Edge of what?

Let’s talk about Internet Explorer for a minute. Approaching two decades into a career as a web developer — cripes! how is that even possible? — I have spent a big chunk of my life hating Internet Explorer.

There was a time when I didn’t hate it. For several years, Internet Explorer was the best web browser for the Mac. (Yes, really!) But right around the time Apple released Safari and Microsoft decided to pull the plug on the Mac version of IE, everything started to go sour.

In the early 2000s, when Windows XP was released, and Internet Explorer 6 along with it, Microsoft dominated the tech world. Especially the business tech world. And with the web standards movement in its infancy, Microsoft could pretty much do whatever they wanted with the browser. Internet Explorer 5, 5.5 and 6 each introduced new, Microsoft-only technologies (VBScript, ActiveX, .NET, etc.) that became deeply entrenched in the business world, where countless corporate developers created indispensable internal web applications that were not only dependent on Internet Explorer, but specifically on quirks of version 6 (or 7) of IE. It’s a big reason why there are still office computers running Windows XP and IE 6 or 7. Because even as bad as IE 8 is, it was the beginning of Microsoft’s acknowledgment of the changing times and reluctant move towards web standards.

Long story short, I don’t just hate IE because it’s from Microsoft, or because it’s fun to bash on. Contrary to the impression I sometimes give, I don’t hate Microsoft, and as much as I love to crank, I’d prefer a world where I didn’t have things to crank about. I hate Internet Explorer because it has made my job harder, for most of the time that I’ve been doing this work.

So, it probably goes without saying that I took the announcement of the death of Internet Explorer as good news. Of course, Microsoft has to make its own browser. Uh… just… ‘cuz. Of course. So with IE going away, Microsoft has announced “Edge”, their new browser.

Meet the new browser, same as the old browser

This morning Brand New posted the new logo/icon for Edge. At least, I think it’s a new logo. For a new browser.

edge
Source: Brand New

What is this? No, seriously. What. Is. This.

This logo fails for me on several levels. First, and most obviously, it evokes Internet Explorer. Why would Microsoft want to do that? They’re killing IE for good reason. Why create an immediate association between it and their new browser?

I think this new logo fails both conceptually and in its execution. It’s just plain ugly. But more than that, the slice/swoosh thing doesn’t work. In the old logo, it was part of the “ring” around the “planet” that the perfect circle “e” represented. A bit hackneyed conceptually, but at least it was a consistent concept. But by using the “e” from Microsoft’s new humanist corporate font (I think) — which, taken on its own, is kind of an ugly shape anyway — I think, you lose the “planet” concept. And the rest of the ring outside of the “e” is gone too. So all you have left is this weird “e” with a slice missing, which makes absolutely no sense. The only explanation for the slice is as a deliberate evocation of the old Internet Explorer logo, which again it seems they should want to distance themselves from.

I like the new blue color. That’s about the only good thing it has going for it.

So far I have not tried the preview release of Microsoft Edge. Frankly, as a web developer, I am not enthusiastic about having to support another new browser, and I’m not confident that Microsoft is going to make a very good new browser, even though IE 9 through 11 were pretty decent. All I have to go by, at this point, is this logo. And what it tells me is that Edge is just a crappy knockoff of an already crappy browser. No thanks.

Postscript: I just noticed that exactly 6 years ago today I wrote a blog post that also discusses Internet Explorer. Even then — SIX YEARS AGO — IE 8 was out and I was already cranking about IE 6 as an old and outdated browser.

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).