia) I'll try using a prior post as an example: Mobiledia offers a free service, the Cell Phone Tower Search.

Just type in the city and state, and up pops a Google map populated with the cell tower locations. How'd they do that? Well, the cell towers are registered with the FCC. They took that information and compiled it into a searchable database. Then, by presenting that information within Google Maps, they provided a simple but very effective graphical interface to display towers within the area. So, they mashed up the FCC information with Google Maps, and provided a completely new service from the pairing.

Mapping mashups are all the rage, simply because they transform data into a visual aid, which is often localized. That makes it a more meaningful, and ultimately more useful, service. Like the above example, it transforms raw, flat data into interactive information. Here's another example: After you've ordered something online, have you ever clicked on the link to track your package and had the information passed from UPS or Fedex? If I'm that interested in seeing where my package is, I'd much rather see its progress charted on a map rather than reading a boring text list of destinations.

Nevertheless, I wouldn't be surprised to hear of legal issues arising out of some mashups. For instance, is the data or a service truly open for anyone to mash it up with another service? Some may be limited by their Terms of Service.

With XML and RSS feeds, various Google API's, and more at developers' disposal, expect to see many more mashups. Mashups enable and add value to Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings. The possibilities for data mining, real-time monitoring, and especially correlation and new combinations of information, news sources, and other data is only limited by our imaginations. If this is starting to sound like real-time business intelligence to you, then you're getting it. That's the gravy for both the developers and the consumers. I believe many mashups at the consumer level will likely be free and driven by third party revenues or investments, but some may be compelling enough to warrant a subscription fee. At the corporate level, mashups are already being blended into hosted SaaS offerings and new code exchanged within open developer communities.

SaaS is still somewhat controversial, but due to mashups and other improvements, it's starting to gain some serious traction. Let's put it this way -- anything that offers more functionality and flexibility at a lower TCO compels serious consideration. The mind shift has already begun. We used to buy mostly software and products, but are increasingly buying services. Web companies such as Google and Yahoo! are giving companies like Microsoft some serious competition. Just take a look at Google's (or Yahoo!'s) beta offerings. Why would a search engine acquire Blogger and most recently, Writely, a web-based collaborative word processor? Adding online collaboration to a piece of conventional software is arguably another mashup.

Given the dynamic nature of mashups, it's difficult to make any clear prognostications. I think the best mashups will be the ones most transparent to the users (think Amazon.com). But one thing seems certain -- it's going to be an interesting ride, and businesses and consumers alike will see some interesting new online services.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

February 28, 2006

Ambrogi on Podcast Search Engines

Have you ever been lured in by a seemingly interesting podcast, only to learn that it was dryer than the Mohave Desert at high noon? If so, check out the Feb. 2006 issue of Law Technology News for Bob Ambrogi's take on the latest podcast search engines (free registration required). Some of these technologies are evolving more quickly than others, or at least in different directions. I remember when Podscope was getting all the ooh's and aah's. But our ever-surfing Bob has hit on Podzinger, which offers some value-added features such as speech recognition to transcribe the entire contents of podcasts. To hear Bob explain it:

"Podzinger is impressive for its features. Search results include text highlights of the portions of the audio that match your search. Click on any word in the highlighted text, and the podcast begins to play at the point where you clicked. To the left of the results is a control panel that lets you play the entire podcast or move backward or forward through the audio. The control panel also lets you download the entire podcast, subscribe to its RSS feed, or subscribe via iTunes or Yahoo!"
He also covers Blinkx, which in addition to indexing podcasts, allows one to search over one million hours of TV and video.

While nothing is perfect, these search tools just keep getting better in helping us improve our own podcast signal-to-noise ratio. Given the complexities of trying to recognize everyone's speech patterns, it's still pretty impressive.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

November 10, 2005

Web 2.0: What's All the Buzz About?

When I first heard the phrase, "Web 2.0", the first thing that entered my mind was, "Wow, how are they going to upgrade the Internet?" ;^) All kidding aside, it's already happening. I see it as mostly an evolutionary (as opposed to revolutionary) progression.

You can already see it in how search engines and various online resources have expanded, morphed, and matured. What really brought it alive for me was Tim O'Reilly's recent article, "What is Web 2.0". I'm a visual person, and his article presents a table of excellent examples:

Web 1.0   Web 2.0
DoubleClick --> Google AdSense
Ofoto --> Flickr
Akamai --> BitTorrent
mp3.com --> Napster
Britannica Online --> Wikipedia
personal websites --> blogging
evite --> upcoming.org and EVDB
domain name speculation --> search engine optimization
page views --> cost per click
screen scraping --> web services
publishing --> participation
content management systems --> wikis
directories (taxonomy) --> tagging ("folksonomy")
stickiness --> syndication

Think about these for a moment, and think where your interaction and use of the Web has changed over the past five years. From this, it's easier to make sense of the visual Web 2.0 Meme Map, which expands on these examples.

For me, Web 2.0's context has crystallized into concepts such as:

  • Blogs as participation and networking, not publishing (although blogging is still a form of publishing in the strictest sense)

  • Consumer focus through syndication -- not keeping them captive via "stickiness" tricks and strategies

  • Harnessing the power of collective intelligence, and radical trust as the foundation of collaboration (think wikis)

  • The return of "Have it your way" for customer self-service and self-manipulation of data in a more convenient and meaningful way

  • Tagging, not taxonomy (although I think this can be somewhat difficult to grasp at first)
Once I got my head around these driving concepts, then the various technologies and services started to make a lot more sense.

It's not a short article, but it does a pretty good job of putting a face, via examples, of what Web 2.0 is, and perhaps just as importantly, what it isn't.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (1)

October 20, 2005

Savvy Tips on Snatching an Expiring Domain

Do you want a specific domain name that's already in use, but not sure how to make it happen? Mike Davidson, a former Walt Disney Media Manager, offers a number of great tips about snatching up an expiring domain name.

First, he explains the different stages of a domain's expiration cycle (during which the current owner can still retain or redeem it). But then it gets really interesting as he describes several services and their various tactics that leave the customer wondering "Who's really bidding?".

All in all, an exceptional first-hand look into the seamier side of domain name drop-catching. [Via Lifehacker]

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

September 21, 2005

Opera Browser: Now Free & Why You Should Care

The Opera 8.5 web browser just became free, offered without the ads. As Opera's site is fairly scarce on details, BetaNews and CNet provide a few more tidbits as to why Opera is now offered without ads, licensing fees, or registration. (Premium support is still available at $29 per year.)

Interestingly, the timing could be fortuitous, given this CNet article published two days ago: "Symantec: Mozilla browsers more vulnerable than IE". (Yes, that's not a misprint.)

According to CNet's summary of Symantec's Internet Security Threat Report, "25 vendor-confirmed vulnerabilities were disclosed for the Mozilla browsers during the first half of 2005, 'the most of any browser studied,' the report's authors stated. Eighteen of these flaws were classified as high severity. 'During the same period, 13 vendor-confirmed vulnerabilities were disclosed for IE, eight of which were high severity,' the report noted." [...] "There is one caveat: Symantec counts only those security flaws that have been confirmed by the vendor."

With this said, Symantec adds that only IE has experienced "widespread exploitation" so far, but "expects this to change as alternative browsers become increasingly widely deployed." In other words, IE is just more squarely within hackers' sights -- at the moment.

The article goes on to cover the Secunia statistics for the browsers. Secunia is a well-known security monitoring company that tracks security issues of various applications. Just to provide a more apples-to-apples comparison between IE, Mozilla, and Opera, I looked up the latest version of each browser to see how many Secunia "advisories" (i.e., security risks, exploits, etc.) were reported for each. As of today, Opera indeed appears to fare the best among the three, and Mozilla doesn't look so bad with just a few outstanding issues (although "none" would be better):

Total Secunia Advisories (I believe these are cumulative):

IE 6.x:85
Mozilla Firefox 1.x:  23
Opera 8.x:8

Total Unpatched Secunia Advisories (these are the ones to worry about):
IE 6.x:19
Mozilla Firefox 1.x:  4
Opera 8.x:0

Over the past several years, I haven't been a big fan nor user of Opera, namely for these reasons: I don't like ads or anything remotely related to adware, nor did I want to pay for a web browser when good free alternatives existed. Also, some web sites didn't display properly in Opera (although the same could easily be said for Mozilla-based browsers as well).

However, given that Opera is on version 8.5 and was more commercially developed compared to Mozilla's open source efforts, one could make a very good argument that it's more mature and has more built-in features. Mozilla requires many third-party plug-ins to achieve its functionality. One area I've always thought Opera was a leader was its mouse gestures for quick navigation -- a great feature that once you master, you don't want to use a browser without. And, as a market trailer, it's far less likely that hackers would find any meaningful return in their efforts to exploit it. That could change now that it's free, as there's a lot to like.

Is it too late for Opera to compete in the browser wars? Hard to say. Fairly recent surveys show people are much more aware of security issues relating to Internet use (adware, spyware, browsers, spam, phishing, etc.). People like choices. People like free choices even more, especially if it's a good product and the pain to change over from a competitor is fairly low. I do think that by now, most people have "settled in" with their browser of choice, and don't want to migrate their bookmarks/favorites yet again. However, there are many who always want to try the latest and greatest, and I have no doubt they are already downloading Opera, willing to give it a whirl.

After Microsoft has dominated the browser scene for so long (amazing considering its lack of releases to keep pace), it's nice to see the pendulum swinging back the other way.

Topic(s):   Privacy & Security  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

September 15, 2005

Google Blog Search Beta Released

In the ever-expanding Google universe, they've just released the Google Blog Search Beta. Not surprising, given Google's general affinity for blogs in its regular search engine, and naturally they own Blogger, so what better way to boost both technologies?

While some speculate it will give services like Technorati a run for the money, I see it a bit differently. Yes, all of these services perform a search function, but some do a better job of tracking the pinging or links between them, which could be translated as discussion threads. Now remember, this is a beta, so Google could certainly add more features as they go.

There are a few different ways you can get to Google's Blog Search:

Per Google: "It's the same search in each place, no matter how you get to it. The Navbar, however, provides two buttons: one to search the blog you are currently viewing, and one to search all blogs."

More help and info is available at the Google Blog Search Help page, which is a list of FAQ's.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (1)

August 29, 2005

Cell Phone Tower Search via Google Maps

Google's interactive mapping technology has some useful applications. For instance, have you ever wished you were closer to a cell tower, or simply knew which way to point your cell phone or CrackBerry to get a better signal? For the answer, try Mobiledia's Cell Phone Tower Search.

Just type in the city and state, and up pops a Google map populated with the cell tower locations. How'd they do that? The cell towers are registered with the FCC. They took the information and compiled it into a searchable database. By presenting that information in Google Maps, they provided a simple but very effective graphical interface to display towers within the area.

Very cool, and definitely more useful than Google Moon's use of Google Maps (but you really need to zoom all the way into Google Moon for the best experience).

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

June 29, 2005

More on Microsoft's RSS Strategy

Microsoft Watch has more on MS' big plans for RSS. The post includes a link to an MSDN Channel 9 video of Microsoft's RSS team.

The more interesting parts are in the latter half of the very informal video. From Channel 9, there are three demos in the video at the indicated time positions in the video:

Demo One, at about 23:19. RSS in IE 7 and synchronization with other aggregators (like RSS Bandit)
Demo Two, at about 34:00. Enclosures, calendar integration.
Demo Three, at about 49:50. Amazon integration.
I'd advise anyone interested in the near-future application of RSS to take a peek. This isn't likely something Microsoft just started, as they've been working in stealth mode until they had something to show for it. Very savvy.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

June 27, 2005

Microsoft to Incorporate RSS in Longhorn

Microsoft just announced that RSS will be incorporated into the forthcoming Longhorn (the next version of Windows) as a core technology. This has the potential of being really big, and I'll tell you why.

Right now, each RSS application (e.g., FeedDemon, NewsGator, etc.) has to maintain its own set of RSS feed addresses and XML data downloaded from your subscribed sites. The problems are many: Duplication of storage and data, no synchronization resulting in time-consuming import/exports of OPML files (or none at all), outdated RSS links in your lesser-used RSS readers, etc. Sure, you could use a web-based service such as Bloglines for central access, but I've never been satisfied with their watered-down features compared to FeedDemon. That's a key difference between fat and thin clients.

The OPML format makes transferring the RSS feed lists and groups easier between RSS apps and PCs, but what about the downloaded content itself? What if you like to maintain a year's worth of feeds (or more) for searching or creating watchlists within your RSS reader (Go FeedDemon!)? You likely can't merge the different data sets.

By now you have a pretty good idea of the issues with using multiple RSS readers and computing platforms (Windows, Web, etc.).

Now let's talk about the OS: Remember those fond DOS days when each application needed its own modem, printer, and display drivers installed, configured, and tweaked? Centralizing those shared services into the OS usually made it a lot easier and cost-effective on both the application developers and the end users. Developers didn't have to write additional code for all these items, so they could either focus on coding additional features, or simply getting their application to market more quickly.

Fast-forwarding to RSS as a core piece of the OS: If Microsoft succeeds, RSS feeds and data could be stored as shared resources. Updated Longhorn-aware versions of your favorite RSS readers can access the shared info. So, for example, if you love using both FeedDemon for its watchlists but also SharpReader for its blog discussion threading, you can have your cake and eat it too (assuming the app developers support Longhorn).

Let's kick it up notch: Think of all the cool things we do on our PCs -- the integration of e-mail, web browsing, and RSS feeds (NewsGator is a good example at their intersection). How about music and video playlists and streaming? Movie listings? TV listings? Driving directions? These could all very well be RSS-driven. Driven where? Right into any number of RSS-aware applications: Browsers, e-mail, office suites, multimedia players, games, you name it. The entertainment and media center applications and extensions are particularly well suited to being RSS-enabled. Microsoft's RSS team surely already knows this. Microsoft also has a good track record of waiting until a technology begins to mature and then swarms it (think browsers, e-mail, office suites, and portals -- all of which could benefit from being RSS-aware).

With this said, all of this RSS "goodness" within Microsoft's control raises valid concerns:

  • Microsoft making proprietary changes to the RSS standards:
  • Remember those IE extensions to HTML tags, which only worked in the IE browser? Discussions are already underway by Microsoft to extend RSS to handle lists (e.g., music playlists, NY Times Bestseller list, SharePoint document lists -- aha!). However, there is a mitigating factor mentioned in the PC World Techlog: "Microsoft will make these extensions available through a Creative Commons license, which means that other developers can incorporate them into their services and software products."

    Keep in mind, though, that this still gives Microsoft an edge to begin subtle RSS morphing into their own image. The CC license, while laudable, also helps MS avoid some of the backlash and speeds adoption. Very savvy. Even Dave Winer sounds optimistic with the way MS is approaching RSS extension and new format development -- quite a turnaround from his previous battle over RSS vs. Atom.

  • Effect on the market:
  • Anyone who integrates with a key piece of Microsoft code is in danger of being displaced by a watered-down Microsoft replacement or MS acquiring them outright. Remember Stacker (disk compression) and certain Quarterdeck utilities (memory management)? More recently, consider the nifty Lookout add-in for Outlook (Microsoft actually acquired Lookout, but you get the idea).

    Now consider NewsGator's tight integration with Outlook. I'd be a little nervous if I were them, as IE and Outlook are two critical intersection points for RSS feeds. I'd bet NewsGator saw the writing on the wall over the last year or two and decided to diversify by offering addition services and integrations.

I've often said that RSS is fast becoming the "glue" that helps tie the web together from a content perspective. It crosses barriers and embeds content more seamlessly. If Microsoft approaches this with the right savvy, RSS may enjoy a critical step in its evolution.

I don't view this as a panacea to some of the other issues (syncing RSS feeds and/or content between PC's, for example). However, it doesn't take much imagination to see how RSS' capabilities can be extended and exploited with a little help from the OS as a common enabling platform. Definitely worth staying tuned.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

June 11, 2005

Free Anti-Phishing Browser Bar, Online Tech Help & GoogleX

PC World's "30 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do on the Internet" contains a wide range of sites, resources, and programs that you may not have come across yet. My take on three I liked:

SpoofStick: Beat the Phishers by Revealing Spoofed Web Sites
Spoofed web sites look just like the real McCoy, right down to displaying a seemingly authentic web site domain in your browser (e.g., ebay.com). Phishers trick you (usually by e-mail) to go to a spoofed site to provide confidential information for the phisher's nefarious purposes. Help has arrived: CoreStreet offers a free download, the SpoofStick applet. It adds a toolbar for both IE 6.x and Firefox 1.x, which displays the actual domain of the site, not the spoofed address -- a nice visual indicator to fight phishing. Per the CoreStreet site, "SpoofStick contains no adware, spyware, nagware or other unhealthy additives." [Note: I haven't tried or examined this software, so as always, downloader beware.]

Free Online Tech Help
If you're having a bad tech day, perhaps the Tech Support Guy can help. It's basically a group of forums categorized by type of application or OS, and manned by volunteers. You can search them to see if someone has already solved the problem, or ask a new question. If you can't get a straight answer from the vendor's tech support, here's another resource to try. (Did I mention it's free? ;^)

Google + OS X = GoogleX
If you haven't tried Google's other online services, you're really missing out on some cool and useful stuff. Apparently, a Google researcher designed GoogleX, a version of the Google web site with a cool toolbar for Mac OS X fans. The twelve icons get you into Froogle, Google Maps, Gmail, Labs, Local, etc. Per PC World, "Originally designed by a Google researcher, the toolbar disappeared shortly after being posted on the Google Labs site (most likely due to objections by Apple), but not before some plucky Netizens saved a copy for your use." [No advice or recommendation whatsoever being given here on its use or legal status, so the decision is completely yours.]

Topic(s):   Trick or Treat  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

April 17, 2005

LawTech Guru Honored in ABA TECHSHOW "60 Sites"

I'm incredibly honored that LawTech Guru was included in the "60 Sites in 60 Minutes" links which were recently published on the ABA TECHSHOW 2005 site. Web veterans Jim Calloway, Robert Ambrogi, and Jeff Flax listed a cornucopia of cool and interesting sites in the popular TECHSHOW highlight. Thanks guys.

Be sure to check out the other sites listed -- no matter how long you've been on the Web, you'll likely find something worth the visit.

Topic(s):   Other Musings  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

March 07, 2005

Get Your Google Page Rank

If you have a blog or web site, and you're curious to know your Google Page Rank, try these two sites:

GoogleRankings.com
Google PageRank Calculator

Both sites are helpful in different ways, and neither seems to be affiliated with Google. While the latter is good for returning a general GPR, I like GoogleRankings.com because it returns the Page Rank relative to various keywords. So you can run a number of queries to determine where your site is doing well, and where it might need a boost.

Disclaimer: I'm not a Google algorithm expert, so take from this what you will, as this is merely my general understanding of how this stuff works. Google's inner workings are constantly being tweaked.

Basically, Google's algorithm assigns each web site a Page Rank from 0-10, with 10 being best. In reading some of the search engine watch sites, exactly how Google arrives at the score seems to be a moving target. I wouldn't be surprised if this scale wasn't linear, as I suspect it's much more difficult to move from a "9" to a "10" than it is to move from a "1" to a "2".

After all, per the Google PankRank Calculator site, the 10's are the massively popular sites like Google and Yahoo!. Even usatoday.com ranks a "9", while nytimes.com and cnn.com only rank an "8". So I'm pretty darn satisfied with a "6". Some of the most popular blawgs seem to rank between 5 and 7 (although I only ran the query for a half dozen of them, so it's not statistically significant). Precious few got a 7, such as Bag and Baggage. Most of the well-known blawgs are at 5 or 6.

Some general rules of thumb seem to play out with Google SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for earning a higher Page Rank: Sites that update content regularly, and that are more heavily linked to (inbound links) from other sites generally receive a higher Page Rank.

So why are Google Page Ranks relevant? The raw score doesn't mean much by itself. When combined with a Google keyword or phrase search, in context, that's when the page rank makes a difference. For example, LawTech Guru is the number one result returned when searching for Jeff Beard or lawtech, but is nowhere in the top 1,000 results for the word "tomato" -- probably because I've never used "tomato" in a post before today. Now, the interesting thing will be to see if and how that tomato page rank changes within a week, since I've now changed the status quo by this post. (In scientific terms, I've changed the environment by the act of studying it.)

So Page Rank scores, by themselves, probably won't get you new business. But what they may get you, in the right context, is increased visibility in Google search results. But which results? Some of my highest rankings are from posts that have nothing to do with legal technology, at least not directly. I suspect those got there by others linking to them.

What's important to take away from this is that if you want your blog or web site to be found for various keyword or phrase searches, it's helpful to know where you're starting from, and which words you need to add to your content on a regular basis. To get a bigger boost, you'll want those pages to be linked to by other high-ranking sites, as that will help to elevate your ranking, and potentially, your online visibility. I can tell you firsthand that while I don't sell anything here, not even services, professional visibility is quite valuable.

Now with that said, don't get caught in the trap that you must be found on Google or other major search engines to be found online. Yes, it's very important, but it's not the whole enchilada. Again, I'll use this blog as an example. According to GoogleRankings.com, this site currently ranks as 29 to the keyword search for "legal technology" using lawtechguru.com as the URL pattern. That gets knocked down to 49 when using www.lawtechguru.com as the URL pattern. Which means that I'm not on the first two pages of Google results for legal technology. But you know what? Thanks to the collegiality of my fellow blawgers, I'm linked on many of their blogrolls and vice versa. Which means that when they get found via search engines and their sites are read, some of those readers will invariably stumble onto my blog -- it's how the blogosphere works.

So, when the dust and smoke clears, while Google Page Ranks are important to understand and leverage, they are only one piece of the overall solution for online marketing and visibility. Rather than an end, they are an important means to achieving an overall plan.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (1)

February 22, 2005

Localized Services: No Matter Where You Go, There You Are

Here's an interesting web trend: Over the past few years, "localized" web services have grown considerably. Consider Topix.net (local news by zip code), Google's Local Beta search, Cairo (local shopping deals), and others. Over the past ten years, the Internet was a bit like satellite TV in its infancy: Lots of channels but very few local ones. Now that many pieces are in place, more service providers are tapping into their potential.

I expect the localized service market to expand substantially over the next few years. While making this prediction is easy, picking the winners is anything but simple. Some, like Topix, make instant sense and should do well. Likewise, savvy real estate brokers have tapped into its power by providing online listings. It's not so clear for others trying to fill various niches.

For instance, Dodgeball really gets localized. Think of it as Friendster for your cell phone via text messaging. It lets others know where you are, or vice versa. Sounds great for socializing, but the "Crush" feature could end up a little creepy. (It's definitely a new slant on "I was just in the neighborhood.") And I thought CrackBerry dating was fraught with some interesting social implications.

It's a brave new world -- with all new localized services. Some of them will undoubtedly be ultra-trendy. However, I also expect to see even more localized marketing and networking services online for professional service verticals.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

February 21, 2005

Web Tools O' Plenty

Test your Web savvy by reading PC World's "The New Web Challengers". The feature article covers a wide variety of web browsers and other web-based programs, sites, and services. See how many you're currently using or have heard something about:

  • Alternative web browsers
  • New search engines
  • News and other fresh info
  • Alternative online shopping sites
  • Online business tools
  • Little-known travel and mobile sites
  • Universal IM (Instant Messaging)
  • RSS, Blogging, and Wikis
Even die-hard surfers and bloggers are likely to pick up a few tips. For instance, I found Cairo -- no, not that sandy place, but a search engine for finding local shopping sales and deals by zip code. Very cool.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

February 08, 2005

Two Great Guides to Firefox Extensions

The Firefox browser, while all the rage, lacks some functionality out of the box. The magic is in the plugins. So if it's left you wanting more, check out PC Magazine's Top 15 Firefox Extensions. Still not enough? Head on over to Flexbeta's guide to Firefox extensions, where nearly 30 are covered. There's something for everyone.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

January 12, 2005

Some of the Best Software You Never Tried (Part 1)

I like free, useful software. (Who doesn't?) I thought I'd share some of the ones I've used that may be off the beaten track for some folks, but well worth a look. Rather than try to cram them all into one post, I'll feature them one at a time. First up:

Maxthon (formerly MyIE2):

Pure and simple, Maxthon is a power browser's browser. One might say I live on the web, and Maxthon has more features than I'll ever need -- so that's saying something. It has the most refined and featured tabbing system of any free browser I've seen. I can drag tabs around, control their width, have multiple tab rows, or just one long one using left/right scroll buttons. Maxthon pops open new tabs faster than IE opens new windows. When searching with Google, I can leave the results window open in the first tab, and launch the linked sites in other tabs without losing Google's page. With tabs, there's no more clutter on the Windows taskbar from multiple open IE windows. It have it set to minimize to the system tray to stay out of sight until I need it.

I really like its robust and customizable built-in ActiveX filter, pop-up blocker, and ad-blocker, which even blocks floating ads. My web surfing is more enjoyable and a bit faster since I don't have to wait for ads to load or close extra pop-ups. I can save multiple open sites as a "Group" -- perfect for saving research sessions with related open pages. It automatically reloads missing pictures -- no more little red x's or missing picture icons unless there's a broken link in the page.

Mouse gestures for navigation are incredible. It's like tabbed browsing -- once you've used them, you'll never want to go back. Maxthon's Alias feature gives me ActiveWords-like functionality by assigning memorable aliases to URLs. For example, I simply type "g" and press Enter to go to http://www.google.com, or "wrt" to bring up my Linksys wireless router's config page. It also sports a built-in search bar (customizable for virtually any search engine of choice) and an auto-highlighter for search terms.

It's skinnable, and it's self-cleaning: When closing Maxthon, I have it set to automatically clear its undo list, address list, history, search bar history, cache, cookies, and form data. About the only thing it doesn't clean is the notorious index.dat files, which are kept open by the Windows operating system. (I have another program for doing this, but that's an upcoming post.) It also sports an Undo feature with a site history for the current session. If you accidentally close a tab, Undo lets you choose which closed web site to reopen. This has come in handy more times than I can remember.

As you may have surmised, it takes a little while to get accustomed to and master all of this functionality, but it's well worth the effort. Now that I have, I'm so much more efficient and productive in accessing and organizing online information.

Yes, Maxthon is based upon IE, let's get that out of the way. However, its developers have thoughtfully closed some of the security holes, and Maxthon is pretty stable for a browser. Maxthon also uses very few system resources compared to IE. No browser is 100% secure, not even Firefox, and I haven't seen adware, spyware, or viruses on my systems in a very, very long time (and I scan regularly with multiple programs). I don't believe I've been lucky in this regard: I've also set up IE and Maxthon to be selective (e.g., blocking or prompting for active content) and it definitely helps to know what not to click on while surfing.

Because it's IE-based, Maxthon works directly with my saved IE Favorites, so I only have one list of bookmarks to deal with. Because it's IE-based, I don't have to install all-new plugins to work with standard web apps like QuickTime, Shockwave Flash, Acrobat Reader, and the like. Maxthon can handle sites designed for IE, so I don't have to swap between a non-IE and IE browser. The last time I checked, Maxthon does not support the newest version of the Google Toolbar (although a prior version still works). This might be a downside for others, but not for me. Maxthon provides very similar, if not better, functionality. Maxthon also supports over 400+ Maxthon plugins as well as many IE plugins.

I've tried IE, Netscape, Firefox, and Mozilla, and Maxthon just fits the way I like to power browse. Firefox, while lean, fast, and arguably more secure, is still too primitive for my taste and needs, and it's a hassle to manage different plugins and bookmark lists. Maxthon is fairly fast and stable, and its numerous features are polished and highly customizable. It's also actively developed, with frequent version updates. Rarely have I ever been this pleased with any piece of software, free or otherwise. Maxthon just lets me surf my way. Not surprisingly, that's also Maxthon's tagline: "The way we surf the world."

Topic(s):   Trick or Treat  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

October 28, 2004

Yahoo! Acquires Bloomba

Bloomba, an e-mail program that offered impressive search features and speed, was just acquired by Yahoo!. Per the Bloomba announcement:

Why did Yahoo! acquire Stata Labs?
This acquisition will provide Yahoo! with exceptional technological expertise and strategic assets.

What does Yahoo! plan to do with the technology as a result of the acquisition?
At this time we do not have any announcements about the ongoing plans for the technology or the specifics of the transaction.

I just purchased Bloomba or SAproxy Pro. Can I get a refund?
Customers who purchased Bloomba or SAproxy Pro within the last thirty days are eligible for a full refund. To receive a refund please email support@statalabs.com by November 21, 2004.

[...]

Will there be upgrades available for Bloomba or SAproxy Pro?
At this time, there are no plans to offer upgrades for Bloomba or SAproxy Pro.

[...]

Will Yahoo! sell Bloomba or SAproxy Pro?
At this time there are no plans for Yahoo! to sell Bloomba or SAproxy Pro.

Where can I purchase Bloomba or SAproxy Pro?
Bloomba and SAproxy Pro are no longer available for purchase.

Can resellers continue to sell Bloomba or SAproxy Pro?
Stata Labs products are no longer available for sale through resellers.

I think it's safe to say it's off the market, which is a shame. I looked at Bloomba and thought it had potential, as did Rick Klau. Their main problem was their market -- mainly SOHO and smaller businesses. Hmm... Yahoo! acquired an e-mail program with exceptionally fast search capabilities. With only a little presumption required on my part, it's pretty obvious that Yahoo! purchased the technology to develop their own Gmail service. Keep an eye out for it.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

October 16, 2004

Stupid Browser Tricks

Okay, so they're not stupid -- but it got your attention, didn't it? It's October, so it's a good time to do more Trick or Treating. Here are some very simple web browser tricks I've found both helpful and time-saving over my years online:

1) Autocomplete your ".com" URL:

Instead of manually typing a full web site address such as http://www.lawtechguru.com, try this instead:

- Type lawtechguru
- Press CTRL-Enter.

In IE and Firefox, the web browser will automatically type the http://www. prefix and the .com suffix for you and take you to the site. This saves you 15 keystrokes for each web site address you type. Over time, it all adds up. It only works for .com domains, although some browsers will let you use other key combinations for ".net", ".org", etc. It's also a good reason to choose a domain name ending in ".com" when you set up a new web site.

Note: For CTRL-Enter to work in IE, the Autocomplete feature must be enabled in your browser settings. Do this by clicking Tools menu, Internet Options, Content tab, Autocomplete... button, and making sure the Web Addresses option is checked.

2) Quick, go the Address field in one easy step:

Without tabbing or lifting your hand to use the mouse:

- Press Alt-D. That's it. In IE, Mozilla, and Firefox, it will jump your cursor back up to the Address field and select all text.
- Whatever new text you type will replace the old text (and don't forget to use CTRL-Enter for ".com" addresses!).

3) Print a table or grid with all of its color shading in IE:

Ever print a web comparison table only to find it difficult to read? That's because the shading is in the background. Here's how to tell IE to print the background colors:

- In IE, click on Tools, Internet Options, and the dialog will appear.
- Click on the Advanced tab.
- Scroll down about 2/3 until you see the Printing section.
- Check the only option: Print background colors and images.
- Click OK.

Now go ahead and print your web table, and odds are that the table shading will print properly. (It all depends on how they were formatted, but this usually works for me.) Afterward, don't forget to go back and turn off this print option. Otherwise, other web pages with colored backgrounds will probably print with dark backgrounds, making the text difficult to read.

4) See more in fullscreen mode:

Don't have a nice, large 21-inch monitor? Temporarily get rid of all of your toolbars, status bars, etc., save for one bar at the top:

- Press F11, or
- Click on the Full Screen button on the standard button bar, or
- Click on View, Full Screen.

It's a toggle, so you can easily change it back by repeating the process or clicking on the Restore button in the top right corner. These methods work in many browsers.

5) Open Links in a New Window:

- In any open browser window: Shift-click on the hyperlink (hold down the Shift key when clicking). This tells the browser to open the link in a new browser window.
- Alternate method: Press CTRL-N to open a copy of the current web page in a new window. Then click on the link. Your original window is untouched and still present onscreen.

This is very handy when you want to keep your original browser window open for reference (e.g., your Google search results). In geek circles, this is also known as "spawning" a new browser window. It also works in a number of browsers that support tabbed browsing.

6) Mozilla Easter Egg:

Here's a bonus Treat after all the Tricks above. It's an oldie but a goodie, and it works in many Mozilla flavors (Mozilla, Firebird, Firefox, etc.):

- Go to the address bar (remember Tip #2?) and type this without any spaces: about:mozilla
- Press Enter or click on the Go button.

If you have both Mozilla and Firefox installed, try it in both as you'll get noticeably different results.

Topic(s):   Trick or Treat  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

August 31, 2004

A Rebuttal to Malware & IE

Forever, it seems, I've been reading the many posts and articles complaining about spyware, malware, and IE security issues. I acknowledge they exist, and I've done my fair share of removing adware, spyware and the like. The funny thing is, I've been using a powerful IE-based browser (MyIE2, n/k/a Maxthon) as my main browser for over a year, and pure IE before that, and can't recall having a browser-related spyware nor a drive-by downloading incident. I generally keep up on IE patches, and I've scanned my PCs many times with Norton Antivirus, Ad-Aware, Spybot, etc. I've also used my share of Netscape, Mozilla, and Firefox too, so I'm definitely not a Microsoft groupie. In my personal user experience, I've only encountered malware when I've installed a supposedly free program that had others bundled in as a means to defray their costs. We've all seen plenty of those -- some will tell or prompt you during installation while others just creep in unannounced. There's no excuse for the silent parasites -- we should at least be presented with the choice. But for the others, we've made a conscious decision to download and install them.

What prompted this post was Jerry Lawson's post about Ernie's Svenson's post about a Slashdot post (welcome to the link-crazy blogosphere), all of which recommend dumping IE ASAP due to the security and drive-by downloading problems.

Mind you, I'm not disagreeing with that, as I've said it myself from time to time. But since my IE settings and overall experience seem to differ greatly from the general public, I've concluded this wasn't simply a mere coincidence. I believe this greatly reduces the chance for malware getting into my system, coupled with savvy user-level decisions. I should also mention I use pure IE from time to time, when I want to ensure the maximum compatibility browsing to or downloading from active content-rich sites. Otherwise, I pretty much use MyIE2 with occasional use of Firefox when faster rendering speed is desired. I also like Firefox's fast way to disable Java and Javascripting from two simple checkboxes within the same settings dialog.

While MyIE2 features advanced content blocking (i.e., blocking inline ads, flash animations, popups, etc.) that only gets me so far in my malware defense. By far and large, I firmly believe most people have problems with spyware and malware just because they don't know any better (i.e., lack of savvy user education and not optimally configuring IE). By default, IE is left quite open for drive-by downloads, but that doesn't mean it can't be made to deflect them. Even when I use plain IE without any ad-blocking, I still have it set to block or prompt for most active content. As mentioned, I also use antivirus and anti-spyware programs, which also help.

I've found that changing the settings in IE's Security / Internet Zone / Custom Level to be quite effective against unwanted malware. I've disabled some features (especially on those "not marked safe"), set some to "high safety" and set most of the remainder to prompt me, particularly regarding ActiveX and scripting content. This allows me to decide if/when active content should run to access desired content (e.g., Microsoft's various support/update sites, launching the PDF reader when clicking on a PDF file, loading a desired flash animation etc.), versus blocking the potentially harmful active web content. This solution presents me with many pop-up dialog prompts, but after a little while they didn't bother me because I get to choose what happens next: I'm not a victim of an unfortunate browsing accident.

Knock on wood, as I know this doesn't close all of IE's holes, but I've yet to encounter a drive-by malware downloading. Why? I believe it's because my IE and IE-based browsers either ignore or prompt me for what to do when it encounters most active content. I've run a number of updated anti-spyware scans on my PCs and they come up clean each time. Of course, the distinguishing variable is knowing how to answer those browser prompts. If I'm downloading a PDF or Flash animation I want to see, then I allow it to run. If I don't know what's prompting me, I click on "No", and then see if the web page will load properly. If it does, great. If it doesn't, then I need to decide if the desired content is worth the risk of allowing the active content to load. So far, so good.

Obviously, there's a trust and/or judgment factor involved as well. Most large corporate sites are not going to want to risk alienating their market by inflicting malware. For those that have, they've usually learned a painful lesson in customer relations and the power of the Web to replicate such information very quickly and LOUDLY. If I'm visiting a new or strange site, then I err on the side of caution. I don't need more smileys for my e-mail or IM program, and I know I'm not going to win anything by clicking on a moving ad (regardless of how satisfying it may be to virtually smack that annoying purple monkey!) or answering that "Friends" trivia question for which anyone over three knows the answer.

We all know IE has a lot of security holes, no argument there. But my individual experience leads me to conclude that specifically regarding browser-delivered malware (adware, spyware, viruses, trojans, etc.), the choices made at the computer operator level (hey, that's us!) are by far the largest contributor to allowing harmful content into our systems in the first place. This stuff generally doesn't get there by itself. Someone had to make the decision to visit a particular site (whether via Google, directly, or from some other link), using a web browser configured in a specific way. Even alternative web browsers have security issues. It all comes down to where you surf on the web, what you're using to get there, and what choices you're making in how you access the online data once you've arrived. Even choosing which free programs to download and install requires judgment. For help, check out sites like SpywareInfo and Spyware-Guide.com before you download a new program. They provide helpful information and maintain lists of spyware- and malware-ridden programs.

This isn't begging the entire Microsoft security issue, and Microsoft clearly needs to address it. But unless or until that happens, it's up to us to either educate ourselves to address it, or hire someone else who's savvy enough to take care of it and educate us on an informed way to do it. In other words, good ol' personal accountability. As Smokey said: "Only you can prevent forest fires." This doesn't excuse the malware developers in the least, nor Microsoft, but a good many incidents are avoidable with an appropriate approach.

So instead of throwing the IE baby out with the bath water to clean house, I'd rather come up with a better way to keep the baby clean. I've written here previously about how I've all but dumped IE as my main browser, and that's true. My main motivation was to find a better browser for power user features while maintaining a common set of bookmarks. As my main replacement browser is based upon the underlying IE engine and its flaws, I tasked myself to find a way to get all the benefits I was looking for while securing it as much as possible. So far, I like the result. It's not perfect (what is?), but it works for me.

I was quite tempted to conclude this with the typical, "Your mileage may vary" -- but then shouldn't we ask the critical question: Why?

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (1)

August 04, 2004

Blogging Abuses are Escalating

First there was comment spam: Spammers artificially boosted various web sites' Google page rankings by embedding links to those sites in blog comments. Google rankings favor sites that have a lot of inbound links, especially from highly ranked sites.

Then there was trackback spam: Blogs supporting trackbacks (i.e., the ability of blogs to learn which other blogs are linking to them) were nailed by artificial trackback pings containing spam web site links -- and they were harder to remove than comment spam. Luckily, I only received a couple of those.

Regular blog sites ended up being used to increase Google page rankings for various online pharmacies, casinos, porn sites, and more. I've personally had to clean this dreck from my blog. Usually it wasn't too bad -- just a couple a day, easily deleted. I've always resisted the urge to curtail commenting as I truly wanted to encourage a lively discussion. Then, just last month, I suddenly got hit by over 1,600 spam comments in a single week (no, that's not a typo), and they were increasing each day after. Since the comments were always made to older posts where there were virtually no new comments, the easy solution was to run a script that closes comments older than "x" number of days. It's a pretty good compromise so far, as most comments are made within a few days after posting, and I still want to have commenting enabled. (I've known about the MT-Blacklist plugin for a while, but I didn't have the time nor the inclination to upgrade my blog software just for that alone.)

Over the past six months, I've seen an increase in "me too" blogs -- ones in which the overall motivating factor was to have a site which ranked highly on Google. Then I started receiving link exchange e-mails from commercial services that had nothing to do with this blog's topics. Naturally, I ignored them the same as any spam e-mail.

Now, according to Wired News, the online porn industry is at it once again. But for the very first time, it seems they're not touching my blog, nor others. No, they've figured out they can better directly manipulate Google rankings by setting up their own set of blogs and then cross-linking between themselves. This part isn't all that novel, as many bloggers know you need to exchange links to benefit in page rankings.

But this time around, the pornsters are using Google's technology against itself. Google owns Blogger. So they've set up dozens of free Blogger sites and are using them to create the necessary inbound links to manipulate Google. Ironic, isn't it?

Here's the money quote from Wired: "It's just like (when) the first couple of people who got the idea to try to manipulate the meta-keyword thing might have been successful, but then everyone jumped all over it.... These things run their natural evolutionary course after awhile."

Note that a number of search engines don't use metatags for that very reason. Because of abuses like this and "Google bombing" (hint: do a Google search for "miserable failure" to see how anyone can be targeted), Google has been under increasing criticism due to these manipulations' effects on the integrity of the results. Like metatags, I expect that the abuses will go the normal route of getting worse before they get better. Eventually, when a particular abuse hits critical mass, then the search engine companies attempt to adapt their technology to preclude or ignore it (much like metatags are now ignored). Since Google's core technology has always focused on the link factor, this should prove interesting indeed.

That is, until the next exploit is discovered, and then we get to repeat the cycle. Get ready...

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

June 23, 2004

Got Gmail?

A week ago, while discussing Yahoo! Mail's recent improvements, I said, "And don't get me started on the privacy controversy with Gmail (Google's new free e-mail service). Who wants any service to scan your e-mail for profiling and/or targeting?" Well, over the weekend (just before packing up the PC equipment for our full house move from Wisconsin to Illinois -- which is why you haven't seen a new post in a week), I received a spare Gmail invitation from a fellow ABA LawTech listserv mate -- yet another reason why it pays to participate. So I thought, what the heck, let's take Gmail for a spin.

My thoughts so far:

The first thing that struck me was how familiar the web e-mail interface was -- strikingly similar to Yahoo!'s web mail look and feel. The page loading was snappy. However, you must enable scripting and ActiveX in your web browser for the pages to load properly (or Gmail will generate error pages telling you to turn them on). I have my browser set to prompt me for these types of active content as a security precaution, so it pops up a lot of prompts.

After reading through Google's informational screens, I now understand why they not only give you a full Gigabyte of storage, but actively encourage you to dump as much e-mail there as you desire, without ever deleting it: The more content you store in Gmail, the more raw information is presented to Google's e-mail search technology, which in turn enables Google to better profile your interests for their targeted ad system.

In other words, the more you store, the more it indexes, and like the wolf said to Little Red Riding Hood, "the better to see you with". Perhaps this is a harsh characterization, but Google's spin that no human is reading your e-mail doesn't hold much weight with me, and quite the contrary since an automated search should be even more efficient at raw data gathering and flagging. On one hand, better sampling arguably translates to more relevant ads that you may actually find of interest. On the other, regarding privacy, let's just say I won't be storing any sensitive or truly confidential information in Gmail. As there has been an intense amount of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) and controversy over Gmail's privacy issues, Google's statement on Gmail's privacy attempts to put us all at ease. It's up to each person's comfort level after that. After all, no one is forcing us to use Gmail.

Gmail's Getting Started Guide lists a number of "new" features, including conversation threading, no need to delete, and archiving all received and sent messages to a single "All Mail" repository -- which is an interesting concept to dump everything into one place and use Gmail's search, filtering, and other tools to find it later. Each e-mail can be organized with one or more labels, rather than dumped into separate folders (which Google calls "the old way"). This allows messages to be sorted or filtered in different ways. And of course you can search them using the built-in Google search engine.

It also features a spam filter which Google is continuing to improve. Thus far, my account appears too new to attract spam yet, but we'll see how it goes. Also, the Gmail Beta cannot insert recipient e-mail addresses from the included address book, and they are working on this. I was little surprised that a basic feature like this wasn't functional yet, but that's why they call it a Beta.

Overall, though, Gmail will likely meet many people's needs, especially the 1 GB storage and 10 MB per message limit. One danger, as I see it, is that firm and corporate users who have internally-imposed storage and message limitations for their enterprise e-mail systems may tend to use free and more expansive services such as Gmail for expedient workarounds in a pinch. Even if you have solid policies in place, the open web browser egress is something to consider.

[Update 6.25.04: Tom Collins of Knowledge Aforethought posted how Gmail's features - "a full Gigabyte of storage, full search functionality, and automated grouping and labeling - makes it intriguing as a partial answer to the personal KM questions raised by Dennis Kennedy and discussed in a recent post here."]

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

June 15, 2004

Yahoo! Cranks Up E-Mail Storage

Not to be left completely behind by Google's 1GB GMail services, CNet News reports that Yahoo! is making good on its announcement to increase current members' e-mail storage up to 100MB today.

I received an e-mail in my Yahoo! account today that they expanded service as follows:

  • Increased storage capacity from your current level to 100MB
  • Increase in total message size to 10MB
  • A streamlined interface that's even easier to use
While I haven't tried Google's offering yet (their beta invitations are limited), I've been a Yahoo! Mail user for many years now. While other services like HotMail have been hacked many times and experienced other problems, I have to say that my Yahoo! experience has been exemplary (and for a free service, that's rare). As I was constantly bumping up again the old 6MB limit, the new space gives me some very welcome breathing room. It's nice to be in the green after living in their red zone for so long.

With their bulk mail (spam) filter, it's been a great free solution for giving out a throwaway e-mail address without contributing to my already flooded personal and business e-mail accounts hosted elsewhere.

So if you need a fairly generous free e-mail account to use to counter spam, send personal e-mail outside of your office system, and to access nearly anywhere, it's not a bad choice if you don't mind the Flash ads. And don't get me started on the privacy controversy with GMail. Who wants any service to scan your e-mail for profiling and/or targeting?

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

April 08, 2004

Tip: Automate Your IE Favorites Searching (for Free)

I have too many browser bookmarks (or favorites, if you prefer) in IE -- far too many. At home, the problem is magnified due to the addition of my family's bookmarks. Like most people, I have them organized into topical folders and subfolders. That doesn't mean that a particular bookmark is always easy to find. Many times it's just the opposite due to the sheer size of the forest surrounding the one tree I need. Regardless of how your IE favorites are organized, here are some easy tips to help manage the overload:

1) When you bookmark sites, make sure the saved name is descriptive: Include the name of the site, along with several keywords that you'd typically use to find it.

2) Next, you can perform a Windows file search for your IE favorites and save that search as a shortcut. This little-known Windows trick works surprisingly well. After you perform this quick one-time setup and save it, you'll have a built-in search engine for all of your IE favorites, and it's just one click away on your IE link bar.

Please note: Due to the manner in which IE stores each favorite as a separate file, which is often different than how other browsers store them, this tip will probably only work for IE-based browsers (which also includes many of the IE-wrapper browsers, such as my current preference, MyIE2 -- it may not be the fastest browser in the West, but it's definitely one of the most feature-laden for infomaniacs).

The exact procedure may vary a little between Windows versions, so this is generally how you do it. While it may appear to be a lot of steps, trust me, it's not -- most of them are quick mouse selections.

  1. Click on the Start button to bring up your Windows main menu, and click on "Find", then on "Files or Folders". This will launch the Find search dialog box.

  2. On the "Name & Location" tab, go to the "Look in" field and either browse to the root of your IE favorites directory or type in the path, (e.g., C:\Windows\Favorites for Win 9x/ME or something similar to C:\Winnt\Profiles\Username\Favorites for Win NT/2000/XP). I recommend browsing to it so you know you've got the path exactly right.

  3. Make sure the "Include subfolders" check box (located below the "Look in" field) is checked, so you will search all of your IE favorites folders.

  4. In the "Date" tab, make sure "All files" is selected.

  5. On the "Advanced" tab, mouse over to the right of the "Of type" field, and click on the pull-down menu. Select "Internet Shortcut" for the file type.

  6. Click on the "Find Now" screen button to run the search and verify that it works correctly. The results should list all of your IE favorites and give you a total count on the status bar. If this worked, continue with the next step. Otherwise, double-check your work before proceeding.

  7. Next, you need to save the search: In the Find window, click on the "File" pull-down menu and click on "Save Search". A new shortcut should appear on your Windows desktop (assuming it's not locked down via any Windows policies), named something similar to "Files of type Internet Shortcut.fnd".

  8. Now let's move it into your browser "Links" bar: Right-click on this desktop file, and click on "Cut" on the pop-up menu.

  9. Open up Windows Explorer (e.g., hold down the "Windows" key and press "E"), and browse to the same favorites folder you did in Step 2 above. Now find the "Links" folder under it and open it so it is your current directory.

  10. Paste the saved search file into the Links folder. You can rename it as desired, except that you MUST keep the .fnd file extension, which is associated with the Find feature. For instance, mine is named "Search Faves.fnd".

  11. Launch IE or your IE-based browser. If you have the links bar displayed, you should see the new shortcut (although you may have to click on the pull-down arrow to the far right if you have too many links to be displayed). You can also drag and drop this shortcut around in the link bar. Otherwise, you can access it from your IE Favorites pull-down menu. You can also enable the links bar by clicking on "View", "Toolbars", and then on "Links".

  12. Now anytime you need to look for a long-lost bookmark, just click on the shortcut to the .fnd file, and up will pop the Windows Find dialog, with the above selections predefined. Then you simply fill in the filename or key words (or wildcard variation) in the "Named" field and/or in the "Containing text" field to find your bookmark. Click the "Find Now" button to run the search, then double-click on the desired bookmark in the results screen to open it in a browser window.

Keep in mind that using the "Named" and "Containing text" fields is cumulative, meaning that filling in both fields is the same as searching for both with an "AND" connector, which further limits your search. Also keep in mind that the "Named" field only searches the characters found in the actual name of the favorites file, which is why it's useful to include keywords when you save each new favorite instead of having many named "Welcome page". The "Containing text" field searches the actual contents of the each saved favorites file, which contains the complete URL of the corresponding web site.

3) You can also go out and download a bookmark manager, which is particularly useful if you find yourself bouncing between different browsers (e.g., IE and Mozilla-based browsers). Several are free, but many are not. I've heard very good comments about Powermarks. This one isn't free but it's database driven and integrates with the most common browsers (IE, Netscape, Mozilla, Opera, and NetCaptor). However, Powermarks is not directly integrated with some alternative browsers, such as MyIE, Firebird/Firefox, Avant, Slimbrowser, etc., most of which use another browser's underlying engine (e.g., IE or Mozilla's Gecko). In this regard they are missing a necessary communication interface which Powermarks needs for integration. There is a workaround available, but it is somewhat limited.

Lastly, if you'd like more information about managing your web sessions, then I heartily recommend Dennis Kennedy's Legal Technology Primer on the subject. For searching IE favorites, I like the solution detailed above because it leverages a feature built right into Windows, and the price was right. However, there are certainly other good solutions available, and the trick is to find one that you'll actually use.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (2)

April 07, 2004

What's Your Favorite News Aggregator?

Here's an experiment: It's an open-ended, down-and-dirty survey: If you're using a news aggregator, whether it's PC- or web-based, I'd love to hear about it. I'm not looking for statistical significance, but rather, an indication as to what we're really using. I'm currently writing an article about news aggregators, and I'm curious to see which ones are most popular in the legal market and generally elsewhere as this cuts across all markets really.

If you would be so kind, please take a moment to add a quick comment on this post with the aggregator you use most often. This way we can all see the results in real time. If you'd like to include a link to the service or program, even better. And if the mood strikes you, I'm sure it would be helpful to include a few reasons why you prefer it over others. There are many new aggregators popping up all over the place, and I thought it would be interesting to see what people are really using, what you really like. I appreciate your time, and I think this would provide some very useful feedback for everyone. Thanks!

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (21)

March 31, 2004

Online Presence: Considering Blogs Instead of Web Sites

I posted this today in response to a sole practitioner's query on the ABA Lawtech list. He wanted to develop a simple web presence with the ability to expand in the future. He needed easy-to-use software as he preferred to do it himself, and did not have significant time to invest. To him, the cost of the software is less significant than his time in implementing it.

I just had a number of solo and small firm attorneys ask me virtually identical questions at Techshow, so I thought I'd reproduce my response here:

If you don't have any web presence yet, and can devote several hours per week to providing content updates (as opposed to spending a lot of it on web formatting for the initial design and on each content update), then seriously consider a blog format.

Check out the TypePad service. It's based on the popular Movable Type technology, without all of the hardcore techie hassles of most other blog systems. The blog design tools are all web-based, so you make the layout and design selections through your browser (e.g., choosing a 2-column vs. 3-column design, which content section goes where, colors, etc.). I recommended TypePad to a colleague when it was first released. He signed up one evening and showed me his finished blog the next day -- it was that easy. Implementation time is very little with TypePad in comparison to many other services and tools.

TypePad is a hosted service that has several service levels so you choose the amount of needed features you need for the price. If you have a registered domain name for your firm, I'm pretty sure that TypePad will let you point it towards their service, so you have a professional-looking URL. It's also chock-full of blogging features.

Lastly, the main reasons I mention a blog is that it really amounts to guerrilla marketing for solos for the following reasons:

1) Search Engines Love Blogs:

Search engines like Google give much higher results ranking to sites having (a) frequently updated content and (b) lots of inbound links from other web sites and blogs. Blogs meet these criteria big time. Bloggers love linking to other bloggers if they find the content compelling.

For instance, while your mileage may vary, a mere 5 weeks after releasing my blog, a search for Jeff Beard placed me at the number one hit in Google (I was already in the top 10 results within the first 2 - 3 weeks). Metatags don't matter much for some engines like Google, so I haven't even gotten around to adding any yet (although I should probably add them for other engines that may still use this method). But since most of the world loves and uses Google, it's not at the top of my blog To Do list.

2) Instant "Expertability":

If you feel comfortable posting new content several times a week about new developments in particular areas and topics (i.e., "The Niche"), you are perceived as being an expert on the subject almost overnight -- as long as your posts are professional and are reasonably reliable. Also, don't discount the social engineering factor of blogs. That is where the real presence power and results derive from. Blogs leverage what you know with who you know (or conversely, who knows you from your blog).

3) Super Easy Updating:

Posting content to a blog is very similar to being able to send an HTML-formatted e-mail. You fill out a few fields of text (subject, category, body, etc.), add in some light HTML formatting (web links, bold, underline, etc.), and click on Submit. Boom -- you're done for the day. The text gets automatically published to your blog in the exact look and feel you've pre-selected when you set up the blog.

4) RSS News Feeds = Extended Reach = Larger Audience = More Hits

I won't go into a long discussion of Really Simple Syndication other than to say it allows people to read more of your content in less time and with less effort than manually visiting each site on their daily or weekly mental list. It's a convenience and time management feature that appeals to an initially small percentage of the population, but which is growing at a good rate. Consider this: As people's list of sites in their aggregator is growing quickly, you want to be one of the first ones added so you're near the top of the heap. Early adopters have first mover advantages here.

5) Built-in Search and Content Management Features

Blogs are database-driven web sites. In other words, all of the textual posts on this blog are stored in a database on my web server. The blogging software automatically merges the appropriate text from the database with all of the web-formatted templates created when the blog was initially set up. Having a database on the back end also makes it very easy to search my prior content and categorize posts into one or multiple categories. These features are built into the better blogging systems. Likewise, my blog is set to display the last ten posts on the home page. When I post the eleventh item, the home page is automatically republished to remove the oldest prior post and add it to an archive page that is likewise categorized and fully searchable. Thus I don't have to lift a finger to move content in this fashion, and the cycle repeats for each post I make thereafter. The amazing thing is that this effective content management system is already included as a feature with some blog systems. I've seen law firms spend thousands of dollars on obtaining third party content management systems for their existing web sites. If you're starting from scratch on your web site, you just might want to take this into account.

Now with that said, blogging is not for everyone. If you just want a low-maintenance static or "brochure" web site (which in my humble opinion is of decreasing and limited value these days), and can't devote the time to post new things, then no one is going to visit your blog after the dust settles on it. Of course, don't expect people to return to your static web site either -- which is why I equate it to a simple phone book entry for the web, i.e., a placeholder. Content is King.

Likewise, if your public postings, comments, analysis, etc. can come back to bite you, then extra care is warranted. In a solo situation, you typically have much less of these concerns than if you were in a large firm or corporation -- but they could still exist in some situations.

If you'd like to see a good example of a small firm site leveraged by blogging, check out Erik Heels' site at http://www.lawlawlaw.com.

[Updated 04.01.04 to add section five on search and content management features.]

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (8)

March 10, 2004

Do You Want Additional LawTech Guru News Feeds?

To my many readers: Thank you for your continued patronage, and I thought I'd give something back. This is your chance to get what you want. For some time I've been considering adding an Atom news feed as well as a dedicated mobile device feed (for PDA's, etc.) which would streamline it a bit (less is definitely more when reading information on a PDA).

Adding an Atom feed to Movable Type 2.65 and above is rather easy. However, I haven't upgraded from MT 2.64 for the simple reason that it's been working beautifully ("If it ain't broke...). So I'd just need to upgrade MT first. Regarding the mobile feed, while this blog is already PDA-friendly, I've come across something else that may work better in this regard, but I haven't tested it yet. Basically, before investing the time for either project, I wanted to know if it's something that would add value, and that you would want and would actually use.

So please let me know by leaving a comment or contact me via . Also, if there's something else regarding this blog that you'd like to see offered, this is your chance. I can't promise that I'll be able to deliver on all requests, but I'm definitely open to suggestions. Thank you in advance for your time.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

Dave Winer's RFC for Merging RSS and Atom

This week, Dave Winer graciously made a constructive offer to the Atom camp to find a way to merge the RSS and Atom specifications for content syndication, along with assigning it to a more neutral and open standards group for management.

Given how the RSS vs. Atom debate has splintered and polarized the web community, I see this as a good first step. While Dave's offer leans toward working from RSS 2.0 as the base, he stated he is open to comments and counteroffers. Given the harsh comments I've seen posted both on this blog and elsewhere, I commend Dave for taking this step to help bridge the gap between the camps. Obviously there is much work ahead for them, but having a unified specification that adopts the best of both standards while maintaining backwards compatibility is an incredibly good idea in my book, if feasible. I've commented previously how much I greatly dislike dual or splintered standards, since the consumers always bear the brunt of it in the end.

[Many thanks to Tom Mighell of Inter Alia for the link.]

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

February 18, 2004

Some RSS & Atom Observations

First, I'd really like to thank the many people who took the time to post both the original comments and a lot more over the past few days. My intent in posting was to summarize and help inform fellow blawgers as to the issues relating to RSS and/or Atom news feeds -- and why this is important.

From all this, I have the following impressions, observations, and suggestions on the subject, which of course are purely subjective on my part:

1) RSS has been and is working well for bloggers, especially if your blog only has one author per post (i.e., the "Simple" in Really Simple Syndication). However, from the examples given, it appears to me that RSS may not be as smooth a fit in some collaborative authoring and commercial settings due to the need for more advanced features.

2) RSS is perhaps best described as a "de facto" standard by virtue of its wide adoption and use.

3) Freezing the RSS core has probably helped its adoption as a de facto standard, as it's easier to hit a stationary target. It also has contributed to much concern about moving forward with it.

4) It sounds like RSS features can be added in extensions, at least to some extent, although this is one of the hottest areas in debate.

5) Atom development sounds like its trying to be more things to more people, compared to my observation #1 above re: RSS. However, its rapid change and perceived increased complexity are also hurting its mind share. In this regard, it has the opposite problems of RSS as mentioned in observation #3.

6) Atom is aggressively attempting to be RSS with the extra bells and whistles, or at least the next evolution. In other words, its developers seem to want it to be the "One Ring", for better or worse, to supplant RSS. Having just one standard is preferable from my perspective, but right now it's very difficult to say which one that should be.

7) Given the rate of Atom support among many popular news aggregators, it's definitely something to keep an eye on.

8) Not having an RSS feed today means one is missing out on some very substantial opportunities to extend a site's traffic and/or reach.

9) At present, I'm still foggy on the tangible benefits gained from including an Atom feed on a typical blog that already has one or more RSS feeds (i.e., "typical blog" defined for this purpose as one maintained by a single author, although I realize this is debatable in of itself). Other than appearing more technically savvy and "with it", I'm not seeing how adding an Atom feed by itself will translate to more traffic or reach. Eventually, it may translate to providing a better "reader experience" by offering more choices to one's visitors, but that remains to be seen. On a larger or more collaborative blog or web site, it appears that Atom brings some additional features to the table worth exploring.

10) RSS and Atom developers/supporters need to focus on overcoming their current challenges and not the personalities and personal attacks. Neither format is perfect, and neither bloggers nor their readers want to be caught in the middle of another standards jihad, akin to the Betamax/VHS and DVD -/+ format wars. I'll generally agree that competition is a good thing, but splintering of standards is not.

I'm not opposed to the Atom format development. However, I really need to see the significant benefits it would add today in exchange for my investment of time and effort. In other words, what's the ROI for the average blogger or web site operator? This is where Atom developers need to spend considerable time to get the word out in plain English and gain the necessary mind share. Many bloggers, while ahead of the curve, are not going to understand what a namespace is. Put it in terms and context of how it will affect them where they live, and get this out into the mainstream media channels.

Again, I very much appreciate everyone's participation on the subject, and additional comments are welcomed. RSS technology has made it far easier to both obtain and control our daily information overload. In this regard, it's a useful but double-edged sword, and it remains to be seen which path it should cut.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (1)

February 16, 2004

RSS vs. Atom Continues

You know you've struck a nerve in the community when your blog traffic spikes tremendously, Dave Winer chimes in with comments, and even quotes you on his blog, Scripting News.

Dave also posted a link to an Atom translator to RSS. So, here's my question: If, as its supporters are saying, Atom is the way to go for news feeds, why would one need to translate it back to RSS 2.0? The only answer that immediately came to my mind is that RSS is so much more prevalent currently. Following this line of reasoning, an Atom-only site would be missing out on distribution opportunities if it didn't provide an RSS feed. I noticed that several comments mentioned that Atom is a moving target. To me, this seems to be both its greatest weakness and strength, and as a result I have a better understanding of this hotly contested debate.

Again, I'm not choosing sides, but I understand Dave Winer's reasons for freezing RSS -- it's easier to implement a stationary target, especially if it's already working for the masses. On the other hand, what happens eventually when a new need comes along? As we've all seen, web technology doesn't stand still. Will RSS be sufficiently extensible and open to change as new needs pop up? I certainly don't have the answers, but I'm pretty good at asking some of the tough questions.

I do think that some form of news feeds is here to stay for awhile yet. A month after I launched this blog, I noticed that over 42% of the hits were by RSS readers. Since RSS feeds don't authenticate (at least not here), the net effect on end readership was something less than that. Nevertheless, it is practically relevant.

Both camps obviously recognize that news feeds add value and readership. In their latest versions, a number of popular news aggregators are now supporting both RSS and Atom. So other than Atom supporters stating that Atom is more "open source" and not frozen, what are the benefits to us bloggers? Why should we choose to implement Atom on our blogs right now, or perhaps later down the road? In other words, if we do it, will they come?

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (30)

February 13, 2004

The Great RSS vs. Atom News Feed Debate

CNET News.com reports that "Google's Blogger service is bypassing Really Simple Syndication in favor of an alternative technology, a move that has sparked more discord in a bitter dispute over Web log syndication formats." Instead of the RSS feed capability previously offered in Blogger Pro, Blogger is now exclusively supporting Atom for blog content syndication. Goodbye RSS for new Blogger users. While there are similarities between RSS and Atom, the developer community is getting pretty heated up about the debate between these two specifications.

Last year, CNET's special report on "Battle of the Blogs" provided a good explanation of the underlying debate. Basically, Dave Winer, who is credited with much of the development behind RSS 2.0, had frozen its core development "to keep the developers from screwing with it," so that it was kept "simple". This didn't sit well with others, so they decided to come up with their own flavor of blog content syndication, which along the way has been named Pie, Echo, and now Atom.

The problem is that while RSS and Atom are more alike than not, they are competing specs that could splinter the market. A number of bloggers have posted that RSS was really for web site content syndication, while Atom is geared toward blog syndication. There are many news aggregator programs and web site services that work with RSS, but very few will read Atom at the moment. Upon doing a quick Google search, I discovered that BottomFeeder is an open source news aggregator client that runs on many different operating systems (Windows, Mac, Linux, Unix, etc.) and supports news feeds in both RSS and Atom formats.

While RSS isn't going away (at least not any time soon), Atom is trying to be more things to more people. RSS proponents are concerned as to what a competing standard may do to splinter the marketplace. After all, for quite a few years, if you wanted to burn DVDs, you had to choose between buying a DVD-R/W or DVD+R/W drive and cross your fingers that the DVDs would work on all of your equipment (e.g., DVD player, laptop DVD drive, desktop DVD-ROM drive, etc.). Only fairly recently have dual-format burners become popular to ensure consumers could use their burned DVD's in the way they were expecting to use them. Thus I foresee that if Atom picks up more momentum, we may see more dual-format news aggregators like BottomFeeder on the market.

Atom proponents are stymied by the freeze on the RSS core, because they see that there is much more that RSS is capable of doing and becoming. Some say that on one hand, the ability to further develop RSS in the Atom format (rather than stagnation) is a good thing, but it also adds to its complexity. That is precisely why some RSS proponents want to keep RSS frozen -- to keep it simple so that it doesn't take expensive consultants and programmers to deploy it. In other words, it may not be perfect, but right now it's simple enough and works well enough that the masses can use it. It's not hard to see the logic on both sides of the debate, but unfortunately, it's become personal for some of the key players. There's been name calling and other less-than-productive approaches taken, which only serve to cloud the issues.

Even before I created this blog, I saw the unique value that RSS news feeds bring to both content providers and their reader audience. Now I and many other bloggers are faced with the decision whether or not to add and support Atom-based news feeds. If the blogging software vendors start including Atom support out-of-the-box similar to the way that Movable Type included RSS support, this may not be so bad. With any luck, it should just be another button link on my blog pages. However, right now I just don't have the time to go out of my way and manually integrate Atom support -- especially since Atom isn't all that prevalent yet. However, its backers are working very hard on a proposal for the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to assume responsibility for Atom, which would in effect make it a standard. If Movable Type and other mainstream blogger developers add seamless Atom support in an upgrade, that could be doable.

Google's recent decision is interesting in of itself. For a long time, the standard Blogger software didn't include any RSS support, which is why they lost bloggers to other systems like Radio Userland, Movable Type, and TypePad. Now, after Google's acquisition, they've gone exclusively with Atom support. Is Google crazy, or crazy like a fox? I certainly haven't chosen any side yet, but I have to admit my concern over RSS being frozen. Emerging technologies have a hard time emerging when they're not allowed to evolve. Apple tried to keep tight rein over their specifications, and it made them the market leader of a 10% market for many years, while the PC platform flourished. Notice that I'm not saying that one was "better" than the other, but rather notice the effect that strict control had on its adoption.

In the interim, these developments bear watching to see which syndication standards are appropriate to support on one's web site or blog. While RSS is the clear leader right now, I still remember the days when most people thought Betamax would be around forever as the clearly superior format to VHS. Such is the nature of emerging technologies. The moral of the story is that it's definitely too soon to tell, and there may be room for both standards as long as the context is appropriately set. Given the intensity of the debate so far, I think it's safe to say we're in for more colorful developments before it's over.

[2.13.04, 11:51am - Correction: A number of newsreaders are now compatible with Atom feeds. The AtomEnabled beta site lists the following: NewsMonster, NewsGator, FeedDemon, NetNewsWire, MacroMedia Central, NewzCrawler, BottomFeeder, Shrook, Feeds on Feeds, Bloglines, WinRSS and Pears.

The trick is that you may need to download one of the latest versions to find Atom support included. For example, NewzCrawler didn't add support for the Atom 0.3 specification until version 1.6 Beta 3, which was released on January 23, 2004, and only recently added "improved Atom 0.3 support" in version 1.6 Beta 4, which was just released last week on February 5, 2004.

Many thanks to Bob Ambrogi for pointing this out via e-mail and on his LawSites blog. He also provided me with Blogger's explanation as to why they chose to support Atom. This is one of the things I like best about blogging -- within hours of posting this, a savvy person like Bob appropriately pointed me to the source, and as a result I was able to post more accurate information the same day.]

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (13)

January 12, 2004

Web Browser Usage Statistics

I previously posted a link to OneStat.com for those interested in seeing how web browser usage is categorized between the various browsers (IE, Mozilla, Netscape, Opera, etc.).

Well, here's a better one: W3Schools Browser Statistics provides even more useful feedback, particularly to those who are involved in web site development and marketing. Browser usage is broken down by make and model as well as a number of time points to aid trend analysis. It also lists a similar breakdown of end-user display stats (screen resolution and color depth), operating system versions, and JavaScript versions and state (on and off). A note at the end of these statistics states the source of the information was TheCounter.com.

So if you're designing or updating a web site or blog, or having someone else do it for you, the above is useful to know in terms of seeing the big picture of web browser and end user environment demographics. For browser usage, I noticed the W3Schools.com stats don't vary all that much from OneStat.com's figures.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

January 11, 2004

MyIE2 vs. Opera Browser

Sniptools has a nice review and comparison of the pros and cons of the MyIE2 and Opera web browsers.

Regular readers of LawTech Guru may recall that I've posted my own comments on MyIE2 several months ago, as well as why I've all but dumped IE as my web browser.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

January 07, 2004

RSS Feeds Help Dodge Spam with Dodgeit

Now here's an interesting use of RSS feeds. Dodgeit is a free service that lets you pick your own throw-away e-mail user name at dodgeit.com, such as noone@dodgeit.com. Then you can give it out to whomever you want without fear of receiving spam at your regular e-mail accounts. Per their site, it is free, receive-only email with no set up required.

While there are a number of these services, not to mention the old stand-bys of Yahoo! and Hotmail, this one adds a new twist: Instead of you having to manually go to their web site to check your e-mail, it adds a free RSS feed which will automatically notify you in your favorite news aggregator. This is a practical and useful application of news feeds.

However, in this particular service, I would strongly caution against using it for several serious reasons and flaws:

1. There is no privacy policy posted.

Indeed, the site has all the hallmarks of being a programmer's pet project. I'm not trying to be critical, and I heartily applaud his efforts. I just don't like my e-mail to be hosted somewhere without knowing what will be done with it.

2. There is no security on the e-mail addresses or accounts.

This one is fatal. For example, I tested the security by entering the following e-mail accounts and was granted immediate access to the e-mails: test@dodgeit.com and noone@dodgeit.com. From this I am concluding one's e-mail is open to reading by anyone who guesses your account user name. There was no password to stop me or anyone else.

Let's think about what happens when you submit your Dodgeit e-mail address to sign up for a free account at a web site. Later on, you might forget your password, and naturally have the site e-mail it to you. Well, you guessed it -- it goes over to Dodgeit.com with no security and now everyone knows your login information -- not to mention the problems this raises if you're prone to reusing passwords.

So why would I even point this service out? Because it's one of the more creative, yet practical, uses of RSS feeds besides pushing headlines and blog content. I'd like to see more of these email-to-RSS gateway services introduced. For example, I check my regular e-mail accounts daily, but I don't check my free Yahoo! accounts nearly as much because I have to go over to Yahoo!'s site and login, which is outside of my routine and e-mail program. Yes, I could sign up for Yahoo!'s paid service which would give my e-mail program POP3 access. However, I just don't use Yahoo! that much for important e-mail (as it's my throw-away e-mail account). I use my news aggregator nearly daily, and an RSS alert is a lot more convenient to have right next to my other news feeds.

However, this raises yet another security requirement: authenticated RSS feeds. I wouldn't want just anyone to subscribe and "listen in" to my e-mail RSS feeds. Not all news aggregators support RSS authentication. Luckily, my favorite news aggregator, NewzCrawler, includes this feature. The nice thing is that you just set up the login information once in the aggregator, and it can then retrieve the RSS feed items for you in one convenient place.

Therefore, if anyone has come across a good, free, reliable, private, and secure e-mail service with authenticated new mail RSS alerts, I'd love to hear your experience with it. Please post a comment.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

December 15, 2003

Grokker2 Released Today

The Mercury News reports that Grokker2 is to be released by Groxis today: "Sausalito start-up Groxis is expected to release today a new search tool that categorizes search results in a more visually friendly way and could find fans among frustrated librarians, research junkies, students and others looking for hard-to-find information."

While Google and other search engines can be very effective, I agree on the limitation alluded to in the above article: Typically, web search engines' results are lumped in together and ranked not by category, but by popularity. While that works for a number of purposes, wouldn't it be nice to categorize the search results by sub-topics? That's what Grokker2 purports to do.

It's an installable program for your PC that creates a visual "results map" organized into categories, and includes three plugins: The Web, Amazon.com, and My Files. "The Web" plugin searches six search engines at once (AltaVista, MSN, WiseNut, Fast, Yahoo, and Teoma), and apparently an agreement with Google is due within a couple of weeks. Presumably the second plugin searches Amazon.com, and the "My Files" plugin allows you to search your network or hard drive. There are also color and post-filters for additional help, with some pics on Grokker2's product page.

Here's the catch: From its specs, Grokker2 is only available for Windows 2000 and XP systems, with only a 1.0 "preview release" counterpart for Mac OS X. It's also not free, at $49.95, but there is a free, fully functional, 30-day downloadable trial version.

There is a lot of hype here, but it just might be worth a try. While I haven't tried any of Grokker's incarnations, I've experimented with several online "visualization" search engines. I've concluded they are cool-looking and fun to play with, but unless I had a special purpose in mind I still found more relevant information with Google via a properly-crafted search string (and that's where the art and skill of knowing how to compose effective search strings is invaluable). Perhaps that's one reason why these visualization maps haven't caught on yet. However, the subcategorization feature sounds useful, and it will be interesting to see how well Grokker2 lives up to the hype.

(Thanks to MarketingWonk for the news link.)

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (7)

December 09, 2003

Google Bombing Blasts Bush Bio

Try this: Search Google for "miserable failure" and click on the "I'm feeling lucky" button (or simply note the first-ranked result). This result is from direct search engine manipulation, also called "Google bombing". The Sydney Morning Herald has a nice explanation of how it works, and why it catches on like webfire. The New York Times also picked it up.

With blogs all the rage, it doesn't take many to make it work. Google's response was simply, "We just reflect the opinion on the Web, for better or worse."

Let the games begin...

(Thanks to the Stark County Law Library Blawg for the links.)

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

December 01, 2003

NetMeeting to be Phased Out

PCWorld reports that MS is retiring NetMeeting. For online meetings, MS will be offering Office Live Meeting, formerly known as PlaceWare.

I had the opportunity to speak with one of PlaceWare's tech people before MS acquired them -- and there is a very good reason that MS acquired them instead of Webex. Having used NetMeeting, PlaceWare, and Webex, I can safely say that PlaceWare was the most firewall-friendly of the three in my experience. Even if all other ports were blocked, it had the ability to run through port 80, the common HTTP or web access port that nearly every firewall has open. This makes it business-friendly.

I've attended many webinars, and never had a problem with PlaceWare-hosted sessions, which is saying something. Webex, on the other hand, was pretty much Russian Roulette. NetMeeting was doable as long as you had tech-savvy people on both ends, and it was free, but still clunky at times depending on the network obstacles.

So while I hate to see good, innovative companies acquired by Microsoft, with any luck this could be a good thing, as MS has the resources to make it more successful and integrate it into the rest of their offerings. Naturally, if one uses a browser other than Internet Explorer, it's prudent to be concerned that MS controls the development of both IE and Office Live Meeting. Particularly since MS has a proclivity to invent their own web standards at times.

However, if the integration makes Office Live Meeting even easier to use by non-techie business people, then I'd say that's progress, regardless of how it got there.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

October 25, 2003

Why I've All But Dumped IE As My Web Browser

When I first launched this blog, I discussed both the Mozilla and MYIE2 web browsers. I've since added Mozilla Firebird to my arsenal. Along with IE, this gives me four web browsers to choose and use.

Guess which browser I now use the least? That's right, IE 6.0. It just doesn't have the feature diversity I need for my high performance surfing needs. Here's the breakdown of which browsers I use, why I use them, and how often:

My #1 Browser by Usage: MyIE2

This browser, based upon the IE rendering engine, is my number one "go to" browser due to its vast array of features. While it's not as fast at rendering pages as Firebird or even Mozilla, I'm much more productive with it, and that makes me faster. MyIE2's superb handling of browser tabs surpasses even Mozilla and Firebird. The tabs are tiny and don't take up precious display space like those in Mozilla and Firebird. I can easily save and manage groups of browser tabs -- perfect for saving those research sessions and Google searches. Simply put, MyIE2's tab implementation lets me browse the way I want to browse. I can easily rearrange browser tabs by dragging, and can open or close tabs in the blink of an eye with the mouse. When I want to blog, in two clicks I can open a group of browser tabs which display my blog, my Movable Type login page, and any desired additional sources, such as news sites or my blog's web traffic stats analysis. Between the tabbed browsing, saved tab groups, and minimize to system tray features, MyIE2 never clutters my task bar like IE.

I love MyIE2's plugin tools, particularly the text highlighter. On any web page, it instantly highlights all occurrences of the words I type or highlight -- perfect for showing keywords in context, so it's a researcher's and author's dream. It's very similar to viewing a cached Google page, except that it's the live one. The auto-hide button bar is handy so I don't have to keep toggling between full screen and the button bar. Its mouse gestures are occasionally useful when I'm in a hurry. Even though I have a 5-button Microsoft optical wheel mouse, it can't do everything (mostly just the "back", "forward", and wheel buttons assist in browsing). Maybe I'm just used to the gesture concept from all the writing I've done on my PDA, but it just feels natural.

Its integrated Ad Hunter (pop-up and ad blocking) features works well, and as a result, commercial web pages load reasonably fast. Since it's built on IE, it seamlessly uses all of my IE bookmarks (favorites), and it works with my previously-installed IE add-ons (e.g., Flash, RealOne, Windows Media, and QuickTime players, and the Acrobat reader). Gecko-based browsers such as Mozilla and Firebird sometimes need separate plugins installed, which is a hassle and duplicative work. Therefore, MyIE2 is my research, news reading, blogging, media and business browser. It is particularly well-suited for my blogging, authoring, and presenting needs. When I need to access a lot of varied and discrete information, keep it from running amok on my desktop, and save it in a tidy bundle for later, MyIE2 works like a dream. Its many buttons and features take a little time to master, but it's well worth it.


My #1 Browser by Download/Render Speed: Mozilla Firebird

This spot used to be occupied by Mozilla 1.4. I had looked at Firebird many moons ago in its first low version releases and it was unstable, so I used Mozilla for any high-speed surfing and mission critical download projects. Frankly, the Mozilla-based browsers are notably faster in graphic rendering on news, photo, and desktop artwork sites (such as The Artwork of Greg Martin, absolutely stunning), than is IE.

Firebird addresses one huge productivity pet peeve I had of Mozilla 1.4: IE and Firebird let you type the domain name and press Ctrl-Enter to have the browser complete it with the prefix and ".com" suffix. In contrast, Mozilla either makes me type the additional ".com" or I can just enter "yahoo" and press Enter, but then I have to wait for the name resolution to fail by design before Mozilla appends the .com suffix and tries again, all of which just slows me down. I don't use Firebird for my main browser, because of the plugin and bookmark non-compatibility issues. Yes, I could use a browser-agnostic bookmark manager program (which I've been heavily considering, by the way), but it's just so much easier having my bookmarks in one place, instantly and seamlessly integrated into my main browser of choice (MyIE2) while still maintaining full IE compatibility.

Last, but not least, the integrated Google search field in Firebird's navigation toolbar is a huge timesaver and a stroke of genius. I just type in my search and press Enter. It's like having part of the Google Toolbar already installed, without it taking up yet another toolbar row in my browser window.

So Firebird is my "go to" browser when I simply need a fast and nimble bare bones session. When I really want to see my pages jump on the screen, Firebird rules for sheer performance, and its browser tab handling and overall navigation ease is second only to MyIE2 in my collection. It's a lean, mean browsing machine.


My #1 Browser for Program and File Downloads: Mozilla

Simply put, while IE and Firebird have caches, when file downloads get interrupted, it's Russian roulette whether you can resume from the middle or have to start over again. While there are many download manager programs available, many of them are ad- or spyware based, so they track and report which files you've been downloading. Also, have you ever downloaded a file to what you thought was one directory, but then you couldn't find it there upon completion? Mozilla's integrated download manager is superb in that it tracks concurrent downloads, gives a lot of additional information, and even shows the you file's true location after download. It also lets you launch the saved file without having to open Windows Explorer, navigate to the desired directory, and double-click the file. Mozilla does the equivalent with one button.

I also use Mozilla when Firebird can't properly render a page. Firebird is still a 0.7 release, so it's not perfect. That's when Mozilla gives me nearly the same speed and features, and it just seems to be more compatible with various web pages than Firebird.


There you have it. About the only time I ever use pure IE anymore is when something launches it (it's still registered as my default browser), since it's used for so many Windows functions and in case the other browsers are having trouble rendering a particular site that was probably designed exclusively for IE (although I can't recall MyIE2 ever failing me here). In my mind, IE 6.0 is already "last year's model", and it's really showing its age. Frankly, I don't feel like waiting until Longhorn (due 2005 or 2006) to get an updated IE release.

Conspicuously missing from my round-up is Opera, for the simple reason that all of the above browsers are free and otherwise meet my needs. I know there are many satisfied Opera users, and I've tried it at one point as well with no major complaints. Perhaps I'm just used to having free web browsers, but I've found MyIE2 to be the best match so far for my style and needs, with Mozilla-based browsers filling in several gaps on occasion. While Microsoft would have us use their hammer for everything, I prefer choosing between the hammer, screwdriver, pliers, and wrench. It's incredibly satisfying when one has the right tool for the right job.

Topic(s):   Feature Articles  |  Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (2)

September 15, 2003

MyIE2: Internet Explorer on Steroids?

LawTech Guru Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

Unhappy with the prospect that Microsoft could stagnate Internet Explorer 6.0? It doesn't mean you have to suffer without IE innovation and new features until Longhorn, the next Windows version, is speculated to be released in 2005 or 2006.

Ever since Mozilla hit the scene, I've really liked its tabbed browsing (initially introduced by the Opera browser), pop-up blocking, and numerous other features. After a while, using IE just felt like driving last year's model.

Enter MyIE2, a browser that's based on the IE extension architecture. Simply put, MyIE2 puts its own interface over the top of IE (IE 5.x or IE 6.0 required). I just took it for a test spin, and really like it.

Check out the added features for IE 5 & 6 when using MyIE2:

  • Tabbed browsing

  • Mouse gestures (e.g., for "go back a page", simply hold the right mouse button down, and drag the mouse to the left a little bit -- it's much easier than it sounds)

  • Privacy protection: Clean cookies, web addresses, history, cache, form data, and undo list upon closing MyIE2 (but are they really gone, or can one undelete them?)

  • Ad blocking

  • Pop-up blocking

  • Google bar support (however, not supported well under Win 9.x per the MyIE2 site)

  • Auto-hiding toolbars for uncluttered full-screen viewing

  • Super Drag&Drop for dragging links, doing searches on highlighted text, etc.

  • Skinning: Change the browser's appearance with over 50 skins available for download.

  • Plugin support (it comes bundled with several, such as a text highlighter for highlighting all occurrences of a word on a page)

  • Saved tabbed browser groups: Save all open browser tabs as one group, for automatic launching of the grouped sites later -- perfect for saving and restoring research projects with multiple open windows
There's even more features I haven't listed. I have to admit, it didn't even feel like I was using IE anymore, and it was fairly easy to catch on to the differences. If these new features are too alien, don't fret -- you can still use IE normally, as MyIE2 doesn't replace it. Since they both use IE, your bookmarks are shared between them. Since it uses IE's rendering engine for all the heavy lifting, MyIE2's download is less than a 2 MB Zip file download. Now that's slick.

I ran SpyBot and Ad-aware (both latest versions and fully updated) on my PC after installing MyIE2, and it came up clean. Thus it doesn't appear to install any adware or spyware.

I still think Mozilla beats IE in rendering speed and standards compliance. If you want sheer performance, try Firebird. These browsers, along with Opera, are leading the charge in innovation. Despite this review's catchy title, MyIE2 can't improve upon IE's rendering performance, as it's more of a feature facelift. Another downside is that MyIE2's pull-down menus are somewhat cluttered with features, so it's a bit difficult to quickly find the desired feature or setting.

Other minor annoyances include the lack of displaying the IE link bar by default, which is where I keep my frequently-accessed sites. MyIE2 has a feature for marking selected IE bookmarks as "Most Favorite", but it's just not as convenient as IE's link bar. Fortunately, MyIE2's support forum decribes how to set your IE Links folder to appear on the MYIE2 "Favorites" bar to restore the IE Link bar equivalent, so it's not really missing. Also, the "close window" "X" buttons are not located on the same bar as the tabbed browser windows -- which requires some extra mousing to close the embedded browser windows, especially when I have the "autohide" feature enabled. But again, these are fairly minor, and thoughtful features like "minimize to system tray" help offset these shortcomings.

[Addendum 10/7/03: After further use, I've discovered there are several additional methods for closing the tabbed browser windows without using the standard "X" buttons on MyIE2's System Bar: 1) Double-click on the desired tab button, 2) Right-click on the tab button and click on "Close", and 3) Add the "Click Close Button" by clicking on the "Options" pull-down menu, then click on "MyIE2 Options", click on the "Tab" category on the left, and customize the options further, including checking the "Quick Close Button" option. I particularly like the ability to quickly close any tabs by double-clicking on them. However, it does take some care to avoid double-clicking when you intended a single click to select it instead of closing it.]

If you don't like switching back and forth between IE and another browser like Mozilla (think of the bookmark management issues), or just want to give IE some zing, this is one to check out. The tabbed browsing feature alone is worth the trip, especially in conjunction with the group tab save and restore. I also like how the skins and 3D menus really spruce up IE's plain jane appearance. Who knows? Perhaps we just might see some of these features in IE7. So here's your chance to drive next-next year's model today. (After all, Longhorn isn't due until at least 2005.)

Perhaps the best part is that MyIE2 flies in the face of Brian Countryman's (Microsoft's Program Manager in Internet Explorer) statement that "Legacy OSes have reached their zenith with the addition of IE 6 SP1. Further improvements to IE will require enhancements to the underlying OS." After all, think of all the great improvements MyIE2 added as an extension to IE 5.x and 6.0, and it just happens to run on "legacy OSes" such as Windows 98.

The price? Per its donation page: "MyIE2 is free, which means you could use it free of charge for non-commercial purpose [sic]."

Pretty darn good for this much functionality.

[Updated 9/22/03 re: tabbed browsing and IE link bar features.]
[Updated 10/7/03 re: easier methods to close the tabbed browser windows.]

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (1)

Global Web Browser Usage

Speaking of web browsers, here's a OneStat.com report I found over the summer while designing this blog. No major surprises re: IE, as it reads very similarly to the office suite market share reports -- global domination, anyone? It was interesting to see that Mozilla's use was increasing ever slightly. Not that IE is a bad browser, but I just like having choices and version upgrades occurring more frequently than every 2-3 years.

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)

September 09, 2003

Enabling the Gecko Engine

This is an ambitious post for a new blog, but I thought it was worth sharing:

The Mozilla web browser is a great alternative to Internet Explorer -- especially since Microsoft has stated future IE versions may only come with each new Windows version. That's a long wait. Mozilla is moving along nicely, and looks to be more standards-based than IE.

So what's Gecko? It's Mozilla's and Netscape's HTML rendering engine. IE also installs its own HTML rendering engine, which is used by many other programs to display HTML (i.e., web-based) content on your PC. That's why some programs require IE to be installed on your PC to work.

However, while the current Mozilla 1.4 release installs the Gecko engine, it doesn't actually enable it for other programs to use. The good news is that after you manually enable it, some newer programs will let you choose between the two rendering engines. And having choices is a good thing in this MS-dominated era.

Two such programs I use are:
HTML-Kit: A free, yet fully-featured web editor used to design this blog, and
NewzCrawler: My favorite RSS news aggregator.

In particular, HTML-Kit will let you preview your web pages within the program using both IE's and Mozilla's engines, so you can compare them literally side-by-side on the screen. A very handy feature indeed when doing web design. However, there's not too much reliable documentation available on the web, so I created my own.

It's a bit techie in nature, just to warn you. If you're not comfortable tweaking your Windows settings, then find someone who is, or make sure you fully back up your PC before trying this. I don't want to anyone to muck up their PC, even though most of these steps are pretty benign.

Note: These steps are specific to Mozilla 1.4, as the path Mozilla uses in step 4 has changed between version releases.

After installing Mozilla 1.4 in Windows:

1) Download the Mozilla 1.4 ActiveX zip file from the Mozilla ActiveX Project.

2) Unzip the files to the proper location:

Using WinZip (or your favorite Zip program), unzip the files contained in the above Zip file to C:\Program Files\Common Files\mozilla.org\GRE\1.4f_2003062408. Make sure to check the options for using the folder paths in the zip file -- otherwise they won't be unzipped into the proper subdirectories, and it won't work.

3) Register the Mozctlx.dll file in Windows:

Launch the command prompt:

In Windows 9.x and ME:
Click on Start, Run. Then type "command" without the quotes and press ENTER.

In Windows NT, 2000, and XP:
Click on Start, Run. Then type "cmd" without the quotes and press ENTER.

Next, for all Windows versions:
In the black command window, type in the following line exactly as follows, and press the ENTER key:

regsvr32.exe "C:\Program Files\Common Files\mozilla.org\GRE\1.4f_2003062408\mozctlx.dll"

You should see a message dialog stating that the file was successfully registered within Windows.

4) Edit the windows path statement to append the following text to the path:

"C:\Program Files\Common Files\mozilla.org\GRE\1.4f_2003062408"

In Windows 9.x and ME:

Edit the Autoexec.bat file in the root directory, and add this path to the end of the Path line. Don't forget to put a semicolon immediately before and after this path text. If you don't have a Path line, add one by typing:
Path="C:\Program Files\Common Files\mozilla.org\GRE\1.4f_2003062408";
Note that you need to add the quotes above due to the long directory names.

In Windows NT, 2000, and XP:

You don't edit the Autoexec.bat, but you'll need to add a user environment variable to Windows. The exact steps vary slightly between these three Windows versions, and I was able to document them for NT and XP:

On the Windows desktop, right-click on the "My Computer" icon, and left-click on "Properties".

- In Windows NT, click on the "Environment" tab.
- In Windows XP, click on the "Advanced" tab, and then on the "Environment Variables" button at the bottom.

In the "User Variable" section, look for a "Path" variable and select it. Add the path in quotes and separate it with a semicolon.

If the "Path" variable doesn't exist in the user variables, click on the "New" button, and type in "Path" (no quotes) for the variable name, and "C:\Program Files\Common Files\mozilla.org\GRE\1.4f_2003062408" (with the quotes) in the "variable value" field. Click on each of the OK buttons to close all of the dialog boxes. You might need to reboot for the changes to be effective.

You're now done with the hard stuff.

5) Set your other programs to use Gecko:

This varies with each compatible program, so I've provided some examples:

HTML-Kit:

- Launch the program.
- Click on Edit, Preferences, Startup tab.
- Check these two boxes: Detect browsers and Detect programs
- Click on OK to save.

NewzCrawler:

- Launch NewzCrawler.
- Click on Tools, Preferences.
- With "General" highlighted in the left pane, click on the "Use render engine" pull-down menu under "HTML Render engine" section on the right.
- Click on "Mozilla (Gecko)" to select it and click on OK.
- Close and re-launch NewzCrawler to make it effective.

That's it!

Topic(s):   Web Wizardry
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (0)