New Browsers

For the not-as-technically initiated, you are currently reading this post with a web browser. Back in Windows 98, Microsoft made a decision to mesh their web browser (Internet Explorer) into their operating system. The end result was that most people just clicked that blue “e” on the desktop and were whisked away to “the internet,” blissfully unaware that Microsoft had robbed them of choice.

This would not have been a huge problem if Internet Explorer (IE) was a good web browser. It wasn’t. It’s full of security holes and is responsible for a large number of the viruses that plague computer users today. As a quasi-web designer, I’ll also say that its support for web standards is pitiful, making it very difficult to design good looking and functional web sites. After IE destroyed its competition, they stopped working on improving it. The IE that most people use today is five year old technology – practically ancient history by web standards.

There have continued to be several other web browsers, but they mostly sucked. Enter a little program called Firefox. I won’t diverge into any more history here, but it was a slick product that was easy to use and much better than IE at security and being innovative in the web experience. Long story short: IE used to have 98% marketshare of the web, but Firefox is up to around 12% and growing.

The best part is that Microsoft got off of their lazy asses and updated IE. Just this past week, they released their first update in over 5 years, releasing IE7. It still has a lot of problems, but it’s a good step in the right direction. Firefox today released version 2 of their own web browser. It’s not a massive departure from their previous browser, but it has spell checking, which is very handy for making blog posts!

The reason all of this matters is because more and more of our life is happening online. A good, reliable and secure browser is key in this. IE6 was none of those things, but Firefox is all of them and has also made Microsoft have to improve its product. As these browsers keep improving, expect there to be more and more “web applications” available. You can already do all of your word processing (goodbye MS Word), email (goodbye, MS Outlook), instant messaging (goodbye, MSN Messenger), calendar-ing (goodbye, MS Outlook) and a ridiculous amount of other things right through your web browser. This means that you don’t need to shell out money for Microsoft Office anymore. You might not even need to use Windows-or a Mac-at all. There’s something called Linux out there: it’s free, and it runs Firefox too.

Not having to pay for either of those things could result in a savings of $600 no problem! This is good news for me and people like me: idealists pursuing the Kingdom of God, not caring for material things but wanting both feet firmly planted within this world. Translation: we’re learning how to love people, and it doesn’t always pay well!

So, my advice to you: go download and install Firefox. I know you all love to go against the flow anyways. Thanks to any of my non-techie friends who have stayed with me this far! ;)

6 responses to “New Browsers”

  1. wow, I’m impressed with how you tied that into Christian living. do you use linux? I’ve heard very mixed things. It was quite the deal when it first came out but I also know it has a lot of holes. Is it worth switched from the reasonable stable and somewhat cooperative XP (or should we just all switch to mac’s anyway)

  2. Great question there Nate.

    Downloading version 2.0 as we speak.

    Yo, what’s your opinion on Macs anyway? I sure do get tired of the Mac snobbery out there. As far as usability (if that’s a word) they sure aren’t any better. Perhaps that’s just because I’m used to using a PC, but anyway….

    Linux? To your surprise, I’ve never heard of it. Have to look into it.

    I like your techie posts.

  3. I’ve played with Linux a very little bit, but my knowledge is fairly limited. There’s many “flavors” of it out there, but the most popular and supposedly user friendly one out there right now is Ubuntu

    Linux is getting to the point where, for the average user, you can do just about everything that you can do on Windows or a Mac in Linux. You run into problems if you want want/need to use specialized software though, because that is almost never available for Linux. Graphic design, music production, drafting: these are things that Jac and I do that we could not do on Linux – yet. This may change.

    But, if all you use a computer for is web surfing, email, instant messaging, listening to music and word processing, you could do this today with Ubuntu with very few problems. I’d say that describes the majority of users out there.

    Ah, Macs. They are more beautiful, aesthetically pleasing and well designed in their physical components and in their software. Burt they have a lot of the same problems as Linux: because so few people use it compared to Windows, there’s a lot of specialized software that you can’t get for it. There’s also a learning curve with learning any new operating system. But honestly, Macs are better designed than PCs. But the PC isn’t vastly inferior – well, except in security, anyways. So, basically the snobbery is mostly lame.

    One of the strange things about computers and the internet is how people are starting to see this as a justice issue. Think of all of the advantages we have in being able to access online information. Now think of the fact that we are a world minority group in having access to them. There’s actually a project in the works called One Laptop per Child that is trying to build $100 laptops for the developing world to level the playing field.

    Oh, one other bit of interesting info. You use Linux, in a strange way, everyday. The majority of web servers run on Linux because it is cheap and ridiculously stable.

  4. Oh man. Operating Systems AND browsers in a single post? This could take some time. Just count yourself lucky you didn’t mention file systems, or I’d be typing till the cows come home.

    First the browsers. I don’t have as much to add here, FF is a good browser. While it is light years ahead of IE, it still isn’t fully standards compliant; it dosen’t pass the ACID2 test. Also, I can’t help btu feel that FF just lacks a certain degree of ‘polish’. It just doesn’t feel like a high-quality product, despite it’s power and extensability. Myself, I use and love Opera, and highly recommend it to everyone. It’s slick and modern. In fact, Opera was the first browser to do tabbed browsing; the first to pass the ACID2 test; the first to do a lot of things. Opera has a reputation for being a pioneer in the browser world, a reputation for being 1-2 years ahead of the pack. Check it out.

    Now on to the operating systems. For those of you who don’t know, I’m studying Computer Engineering at the UofM, so suffice to say I know the ins and outs of operating systems rather well. In fact, it’s a bit of specialty of mine; it’s something I would like to study further and possibly work on after graduation.

    I am a Linux user. I have it installed on all 3 of my computers. Now that I’ve said that, I have to say this: I hate Linux. It sucks. However, it sucks less than any other operating system in existence. It sucks less than OS X, it sucks less than Solaris, and it sucks waaaaay less Winsuck. I mean Winblows. I mean… you get the idea. There’s a song by Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie (or is the Atmoic Worms) that goes “Every system crashes, ’cause every OS sucks!” This is exactly the truth. Every operating system has something or many things horribly horribly wrong with it. The difference is, under Linux, you actually have a hope, an oppotunity, a snowflake’s chance in Hell of fixing it when it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to (or to find someone to fix it for you or has already fixed it).

    Now that we can stop the disillusionment, I can go on. Linux is starting to kick the pants off of Windows in more and more departments every day. Desktop, editing, Servers, image processing (check out image magick and/or the Gimp), usability, eye-candy. Only a few areas remain outside of the sphere of awesome, such as video editing, which is better on a Mac and games, which is of course the only reason I still use Windows. For just about any task you can think of, a comparable or sometimes better tool exists for Linux already. I would welcome anyone to challenge me to find a task that cannot be completed as well on Linux as another OS. (Seriously. I am curious as to what ‘Killer Apps’ there are that are preventing peopel from switching.)

    Let’s no forget control. I’m sure many of you are aware of the RIAA and MPAA and DMCA, and how they are trying to limit your freedoms. I mean, just the other day, the RIAA started shutting down sites that post guitar tabs! It’s completely ridiculous. These people, and others like them, will try just about anything in order to prevent you from doing something that they feel you should pay them to do, and this extends to software. How many deals have been made by MS and hardware manufacturers that in essence lock people out of their computers? The point is, under Linux and other free Operating Systems, you have complete and final say as to what software goes onto your computer, what it does there and how long it stays. It’s about controlling your computer.

    Lastly, I will talk about Linux distros. I’m not a big fan of Ubuntu, for a couple of reasons. Though it is a distro that’s well known for it’s ease of use, it has a certain newbie stigma. I’ve been involved in writing software for Linux and have participated on many forums. Let me assure any message that starts with “how do i make X do Y?” (even though if they jsut read a few posts up it says how) Generally ends with “I am noob and am using ubuntu”. It’s not that these people are asking beginner questions, it’s that Ubuntu users seem to be content with their ignorance. FUrthermore, Ubuntu is not the sort of OS that encourages users to learn. Many of the more power tools and utilities common in other distros and disabled or removed under Ubuntu. Sure, they can be turned back on or installed, but it really makes you wonder why they were missing in the first place. If you’re set on using Ubuntu, and really it’s not that bad, use the Kubuntu variant instead. Gnome sucks.

    Anyway, I use Gentoo myself, but would not recommend that distro to others. It’s rather advanced, but really helps you to learn Linux. It’s very very powerful and incredibly addictive. If you feel like you’re up to the challenge, you might want to try out Sabayon, a Gentoo variant. You see, a Gentoo install starts out with nothing. Nothing. Nada. Just the kernel and a few basic tools. You have to install and configure EVERYTHING, which what makes it great for learning (don’t worry, the documentation is great). Sabayon, on the other hand, keeps Gentoo’s power and customizability but gives you a nice base isntall with all the apps and handy programs already available.

    Distros that I would really recommend include Novell’s SLED 10 (Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop). SLED 10 is well-known for it’s usability, finished feeling, power and plain out goodness. However, unlike most distros, it does not have a ‘Live’ CD, which allows you to try out teh OS without having to install it. Also, it can be hard to find. Freespire gets a mention for including all the codecs and other non-open thrid-party software that some distros refuse to include. It’s pretty good. There is a plethora of other distros out there, you can check them out and get some info on them at

    For a parting shot, check out the Operating System Sucks O-Meter at

    If anyone has any questions about what I’ve said here, feel free to contact me or post here, or whatever. travis_friesen AT (a trick to defeat spambots)

  5. John: Thanks for coming by. Hopefully something here will interest or provoke you.

    Trav: here come the cows!… ;)

    You raise some good points, but for first steps away from Microsoft, Firefox and Ubuntu fit the bill quite nicely. The stuff you’re talking about, while valid, is certainly a number of steps away from most people that I would believe to be reading my blog.

    While there certainly is some software in most areas for Linux, many are lacking in enough areas that using Win/Mac is necessary. For instance, The Gimp does not work with CMYK, so no graphic design professional will take it seriously. In music production, there are some decent solutions for straight-up audio recording, but there’s a distinct lack of quality the areas of synthesis and processing.

    The tough thing is that the majority of users don’t actually want to dig in to their software very deeply. They just want it to work. This is one of the problems with a lot of the open-source community: they tend to make products for themselves and not the average user.

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