Reply to Walt Mossberg – Native apps vs web apps

I recently listened to an episode of the Ctrl-Walt-Delete podcast, in which Walt Mossberg and Nilay Patel talked about web browsers vs native mobile apps. There was something Walt said that I have to comment on, because I disagree with it, and a tweet just isn’t enough. 🙂

When explaining why most people use native mobile apps, he argued that the main reason is because an app (when done right) offers a more focused experience, He cited Google Maps as an example.

I don’t think it’s that complex. I think it has more to do with how fast you can get there. If I want to use Google Maps, it’s quicker and more convenient to tap on the Google Maps icon than it is to tap on the browser, then pull up a list of bookmarks, and tap on the Google Maps bookmark. That has nothing to do with the experience of using the app.

I’m not saying that’s the only reason people use native mobile apps. I think most other differences have a minor effect on the user’s decision, and how fast and convenient it is to get to the app is probably the biggest factor.

Do you need to install Flash anymore?

If someone asks “Do I need Java“, my answer is a) most people don’t need it, and b) to find out if you need it, remove it. I did that many years ago and haven’t needed it. I’ve been hoping to reach the same point with Flash. I’d try disabling it, but there are two sites I regularly visit, which sometimes require Flash – Youtube and Facebook (for videos). Last year, Youtube switched to HTML5, and recently I found that Facebook started using HTML5 for videos, so I decided to try disabling Flash again. This time, I was pleasantly surprised at how many websites no longer use Flash.

Using Firefox on a late 2013 Macbook Pro, here is a list of sites I’ve found work well with Flash disabled:

  • Youtube
  • Facebook
  • Thestar.com
  • Instagram
  • CNN
  • CNET
  • Vimeo
  • Dailymotion

There are still some holdouts. In my case, I’m really affected by CTV Toronto News requiring Flash. I also wanted to watch an episode of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, and that required Flash. Others:

  • BBC
  • Hulu

I emailed CTV, and here’s the response:
At this time we currently do not have any future plans to support HTML5. Regardless, your comments have been forwarded to our technical team for review.

I’ve decided to switch back to thestar.com for local [Toronto] news, now that they’re over their Rob Ford obsession.

And with that, I can keep Flash disabled. Every now and then I may require it to view some web content, but for the most part, I don’t need it.
Flash has been thought of as a must-have plugin, but after disabling it, that wasn’t the case for me. A lot of the web has already switched to HTML5. Try disabling Flash for yourself, and enjoy so much more battery life!

My Installed Add-ons – Keyword Search

I love finding new extensions that do things I never even thought to search for. One of the best ways to find them is through word of mouth. In this case, I guess you can call it “word of blog”. I’m doing a series of blog posts about the extensions I use, and maybe you’ll see one that you want to use.

My previous posts have been about:

For this blog post, I’ll talk about Keyword Search.
In Firefox, whenever you do a web search from the location bar, it will use the same search engine as in the search bar. Keyword Search allows you to use a separate search engine for location bar web searches. This is really helpful to people like me who mainly use one search engine (for basic web searches) and others for content-specific use cases.

To set your location bar search engine, go to the add-ons manager.

  1. Beside “Keyword Search“, click Preferences.
  2. Beside “Keyword Search Engine“, select the search engine you want to use.

You can install it via the Mozilla Add-ons site.

My Installed Add-ons – gTranslate

I love finding new extensions that do things I never even thought to search for. One of the best ways to find them is through word of mouth. In this case, I guess you can call it “word of blog”. I’m doing a series of blog posts about the extensions I use, and maybe you’ll see one that you want to use.

The first one is Context Search, which I’ve already blogged about.
The second is Clippings, which I’ve also blogged about.

The third is gTranslate. gTranslate is pretty simple – it translates text you’ve selected using Google’s translator. I find that I use it most on Facebook. Sure, Facebook has a built in translation tool, but that uses Bing, and I find that the Google translator works better.

On that note, if you prefer a different translation tool, there are probably other extensions that do the same thing, but use your preferred tool.

To translate text on the fly, just select the text you want to translate, right-click on it, and move the pointer to the context menu item called “Translate“. It should auto-detect the which language you are translating from, and show you the translation. If you want to change the language being translated, you can do so using the sub-menus.

You can install it via the Mozilla Add-ons site.

My Installed Add-ons – Clippings

I love finding new extensions that do things I never even thought to search for. One of the best ways to find them is through word of mouth. In this case, I guess you can call it “word of blog”. I’m doing a series of blog posts about the extensions I use, and maybe you’ll see one that you want to use.

The first one is Context Search, which I’ve already blogged about.

The second is Clippings. Clippings allows you to keep pieces of text to paste on demand. If you frequently answer email messages with one of a set of replies, you can paste which reply you want to use using the context menu. In my case, I take part in support forums, which means I have to respond to frequently asked questions, typing the same answers frequently. Clippings allows me to have canned responses, so I can answer more support questions in less time.

To save a piece of text as a clipping, select it, then right-click and go to “Clippings”, then “New from Selection“. You’ll then be asked to name the clipping and where to save it among your list of clippings. It supports folders too.

When you want to use that clipping just right-click on the text area, then go to “Clippings” and select the clipping you want to paste.

Clippings is also very useful in Mozilla Thunderbird.

You can install it via the Mozilla Add-ons site.

My Installed Add-ons – Context Search

I love finding new extensions that do things I never even thought to search for. One of the best ways to find them is through word of mouth. In this case, I guess you can call it “word of blog”. I’d like to start a series of blog posts about the extensions I use, and maybe you’ll see one that you want to use.

The first one is Context Search. Context Search is one of those extensions I think should be part of Firefox. Context Search allows you to choose which search engine you use for each search. If it’s a word you aren’t familiar with, you can choose the Websters search engine. If it’s an acronym you aren’t familiar with, you can choose the Acronym Finder search engine.

Without the extension, when you highlight text then right-click, the menu will contain an item to search your preferred search engine for the text that is highlighted. With Context Search, you are instead given a list of your installed search engines, so you can pick which one to use. The search results will open in a new tab. I find myself using it more than the search bar.

Here’s a screenshot:

You can install it via the Mozilla Add-ons site.

Keeping select cookies

Issues with cookies:

  • A lot of websites set cookies to do things that you may not like.
  • A lot of websites set cookies to provide a convenience, like keeping you logged in across sessions.
  • Some websites require cookies in order to work.

For the reasons above, I’ve decided that it would be best to clear cookies when firefox exits, and find some way to exempt some cookies from being cleared with the rest. To do that in Firefox, I found the setup a little confusing. There is no clear setting to exempt sites from clearing of cookies. As it turns out, the trick is to set the site to allow cookies. Sites in that exceptions list are also deferred when you have Firefox set to clear cookies on exit.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Go to the Options window.
  2. In the Privacy panel, set “Firefox will” to Use custom settings for history.
  3. Set Keep until to I close Firefox, then click OK.
  4. For each website you exempted from being cleared on exit, visit it. When viewing the site, click on the site info icon to the left of the site address, and click More Information.
  5. In the Permissions panel, uncheck Use Default under Set Cookies, and set it to Allow.

Cookies from those sites set to allow cookies will not be cleared on exit. No add-on required.

 

 

Google Reader alternatives for Firefox

If you use Firefox and need an alternative to Google reader, Feedly isn’t the only option.

First, you can try the live bookmarks feature that’s part of Firefox. Here are instructions on how to use it.

Second, there are plenty of extensions available for reading web feeds. I used to use Sage. Other popular ones:

Third, if you use Mozilla Thunderbird, the email and newsgroups app built on Mozilla, it contains a great rss reader.  For instructions on how to use it visit Thunderbird support – How to Subscribe to News Feeds and Blogs.

How to disable new tab page in Firefox

Sometimes people complain about Firefox lacking a feature that is already there, but they didn’t notice. A common one is the ability to prevent Firefox from displaying thumbnails of websites you often visit when opening a new tab.

I thought most people knew how to do it, until I saw one of the Firefox developers not know about it!

Here’s how to disable it:

Just click on the tile icon in the top-right corner of the new tab page.