25 July 2017

Andreas Gal: “Firefox marketshare revisited”

A lot of commenters asked why Firefox marketshare is falling off a cliff. I think that question can be best answered with a few screenshots Mozilla engineer Chris Lord posted:

Google is aggressively using its monopoly position in Internet services such as Google Mail, Google Calendar and YouTube to advertise Chrome. Browsers are a mature product and its hard to compete in a mature market if your main competitor has access to billions of dollars worth of free marketing.

Andreas Gal

Google’s banners promoting Chrome throughout their apps are certainly annoying, but they are the least of Firefox’ problems (as a side-note, I find it very amusing that the screenshots from the above tweet were taken in Edge). The truth is, ever since Chrome launched (nine years ago!), Firefox was behind in almost every aspect that matters: Chrome had a faster rendering engine, regularly beating Firefox in tests; a clean, consistent interface; a better, more secure extension model, that most browsers have adopted in the mean time; better overall security thanks to sandboxing – which Firefox is still working on today; it switched to 64-bit fast and painless, while Firefox is still dragging its feet; and, of course, better integration with Google services and being the default browser on Android have helped.

24 July 2017

The Ed Bott Report: “Microsoft cuts off Windows 10 support early for some PCs”

No one knows exactly how many Clover Trail-based devices were sold, but collectively the total from all manufacturers was probably in the millions. Analyst Ben Bajarin, who tracks PC and tablet sales closely, estimates that the total number of Clover Trail devices sold was over 10 million. Today, owners of those devices who took advantage of Microsoft's free upgrade offer for Windows 10 are facing a rude shock.

The irony in this case is that Microsoft aggressively pushed the free Windows 10 upgrade offer to the owners of these devices, turning up the pressure dramatically as the July 2016 cutoff date approached. Now, less than a year later, those devices are being cut off without notice.

The bottom line: If your PC was originally designed for Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 and the manufacturer doesn't officially support it for Windows 10, you're at risk.

Ed Bott

I’ve been patiently waiting for my Windows tablet to receive the recent Windows 10 feature update from April, but it still hasn’t happened. I was already half suspecting it won’t be eligible because of hardware limitations, and this article reinforces this possibility. While the CPU of the Lenovo Miix 2 doesn’t technically fall into the unsupported category, it might still be excluded because of other incompatibilities, or the Spring Update might be its last Feature Update.

Daring Fireball: “Public Service Announcement: You Should Not Force Quit Apps on iOS”

The single biggest misconception about iOS is that it’s good digital hygiene to force quit apps that you aren’t using. The idea is that apps in the background are locking up unnecessary RAM and consuming unnecessary CPU cycles, thus hurting performance and wasting battery life.

In fact, apps frozen in the background on iOS unfreeze so quickly that I think it actually helps perpetuate the myth that you should force quit them: if you’re worried that background apps are draining your battery and you see how quickly they load from the background, it’s a reasonable assumption to believe that they never stopped running. But they did. They really do get frozen, the RAM they were using really does get reclaimed by the system, and they really do unfreeze and come back to life that quickly1.

John Gruber

Except… When an app freezes, the only thing you can do to restart it is a force quit. Or when apps suddenly stop ‘seeing’ your network and get stuck showing a ‘Connecting…’ message. Or when you want to stop apps from tracking your location or from running in the background, draining the battery.

21 July 2017

Android Intelligence: “4 hidden shortcuts for typing faster on Android devices”

Ever find yourself in the midst of typing something and then realize you need to add or change something several characters back? We’ve all been there—and trying to get that tiny on-screen cursor exactly where you want it can quickly turn into an exercise in frustration.

Gboard has a better way: Just touch your finger to the space bar, and—without lifting it up—slide it to the left or right. That’ll move your cursor accordingly and let you place it wherever it’s needed.

JR Raphael

This particular tip for Gboard works in on the iPhone too! The iOS built-in keyboard has a similar feature, but it’s restricted to 3D Touch devices (iPhone 6S and up, no iPads) – another reason to switch to Gboard, if the much better autocomplete wasn’t enough to convince people.

19 July 2017

On iOS, Overcast is probably the best podcast client

As I mentioned in the article about the podcast app I’m using on Windows 10, Grover, I switched apps on the iPhone too, right after the most recent update to Overcast. Migrating your podcasts is not a particularly fun experience, as none of the apps I tried can replicate the list of unplayed episodes from other apps. First you need to manually subscribe to podcasts and then either download the episodes still to be played, or continue to listen to older episodes in the first app and start downloading new ones in the second app. I’m already on my third migration, I think: at first, I used the default Podcasts app, then switched to Instacast when Podcasts has some bugs and refused to play some files, then returned to it after Instacast was discontinued. I gave Castro a quick try as well, but that app has next to no features beyond a play button and simply doesn’t justify its price.

I had mixed feelings about Overcast as well: I hated the bright, orange-on-white design with all-caps buttons. I still think it’s barely readable, but fortunately the Dark Mode is now free and I immediately turned it on. It’s not very pretty, but at least it doesn’t hurt my eyes to look at the screen. Curiously, I think it uses another font than the white theme, a very odd design choice. Another thing that annoyed me immediately after installing the app is how it automatically adds to iFive podcast in your library; I don’t want to hear any more people mindlessly praising everything Apple does.

17 July 2017

Updates for Kindle Notes & Highlights

If you’re like me an avid reader of e-books – or at least a moderately enthusiast reader, as my pace gets slower and slower each year – you must have, at some point, used the Kindle to highlight text or keep short notes. It’s especially useful when writing reviews, as I regularly do, both to keep track of key plot points in the book and of passages to quote later in the review. Each highlight and note is stored locally on the device in a text file named ‘My Clippings’; you can copy the file to a PC by simply connecting the Kindle via an USB cable.

Amazon offers another way to access your personal Kindle notes that I discovered sometime later: a private web page in your Amazon account. It has recently received a well-deserved redesign, which partially prompted me to write about it here. This method only works for e-books from the Kindle store and if you regularly connect the Kindle to the internet and sync contents – which you probably do every once in a while just to download new books to the device. It’s slightly more convenient than physically connecting the Kindle to a PC, and the notes are nicely formatted and grouped by book. You can also jump directly into the Kindle online reader to see the context of the note, it you don’t quite remember where it was, and remove notes and highlights you no longer need. The disadvantage being that notes made in books outside the Kindle Store and in documents sent from the web are not stored here – and I read a fair number of both on my Kindle. For those, the only way to access notes remains the local text file I mentioned above.

15 July 2017

Lefsetz Letter: “House of Cards Season Five”

House of Cards Season Five

It’s terrible.

Robin Wright is superb, Kevin Spacey is believable in every role he plays, he’s America’s greatest actor, not Meryl Streep, but they can only do so much with the material, which is underwritten and confusing and concerns a plot point that we’re not interested in.

How did this HAPPEN?

The loss of showrunner Beau Willimon.

It’s like when your favorite act stops working with their hit producer, but even worse, because Willimon wrote, HOC was his baby, and now I don’t even know if I can finish the season.

The point being one individual makes a difference.

Bob Lefsetz

Sadly, I have to agree. I have watched the previous four seasons last year without interruption, which is quite an achievement for me. And a token of how good the series was, with tight plotting and a fast pace, barely a moment or boredom or confusion. I saw some twists coming from a mile away (like Underwood’s relationship with Zoe and her subsequent murder), but I still enjoyed the show very much.

This season though? The plot is confusing and doesn’t seem to go anywhere for most of the season, with the White House and the country paralyzed by a tied election and later by revelations about the President’s rise to power. The characters themselves seem increasingly tangled in their own web of lies and deceit, unable to move forward, unable to draw a vision for the future, neither dark nor hopeful.