Tag Archives: Web-browsing

What’s this I hear about IE going away?

You may have heard from some of the more hyperbolic news sources that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is dead.

Would that it were so.

Here’s the truth as I understand it. Microsoft is developing a new browser, code-named “Project Spartan”, designed to work on the modern web and built from the ground up. It’ll be geared to both mobile and computer views, and have options for distraction free viewing (because apparently Microsoft finally heard of Evernote’s Clearly plug-in). Older sites that run only in IE11 should run in the browser and will run on the IE11 rendering engine behind the scenes, with newer sites running on Spartan’s engine.

For enterprise users (i.e. businesses that run software that only works in Internet Explorer) IE will still be available though the exact nature of that is unknown. And since we don’t have a version of Spartan to play with there’s not a whole lot we know about that browser either.

Also, Microsoft is ending support for all IE versions lower than 11 in January of 2016. IE11 runs on Windows 7 and 8 and is probably what you have installed if you’ve been doing regular updates. Given Microsoft’s extended support patterns IE11 may be supported until 2023 (and given how long IE6 was around it could be longer).

So why should you give a hoot? Well, if you don’t use software that only runs in IE and you’ve been using Chrome for a long time, you shouldn’t. I doubt Microsoft, no matter what Spartan ends up being, is going to come up with something so good that it’s worth switching if you have something you like already.

If you’re like me and you have to write software that’s supported in IE as well as other browsers, well, good luck. Cross-browser programming is a pain, and all this really means is that you’ll probably have to accommodate both. Hey, at least you probably finally got to drop support for IE6 recently, right?

I switch browsers every 3-5 years. I used IE at first (maybe actually Netscape), I adopted Firefox in college (2004), Chrome sometime later (2009) and Opera a few years ago (2013). I like early versions of browsers because they don’t tend to be bogged down with all of the features these companies think I need. I like the plug-in and extension model. I add a couple of specific features I actually want and will use, and take the rest out. Even Opera, which I generally like, has been getting a little slower since it started adding synchronization features (which I’m not going to use), and did something to slow-down my speed-dial (which was one of the reasons I switched to them in the first place).

Personally, I’m not sure why Microsoft is wasting its time. I think there’s a case to be made for Microsoft taking all of the engineers working on the browser and instead focusing on improving their other products: Surface, Windows, Visual Studio, App Stores, etc. I know it seems like Microsoft needs to be a player here, but I doubt they’re going to turn the head of anyone who’s happy with Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Opera (and countless other fringe entries). Sure it might mean cutting off a data stream, or an ad-stream. But it’s not like Windows can’t track your every movement and beam it back to the mother-ship if it wanted to.

Take the bold step, Microsoft, and admit you can’t write a good browser. Then get back to being really good at the things you actually know how to do (and yes, these exist).

I probably have to try Spartan. You, on the other hand, stick with Chrome.

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A day at the Opera

If you’re like me and are one of the 43% (stats from http://gs.statcounter.com/) who use Chrome as their primary web browser, you’ve probably noticed their latest update:

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In addition to our “favorites” boxes we now have a large Google search bar and logo. If you begin typing in this bar you get this…

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That’s right. The logo disappears, and the text is re-directed to the top bar. In case you didn’t know, if you type random text into this top bar, it will do a Google search. Essentially all the new logo does is teach us this, in addition to slowing Chrome down, and shrinking our favorites down to microscopic size.

The screen-shots are from my netbook, the computer most affected by the change as it only has a vertical resolution of 600 pixels, a 1.6 GHz processor (when plugged in) and 1 GB of RAM. However, Chrome used to run and look great on this machine and now … well … it doesn’t. (Saved myself a quarter in the swear jar there).

Naturally I’ve been looking for alternatives. Firefox hasn’t been a good browser for at least 5 years, IE isn’t called Internet Exploder for nothing and I can’t bring myself to try Safari (too close to Macs for my taste).

But I don’t sub-title this blog Writer, Programmer, Singer for nothing, so what about … Opera.

Opera’s market share is a good deal smaller, hovering between 1-2% of global users (300 million or the population of the US so still nothing to sniff at). It’s always had a history of pioneering features: tabbed browsing, mouse gestures, and oh … yeah those favorites boxes (which Opera calls speed dial). Opera is the 3rd most popular browser on tablets, and is the power behind the internet channel on the Nintendo Wii. And the latest version 16 runs on the same code base that powers Chrome (meaning the under the hood features are still as fast).

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Ironically, the latest Opera speed dial comes with Google search built in as well, but smaller and less obtrusive. But it includes several other features that Chrome has yet to match.

For starters you can group favorites into “folders” (you can see a couple of them in the bottom right of the above screen-shot). Here’s one expanded:

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This allows you to keep a lot more links on your start page, but still compact them to a size where you can see them all.

And unlike Google, which doesn’t allow you to manually set or position these blocks, Opera makes adding your favorite sites easy.

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On any website you’ll see a couple of buttons to the right of your address bar. The blocks (highlighted in red when clicked) are what adds a site to your speed dial. Click those blocks, then rearrange as desired. The heart is your “stash”, Opera’s version of bookmarks with some added caching.

Test driving on my netbook made a world of difference. Chrome now takes 5-10 seconds to load, whereas Opera pops right up. Most sites including WordPress render normally, even streaming video sites like Netflix. Opera has less themes than Chrome, so not quite the same customized look and feel, but I’m pretty happy with the default look. It does support extensions and many other interesting under the hood options a little more technical than I’ll discuss here.

Ultimately, I’m the kind of guy who switches his primary web browser every five years or less, but this change might be worth it for you if you like Chrome, but don’t like the latest update. Give Opera a try.

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