I just spotted this strange anomaly on my PC at work. Both Google Chrome and Internet Explorer 10 are claiming to be the default web browser.
A quick visit to the “Default Programs” applet in the Control Panel and balance has now been restored.
I’ve been thinking about browsers’ new tab pages recently. My default browser is Google Chrome so I’ll largely be focusing on that in this post.
By default, certainly on the version that I have installed (I’m on the Dev channel which allows me to see up-and-coming features—and bugs—before they are available on the stable channel) I get two options:
The most visited pages feature is the sort of thing that many browsers do now. Opera does it; I’ve a vague notion that they were the first with their speed dial page:
The Apple Safari one is really attractive, almost cinematic.
Even Internet Explorer 9 does it.
The thing is, when I open a new tab in my browser, as you would expect, it’s usually because I want to open a new page, visit another web site, or open a new web application. But I am finding that I rarely, if ever, use these most popular/most visited pages for a number of reasons.
First, I don’t find their design particularly helpful.
Chrome, Safari and Opera all show a resized screenshot of the website. But there is too much detail in a screenshot, that when it gets squeezed down to 205 x 128 pixels it loses its immediacy and usefulness.
Usually, it’s not immediately obvious what the site is from a tiny screenshot, so I find that I waste a lot of time trying to determine whether these are the links I need or not. Also, depending on your browser’s theme, the text beneath the screenshot isn’t always obvious either.
Some browsers will also update the screenshot if you’ve not visited the site in a while, or have cleared your browser’s cache so the page may actually look completely different from the last time you visited (remember) it.
It doesn’t pass the Steve Krug “Don’t make me think!“ test.
Internet Explorer 9, on the other hand, takes a different approach. IE shows white boxes containing the site’s favicon and a bar, which indicates how often you’ve visited the site (e.g. “Very active”, “Active”, etc.).
As you can see from the screenshot above, though, is that 4/10 sites there don’t have icons, or they’ve not been downloaded for some reason.
So the horizontal bar then becomes the most obvious feature of each box; given that we lazy humans will tend to pay attention to pictures and coloured shapes before we attempt to read anything, because that uses energy!
There are blue, green and purple bars. But what do the colours represent? It’s not obvious. It turns out that IE rather cleverly draws the colour from the favicon.
It’s better, but it’s still not perfect. What if the sites listed aren’t actually the sites that I want to visit most frequently?
Second, most visited doesn’t necessarily mean favourite.
IE tells me that these sites are my “most popular sites”, Chrome that they are my “most visited”, Safari that they are simply, and rather neutrally, “top sites”. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are my favourite.
Because I visit a particular location many times doesn’t immediately make it one of my favourite locations.
In St Andrews I generally park on Langlands Road. That makes it one of my most visited streets. But it’s not my favourite location in St Andrews; St Mary’s quad is.
Because I’m involved in Web design I generally find myself flipping between different browsers frequently, in order to test pages. So my “most visited” sites quickly fill up with screenshots of test pages. And different browsers may require more testing than others.
That’s not useful.
Third, I clear my cache a lot, also for testing purposes. And every time I clear my cache it resets my “most visited” sites counter too. So any useful sites that I’ve accrued over the last week or so also get wiped.
The browser that I think has got it closest is Opera.
Opera allows you to choose which sites are displayed on your Speed Dial/new tab page.
It also doesn’t use the entire screenshot, but a cropped portion, which tends to include the site name. I can quickly, and easily see what these sites are. It passes the “Don’t make me think!” test. I also find that I use this feature a lot in Opera Mobile on my HTC HD2.
This makes much more sense to me: show me the sites that I want to visit most often, or the resources that I find most helpful, even if I don’t visit them every day.
Google Chrome’s apps screen also comes close to what I would find useful:
Now, this is getting somewhere. The icons are simple and recognisable, even though the text labels aren’t easy to read against the grass background.
The only problem is that I’m now dependent on developers creating a Google Chrome shortcut app to the site that I want to visit. In my own Web development I use four sites frequently:
As you can see from the screenshot above only 2/4 of those sites have shortcut apps. If I want to include them on my apps pages then I’ll need to create them myself. Which is fine for me as a Web developer, but a it of a pain for most other Web users.
I came across myfav.es today which is designed to easily allow you to choose your favourite sites and then set that page as your browser’s homepage.
This is mine:
As you can see some of the shortcuts use built-in, default application icons such as Google, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and YouTube.
The more generic icons (heart, notepad, cloud, download, ‘B’) are non-standard links that I’ve entered manually. There are loads of icons to choose from, and you can specify what colour they should be.
It’s very clear, and highly customizable. That’s exactly what I want when I open a new tab. Something like this would be really useful, as a built-in feature, to browsers. Particularly as user-interfaces, like Windows Phone/Windows 8 Metro UI become more popular.
There are a couple of Chrome extensions that replace the default new tab page:
But both also remove the cursor from the address bar when you open a new tab, which means if you want to start typing a new URL or a search query you have to manually select the address bar (“omnibox”) either with your mouse or a keyboard shortcut (Ctrl+D on Windows).
I’ve now simply set this as my homepage in all my browsers. And so far it’s proving very useful, and consistent.
At 04:00 this morning (UK-time) Microsoft released the latest version of its Web browser software Internet Explorer 9. Needless to say I didn’t stay up for the launch… although, thanks to my youngest son I was awake at that time.
Why 4am?! Well, seemingly it coincided with the official launch during the South by Southwest (SXSW) conferences and festivals in Austin, Texas.
I was genuinely excited following the development of IE9. Over the years it’s become almost fashionable to be negative about Internet Explorer; Internet Exploder.
Hey! I have a poster on my wall in the office that says “God made the earth in 1 day and then spent the next 5 trying to make it look good in Internet Explorer 6”. And another that says “Keep calm and debug IE6”.
I found Internet Explorer 7 a disappointment. It fixed some of the IE6 bugs but introduced a few new ones. It was reminiscent of the Philip Larkin poem ‘This be the verse’:
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
IE8 was an a great improvement over both IE6 and IE7 but it was still lagging in terms of keeping up Web standards.
So IE9 had a lot to live up to if it was to claw back respect in the Web development community. And from what I was reading on the IE9 blog and in the Web-media I was genuinely quite excited about the prospect of a Microsoft browser holding its own alongside Firefox, Opera and Google Chrome.
Having checked out a couple of the beta releases and the release candidate during the last 6 months or so, my initial excitement was quickly crushed.
Each version of IE9 beta plus the release candidate broke my personal homepage that I run on my ‘localhost’ webserver, installed on my PC.
It wasn’t a huge deal, the code is pretty old now and clunky, but it was very disappointing as it has worked perfectly in IE6, IE7, IE8; Firefox 1.0 – 4.0 RC; Opera 7 – 11.1; Safari 3 – 5; Chrome 1.0 – 10.0; and even some archaic versions of Netscape, so why not IE9?!
In installing the final version this evening, however, I was pleasantly surprised. My homepage now works perfectly in IE9.
IE9 is fast—really fast. It starts in only a few seconds and having checked out a few websites and web applications it handles them at an impressive speed too.
I look forward to checking out IE9 more in the future. In the meantime I welcome their “Internet Explorer 6 Countdown” campaign which is dedicated to ensuring that usage of Internet Explorer 6 drops to less than 1% worldwide. It currently has around 12%.
I didn’t mean to switch from Firefox. I’d been a huge fan of Firefox since before version 1.0 was released. Hey! I even contributed financially to Mozilla’s appeal to raise money for the launch and my name was published with thousands of others in a full-page advert in the NYTimes in December 2004.
But Google Chrome was just so fast.
It started quickly (more quickly than Opera), it rendered Web pages quickly and being built on the WebKit engine it supported Web standards well and supported the latest HTML5 and CSS3 developments.
But since upgrading to Google Chrome 10 (and 10 beta) I’ve had nothing but trouble with the Adobe Shockwave Flash plugin crashing every few websites. Since Chrome 5 (released in June 2010) the Flash plugin now comes built-in to the browser, rather than relying on the separate plugin installation that Firefox, Opera and Internet Explorer use.
It seems that I’m not the only person to experience this, which comes as something of a relief to me. There is currently a discussion on the Google Chrome help forum entitled ‘Chrome 10 – Flash Crashes’ which is making for an interesting read.
One suggested fix/workaround is this:
I’ve been running this workaround all evening and as yet haven’t experienced a crash.
I’ll be watching this issue very closely… who knows, I may be moving to Opera 11.1 for a while very shortly.
Tuesday 15 March: that workaround didn’t last. Shockwave Flash has been crashing again this evening. So I’ve just re-enabled it, if that’s not going to do anything.
Wednesday 16 March: I’ve now updated to the Dev channel as someone said that version 11.0.696.12 dev was working fine for him without Flash crashing.
The BBC on their Magazine website in February asked if this was “the greatest motivational poster ever”.
Apparently, 2,500,000 copies were printed but weren’t distributed; at least not widely.
The Keep Calm and Carry On “motivational poster” was created in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II as a last case scenario to be used in the event of the Nazis succeeding in invading the UK.
It’s the stuff of good old, stiff-upper-lip British resolve. Keeping the chin up in the face of adversity.
The premise is simple: Internet Explorer 6 is antiquated, doesn’t support key web standards, and should be phased out.
But what if it’s not? What if Internet Explorer 6 carries on being supported for years and years to come. What if companies, and schools and universities don’t drop it for something better, something newer? What do we do then?
Well, that’s where my new A4 poster comes in:
We just keep calm and carry on!
Keep Calm and Debug IE6 by Gareth J M Saunders is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 UK: Scotland License.
Based on a work at www.garethjmsaunders.co.uk.