Mozilla Firefox

February 9th, 2004 § Comments Off on Mozilla Firefox § permalink

The name is strange but it’s still the same good old browser we know: Mozilla Firebird’s got a new release and a new name. Mozilla Firefox 0.8 has been released with a bunch of new features and a much more optimized interface. I confess I didn’t like the new name, which was changed because of a series of legal problems over the old name, but I guess I’ll have to get used to it.

Anyway, the new version seems a lot better then the previous one and I’m sure the browser will benefit a lot from having a new name with a clear branding strategy behind it.

Now, go get it!

Eolas, once more

January 30th, 2004 § Comments Off on Eolas, once more § permalink

In other news, Microsoft has decided to hold off on Eolas-related changes to Internet Explorer. The company, in a press release, explains that it will not implement any changes to its browser because its intends to appeal the current judicial decision granting victory to Eolas and also because the Patent Office will revise the patent Eolas holds considering that there are strong questions concerning its validity.

Judging from the way things are, it’s well possible that everything will be solved without any need to change browsers or any other applications affected by the patent, which is good news.

Multiple IE versions

November 6th, 2003 § 2 comments § permalink

Via mezzoblue comes one of the best finds in the field of Web development in the past few months: it’s possible to run instances of different Internet Explorer versions on a single machine, contrary to what was previously believed.

The way to do it is awkward and something of a kludge, but it works and solves a big problem when testing sites. For example, according to this site’s statistics, most IE visitors coming here are using version 5.5, but a lot of others are using 5.0 and 6.0, which means that whenever I change something I have to test the site in all those versions. However, I have only one machine, which runs IE 6.0. Now I can easily test any changes in all those versions using only my own machine. It’s a hack, but a very nice hack indeed.

NTFS support in Red Hat

September 13th, 2003 § 2 comments § permalink

Soon after I installed Red Hat 9 in my home computer, I found out — to my surprise and chagrin — that it didn’t support NTFS out of the box. As I’m using a dual-boot system and recently decided to definitely switch to Linux as my main system, I needed to access the files in my Windows drives to build my usual working environment.

As I was used to Mandrake, which supports NTFS by default, I thought I would need to recompile the kernel to add the necessary support. Fortunately, a simple good search revealed that the Linux NTFS Project has a small RPM with a NTFS driver that adds NTFS support to Red Hat. I installed and configured it, and the NTFS drives were visible in a matter of minutes, completely accessible in the Linux installation.

The future is really open.

More news about the plugin patent case

September 12th, 2003 § 4 comments § permalink

More news about the Eolas’ patent case regarding the use of plugins in hypertext documents: a federal judge rejected Microsoft’s first post-trial claim, in which the company alleged that Eolas had misrepresented the facts in the case. The company is already planning an appeal.

That is a very bad news since it implies that Microsoft may soon be forced to change IE to comply with the judicial decision, removing the support to embedded plugins in the browser. If that happens, it means applications that rely on such technology will have to be converted. Also, it means that companies like Macromedia, which has a whole business around the technology, may suffer severe economic drawbacks. Finally, it means that other companies and organizations that develop browsers will be forced to change their products as well. Needless to say, all those actions will cost an enormous amount of money.

On the other hand, the patent is very specific, and, as the article shows, solutions can and are being devised to work around those specificities. Obviously, there will be problems and costs with any chosen approach, but they are better than simply dropping all support to the technology. Some of the suggestions suggested by the members of the W3C, which congregates most of the companies affected by the decision, are: the use of dialog boxes prior the execution of a plugin, as it works around the patent requirement of an automated launching of the plugin; and the embedding of the plugin data in the page itself, as it works around the parent requirement of a connection to an external source. Each solution has its drawbacks, which will have to be addressed if they are really implemented.

In my opinion, however, the case may end up resulting in some benefits to the industry. Many things that required plugins today could be replaced by DHTML solutions if its support were to be improved in browsers. Many of the things only possible today using either Flash or ActiveX would be doable in DHTML with a more powerful implementation of both the DOM and scripting technologies.

The case raises some questions about how the W3C and the companies creating Web technologies must react to patents. Ironically, the W3C published its own patent policy not long ago, although, of course, it only applies to its members. The case also brings to the table once again the subject of improper patents conceded without regards to prior art.

Anyway, there’s still a long way to go in this case, and some waiting will be necessary before anything is really decided. But one thing is sure: the Internet has a long history of routing around damage, and I don’t think the history will be different this time.

SurferBar, or, the right time to change my e-mail client

September 3rd, 2003 § 2 comments § permalink

Although I’ve been using a Mozilla browser as my primary Web client for some time now, I’m still using Outlook Express as my default e-mail client. Everybody knows it’s very vulnerable to virus and Trojan horses, but I was careful and never had any problem — until now.

Today I got a strange spam. It didn’t contain any links or images, and its message didn’t advertise any product. I was curious, and I read it not knowing I was opening my system to a spyware application. So I was very surprised when I opened the Windows Start menu and found scores of links to pornographic sites sitting on it. As I soon found, the links were scattered across the whole system in every conceivable place a link could be inserted on. Also, Internet Explorer’s default page had been changed and a new bar had been added to it, overriding the default navigation bar.

It was easy to discover that the culprit was a spyware called SurferBar, which has existed for a long time, but has know find a new way to get itself installed on systems lacking the proper updates. It exploits a new vulnerability in the Internet Explorer HTML renderer — used by Outlook Express — by constructing a special object tag that bypasses Internet Explorer’s security sandbox. The vulnerability is recent, but Microsoft has already issued a patch. Removal was simple, albeit bothersome.

After that, it’s definitely time to change my e-mail client. Shame on me, I know, for using such an insecure client as Outlook Explorer. I had been planning to switch to another client for a long time, but had postponed doing it because of the trouble involved. I hope I don’t make the same error again.

Judicial decision may impact the use of plugins in browser

August 28th, 2003 § 1 comment § permalink

In recent news, a federal jury ruled that Microsoft violated a patent held by a company named Eolas regarding a mechanism for embedding objects within hypertext documents, which directly impacts the plugin technology used by Internet Explorer — and most other visual browsers in use today. In a official note released by the W3C — of which Microsoft is a member — the company has indicated it will soon make changes in its browser to comply with the ruling. Understandly, the W3C has invited all its members for an ad hoc meeting to discuss the potential impact of the ruling for the Web and to take any decisions concerning it.

I think it strange that Microsoft lost the case. I doubt no prior art exists for such technology — especially considering that the patent was granted to Eolas in 1998, when HTML was very well established and already supported the object tag, which implements said technology. In any case, the W3C is meeting, and a decision should be announced soon.

It will be interesting to see how the other companies and groups developing Web browsers will react to the news. I’m particularly interested in the responses of the open source community.

Anyway, I just wonder why Microsoft didn’t simply buy Eolas and its patent. It would probably be far more easier, and would also give them a good advantage. However, worst of all is to think of the technological cluelessness of the jury and judge that allowed such ruling.

Understanding accessibility

August 14th, 2003 § Comments Off on Understanding accessibility § permalink

One of the hardest things for Web developers to do when building or designing a site is to put themselves in the shoes of people suffering from some kind of disability and think about the site’s accessibility.

Dave Shea, of CSS Zen Garden fame, points to an excellent demonstration of how simple design decisions can cause major problems for disabled people (even for people with small disabilities). It’s a good way to see how one must think about the issues involved. The demonstration also shows how some of the problems can be solved.

Notepad popups

August 8th, 2003 § 2 comments § permalink

Simon Willison points to another ridiculous IE vulnerability: Notepad popups.

As he says, things like that remind us how Mozilla Firebird is much better than Internet Explorer.

New Google Operator

August 4th, 2003 § 2 comments § permalink

Google has introduced a new query operator to further aid in searches: the ~ operator. When placed in front of a word, it searches for the word and its synonyms (see browser ~help, for an example). Apparently it only works for queries in English now, but knowing the way Google works it will certainly be added to other languages soon. Very neat!

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