Sunday, November 20, 2011

Still using Firefox because privacy matters

I am still using Firefox as my number one browser, occasionally switching to Opera, and occasionally trying out Chrome (on my Laptop). Why am I so stubborn, some Chrome fans will ask? And why am I not using the default Android browser on my slate? And why did I not end up buying an iPad?

It all boils down to two points: The browser ecosystem and the browser ethos.

The web is more important than apps

Sometimes I hear people say it's all about the apps. I disagree. The web is the only one truly open and life changing platform. I did not chose Android over iOS because of usability or design concerns. I'd say it is still slightly – but only very slightly – behind. My new phone is a Nokia N9. Neither Android or iOS, but Meego! And yes, it has a few hundred apps, including a Dropbox client and a Google Reader.

(By the way, the user interface on the N9 is just fantastic, it beats both the iPhone and Android!)

However, both the Android Tablet and the Meego Phone lets me run Firefox. And that is nowadays a sine qua none for me when choosing a device.

Every major browser has an ecosystem nowadays

Of course all browsers can surf the web and in that regard the web is their ecosystem. But in addition to that they come with additional features.

  • Internet Explorer's ecosystem is that of corporate intranets, Windows and the occasional web site that still requires ActiveX. I know of few people who enters this ecosystem by choice, except gamers, but it is easy to get support. And all your games are playable on the hardware that is far cheaper than anything from Apple. And Windows does really have the best graphics drivers and infrastructure for sound.
  • Chrome's ecosystem is of course Google products: G-mail, G-cal, G-reader, G-docs and G+. You're at least considering getting an Android phone and think that Chrome OS has a lot more potential than it has shown so far. You are obviously not so concerned with the privacy of your data.
  • Safari's ecosystem is of course the Apple products. If you are into Apple, you're using a Mac, and every program in sight that starts with an i. You had an iPod and now have an iPhone and you will get an iPad, not because you need it, but because its made by Apple. In short, you enjoy the shiny prison of being locked in to Apple. Censorship and authoritarian control of the platform be damned – the bars are golden!
  • Opera thrives on the mobile and on devices. They have managed to make web surfers out of millions of people who never could afford a modern smart phone. In some ways though, they struggle since the entire web universe basically is their ecosystem – except for sites made by incompetent developers that shut Opera out for no good reason. There are things like Opera Link and Opera Unite, but they have not got the buzz they so rightfully deserve. The fact that Opera pioneered many things now common to all browsers, like tabs, and have always been a true champion of standards, even before Mozilla appeared, makes them worthy of tons of respect.

So, what makes Firefox ecosystem so special? It boils down to one thing. Firefox is everything!

  • It is not the oldest champion of web standards among browser vendors, as that honor goes to Opera, but they are a good runner up, and it was Firefox that de facto wrestled the web away from Internet Explorer, providing room for all other browsers to exist as well. Firefox paved the way for both Safari and Chrome!
  • It is not the true speed king, as that title goes to Chrome or perhaps Opera, that are faster on most – but not all – benchmarks as far as I can tell. But it is fast enough. And it championed the cause of being lean – once upon a time! Even today it consumes far less system resources than most other browsers.
  • It is, however, the true champion of add-ons. And it has the best add-ons for my needs.
  • Firefox has the best sync. First of all it is client side encrypted, meaning no data mining opportunities for Google or anyone else. But what makes it stand out is the syncing of tabs. It's a time saver and a life improvement factor! I sue it all the time, moving between computers, my phone and my tablet.

The right focus for the future

The economy of the future in IT is data driven. In a world of ubiquitous computing stewardship of our data in the cloud is the main prize for all big players to fight about. Through pads, tabs and boards data will be accessible in lots of places. But whoever is in control of the cloud is the winner of the future.

But will cloud stored data be accessible to all? Or only a select few that use the right brand?

And will it be inaccessible to anybody except those that I chose to share my data with? Or will the host continually mine my data and in the worst case scenario share it without my consent?

In this regard, Apple's guiding principles fail totally. The company shows close to zero interest in interoperability and since the margins go down when selling cheap devices this becomes a global problem. By building digital walls around the data in the richest countries, we are once again failing all non-western countries.

By the way, the Arab spring was not brought to the world by Apple, but by Nokia…

Google might not have failed yet. Interoperability is high on their agenda and so far their data mining seem to be mostly anonymized. But when one single entity sits on too much data and control the complete surrounding ecosystem, we are providing someone with enormous temptations. Sooner or later that temptation will become too strong!

Therefore we need truly anonymized cloud technologies. We need user owned and controlled data. We need stuff like browser id to replace the usage of id-solutions provided by Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft or Apple.

In short, we need what Mozilla and Opera are championing. And for me personally that means that if you see me using a browser for anything but testing, that will still be Firefox for the foreseeable future, unless I change to Opera!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Will my next laptop be a Thinkpad?

It’s time to move on from my trusty old Thinkpad z61p. It has been a dear friend, but its simply not anywhere near state of the art anymore. Still, having lasted over 4 years and many thousand hours of heavy duty use is high praise indeed.

So what do I want? I had hoped for an upgrade of the Thinkpad W701, to use Sandy Bridge and Thunderbolt – but instead the series seems canceled. Where is the follow up to the W701? Why, oh, why have you forsaken me Lenovo? (I actually don’t know. Lenovo’s web site is basically useless.) It takes a ton of work to find the information I actually want.

I want a workstation, movable but not ultra portable. More power. And it may weigh a few kgs.

Stuff the computer must have

  • A trackpoint – a high quality, usable Trackpoint. Does any other line of Laptops except Thinkpad have those?
  • A really good keyboard. Once again, can I trust any other manufacturer than Lenovo?
  • Preferably 17 inch, high resolution (1920px wide), high contrast – matte. Not glossy! (Maybe I must settle for 15 inch, but it would be very disappointing.)
  • A high speed SSD, as big as possible.
  • It should run Linux with no hickups. My distro of choice is Fedora. For testing purposes I may shrink and keep the Windows partition, but it will see very little usage. (If buying an OS-less laptop was an option, I’d chose it.)
  • Firefox and Chrome should be able to run WebGL on Linux, thus the graphics drivers must be on their whitelist.
  • Display port or HDMI
  • Service should be available in Sweden, so lesser known brands are out of the question.

All of the above are top priorities. And I am prepared to spend quite a lot of money on this purchase.

Then there are a few things that goes without saying

  • High end modern CPU, like the 2920XM or one step down from that one.
  • At least 8GB of RAM DDR3 or better.
  • Gigabit Ethernet.
  • IEEE802.11abgn.
  • Bluetooth 3.0.
  • At least one USB 3.0 port,
  • Large and high performance SSD,

And there is also a list of nice to have features on my wish list

  • Spill proof keyboard.
  • Back lit keyboard.
  • Thunderbolt
  • 2nd drive for storing large files that I do not use very often, video, images, sound. (Yes, the W701 had 2 drives...)
  • A Firewire interface

I prefer a 2nd drive to optical media. If there is only room for one drive, chances are high I will ditch the optical drive and use that space for an extra hard drive.

So, what are my choices? Right now the list looks like this:

  1. Thinkpad W520, but it has only got an 15 inch screen…
  2. HP EliteBook 6760w, but will the Trackpoint be good enough… (and I can't find a model with the 2920XM processor, OTOH I can get it with a better graphics chip, up to the Quadro 5010M, but that GPU consumes a whopping 100W and is probably a bit too much, even for me.)
  3. Fujitsu Celsius H910 The specs looks nice. I can have up to 2 x 250 GB SSD but the keyboard and Trackpoint is not comparable to a Thinkpad.

Given my set of requirements, what other options do I have?

And the key question: Is there any hope for a 17 inch Thinkpad W7xx to be released within the next 3-4 months?

(And no Mac is not and never has been an option. And, yes, I have plenty of experience with Macs and know perfectly well how they compare to Thinkpads.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Firefox Aurora and Nightly on Linux

Automated download and install Firefox Aurora and Nightly on Linux

cd ~/${DLDIR}
rm -rf firefox*
test -d /opt/aurora || sudo mkdir /opt/aurora
wget ${FTPDIR}/latest-mozilla-aurora/${AURORA}
test -f ${AURORA} && tar xjf ${AURORA} || \
  ( echo "Aurora download fail" &&  exit 1 )
sudo rm -rf /opt/aurora/*
sudo mv firefox/* /opt/aurora/
rm -rf firefox*
test -d /opt/minefield || sudo mkdir /opt/minefield
wget ${FTPDIR}/latest-trunk/${NIGTHLY}
test -f ${NIGTHLY} && tar xjf ${NIGTHLY} || \
  ( echo "Nightly download fail" && exit 1 )
sudo rm -rf /opt/minefield/*
sudo mv firefox/* /opt/minefield/
rm -rf firefox*

To be improved and adjusted when new versions appear, but it does the job for now.

Excerpt from .bashrc

alias ff36="/usr/bin/firefox -no-remote -P ff36 &"
alias ff4="/opt/firefox4/firefox -no-remote -P ff4 &"
alias ffclean="/opt/firefox4/firefox -no-remote -P clean &"
alias ffbeta="/opt/ffbeta/firefox -no-remote -P beta &"
alias ffaurora="/opt/aurora/firefox -no-remote -P aurora &"
alias minefield="/opt/minefield/firefox -no-remote -P minefield &"