Forgot your password? Firefox may be able to help with that

A couple of days ago, I changed my password for the CMS on my website. Unfortunately, Firefox has refused to “remember” the new password, auto-completing the field for me with the old password every time I open it. In the past, when I’ve changed a password, Firefox has offered to remember the new one, but in this instance it did not. (I think I know why, but trying to explain that is outside of the scope of what I care to discuss here today.)

A little query into the Firefox help site provided an answer. Pretty easy, right? But then that got me thinking. Take a look at this screenshot:

You click that “Yes” button, and Firefox is going to display all of your saved passwords in the clear on your computer screen. That’s both incredibly handy, in case you need to remember a password that you’ve forgotten (maybe not even for the site it’s saved with — I’m sure most people reuse the same password[s] most of the time), and incredibly dangerous, in that someone else accessing your computer could open up Firefox and find out all of your passwords.

This leads me to recommend some “best practices” for managing your personal passwords. I follow these rules in order to keep my information (relatively) safe:

1. Don’t use the same password everywhere. It’s unrealistic to think you can remember a different password for every website, but I have a mental store of about 5 or 6 different passwords.

2. Complex passwords are more secure. Your passwords should not contain any dictionary words, and ideally they should contain a mix of upper- and lowercase letters along with numbers and punctuation marks. Also, the longer, the better. It’s really quite amazing how much longer it would take an average modern-day desktop computer to crack an 8-character-long password using this mix of 96 possible characters (23 years), compared to a 6-character-long password using just lowercase letters (30 seconds). Even if you just use lowercase letters, length makes a huge difference: a 20-character, all-lowercase password would take 63 trillion years to crack.

3. Don’t use the same password for your bank that you use for Facebook. This relates to the first item. Reserve your most complex, hardest-to-crack password for the most critical uses: your bank account, PayPal, etc. Generally, anything involving money or the possibility of identity theft (such as a site where you need to provide your Social Security number). Granted, you should probably have a pretty strong password on Facebook, too, but the bottom line is, don’t use your banking password anywhere else.

4. Password-protect your computer, too! This is probably the hardest case for me to make. Especially if you have a desktop computer that just sits in your house all the time, it’s really easy to not bother protecting it. But think about it: if someone breaks into your house, they may be able to steal some of your valuable personal property, but if they’re granted unfettered access to your computer, they could do much more damage than that. In fact, a deft criminal could get in and out without a trace, except that they logged into your computer and stole all of your passwords. If you take your laptop with you to public places where you might leave it unattended at some point, the risk is even greater. And if you’re accessing public networks, physical access to your computer is not even necessary, so a strong password to log into your computer is just as important as the password on your bank account — especially if Firefox has stored an easily-discovered copy of that password on your computer. Which leads to my final recommendation…

5. Resist the temptation to allow your browser to save your most important passwords. I let Firefox “remember” almost all of my passwords. It just makes using the web a lot easier. But I never let it remember my passwords for my bank or PayPal. If you’re only going to file away one convoluted 20-character string in your brain, let it be your bank password. Don’t leave it to Firefox to remember that one for you.

Need more? Symantec has some good recommendations as well.

Forget red state/blue state: it’s really red browser/blue browser

Sean Tevis browser statsAnyone who’s read this blog for any period of time knows my political leanings pretty well. I’m about as liberal as they come in this country (which means I’m probably middle-of-the-road anywhere else). And the same reader(s) probably also know(s) how I feel about Internet Explorer 6.

Well it’s interesting to see that there seems to be a correlation between political viewpoint and web browser usage. As (almost) always, this comes from Daring Fireball. We’re looking at the decidedly non-traditional campaign blog of Kansas Democrat Sean Tevis. His campaign did a survey that, among other things, discovered that users of outdated browsers like Internet Explorer 6, AOL, “Don’t Know” and “No Internet” preferred, strongly, his Republican opponent, while users of Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari preferred Tevis. Interestingly, IE 7/8 users slightly favored Tevis.

It would be interesting to see the raw numbers, rather than just percent deviation, to get a sense of the relative proportions of the electorate who fell into each category, especially considering that Tevis apparently lost, by a small margin.

It’s also interesting to look at the strength of each group’s leanings. Those who most strongly favored the Republican candidate were the AOL users and non-Internet users, a.k.a. the Luddites. Chrome users (all on Windows) were the strongest Tevis supporters, followed by Safari (presumably all or nearly all Mac) users. Firefox users were slightly weaker supporters of Tevis. This makes sense to me in that I suspect there’s a high correlation between “average” Mac users (who almost all use Safari, just like most “average” Windows users run IE) and Democratic leanings, whereas users of Firefox (and of open source software in general) are as likely (or moreso) to be libertarian as liberal. Opera… well… I don’t know. Contrarians?

That IE 7/8 users slightly favored Tevis is most interesting to me. IE 7/8 represent by far the largest percentage of the Internet-using population. And the country as a whole moved slightly in the Democrats’ direction in the 2008 election. But Kansas is far more conservative than the US populace as a whole; combine that with the “No Internet” crowd, and a small margin of victory in favor of the Republican candidate makes sense.

P.S. Sean Tevis for President 2016.

Bring down IE 6!

IE6, R.I.P. I wish.Here’s a far more detailed, reasoned explanation of why Internet Explorer 6 is just plain bad than I could ever muster in the midst of one of my Microsoft-fueled rages. (OK, maybe that overstates it a bit and gives Redmond too much credit for my anger issues.)

Here it is, plain and simple: Internet Explorer 6 has been around as long as Windows XP, and it’s even longer in the tooth. A lot has happened to the Web in the last 8 years, and IE6 is simply not equipped to handle what 2009 websites throw at it. It’s a security nightmare, and it’s woefully lacking in support of even relatively modest features that all other browsers out there today support, and that we in the web design and development community desperately want to take advantage of in building functional, aesthetically pleasing, just plain cool websites.

But we can’t. Or, we can, but then we have to spend a substantial chunk of the total time and budget of a project (often a third or more) hacking our own (standards-compliant) work to try to make it even just passably functional in IE6. This has to end. IE6 is not just a pain in the butt of web geeks like me. Because it is wasting the valuable time and financial resources of anyone involved in the creation of websites (and by extension, any business or organization that has a website), it is a drain on our economy in the same way as old, gas guzzling cars or any other outmoded, grossly inefficient system.

It’s time. IE6 is dead. Lay it to rest.

Why does Safari 4 Beta take SOOOOO LOOOONG to start up? Am I the only one having this problem?

Hurry up and wait!I downloaded and began using the new Safari 4 Beta the day Apple released it. I’ve complained (mostly on Twitter) about various aspects of it, things that I’ve now (more or less) gotten used to: most significantly the still-awkward title bar tabs.

But one thing I haven’t gotten used to is the ridiculous amount of time Safari 4 Beta takes to get up and running, at least for me. The window appears promptly after clicking on the icon, but then I’m visited by the dreaded spinning beach ball of death. This situation endures for at least a minute or two (if anything, I am exaggerating that time down), and then things proceed as normal.

At first I thought maybe it was something peculiar about my own site (even though it loads just fine in other browsers, including Safari 3), which I have set to load as the home page. But I just waited out Safari’s ridiculous start-up time, then went into the preferences and set it to load with a blank page. And it still took just as long, not even loading anything from the Internet. So clearly it’s just something in the internal workings of the app itself.

I have not seen anything anywhere about this issue. Everyone seems to love Safari to death, and says nothing about its speed other than how blazing fast it is. I guess it’s pretty snappy once it gets going, but for me all I can think about is this ridiculous load time at the beginning.

And so, this humble blog post shall serve as a beacon in the darkness, calling out to all those who suffer as I do (oh, such suffering) from an inexcusable lag at the start-up of Safari 4 Beta.

For what it’s worth, I’m running a stock black MacBook purchased just last August (right before Apple retired them, of course), 2 GB of RAM, Mac OS X 10.5.6. In other words, this should not be happening.

Also, for what it’s worth, once Safari has gotten going, my site loads very fast… less than a second on my cable connection. So it’s definitely not something with my site (thankfully, since I can’t imagine what it would have been).

Fun with site usage stats

OK, “fun” may be an exaggeration, but it is interesting to look at these stats for room34.com courtesy of Google Analytics.

The usage statistics that are always of the most interest to web designers and developers are the web browser and operating system breakdown among site visitors. “Conventional wisdom” is that Windows makes up about 90-95% of most sites’ users (with Mac OS X making up almost all of the rest), and that among Windows users, Internet Explorer is at about 80-90%, with Firefox making up the bulk of the rest, while on the Mac about 90-95% are using Safari and the rest are on Firefox.

The stats for my site paint a much different picture. Now, granted, I am probably by at least a couple of orders of magnitude the most frequent visitor to my site. I can accept that. So that means Mac OS X/Safari should skew high in the results. But just how high? Let’s take a look.

The following are room34.com stats from the past month, January 19 to February 18.

Web Browsers

Here’s the breakdown of web browser usage among my site’s visitors:

Site Usage: Web Browsers

Firefox appears to be winning this war, with Safari close behind and Internet Explorer strong, but decisively in third place. Chrome trails far behind in fourth place, but I get a twisted pleasure from seeing Opera disappearing into irrelevance.

Operating Systems

And now for the operating systems:

Site Usage: Operating Systems

Well, how about that? There are enough other people looking at my site that Windows manages to still be the most widely used OS, though its 56% share is far below the roughly 92% share it (supposedly) holds among the general populace of computer users. And what do you know, the iPhone is third! Actually, iPhone and iPod should be identified together, since they run the same OS. I’m not sure why Google breaks them out (but doesn’t break out something much more useful: the different versions of Windows). Look at #7: the Wii! Sweet. Those were not from me. I must confess I’ve never heard of Danger Hiptop, but it’s obviously a mobile OS. Perhaps I should care, at least 0.04% of the time. (That works out to about 2.9 hours a month. Considering the average time on my site is about 3 minutes, one could [carelessly] deduce that Danger Hiptop users like to spend nearly 60 times the average amount of time per visit!)

OS/Browser Combinations

And now, all together:

Site Usage: OS/Browser Combinations

It’s no surprise that the Windows/IE combination manages to land the top spot, but it is surprising that the combo’s share is less than 29%. I’m a little surprised that Windows/Firefox also edges out Mac/Safari, although I should be glad that I represent, at most, about 1/5 of the visits to my own site. (I’m sure it’s actually only about half that!) Fully 12% of visitors to my site are coming to it on an iPhone or iPod touch. That’s incredible. And almost none of those are me. I guess it’s time to make sure I’ve optimized for that platform! I think this represents a turning point in the viability of mobile browsers, and we web designers and developers had best take notice.

Web browser usage stats. RPG-themed graphic. Geeks rejoice.

We web designers and developers need to keep track of more browsers than anyone should ever have to think about. (Isn’t one enough? And, even though I usually use Safari, can’t we all just agree on Firefox now and kill the rest?)

I’m just another in the chain of sites posting this graphic (which will probably proliferate exponentially now that it’s been on BuzzFeed): 123… and directly from here although this leaves me wondering who really is the originator. And of course, there’s the data source, cited in the image itself.

Well whoever came up with it, it’s pretty cool. And informative. I had forgotten the misfortune of Netscape 5, dying off two full years before Netscape 3 in the wake of the Mozilla split.

Enjoy…

Browser Wars