23 April 2011

Tweaks for Firefox’ interface

Even if it doesn’t excel at innovation and has failed to gain market share lately, undoubtedly remains the most customizable browser on the market. It doesn’t take much to make it look like the new Internet Explorer, for example – but why would you want to? There is no need for radical changes to make the browser more efficient; here is what I did to make Firefox more to my taste:

Re-arrange the buttons

I’m not very fond of some of the modification to the toolbar that made their way into Firefox 4. I can’t get used to having the ‘Reload’ button on the right side of the address bar, after years of browsing with it on the left. It’s nice that they combined it with the ‘Stop’ button though – that’s something I customized in previous versions. And I can’t understand how the ‘Home’ button is more important and deserves the screen space, but ‘Subscribe to page’ doesn’t – regardless of user studies, RSS should be displayed by default; how will users discover it otherwise?! Fortunately, all these small annoyances can be easily fixed by customizing the layout of buttons on the toolbar, either by dragging them around or by adding additional commands.

19 April 2011

Improvements for Chrome’s print preview

After a week of less stable builds, with constant crashes while playing Flash videos and a weird disappearing-scroll-bar bug, the Canary build of Google Chrome – now at version 12.0.741.0 – is back to being usable as a day-to-day browser. Along with the bug fixes, the team behind the browser started rolling out a long-awaited feature: the print preview. Available for some time as an experiment to be enabled from about:flags, it didn’t actually do much until recently. Now upon clicking ‘Print’ the browser opens an internal page, with a set of controls on the left and the preview on the right.

The available options are nothing out of the ordinary: you can choose the printer, layout, what pages to print and how many, color output or black-and-white. The preview is powered by Chrome’s internal PDF viewer, as witnessed by the toolbar that pops up when you hover on the bottom right corner; if it’s disabled the preview pane will remain empty. So if you need the preview, enable the internal viewer on the plug-ins page – about:plugins. The single extra that offers compared to other browsers is the ability to save the printed page as a PDF file, by selecting ‘Print to PDF’ as destination. Interestingly, this one works with both the Adobe and the built-in plug-in.

16 April 2011

Chrome bookmarks dropped from Google Docs

Yesterday I had a not-so-pleasant experience with and the whole “data-in-the-cloud” concept. I was searching for the address and phone number of a dental office, which is never an enjoyable moment per se. I distinctly remembered saving a bookmark to their website in Google and I had sync on; so while away from my home computer I expected to find it online in Google Docs. Much to my surprise, the folders there no longer list my Chrome bookmarks and a simple search quickly confirmed that the feature was dropped. Judging from the reactions in the help forums, it happened sometime at the end of January. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed by this decision, as were many others.

Dear Google Engineers,

Why in the world was this Google Docs functionality removed from Chrome Bookmarks? Isn't the idea with Cloud Computing to give users more control over their information from ANY computer without having to be forced to install programs? With this change, bookmarks are only accessible if you download and install a program.. What if I'm on a restricted computer? Like at a library or similar place that doesn't allow installations of Chrome? Sadly, you now force users to install Chrome to simply access their bookmarks. I would expect that from a non-sync-able browser, but not a Cloud Sync browser! Maybe this was intentional, since you would prefer users not to access Google data without using approved Google products, but it's very "Microsoft-like" to control user data so it is only accessible from your own software.

Very disappointed.
Yes - I too am VERY disappointed that Google would remove this important data synchronization of our bookmarks within our Google Docs library! Are we to assume Google just feels because we don't directly pay for many of these features, they can just remove and add them as they see fit! ...not a very confidence inspiring way to treat your loyal fans and customers. :-(

13 April 2011

New format for Facebook friend request notifications

For casual users, email notifications are probably the part of the site they interact most with, so it’s important to keep them interested. Probably in this spirit, the most talked-about social network of the century (so far at least) made some tweaks to the emails received by users when someone sends them a new friend request. As far as I can tell from my own inbox, it was introduced sometime in the last half of March.

A friend request on Facebook - old style
Friend request on Facebook after the update

The new format surfaces more information about the person asking for your ‘friendship’: the number of friends they have, how many wall posts and photos they have shared and whether they are members of groups. A new button links to the ‘Friend Requests’ page on the site, probably a place rarely visited by the average user – I for one don’t remember doing that on purpose. The visual style has also changed slightly, making it more consistent with the Facebook-blue everywhere and emphasizing the branding with a larger logo.

Interestingly, the new format wasn’t applied to other types of notifications, the most obvious place being notifications about confirmed friend requests. Personally, I find the old format more informative, because I think it’s more relevant to know if the person has mutual friends with you than whether he or she has been active on the site. It’s a little odd to see Facebook removing this ‘social’ signal in favor of more general activity statistics, when at the same time it emphasizes common interests and photos all over the site. I know their main interest is to get people to visit Facebook, but the email notification should be more personalized and helpful: at least show the number of unanswered friend requests and snippets from the profile, if filled in – where they live, when were they born, the friends and pages you both have in common – to make it easier to identify the person who sent the request.

11 April 2011

Browser speed tests – collaborative edition

Last month was particularly busy for browser makers, as all the top three players in terms of market share released updated versions. While offering a double-digit version number was not such a big event for with it’s fast release cycle, the changes in both and Internet Explorer have been huge, covering everything from performance and standard support to the interface. It’s a good time to do another round of speed tests to compare what they’re currently offering. After my last two tests, this time I am going for something different: since I spotted on a Docs spreadsheet where several people contributed their own system configurations and test results, I am using it for my quick analysis.

04 April 2011

Print multiple PDF files

Even if the world seems to embrace digital content more and more with each passing day, in most cases you don’t have to look further than your own office to see how far that ideal still is. Corporations still like to keep records of basically everything in hardcopy. The bigger the company, the bigger the paper trail. I was building a PDF archive, hoping I can convince the management that’s enough. As that became increasingly unlikely, I found myself facing a problem: how to print all those PDF files with the least effort on my part?