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Sonĝotera Vojaĝo

Semi-random musings on various topics.

More Browsers
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This article is the fifth in a series on making use of the Internet adapted adult-education Internet course given at the Saugus Senior Center through Saugus.net. Today we'll actually step out of our regular routine a little and consider alternative browsers.

When the Saugus Senior Center course was first given, there really weren't too many choices for free, modern, standards-compliant web browsers. Out of the handful I settled on just two to cover fully: Firefox and Safari. With all the recent interest though in browsers, security, and (amazingly) even web standards, I thought it would be worthwhile to mention both some of the browsers that I didn't cover before and ones that have been created since I first created this course.

  • Opera

    Opera is a standards-compliant browser with a long independent history. Up until recently it had been available only for a fee or via a free (but advertising encumbered) version. Now however it is fully free for download, and it offers a slightly different take on things that many users prefer. It prides itself on rendering pages not just accurately but very quickly, and many swear that it is the fastest graphical browser around. It is available for several versions of MS-Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Solaris, etc.

  • Camino

    Camino is built around the same rendering engine as Firefox, and thus displays pages with the same attention to standards-compliance. The key difference between Camino and Firefox though is that Camino is optimized for Mac OS X. If you've got a Mac and like Firefox, it's worth your while trying out Camino. You may find that you prefer it. Camino is not available for MS-Windows, Linux, Solaris, or anything else besides Mac OS X.

  • Flock

    Flock is a new browser built around the same rendering engine as Firefox and Camino and thus shares the key benefit of standards-compliant display of web pages. Flock however has some interesting additions to better take advantage of today's interactive Web, and in particular has built-in support for both shared bookmarks and blog composition. It's currently available for Windows XP, Mac OS X, and Linux.

  • Konqueror

    Konqueror is built around the same rendering engine as Safari (or actually it'd be more fair to say that Safari is built around the same rendering engine as Konqueror, as Konqueror predates Safari by quite a bit) and is thus standards-compliant. While it currently runs only on Linux machines that have KDE installed, curious rumors persist that it has also been ported to Mac OS X. I've not personally seen a copy running under OS X, so I'm certainly not going to confirm such rumors.

  • Netscape

    All old Internet hands remember Netscape. It wasn't the first browser or even the first graphical browser, but it was the first hugely successful browser. Then it was left to rot. Believe it or not it's now back, and mostly standards-compliant as it is more or less built around the same rendering engine as Firefox. I use the "mostly" and "more or less" here as it actually has two separate rendering engines under the hood, and in addition to the standards-compliant one it also has a non-standards-compliant one. In a curious twist of fate, it also can render pages in the non-standard way of MSIE. Of course all old Internet hands remember MSIE; it was the second hugely successful browser. Then it was left to rot...

Obviously I'm half joking with my comments above about Netscape and MSIE, but I'm also half serious. Both browsers got market dominance and then sat on their laurels for a prolonged period of time, ignoring the standards of their own day (let alone anything newer), and allowing others to climb up the hill and topple them down to insignificance. The Web is an evolving medium; browsers that don't adapt don't survive indefinitely.

Anyone interested in trying out any of the browsers mentioned above can do so via the links provided. The installation process for them is not too different from the procedure described before for Firefox.

Actually, on the topic of Firefox, it's just had a major update. If you're using an older version, you should upgrade as soon as possible (you can use this procedure). You won't be disappointed.


Searching and Finding
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This article is the fourth in a series on making use of the Internet adapted adult-education Internet course given at the Saugus Senior Center through Saugus.net. The topic for today is finding information on the Web.

[Finding text within a page with Safari]

There are really two parts to this topic: searching the Web to find a relevant page, and finding information within that page. To make an analogy with a brick-and-morter library search, the first part is finding a relevant book, and the second part is finding information within that book.

[Finding text within a page with Firefox]

The second part is an easier problem, so we'll deal with it first. With a physical book, one can usually locate information via an index, a table of contents, or (in the worst case) by skimming through sequentially. While information within a web page can also be found by the sequential skimming method, there's a much more efficient technique available: finding within a page. With Firefox, one can use the Edit / Find in This Page... menu item and within Safari one can use Edit / Find / Find.... Both do approximately the same thing (and both have handy keyboard shortcuts that you'll probably want to learn: ctrl-f on MS-Windows and cmd-f on the Mac). The two variations are both pictured. Firefox prompts for text in a box within its main window, starts searching while you type, and generally lays out the page so that the found item is at the bottom. Safari prompts for text in a separate dialog box, waits to search until you press return, and generally lays out the page so that the found item is at the top. Both also feature buttons to find additional matches within the page in both forward and backward directions. Firefox has a slight advantage in that it also has a checkbox allowing one to search by matching case. This is great when one is trying to find (for one somewhat contrived example) instances of the name Bob and not the verb bob.

[Searching for Saugus Firefox with Google]

While finding text within a page is great (it sure beats sequentially skimming) it of course can only be used once one has already found a page. Last time we discussed bookmarks, and of course (just as with a physical library) it is possible to find pages by simply browsing and/or returning to earlier bookmarks, it's not an efficient approach to find information about a topic that one has not already researched. A library has a card catalog to help one find new books. The Web has search engines and search indexes.

[Searching for Saugus Firefox on Saugus.net]

A search engine is a little like the index in a book extended to cover multiple books. A search index by contrast is a bit more like a book's table of contents extended to cover multiple books. The engine tends to be more complete and comprehensive, but it can sometimes be a little too complete and comprehensive. Engines and indexes are run by independent companies and organizations and have no official status relative to the Web at large, and debates ensue about which ones are the best. Generally search engines add pages automatically via special software programs called spiders; a couple of popular ones include Google and All the Web. Indexes on the other hand tend to be more selective and usually have pages added manually; a couple of popular ones include DMOZ and Zeal. Larger sites often also have their own dedicated search facilities; for example, the Saugus.net Search will only return results from Saugus pages. These localized searches can be very handy for finding information on topics when one has already drilled down to a particular site of interest. The difference between using a general Web search like Google and a targeted one like the Saugus search (as shown above) will usually be huge, and each is useful in different circumstances.

[The search facilities available through Firefox by default]

Both Firefox and Safari have the ability to perform Google searches built-in without having to first browse to Google, and they both support this facility via a text box in the upper right corner of their main screens.

[The add search engine dialog box on Firefox]

Firefox has an advantage over Safari however in that it allows one to add additional search engine and search index resources that can be selected in lieu of Google on a case-by-case basis. Just to the left of the search text box is a pull-down menu showing icons for search resources. Different engines or indexes can be chosen for the search simply by selecting different icons. What's more, many search engines and indexes provide their own search plug-ins for Firefox, making this list not just customizable but also extendable. For example, if you wanted to add the Saugus search facility to your copy of Firefox, you could browse to the Saugus Mozilla Firefox Plug-In page and click the link labeled "this link". A dialog box will appear asking whether or not you want to add the search engine to your search bar, and clicking OK will add the Saugus search facility. The next time the search menu is pulled down, the Saugus search facility will be available.

[The Mozilla Firefox Plug-in Page on Saugus.net]
[Firefox with the Saugus search added]

While it's not possible (at this time, anyway) to add different search engines and indexes directly to Safari, Safari has a companion application called Sherlock that does have this capability. To perform the analogous operation to Sherlock that was performed above to Firefox, all one has to do is browse to the Saugus Sherlock Plug-In page and follow the instructions provided for one's particular version of Sherlock (or equivalent program -- it should be noted that both Hemlock on the Newton and Glooton on MS-Windows will also work directly with Sherlock plug-ins).

While the details for each specific version of Sherlock (or equivalent program) will differ slightly, one should get some sort of dialog box asking for confirmation. Clicking Proceed (or something similar) will result in the installation of the Saugus channel to Sherlock.

[The Sherlock Plug-in Page on Saugus.net]
[Sherlock confirmation dialog]

Next time we'll look as the basics of Internet syndication and how to freely subscribe to syndicated resources.


Basic Browsing
feneric

This article is the third in a series on making use of the Internet adapted adult-education Internet course given at the Saugus Senior Center through Saugus.net.

[What Saugus.net looks like when viewed with Firefox]

A major theme of the course is that to really get the most effective use from the Internet it's necessary to have up-to-date tools, and one of the most important Internet tools is a Web browser. Unfortunately, even in this day and age, most computers do not come with a modern browser factory installed. Thus the first two papers in this series were focused on getting a modern browser and keeping it up-to-date for those who have computers without modern browsers built-in. This generally means people using MS-Windows, so those past two articles were a little MS-Windows-centric. Of course, MS-Windows computers are not the only types of computers available in the world, and Firefox is not the only modern browser. This article will also consider Safari, another browser (currently available only for Mac OS X that fully supports modern Web standards.

[What Saugus.net looks like when viewed with Safari]

The first screen shot (the one on the left) shows the Saugus.net main page as it appears when viewed with Firefox (the latest is version 1.0.3 as of this writing). The second one (the one on the right) shows the same view as presented by Safari (the latest is version 2.0 as of this writing). Both were captured on a Mac OS X system, but unfortunately the window widths are not identical so there are some minor differences in how things are laid out. We're not really interested in the differences, though; we're interested in the general concepts and what can be found where.

The first thing to note is that in the topmost section of each browser there's a line stating the title of the page, and directly below it is line with a handful of icons and a couple of text windows. Below that there's a line with some short groups of words. There is also a line at the very bottom which is empty on Safari and shows both the word "Done" and an orange box on Firefox. These four lines are generated by the browser and not by the Web page being viewed. The big middle section of both browsers is what's actually found on the Web page.

The second line from the top provides you with the basic browser controls. Both browsers have back and forward buttons, a refresh / reload button, and a home button. Firefox additionally has a stop loading button (in Safari, the reload button doubles as a stop loading button). Safari additionally has extra buttons for making text larger or smaller (Firefox provides this utility through its View menu) and a button for adding a bookmark (Firefox provides this utility through its Bookmarks menu). The first text input box is used for directly inputing a URL -- a Uniform Resource Locator. A URL is just a fancy way of indicating the address of something on the Internet. All URLs are unique, so a URL will represent a specific Web page or other Internet resource. This text box is called either the URL box or the location box, and is used when you know the location of something. For example, you could directly type in Saugus.net or Amazon.com and the browser will pull up the appropriate sites. You'll notice that this first text box also contains a small icon in both browsers; this icon is actually determined by the page you're viewing. The second text box is the search box -- it's used when you don't know the specific address of the Web site you're seeking. Typing in key words (or phrases surrounded by quotes) there will perform a Web search and will display a (usually extremely long) list of pages that contain the words you've entered. Both browsers use Google for their default searches; Firefox additionally allows you to search via other tools via the drop-down menu accessible through the little "G" icon.

The third line consists of bookmarks -- each points to a page within a Web site in the way that a bookmark points to a page within a book. You can set these to whatever you want them to be.

The bottom line is the status line. If the browser wants to tell you something, it's apt to appear down here. Firefox also uses this line to point out RSS feeds; that's what the little orange box is doing, in fact -- it's telling you that there's an RSS feed available for the currently displayed page. Safari also points out RSS feeds for pages, but it does it in the URL area via a little blue box. RSS feeds provide quick ways of exploring what's new on sites that support them; we'll look at them in more detail in a later article.

[Firefox's general options]

In this article we'll cover a couple more concepts: home pages, bookmarks, and history.

Your home page is the page that gets displayed when you first turn your browser on or when you click the home page icon. Since you're going to see it every time you first start your browser, it makes sense to choose for this page something that you read fairly frequently and/or makes it easy to find pages that you read frequently. For both Firefox and Safari it's set via the general options.

[Safari's general options]

The general options can be found under the Tools / Options menu under MS-Windows and under either Firefox / Preferences or Safari / Preferences on Mac OS X for Firefox and Safari respectively. Each displays a panel like the ones shown above (on the left for Firefox and the right for Safari). Each panel has multiple tabs; we'll look at the others besides the general one in a later article. For now, just note that each allows the setting of the home page via a text box in which you can directly type a URL or by various other methods, the most useful of which tends to be a button that will set your home page to the currently displayed page.

Bookmarks are also used for frequently viewed pages. More generally though they're used for any pages that you want to be able to find easily later. Sometimes you'll also hear bookmarks referred to as "favorites", so don't get confused. Both Firefox and Safari have a Bookmarks menu that will allow you to bookmark a current page, manage your collection of bookmarks, or jump to a page you have already bookmarked. Safari additionally has an icon in its second line for bookmarking the current page, and an icon in its third line for managing your bookmarks collection.

[Firefox's bookmarks management screen]

Both browsers allow you to make bookmarks folders for holding collections of bookmarks. This way it's possible to have hundreds of bookmarks and still keep them reasonably well organized. Both browsers allow the titling of individual bookmarks and bookmark folders, and Firefox additionally allows you to attach comments as well. The best way to get used to bookmarks is to play around with them a little; you'll quickly get the hang of how they work.

Each browser also has a special bookmarks folder. Called the "Bookmarks Toolbar Folder" in Firefox and the "Bookmarks Bar" in Safari, it's the folder that designates the bookmarks that appear in the special bookmarks line mentioned earlier.

[Safari's bookmarks and history management screen]

The last topic we'll cover in this article is the concept of browser history. The basic idea is that as you're browsing the Web, your browser will remember individual pages that you've visited. You can navigate back and forth through your recent history via the back and forward buttons; however, you're not limited to simply clicking them. If you hold the buttons down a short while, each produces a drop-down list of recent sites making it possible to skip around through your recent history. There's even still more that you can do with browser history. Firefox has a Go menu, and Safari has a History menu that provide access to much more extensive lists of visited sites that can go back days or even weeks. With Firefox, choosing the Go / History menu item brings up a sidebar with the browser history organized by days. With Safari, the day-by-day breakdown is available directly through the History menu, or via a special collection of bookmarks accessible through the bookmark management screen.


Updating Firefox
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This article continues a series on making use of the Internet adapted from an adult-education Internet course given at the Saugus Senior Center through Saugus.net.

I know in the last article I said in this article we'd start looking at Firefox's features and how to make use of them, but I think that since a new version of Firefox has been released since then it's fortuitous to quickly cover instead how to upgrade Firefox (or by extension pretty much any application) on Windows XP. While various techniques work, the most reliable is the one we'll follow here; the quick summary is:

[Screenshot of the WinXP Control Panel]
  1. Deinstall the old version
  2. Install the new version

Users of other versions of Microsoft Windows can use the same general technique but will see some slight differences (don't expect the screenshots to match), and users of the Macintosh won't have to worry about this type of thing at all as the Mac has drag and drop installations and deinstallations.


[Screenshot of the Add or Remove Programs Window]

The first step is to deinstall the old version of Firefox. This can be achieved by activating the Control Panel option from the start menu. From here you'll be able to select the Add or Remove Programs option.

The resulting window will show you all the well-behaved software currently installed on your computer. Locate the version of Firefox you'd like to remove and click it. It'll get highlighed and its entry will expand to show more information. Click the Change/Remove button to start its removal.


[Screenshot of the WinXP are you sure prompt]

You'll be hit with a typical "Are you sure" prompt. Click the "Yes" button and the deinstall will happen.

Finally, you can download and install the new version (1.0.2 as of this writing) as covered in the first article.



Update

As of version 1.0.3, it's no longer necessary to go through the above mentioned procedure to upgrade Firefox. There's a simpler built-in facility for upgrading that can be used instead. Of course, the above mentioned procedure generally works with all applications in an MS-Windows environment, not just Firefox.


Obtaining and Installing Firefox
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This article is the first in a series on making use of the Internet. It is a simple tutorial on how to get and install Firefox. In future weeks I'll be covering some of the special features available with Firefox, and how to take advantage of various different Internet technologies. Much of it this series comes from an adult-education Internet course I gave in the Saugus Senior Center. The entire series will thus have a bit of a Saugus focus in the sense that all the examples will relate to things that Saugonians will find useful and/or familiar, but it should be useful to anyone wishing to learn the basics of the Internet.

All of the screenshots in this article come from a current version of Windows XP SP2 using Microsoft Internet Explorer (MSIE) to do the download; if you are using an earlier version of MS-Windows or another operating system there will be small differences. If you're using another operating system, you may also be able to skip over this lesson as the browsers pre-installed on Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris, etc. are modern enough and secure enough that you don't have the same pressing need to upgrade them that MS-Windows users do. I won't go into why you should upgrade if you're using and old browser like MSIE; that has been covered pretty well on Saugus.net and elsewhere.

[screenshot showing the Firefox button on Saugus.net]

The first step is downloading the current version of Firefox. As of this writing, it is at version 1.0.1. If you browse to Saugus.net and scroll down a little, you'll see a "Get Firefox" button on the sidebar. You can either click this button or go to the Firefox download site directly. I include this screenshot not just to point out the "Get Firefox" button (you'll see a lot of these on other web sites as well) but also to point out the white area around the "Get Thunderbird" button -- that's not supposed to be there, but is in fact due to a problem with MSIE. Once we have Firefox installed, we'll take a look at this same button and you'll be able to see the difference yourself. This particular problem is due to something called a transparent PNG. Millions of web sites use them, but MSIE doesn't properly handle them.


[screenshot showing the Firefox download page]

This will bring you to the Firefox site. From here you can read about Firefox, get Firefox support, and of course download Firefox. We'll be downloading Firefox. Look for the big green "Free Download" on the right hand side of the page. Note that it'll even state your computer platform right beneath it; if you're installing Firefox in English on the machine you're currently using, you can just click that green link. If you want to download Firefox for some other machine, you can use the "Other Systems and Languages" link below it.


[Screenshot of the MSIE download prompt]

You'll get a prompt from your browser asking you whether you want to "Run", "Save", or "Cancel". Choose "Run". This will download the Firefox installation application.


[Screenshot of the MSIE run or don't run prompt]

After the download completes (it may take awhile depending upon the speed of your Internet connection) you'll be prompted again about running the install application. Choose "Run", and the installation will start.


[Screenshot of the Welcome to Mozilla Firefox installation prompt][Screenshot of the license agreement prompt]

Once the installation starts, you'll see a screen welcoming you to Mozilla Firefox. Click "Next". You'll be asked to read and okay a license agreement.


[Screenshot of the ready to start prompt][Screenshot of the setup options prompt]

You'll get another screen giving you the chance to customize your installation. You probably don't need to do so and can just click "Next" again. This will bring up a screen confirming that the install is about to begin. Just click "Next" again.


[Screenshot of the install complete prompt]

The install will work for awhile before completing. Click the "Finish" button to complete it.


[Screenshot of Firefox after the installation]

After the installation, Firefox will start itself up. Initially it'll open to a Google search page into which you can enter general Internet search queries, but you can set your home page to anything you'd like.


[Screenshot of Firefox browsing Saugus.net]

For now we'll go back to Saugus.net. You can do so by entering saugus.net in the text box in the top middle of the Firefox screen and hit the "Enter" key. Scroll down a little and look at the Thunderbird button on the sidebar. You'll notice it's now displaying properly. You'll also see a little Saugus.net icon in the top text bar; MSIE is unable to display some icons while Firefox will handle them all.


[Screenshot of Firefox options][Screenshot of MSIE Internet options]

You can change your home page in Firefox by using the Tools -> Options menu item. Clicking the "Use Current Page" button in this case will set our home page to Saugus.net. You can also verify that Firefox is your default browser by checking the appropriate checkbox and clicking the "Check Now" box. You'll probably also want to uncheck the analogous checkbox in MSIE's Internet Options menu item.

Next time we'll look at a few of Firefox's features and see how to make use of them.