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Firefox comes of age.. finally.

I want to preface this post by explaining something that my close friends have known for years. I’ve always been a software hobbyist on the lookout for stuff that’s better than other stuff. Since 1986 I’ve been researching various utilities (Amiga enthusiasts: remember Fish, ANC and UGA utility disks?), pitting them against each other and identifying winners in each category. I built up a whole stack of personal criteria of what’s good and what’s bad based on a fairly old-school philosophy born of the days when computers came with BASIC programming manuals and the first thing you were expected to do on them was type 10 PRINT HELLO; 20 GOTO 10. My overruling criteria have always been that the programs have to be tightly coded (the opposite of bloatware), efficiently use system resources, not crash, not have ambiguous functionality and actually be useful. Due to Mozilla Firefox’s missing the mark on several of these items I have not recommended its use for years. A phenomenon has been taking the world in its wretched grasp for quite a while now (I’ll lament about it in another post sometime). It is a meme of misinformation. People have been misinformed and misguided about Firefox ever since it came out and I have fought a strong battle to drum sense into those people. Nobody ever listens to the reason of the wise few, of course. Maybe they’ll be happier to read about it.

The fallacies about Firefox that sparked my anger were:

  • It “finally” allows people to achieve the mystical nirvana that is tabbed browsing. Truth is that Opera had tabbed, MDI browsing over ten years ago, and IE shells such as Maxthon allowed users to use the world’s most popular and compatible browsing engine in a tabbed environment a LONG time before Firefox was put together. Trust me on this – I was doing tabbed browsing in IE way, way, WAY before FF came out.
  • It allows a “safer” browsing experience. Truth is that FF simply passed the buck on these matters. I lost track of the conversations I had with people who firmly believed that forcing the user to SAVE an executable file from the net to their hard drive effectively eliminated risk of virus or spyware infection. CRAP! My response was that FF made an absolutely guaranteed two-step infection out of what would otherwise have been a guaranteed one-step infection. What’s the next thing you do after your browser forces you to save a file out? YOU RUN IT! Right! Gold star. Blue ribbon. Dhry’s Honorary Medal of Wisdom. Firefox also disabled ActiveX controls under the foolish idea that they are a major cause of system infection, completely forgetting about the legitimate uses of these controls and denying them to its users, not to mention implying that it was the be-all end-all of system protection and that people were otherwise too stupid to ALSO be running standalone antivirus and antispyware tools.
  • It strictly conforms to web standards, which is a “good thing”. Truth is that while I agree with the idea of conforming to standards, the idea of HTML standards became skewed back in the late 90’s when Microsoft started making their own rules about the web. Netscape was out there, then IE came along and pretty soon after the antitrust dust had cleared (translation: Netscape had quit whining that nobody would use their browser anymore since IE came with Windows for FREE, like the rest of the world gave a toss) everyone on the planet was using IE. Websites were written for it and its quirks. It BECAME the global standard for web browsing. At some point, a propeller-cap-wearing dunce without a girlfriend decided that we should all “take back the web” and this standards crap started to take hold. IE has relaxed standards. FF has draconian ones. I’ve struggled at my work for years trying to tell people that if it doesn’t work in FF, to use IE.. and sighed as the usual bullcrap about “I’m only going to use FF and that’s that” was thrown back at me. Once again, the meme of misinformation. Bottom line? FF should also have relaxed standards and should give the user the option of using IE-compatibility mode or “strict” mode – where the user could make their own choice. It didn’t do that until maybe a year or so ago.. but we’ll get to that shortly.
  • It’s “faster”. Truth is that it’s only partially faster. FF 3.0.*’s rendering engine is a little faster than IE (yes, I mean a LITTLE). But the load times for the app are way slower than several IE shells. Try loading FF with a couple of extensions, then try loading GreenBrowser with a couple of plugins. Now use ProcessExplorer and take a look at the memory usage. You’ll see what I mean.

And so I continued to reinstall and give Firefox a fair go every few months, then laugh at it and uninstall it as the DEFECTS that people ignored time and time again persisted throughout each minor and major release. FINALLY I am comfortable that these defects have been addressed and I can now verify that Firefox is fit for world consumption:

  • I had to laugh when I first saw the IETab extension become available. I still laugh when I see stats showing almost 200,000 downloads per week and over 21 million downloads of that extension to date. Despite all the FF wanker comments about better, faster, more standards-compliant page rendering, this extension corrects a defect in FF that has existed since it was born – it allows you to view pages in the Internet Explorer rendering engine! What that means is that you no longer have to separately load IE to do a WindowsUpdate or visit any of the vast amount of websites that do not support Firefox.
  • I considered the fact that FF did not allow you to run an executable directly from a website to be an absolute, hands-down dealbreaker, and then I saw the OpenDownload extension. Mandatory. Allows executable to be clicked on and opened directly from a website – without you being forced to save it to your HD, open a browser, navigate to the file and THEN run it (whereupon FF can claim “hey, I didn’t let you run it, YOU ran it separately, therefore I’m completely exonerated from blame when your system gets infected!”).

Just these two extensions alone bring FF back into the fold as a viable alternative browser. It’s still bloated to hell but at least now you can use it without the two most major hindrances to its performance. For the other extensions, you’re free to find and try. The rest of the browser interface is okay for everyday browsing (despite being nothing new), but I would advise you to do one last thing if you’re considering the move. Go to Tools –> Options –> Security and uncheck the two options that start with “Tell me if the site..”. These options not only cause browsing slowdowns, but they download a MASSIVE “security” file and save it in a 50Mb+ database file on your HD. Forget it.

Oh, and last tip of this posting. Don’t even bother with FF’s stupid AdBlock Plus extension. This only works in FF and it’s not that great either. I recommend getting AdMuncher, Aussie-written and the absolute best popup blocker available. I’ll write more about that one in a separate post, but for the moment all you need to know is that it applies some fantastic protection to EVERY internet-oriented program – email clients, web-browsers, standalone RSS feed readers and more.

What’s the best Windows Defragmenter? The age old question .. answered!

Okay. You’re looking for the ultimate drive defragmentation utility for Windows. You hit up Google and find a whole mess of results. You laboriously trawl through the results on Donn Edwards’ “Great Defrag Shootout” page, a most comprehensive (in fact, in my opinion, almost autistically obsessive) dive into defragmentation tools, you find countless forums where people ask the same question and everyone throws in with their opinions, most of which are uninformed, and perhaps you find a program you like after a few hours of reading and research. Great, you’re done.

However, it’s time for a post with the truth – no mess, no fuss, the answer you’re after without obsessing, bullcrapping or theorizing. You needn’t search any further. I’m going to answer the question right now, once and for all. Ready?

PERFECTDISK for commercial use, JKDEFRAG (which is free) for home users and ULTIMATEDEFRAG (shareware) for power users.

Want to know why? Read on.

PerfectDisk
This utility has been around forever. It’s extremely stable and perfect for servers in the workplace. It allows you to defragment system files at boot-time (such as the MFT). It supports optimization according to the contents of your layout.ini file (although both they and I don’t recommend that). It’s reasonably priced. You can schedule defragments. The new version has something called StealthPatrol which allows the defragmentation of your system while idle – I’m not comfortable with the idea of a permanent “on-switch” for defragmentation, and I suspect that Raxco included it in the product because there are a crapload of morons out there who falsely believe that the feature is a “good thing”. Anyway. My company runs an intranet server with systems that fragment the hard drive continuously and we have a weekly schedule which runs PD. Couple of things that I’ll ding this tool on are the fact that it’s defrag strategies are not really configurable, and the fact that it’s “SmartPlacement” mode pushes your boot files to the front of the disk so your system boots faster. Raxco needs to wake up to the fact that this is a LOW priority for most servers which DON’T GET REBOOTED all that often. I’d rather have the tool identify the most-accessed apps and move those as well as your directory data to the start of the disk (the fastest area) rather than wasting the area with boot files which only get accessed once a month or less. Still, a very robust tool. Stay away from Diskeeper – it doesn’t do a great job and they’re behind the curve for several reasons covered in dozens of other forums, including Donn Edwards’.

JKDefrag
This one surprised me. It’s an ugly little utility that’s gotten a heck of a lot of traction out there. I’ve been giving it a shot across my systems for a while now and I have to say I agree. While graphically it looks like it was programmed by Stephen Hawking using a rubber pencil in his mouth while being tasered, it has a jolly good defragmentation algorithm and it’s fast as hell. Because of it’s pissant interface, several people have written alternate GUIs for it. My favourite is by (bangs hands on keyboard a few times) and you can download it here. (bangs hands on keyboard a few times)’s GUI also features a “scheduler” option so that you run this guy every week, for example. It has a basic algorithm as well as a few slower sorting strategies, which makes the utility a little smarter than PerfectDisk. The default algorithm is slightly more intelligent than PerfectDisk’s because they get the fact that directories are usually the most frequently-accessed data and move your dir information to the fastest area of the disk. Then come the rest of the files (defragged but not sorted, which isn’t the best idea [but most people don’t care]) and then what they call SpaceHogs – large files, esssentially. During the basic defrag process a couple of gaps are strategically left in order to allow your computer’s junk files to accumulate in a reasonably fast area of the disk. You know, stuff like Internet Explorer temporary files and the like. A nice touch is that the program allows you to defragment individual files/directories instead of forcing you to select an entire drive. Summing up: JKDefrag is just a nice, small, decent utility to use when doing a set-and-forget on Grandma’s computer. Plus, it appears to be very stable as well.

UltimateDefrag
This program is small and does a lot. The version 1 series wasn’t particularly good, but they seem to have gotten it right with v2. It covers everything you need – metadata and boot-time defragmentation (typically you only do this once a year on your C: drive, if that), multiple defragmentation types, and a fascinatingly unique graphic display whilst working. You can choose the defrag method that corresponds to the type of data on your drive. The program has this concept where you can tell it a percentage of most recently-used files to move to the faster area of the disk, and then a percentage of least-used to “archive” to the slower areas. This is smart. For your digital photos or MP3 file mass-storage partitions you can choose file/folder defragmentation. It even supports individual file/folder defragmentation. It covers all the bases you need and isn’t bloated with crap you don’t need, such as realtime continuous defragmentation. Again I say: the entire concept of continuous defragmentation is stupid and I completely agree with Jeroen Kessels (author of JKDefrag) when he says, quote, “In my opinion continuous background defragmenting and optimization is marketing hype and a bad idea. There is considerable overhead (CPU, memory, disk) that may actually make your computer slower instead of faster, and it will wear out and shorten the life span of your harddisk.“ UltimateDefrag also has a scheduling system and actually allows you to move your metadata files such as MFT to different areas of the hard drive during boot-time, and you can even resize the MFT to free up a bit of room on your drive. This all coupled with the ability to move the directories to the fastest area of the drive means it wins Best Overall Defragmenter as far as I’m concerned. And a Hot Download Award, despite the fact that the software company loves to self-flagellate about how their program conforms to “Pareto’s Principle”, and have way too much kiddie-level enthusiasm and exclamation marks in their documentation and website.

That’s pretty much it. All the other defragmenters out there either have the same features or else have useless features. Or are bloatware. Or have crashed on my system – once this happens a program is out of the running, hands down, no appeals, fugedaboudit. Now, go forth and download.

Memorex SimpleSave: very cool no mess, no fuss photo backup

image I was in my local OfficeMax today and saw something that I thought was cool enough to come home and blog about. Many people I’ve helped set PCs up for have said that they’d like to back up their important stuff (duh), mostly their digital photos though. There are several things that us techs can do, such as setting them up with USB drives and scheduled backups with all manner of programs. Some bright spark at Memorex has come up with a super simple alternative. Basically, you can buy a pack of writable DVDs, but they all have a small program on them to start with. The program is a backup tool which automatically searches for all the photos on your computer and then allows you to save them to the very same DVD! You don’t need to install any additional software or really do anything except put one of these backup DVDs in your drive and allow your PC’s autorun system to kick in the program. If it runs out of space then it automatically prompts you for the next DVD. That’s a pretty damn cool idea if, purely by way of random example, your dad lives 7,507 miles away from you and only has dialup and is asking you to help him backup his digital pics. A bonus is that the included software also recognizes and backs up 50 types of video files as well. Gets my grandparent-friendly award of the week.

Memorex SimpleSave

Dhryland is back on the air!

WordPress? Check. Windows Live Writer? Check. It’s taken me several years to figure out that that’s really all that I’ve needed to run this site. The XOOPS framework that I set my site up on five or so years ago was simply too much – I didn’t need a forum, didn’t need all the modules that went along with it – and when I finally installed the WordPress XOOPS addon and posted more to it in a few weeks that I had done to the rest of the site in several years it became quite evident that my main problems were time and motivation. Incredibly, just the idea of logging into my own site to post something in the News area was annoyingly tedious. I have been updating a blog for my young son for a while and Windows Live Writer proved to be exactly the easy-to-use method for my wife and I to do this. I used to love building and fiddling, but my entire life outside of the net seems to be building and fiddling with stuff and Dhryland took a distant second place to my career and family life. Thus, no updates. Site was too complicated. I had laughed at the idea behind “Twitter” when I first heard of it but they honestly picked up on the right concept – not everyone has the time to sit and type and code and inject images and retype and link ad infinitum. While I’m not twittering per se, WordPress is the happy medium I’ll be using for fresh information going forward. If I need to bolt stuff on later, so be it. But right now I’m planning on keeping it plain and simple.

So, I think it’s time to reflect on what I had originally intended to do with Dhryland. The site started in November 1998. The first several years of the site saw me updating a single, mighty page of software “finds” using MS Frontpage, and later Macromedia Dreamweaver. All I wanted to do was show my colleagues at work (and secretly, the world at large) the cool software that you could find out there on the net. My hobby for years had been to trawl the net, pull down programs of all different flavors and purposes, and test them against each other to see which ones ruled and which ones sucked.  Was that weird? Some people collect coins, others collect fish. I collected archivers, editors and other tools. Working in software support, many of the guys I used to work with recognized my obvious talent and eventually I started to get emails or desk visits from people asking me “Which is the best program to..?” or “What’s the best way to..?”. I put Dhryland together when I became somewhat overloaded with these requests – being bugged by family, friends and workmates isn’t exactly a situation that any reasonably competent tech hasn’t encountered before, right? My solution was to put together a page that I could throw people to which would answer their questions. Over time the site became like prayer beads to me.. find, test, review, post, wash, rinse, repeat, month after month with my eyes practically rolled back into my head until the original page (here for posterity) wound up being a burgeoning mess of uncategorized information that became of very little use to anyone.

I had tacked my site on as a subdomain of my wife’s site until a good friend of mine, "64 Tony M", asked me why I didn’t own ‘dhryland.com’. When I told him it was because I couldn’t be bothered, he went ahead and just registered it for me back in ‘04. I took over domain ownership from him and it’s been that way ever since.

The first thing I did was install the XOOPS framework, which is a multifunctional content management system. I shot for the skies, with plenty of grandiose plans to build a software reference site that millions would flock to. Didn’t happen, of course. Nobody really looked at the site except me and a couple of friends. Everything just stagnated over the years as I treated it as a combination of a personal blog as well as a software review site.

And that’s it. Dhryland went nowhere fast, and it went there even faster when wifey popped out a kid and life took on that all-new-meaning that you hear people mention from time to time. So I’m dressing the site down. Yeah, it’ll be a combination of a personal blog and a software review site. I’m still going to cheer and lament about things – software, technology, people and just… stuff in general. I have the categories all worked out, but there’s no longer a grandiose plan in play. If I don’t wind up updating the site in THIS incarnation, I’ll just keep dhryland.com for email and switch the page to a static image of a gauntleted fist poking out of a butt and have done with it. We shall see. In the meantime, link up your RSS readers and stay tuned. I do have stuff to say, hopefully WordPress will help me say it to you all.