Back to Safari

For the past 6 months or so, I’ve been using Google Chrome as my main browser. It met the requirements I had for a browser better than anything else out there:

Chrome has the nice addition of having the Firefox-like single box to enter a URL or search (including site search, which was super, super nice).

Then, Chrome went and made the big announcement of dropping H.264 support, and that (along with some recent crashes) made me take a look at using a different browser again.

Normally, I’d probably switch back to Firefox, but even with the recent improvements, I find Firefox’s startup time and general performance to be much worse than either Chrome or Safari. So I took a look at whether or not I could use Safari full time.

Off of my checklist, the first two are easy. Safari starts fast and loads pages fast. If you install the ClickToFlash extension (which disables Flash unless you tell it to run), it runs remarkably fast. This also meets my “avoid Flash wherever possible” item.

Next up, AdBlock and Firebug. All WebKit browsers (Safari/Chrome) have a nice Web Developer toolkit. Safari also has some extensions that have been built to mimic 75% of the Firebug functionality, and a full AdBlock implementation.

Basically, Safari did everything I needed it to and did it fast. Except generate my passwords per-site the way PwdHash did. For me, that’s sort of a dealbreaker for me. (To be fair, there’s a Javascript bookmarklet, but it’s not as clean.) In my copious spare time (or, during the football games today, since the Pats somehow were disqualified for being too good), I started building a PwdHash extension.

Safari extensions are actually pretty cool, and simple to build. It’s just HTML and Javascript (and CSS, if you so choose). I ripped apart the existing bookmarklet, hooked it up with some Safari-extension goodness, and in a couple of hours, have a PwdHash extension that does exactly what I want. Awesome-o.

I’m pretty happy after a couple of days back on Safari, though there are a couple of little things I wish worked differently (I would love favicons in the bookmark bar, and would love to imitate the Firefox/Chrome behavior where the location/search bar are integrated).

Safari also gives you a couple of nice features&emdash;it is the only browser that’s built as a purely native Mac app and takes advantage of all the nifty OSX features (data detectors, looking up words in the dictionary, other services). We’ll see how I feel after a few weeks of using Safari as my main browser, but at least initially, I’m pretty pleased.

Tech Things I Want to Work in 2009

There’s lots of little things that, if tweaked, would just make life a lot nicer . . .

For instance . . .

The Google Calendar sync tool should support syncing Outlook to secondary Google Calendars, not just your primary calendar. That would mean I could drop SyncMyCal which runs in my Outlook-only Parallels Virtual Machine. I’d have a nifty, no-click workflow to sync my Work calendar to my secondary Work Google Calendar, which get sync’d down to iCal and to my iPhone.

Better yet . . .

The iPhone should support syncing both iCal and Outlook calendars. It’s sort of a dumb thing that if you turn on Outlook calendar and contact syncing, that’s the *only* calendars and contacts you get. Why not keep them separate? If Apple added the ability to have your Outlook calendar sit right along side your iCal calendars, then I wouldn’t even need to sync my Work calendar up. I could just accept meeting invites on my phone and have everything work nice and happy.

Oh, and same goes for Contacts. Just let me sync my Exchange contacts as a separate group. Seriously.

Even better . . .

Apple Mail and iCal should build in real Exchange support. Then I could actually not run Outlook in my virtual machine all day. Instead, I could just use Mail and iCal as Exchange clients and have the most simplified workflow of all. Supposedly, this is going to happen in Snow Leopard. That would be awesome.

Making life even sweeter . . .

Google should fix contact management. I love Gmail. I use it for everything. I hate Google’s Contact stuff. It is awful. They tried to make it better. It didn’t work very well. But they’ve got the keys right in their hands … Social Graph. Imagine you gave Google some information about you that they could use some OAuth or other authentication means to determine that it is really you. So you hand them some keys to Flickr and Twitter and (if they can work out their differences), Facebook. Now, Google pulls all that information together and makes a nifty contact for you. Name, picture, email address, home address, work address, phone number, Twitter, Flickr, etc, etc. You only get as much information as the contact allows (if we’re not friends on Facebook, you don’t get my phone # or address).

Now, Google can do all this behind the scenes and give you a little button to “add so-and-so” as a contact. If I add them, they go into my Contacts section. Then, I subscribe to my Google Contacts like they’re an LDAP source or however else they want to get hooked into your setup.

Boom. All of a sudden I’ve got a real contact solution that’s continually updated.

Ok, sure, that’s a lot like what Plaxo promises. Except Plaxo really doesn’t work all that well.

So. When all this happens, I’ll have my calendars all seamlessly syncing together to my computer and to my phone. On top of that, my contacts (work and personal) will all sync nicely as well. And stay up-to-date, thanks to something like Social Graph or the like. Plus, Snow Leopard will mean I don’t have to run a Virtual Machine just to use Outlook (and don’t tell me to use Entourage … it barely works).

With my work life (and personal contacts) working so seamlessly . . .

I’ve got time to kill. I want to get through some movies or TV while I’m out and about.

Give me Netflix Watch Instantly and Hulu on my iPhone! Now that they’re on my XBox and Mac, I’d love them remotely. When I’m out eating lunch or riding in a car, I don’t need HD video. I just need crappy streaming video that will let me knock off an old episode of Newsradio or watch 15 minutes of a crappy movie.

But, if I don’t want to watch something . . .

Sometimes I just want to listen. The fact that the new version of the iPhone firmware lets you download podcasts is great. By why doesn’t it sync my entire podcast list and let me just quickly scan for a new episode of something I listen to? Even better, why not do something similar to Genius and recommend me a podcast I might like?

All that would be very cool.

Oh, and why can’t I sync stuff over bluetooth. That would be good too.

The much awaited … stuff

It’s been a busy few weeks. The biggest news is probably my latest purchase: I got my first non-PC in the form of a MacBook Pro. I’d been looking at getting a laptop for a while, mostly because my existing laptop is old, underpowered, has a half-working keyboard, and had been resigned to sitting on my stereo so that I could stream music to it. I couldn’t even bring it anywhere, as the battery life was simply miserable.

Working at a web hosting company, spending a majority of my day ssh’d into a Unix box, I’d gotten very comfortable at the command-line again, much like I was back in my college days. Between the command line and the browser, I didn’t really use any major Windows applications at the office or at home. I use MS Office, occasionally, but I don’t even use that at home (where I use OpenOffice). My PC is still a great box, but it was a glorified game machine.

Taking it one step further, I’d realized how much of my life really is in the browser these days. My mail goes to Gmail; my calendar is Google Calendar; my RSS feed reader is Google Reader. A few years ago I ranted that I couldn’t see ever moving completely to a thin client/browser world. Granted, it was in the middle of a major Comcast outage, where they weren’t sending any traffic to Yahoo!, which is pretty significant. These days, while there are minor outages, it’s rare that I can’t get to my data online. When I can’t, I can get it via my cell phone (and once Google gets Calendar working on a phone, I’ll be pretty much set). Finally, with Google (and Microsoft and Yahoo!) exposing your data in interesting ways (RSS, iCal feeds, private HTML), you can always pull it down into your thick client and access it offline, should you need to.

I’ve also had a desire to get creative again, whether its restarting the podcast (which will happen), blogging more, working on my website, or just generally brainstorming other ideas, I’ve needed a way to get untethered from my PC. It’s cold in my little office during the winter, and I can’t neatly multitask in front of the TV. With most of the creative ideas requiring the authoring of at least a little bit of code, I was looking for a laptop that would let me use my friendly Vim application to hack some HTML, CSS, or Perl.

All that put together lead to me looking at a Mac. Not because they’re trendy, but because it’s the nicest Unix machine you’ll see. OS X is a very pretty, and functional, interface on top of a Unix backend. I can take my laptop to work and scp files from a terminal window to our data center at rates that greatly exdeed anything I can get over FTP. I can pop open a terminal window and quickly turn on apache and mess with some Perl code before I upload it to my website. I can open up GarageBand and pull together a podcast a little more easily than I can in Audacity on the PC. The ability to neatly run Windows in either VMWare or Parallels while inside of OS X is what pushed me over the top. (Actually, it was one of my co-workers showing me IE running in coherence mode inside Paralells, which meant he could have IE next to Firefox next to Safari on his desktop, allowing him to test 3 major browsers at the same time. Very cool.)

So, I pulled the trigger and picked up a MacBook Pro. It took me a little while to get used to the differences between the Mac and Windows, but the learning curve to being productive is really shallow. I’ve nearly replicated all of the functionality of my Windows PC, but with the ability to do it from anywhere in my house. I can listen to music streaming from my iTunes library while I type this up, waiting for Heroes to buffer up enough on the DVR so that I can watch it without commercials. Soon, I’ll probably throw together another episode of my podcast, which I can do significantly more easily now that I don’t have to start up a bunch of different applications (I’m still figuring out how to make the built-in mic work, as it seems to record to quietly).

So, I hope that my new found freedom will allow me to be a bit more prolific. With work and general life stuff, I’ve had to cut back my posting at The House That Dewey Built — I’ve sort of just become the tech guy and will let Jeff and the new folks concentrate on posting (though, I might have to throw something up there when the feeling hits me). I’ve got plans to at least throw something up at ryantoohil.com and let it be my testing ground for learning more CSS and JavaScript. I’m feeling a bit more invigorated, which is nice.

I actually want to build my home page around my little Mii off of my Wii. I haven’t gotten a good screenshot yet, but here’s an approximation. And yes, I’m a huge dork.

Mii

Hopefully, this desire to be creative will last. I’m going to try to get something up most days this week. I’m thinking that I’ll finally revisit the “So you want to have a web site” series. I’m planning on getting up a Dear Leader-centric podcast.

If you’re still out there reading, feel free to leave a comment. I’m curious to see how many are actually reading this. Checking my logs, I’ve got at least two readers in Google Reader (1 is me …) and 2 in NewsGator. If I was smart, I’d move to FeedBurner so I could track it, but I’ve got no desire to do that just yet.

That’s all for today. Heroes is starting, and I’m hoping that they’ll recover from their recent doldrums and put together a fun episode that doesn’t smell like fish.

Google’s Gone Mobile-crazy

I’ve been posting about how jazzed I am that Google’s setup Google Reader so that you can easily use it on any old web-enabled phone. And it’s pretty bad ass. I use it a good bit when I’m waiting in line or grabbing a quick bite to eat …. or on the pooper.

Gmail has always been mobile-friendly, but it used a stripped-down interface. Well, no more: meet the Gmail Mobile application. Now, just boot up the app and see your Gmail interface almost like you were looking at it in Firefox. Almost. It’s pretty nifty, if a little slow.

Even more cool, is that pretty much all the nifty Google mobile stuff is integrated into the Google Homepage which also has a mobile version. You just point your phone there and you get your Google Homepage, including a snapshot of (and link to) your Gmail account, a quick view of your RSS feeds in Google Reader, plus headlines from any other RSS feed you might have dropped into your homepage, plus weather and some other fun stuff.

The only thing you don’t get? Google Calendar. I’m not entirely sure why I can’t just have a read-only agenda view that will show me what I’ve got coming up that day. That’s the only thing missing from me having my life be available to me at all times. Which is both really fun and cool and very, very sad. Mostly sad.

Obviously there are tradeoffs. It’s harder to sync to a PDA (but, I don’t really use one anymore anyway … my phone has replaced that). My life lives on Google’s servers, so if they turn evil, I’ll be hosed.

P.S. You can actually get your GCal agenda via SMS, but that’s annoying.

P.P.S. This is really just because I haven’t had time to record a new podcast and wanted to write about something.

P.P.P.S. I really wanted to write about PayPerPost, but I want to actually formulate my thoughts before I spew any venom.