Nov 9, 2007

Web Page Rendering On IE vs Firefox

A lot has been written and said about rendering differences between IE and Firefox. I don't want to go there, but I do want to point out an observation I've made. It used to be that most sites looked really nice when rendered in IE. I used IE for all my browsing about two years ago. Then I switched to Firefox and haven't looked back. One thing that I noticed when I first switched is that many sites just didn't render right when viewed in Firefox. Over the last two years things have really changed. It is very rare that something doesn't render correctly in Firefox these days. That could be attributed to a lot of things, but regardless, rendering is generally not an issue. (I should note here that the difference in standards IS an issue for the developer, but for the person doing the browsing it's not an issue.)

Since my hard drive on my MacBook Pro died earlier this week, I have been forced to use IE a lot more -- especially at school. I've noticed something that caught me a little by surprise. IE was having a real hard time rendering many of the sites I use. Most of the really popular sites with big development budgets look great, but many of the "Web 2.0" sites I've visited don't look right. This is very similar to the experience I had when I moved to Firefox.

So why the switch? I don't know. But if I had to guess I would say that it probably has to do with another observation I've made. If you are a web developer and you don't work specifically on Microsoft / .Net products, you are probably using Firefox to run your site during your development process. When you finish or get ready to deploy, then you test on IE and make changes. Am I out of whack here? If I'm right, then what that means is that more and more web sites are being built with Firefox standards then kluged to work with IE. That would explain the shift.

Well, I could be completely wrong here, but this is just a hunch. Anyone else made any similar / supporting observations?

Nov 7, 2007

When OS X Goes Bye-Bye

I had the unfortunate experience of losing my hard drive on my MacBook Pro this week. Thanks to Mozy I had at least a partial backup which included my most critical files. So, I'm out a laptop until next week -- what do I do? I have two servers at home (ok, just beefy desktop machines running as servers). I consolidated them into one server and used the other as desktop so I could do work and school stuff.

Which OS? Hmm, going to Windows sounded excruciatingly painful. That would be my last resort. Well, I chose Ubuntu. I've used SuSE in the past, but it's become to bloated for me and I wanted to try something new. Gutsy Gibbon seemed like it was worthy of a try. So here's how it went:

Step 1, install the OS. Very simple. Dowloaded the ISO, burned it to a CD and booted. Everything went great. Now that it's up, WOW, the desktop looks great. It's no Leopard, mind you, but for Linux it looked fabulous. In my opinion, it also looks better than Vista -- but what doesn't.

Step 2, install VMWare Server. Yep, I know, I didn't want Windows, but I needed it for a stats test that requires SPSS -- for Windows. I had to have it done last night so on it went. Being on the bleeding edge in Linux has its downfalls, however, and VMWare was a bear to install on this new kernel. I was a little out of my element so I didn't take very good notes, but thanks go to Google and Forums for showing the way.

Step 3, after being spoiled by iTunes, having music in the background all the time and not having the luxury or time to re-record all my CD's (yep, lost my music library), I needed some tunes. Jango to the rescue. Whew... now that that's taken care of...

Step 4, Oracle Client. Oracle client for 10g R2 installed just fine after I told it to ignore system prerequisites. Just had to setup my environment and it works just fine. This is really getting to be old hat for me now.

Step 5, ruby and oci. The project I'm working on is a ruby script for archiving our data warehouse so ruby and oci were next. I ran into some trouble because zlib isn't installed by default on Ubuntu but after installing it using aptitude and recompiling ruby everything was setup fine. I also installed Ruby on Rails at this point because, well, I was there and I like having it available if I feel like doing anything for fun.

Step 6, install a vpn client. Oh boy, now I got to mess with the kernel again to try to install Cisco's VPN Client for Linux. After a failed attempt and some googling, I just bagged it and installed vpnc through aptitude. I setup the config file and ran vpnc from the command line. After a few trial and error runs on the config file it connected beautifully. Wow, who knew about vpnc? Not I, but now I'm glad I do.

Ok, so, about 10 hours later I'm up and running ready to get back to work. So why blog about all this? Well, for one, I wanted to tout Ubuntu. It really is a great desktop alternative. I would use it any day over Windows. If you haven't tried it in a while, give it a shot. It's impressive. My biggest hassle so far is getting used to using the control key instead of command/alt for everything. If anyone knows how to switch that in GNOME, please, let me know.

Another reason for the blog post is to point out that there is life after OS X. I know I'm a real sucker for Apple products, but if you can't afford it or can't stomach Apple culture then there are viable alternatives to running Windows. There will be a little learning curve, but if you don't mind getting your feet wet on the command line and learning something new then Linux deserves a serious look.

Nov 3, 2007

My Social Networking Winner and Losers

It's been several of months since I denounced Social Networking and then renounced after a few days. Since then I have created accounts on many networks and thought I would categorize some of the more popular sites as winners or losers. So here are my reviews of whether the social networks are, in my opinion, winners or losers:

Facebook (Loser)

That's right, I may be the only one saying it, but after about a month of really trying to get some value out of Facebook I simply never found it. Sure, there are a lot of neat things about Facebook. I liked the video stuff and the whole idea of being able to make applications. Trouble is, most of the applications don't do much more than provide some kind of entertainment. No value there for me. I get my entertainment doing things with my family. Now days I rarely visit my Facebook site and the ironic thing is, I rarely see any of my friends doing much out there either. Overall, with all the hype, I was expecting more from Facebook and has been a huge let-down.

Plaxo (Winner)
For a long time Plaxo was just an online address book. If that's what you still think it is, you need to take another look. They have basically 2 new features I have adopted that I use all the time. First, I now have the ability to sync my calendar and contacts with Outlook, Google Calendar, & iCal (on my Mac and my wife's). This synchronization happens almost instantaneously and is reliable. Plaxo is still working out some of the glitches and occasionally I have to resync one of my sync-points, but for the most part it works really well.

The second feature I love is Plaxo Pulse. This is a fabulous way for me to see everything that my contacts are doing. It aggregates feeds from most of the social networks along with Amazon wish lists and blogs. One of my favorite features is that I can see what RSS feeds my friends are sharing from Google Reader. This allows me to see what my friends are reading and lets me quickly and easily take a look myself.

Twitter (Winner)
This one was a complete surprise to me. Never did I think that logging my life 147 characters at a time would be so fun. The best part about Twitter though is that I get to follow some amazing and interesting people. I love to see what they are doing, reading, and talking about. I have always maintained that if you want to really learn about something, you should hang out with people that are already doing it. Twitter does that for me.

Here are some other interesting things that I've observed through Twitter: I now feel like I'm friends with people I've never met. I have a resource that I wouldn't have otherwise -- for example, the other day I asked the editor of MacWorld Magazine (Jason Snell) if he thought a product was worth the price. I had an answer within an hour. That blew me away. I also find out news from Twitter. Between Dave Winer and Robert Scoble, I'm able to keep a pretty good pulse on the web world. I have also been updated on weather (snow storms), the California fires, and earthquakes. All this news came to me a lot sooner than through the news networks or even my RSS feeds.

FamilyLink (Loser -- so far)
FamilyLink is a social network for genealogy and is the brainchild of Paul Allen, one of the founders of the most successful genealogy web site ever, FamilyLink has the promise of being something really great. The idea of having a place where one can collaborate their work with others on their family tree is one that I've had for a long time and one that I think has a lot of potential. So, why the "loser" status? The site is just to young. The interface is ugly and buggy which makes it frustrating to work with. Collaboration is the idea, but the implementation feels like it was done by a bunch of beginning programmers. FamilyLink is ALMOST there. Maybe a few more rounds of development and interface upgrades and it will be on my "winner" list.

LinkedIn (Winner)
LinkedIn has become my networking go-to site. The thing that makes LinkedIn so powerful is the enormity of people that are on it. I've been able to find and "link up" with many co-workers that I would not have been able to find any other way. I am constantly surprised by the people that I find and that find me. If I ever need to contact these people, I have their contact information at my finger tips. I know the site has many other useful features, but this aspect of LinkedIn is why I use the site and why I think it is a winner.

Other Winners:
My "Other Winners" sites include sites that we don't normally view as Social Networking but we use all the time. Here they are along with a brief description of why they are winners:

  • Flickr: No better place to store, share, and organize online photos.
  • Blogger: Easiest place to have a good looking / fully featured blog for free.
  • Jango: Best web radio I've used -- will get better with time.
  • Bookmarking made simple, especially when integrated with Firefox (more on this one at another time).
Other Losers:
My "Other Losers" sites include sites that I tried to use but was not enticed to return to them nor did I understand them.
  • TokBox: Interesting idea, underwhelmed by the features
  • Digg: I tried it, didn't digg it.
  • Stumbled Upon: Too much work for too little value.
  • Jumpcut: Too much offensive material right in your face.
  • Same as Jumpcut.