Disabling Java In Your Browser

For the past 2 years now I’ve been browsing the web with Java disabled. I’ve had less than 5 situations where I needed to turn it on to do something, and all of those were situations with a limited audience (a very old technical tool, intranet applications). I’m of the opinion you really don’t need it enabled to happily browse the web anymore. I can’t disable Flash yet, but Java I seem to be largely fine without. I still have it on my computer in case I need it, but it’s seldom.

Given the past security issues and the fact that Java is outright annoying UI wise and slow to load, I don’t miss it at all. It served a purpose years ago in a webpage when it was difficult to build apps, but those days are long gone. It’s amazing if you remember Java being used for mouseovers way back when.

Things You’ll Love About Firefox 3.6

To be honest Firefox 3.6 is a little lighter on Features than Firefox 3.5. It’s more about refining and improving than bells and whistles. Here are the things I feel are really noteworthy.

User Centric Features

UI Speed – Many things in the Firefox 3.6 UI have gotten faster. For example startup time has been improved thanks to various optimizations. My personal favorite is the awesomebar is now asynchronous, if you don’t know what that means, just trust me that it makes things feel faster if you have a slow hard drive like in a laptop.

JS/Video Speed Improvements – TraceMonkey, the fast JS engine has gotten some tweaks to improve performance even further. Seeking in <video/> is now much faster than it was in Firefox 3.5.

Focus – UI geeks will note that Firefox has had a few issues regarding focusing elements. Thanks to some refactoring it’s vastly simplified and improved.

Personas – Firefox has always supported theming, but it’s a complex process to build a theme and it’s prone to breaking as the UI evolves between versions. Personas is a light weight system to customize the look of the browser’s chrome.

Plugin Update Notification – A big cause of Firefox crashes, and security issues actually aren’t related to Firefox directly but plugins. Firefox can now notify you when you need to update a plugin helping you to keep your system as stable and secure as possible.

Full Screen For <video/> – Firefox can play native <video/> but thus far had no method to go full screen. Apple may want you to pay for “Pro” for full screen but with Firefox 3.6 you get it at no extra charge.

DLL Blacklist – To improve security/stability Firefox now has a DLL blacklist and can prevent other DLL’s from interfering with Firefox. This is Windows only at this time.

Opening Links In New Tab Position – When you opened a link in a new tab in previous versions it opened in a new tab on the far right, with lots of tabs open this created confusion as you may have several different tabs open on various things your doing. Now this will result in the new tab being created to the right of the current tab. If you don’t like this behavior you can set tabs.insertRelatedAfterCurrent to false. It takes a little getting used to, but it’s worth it.

For Developers

-moz-background-sizeThis is exactly what it sounds like. I’ve wanted to do this a few times in the past.

Poster frame for <video/>Poster frames are now supported for <video/>. It’s a small bit of polish but will hopefully benefit design and perhaps even SEO down the line.

Web Open Font Format (WOFF) – Imagine an open font format that supported compression and meta data. Now imagine that a lot of font foundries have expressed support for it. WOFF!

async attribute for <script/> – It’s simple enough, the async attribute is now supported. Those who care about performance have wanted this for a long time.

Using Files from Web ApplicationsThis is a huge step towards making web applications first class citizens. Hopefully we’ll see support for this in Google Docs at some point (one of the apps I think could best make use of this).

HTML5 Parser – Firefox 3.6 ships with an HTML5 parser, though it’s disabled for now by default. To enable set html5.enable to true.

Plugin Check

Mozilla’s Plugin Check just launched. Considering 30% of Firefox crashes are plugin related, and they are often the source of security issues, it’s worth making sure you’re up to date.

It’s pretty simple to use. Just visit the page, and update the plugins that need to be updated. At the end of the day you want to see a string of green like this:

Plugin Check

An easy step for a faster, more stable, and most importantly more secure web browsing experience.

Blocking Firefox

There’s recently been a lot of buzz about a list of sites that make Firefox sad. Having written reporter, I’ve done a fair amount of monitoring in this area over the past few years. Overall I think the scope of sites that still block certain browsers/OS is declining. By scope I mean quantity of sites/popularity of sites. More and more often the sites are less and less popular sites. Often they are either financial institutions (known for being the last to update their tech) or media related (and dependent on Microsoft Windows Media DRM). That’s not to say the landscape doesn’t need to improve. From where I sit, it says the landscape is improving. More and more websites are realizing the need to work anywhere. No site is happy with a 5% drop in traffic. That means they can’t afford to ignore a browser with even more market share.

Things are looking a little brighter. While it’s still not good for the web, Silverlight and Flash seem to encourage much more compatibility across browsers/platforms than Windows Media Player ever has. Flash has been a major win for Firefox. Flash is rather consistent across browsers making it a popular choice for media (think YouTube). It’s leveled the playing field, since lets face it, Windows Media historically has been lacking in Firefox, though recently improving. On Mac OS X it is awful at best. h.264 support will make Flash even more attractive to content providers in the near future who are still holding out because of quality.

An interesting point made by that list is a lot of sites are “IE only” because of buggy navigation menu’s, typically due to flyout and drop down menu’s. It really is too bad. Most of those implementations aren’t even search engine friendly (they often store the entire navigation in a JS array). You’d think that would be incentive enough to change.

So those are my somewhat random thoughts on the topic for the moment.

On a sidenote, other content of the site includes a how to on Firefox pencils that look pretty cool.

Safari On The iPhone

There is a message on the Surfin’ Safari blog about the new iPhone, but it doesn’t say as much as I had hoped it would. I want to know the following as a developer:

  • How close is Safari on Mac OS X 10.4 to how the iPhone renders? Are they the same version of WebKit or a fork? How can developers test without an actual phone? Is any Mac with Safari a good method? For the Blackberry we have the simulators. How does it differ?
  • What if any plugin support exists? Does it support QuickTime? Flash? Acrobat (or Preview.app)? Can it handle attachments? Can users download third party plugins? Or are they limited to capabilities of the phone as it ships (or through official software updates)?
  • What will the UserAgent be? Will it be the same as desktop Safari?

The phone is touted as pretty much a full browser, and Safari is up to the task. But I wonder how well it handles rich media through plugins. From the Google Maps demo, I think it’s safe to say xmlHttpRequest is supported.

I’d really like to see some documentation on how webmasters can prepare and ensure an optimal experience on this new device. Ideally it would be given in advance so one could ensure the best experience possible.

Windows Media Player 11 And Firefox

Windows Media Player 11 has been out for a while now. I just recently installed it since I like to wait until some others have tried Microsoft’s larger updates first. Since the upgrade I went around several sites to see how it performs while using Firefox. It does indeed look as if the busy bees at Microsoft have been hard at work improving Windows Media Player support for Firefox (using Firefox 2.0).

The most noticeable difference is that when clicking on a link to a Windows media file such as a .wmv it correctly launches Windows Media Player and plays without involving the download manager. This is a big usability win right here. It makes the process of watching video much more fluent. In my opinion this alone is worth the upgrade.

Browsing around sites, I couldn’t find any major problems, so the upgrade seems pretty safe regarding compatibility.

I did note that on CNN.com, which nests the player with native controls in a UI that butts right up against the bottom of the player it can get cut off on the bottom by a few pixels. I personally haven’t seen this in Windows Media Player prior, so I presume this is new. It seems like it happens mostly if the window is refreshed, or if it’s toggled back and forth between fullscreen a few times. A screenshot is below (click for full sized):

Windows Media Player on CNN

I couldn’t find any other site with a design similar to that using Windows Media Player, so I couldn’t reproduce it. Either sites are using custom controls (such as CBSNews.com), don’t have anything so close to the bottom of the player, or don’t use Windows Media. If anyone can think of a similar site, or finds one with this quirk leave a comment.

This isn’t a serious issue since the player is still usable, and it’s not something that happens very often (it took several minutes of playing around to reproduce it more than once).

Has anyone else seen issues with Windows Media Player 11? How has site compatibility been since upgrading with Firefox 1.5 and 2.0?

Wii Browsing

Now that the Wii Browser is available, I’m really thinking I should check it out. It’s based on Opera. In my mind they needed to have a few things in order for this to not suck:

  • Fairly good HTML/XHTML support – Opera has that
  • Good support for CSS – Opera has that as well, but available for all small-screen versions
  • JavaScript Enabled – Opera has pretty good JS support, but not always available for small devices.
  • Support for Macromedia Flash – Especially with the popularity of YouTube, it’s needed

Apparently it meets these requirements. I really need to check this out. As a web developer, seeing something like this after years of crummy non-PC based browsers could be impressive. Screenshots so far have not disappointed.