27 March 2011

What’s really new in Firefox 4?

Since I wrote about the latest version of Internet Explorer about a month ago, it seems only fair to do the same for , who was finally updated to version 4 earlier this week. There were a number of articles on the web surrounding the launch mentioning the new features and improvements; here’s my opinion about them:

22 March 2011

Multiple tab selection in Google Chrome

It was just yesterday that I read about new features coming to the developer channel in , including a very promising one: the ability to select multiple tabs. Today, after a minor update to the Canary build I am using (now up to 12.0.711.0), this feature is already up and running for me.

Google Chrome context menu for tab groupThe feature is simple, as you would expect: hold down Ctrl while clicking on tabs adds them to the group; holding Shift will select a continuous set of tabs; clicking on a tab without any keyboard modifier clears the group and reverts to a single selection. The selected tabs in the background have a lighter color than the ‘normal’, unselected tabs, which is more visible with the Honeycomb theme than in the default.

The more interesting part comes later, when you realize how many actions can be performed with the group. It works basically as a single tab, so you can drag the group to a new window or merge it back into the original window, close it, duplicate or reload it – and this duplicates / reloads all the tabs in the group. Another nice touch is how the entries in the context menu change to use the plural when you right-click a group instead of a tab. This is how you realize you can also pin and unpin multiple tabs at once…

There are a number of cases where this could come in handy: managing tabs by grouping them into different windows, quickly cleaning up the tab bar by closing anything but the selected tabs. The only thing that could be improved in my opinion is the way reopening a group of tabs is handled: right now closing breaks the group and if you want to bring the tabs back you need to reopen each of them individually. It would be nice if the ‘reopen’ command would remember the group and restore it completely with a single keystroke.

20 March 2011

Facebook Memories gets the wrong date

Facebook Photo Memories with wrong dateA couple of months ago, started testing a new feature, ‘Memories’, as reported on Inside Facebook. I recently got a glimpse of it as well in my account, as a couple of old photos from me and friends started appearing in the right sidebar under the heading “Photo Memories”. I also got some random ‘memorable status updates’, a good confirmation they are being rolled out more widely.

But coming back to the photos, I couldn’t help notice something very wrong about them: the date! A random friend looking at the first one wouldn’t know it, but that photo was actually taken in March 2006, so three years before, back when I didn’t even heard of the social network. It’s more obvious on the second one, as the title of the album clearly states the photos are from 2008, not from February 2010 as Facebook seems to think. I guess Facebook is only considering the upload date relevant and simply discards the metadata contained in the image file; most digital cameras now save the date in EXIF format. It’s hard to understand why Facebook doesn’t check this on upload; maybe it just assumes most people upload photos right after taking them, so the difference would be insignificant. But since I got two examples with wrong date in a single box, I would say the problem is pretty wide-spread.

As Louis Gray wrote recently – and most certainly other as well – the web is focused more and more on the “now”, so much that we are losing sight of older relevant information, pushed down by fresher content. Facebook Memories could be a step in the right direction; but labeling hundreds of photos with the wrong date is only creating another issue: should we prefer a flawed record to no record at all?

12 March 2011

A day in the life of a browser

If you used the beta version of the 4 for longer, you might have noticed Test Pilot, an add-on designed to collect data about how people are using both Internet and Firefox. It has already delivered some interesting data; some of the results have probably led to the controversial removal of the RSS icon from the default browser installation. Since I use (portable) Firefox at work, I decided to save my results from the test “A week in the life of a browser” and see what information I could extract from them. Because of the nature of the test, I decided to compare the memory use of the browser with the number of opened tabs.

But first let me add some things about my system: an Windows XP SP3 PC with Firefox 4 beta 10. I have completely disabled the Flash plugin because the browser was getting slower every time it was loaded. And the only extension installed is AdBlock Plus. The data was extracted in the week starting with February 1st.

It’s not exactly in a friendly format: every captured event is listed top to bottom along with the date, so it needs some processing before it’s ready to be properly analyzed and graphed. If you’re interested in the raw data, I have saved it online in a Google spreadsheet. After removing some of the less interesting bits I noticed the test captured memory data only for the first day of the period, hence the name of my article. That day I had Firefox running non-stop, so it should give a pretty good picture of memory use over a long period. I also removed a couple of outliers in the tab count: the data reported 2 data points with as many as 40 tabs; I am quite sure I never had that many open!