Archive for the ‘ Browsers ’ Category

Why DRM is Bad: The Law of Unintended Consequences

DRM is software used to restrict your access to your files.  And it is one of the worst ideas of the modern world. To quote Cory Doctorow in his book Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town,

No one woke up this morning and said, “Damn, I wish there was a way to do less with my books, movies and music.”

It was intended, originally, to keep copyright laws working.  Before about the 20th century, copying another work was an arduous process (no computers, no recording mechanisms, etc), so restricting the copying of an item (like a song, or a picture) was most easily done at the stage of copying.

All that has changed.  Now we have computers, cheap cameras, video recorders, scanners, recorders, and so on.  It’s suddenly very hard to keep people from copying.

The Law of Unintended Consequenses states:

Any intervention in a complex system may or may not have the intended result, but will inevitably create unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes.

Basically, that means “Anything you do might work, but it will always do something you didn’t expect or want.”

The attempt to keep copyright working in today’s day and age is DRM, which keeps you from copying and using files how you want.  And it’s not just constricted to copying, either:

  • In July of 2009 Amazon deleted copies of two books from Kindles, as the books were illegally placed in the Amazon ebook store.  Ironically, they were Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, both by George Orwell.Now, assume a leaked copy of a secret eight Harry Potter book (of which there are in fact rumors) is bound by an individual and placed in Borders.  You walk in and want to buy it — you don’t know that it shouldn’t be there.  The teller, who doesn’t really like fantasy, doesn’t know that they shouldn’t be selling that book.  Later that night, it is revealed to the manager that this book was sold.  Some of his workers break into your house, take the book (you had already been reading it; you were about halfway through) and leave.  I believe you would be sufficiently enraged.  What’s to stop Amazon from deleting or editing any book you have on a Kindle?
  • DRM is on many DVDs in order to keep the market from getting too segmented — spread out over too many demographics, which is a huge hassle (if I read correctly) for marketing and the company in general.  Now, assume you just bought a new DVD.  You’re going on vacation to Japan soon, and haven’t yet had a chance to watch it.  You bring with you, to watch in the hotel one night.  Woops, too bad!  Many DVDs only work in players manufactured for the same country the DVD was manufactured in, and possibly a few others.
  • Or maybe, while in Japan, you buy some anime DVD to watch at home. Too bad, so sad.
  • Don’t like Safari on the iPhone?  Want, perhaps, Opera Mini?  Oh wait — everything on the iPhone is slathered in DRM.  You can’t use third-party software not from the App Store, and Opera Mini hasn’t been accepted yet.  So, it does get accepted, then an update changes its code some.  Apple doesn’t like the new version.  Oh, sorry, it appears Opera Mini isn’t on your iPhone anymore.  Download a vehemently anti-Apple article on your iPad?  Nope.  It’s deleted.  They can do that, if they want.  At any time.  To any one.  On any thing.
  • So, you just downloaded this ebook and man, is it great.  You want your friend to read it, but he doesn’t want to buy it.  “Okay,” you think, “I’ll just send it to him.”  Woops, sorry!  You can’t share your files if their DRM says so.
  • Any song you download from iTunes has DRM on it. You can only have iTunes accounts on three computers, and those songs are very restricted. This is doubly stupid. Not only is DRM a bad idea, but each of those songs is available on CD without DRM. iTunes DRM’s its songs because the big music companies say so, but then they release unlocked CDs (which is a great thing) that you can rip.

And get this — DRM doesn’t, for the most part, do a thing except annoy people.  Pirates have cracked every DRM scheme out there.  Any file with DRM is available on BitTorrent without it.

Help spread awareness:  DRM is bad.

Excellent Firefox Add-ons

A while ago (Sep 5, ‘09), I wrote this post about recommended Firefox addons.  It is by now out of date.

There’ll be some addons that stayed, some that left, and some new ones.  Clicking the title of a bullet point will take you to that add-on’s page in the Firefox Add-ons directory

Also, screenshots for most add-ons can be found on their respective pages.  If you have question or comments of any kind, please leave a comment.  I’ll respond as soon as I see it.

So, without further ado:

  • autoHideStatusbar
    Hides the status bar, which reappers when you hover your mouse over a user-set distance from the bottom (defaulted, I believe, to five or ten pixels).
  • Better Gmail 2
    A compilation of Greasemonkey scripts to enhance Gmail.  This, along with the Helvetimail script, is my current Gmail setup.
  • Better GReader
    A compilation of Greasemonkey scripts to enhance Google Reader.  I use this with the HelvetiReader script, included in the add-on.
  • ChatZilla
    A very nice IRC client that comes as an addon, but opens in its own window.  You’ll most often find me in #xkcd on irc.foonetic.net. (about the channel here, about the server here)
  • Download Statusbar
    "View and manage downloads from a tidy statusbar," according to the add-on – which is exactly what it does.  In my opinion, is much better than the default download window and should come bundled with Firefox.
  • FaviconizeTab
    Shrinks a tab (right click on tab –> Faciconize Tab) to just its favicon.  When paired with PermaTabs Mod as described here, you can create permanent, favicon-only Mail/Reader tabs.
  • Flashblock
    When any Flash element is detected, it is blocked until (if) you click on said element.  Then said element works as if it was never blocked.  Works very nice for blocking annoying ads and animations.  Has the added benefit (IMO) of stopping YouTube videos from autoplaying.
  • Greasemonkey
    You need this add-on to use Greasemonkey scripts.  Highly, highly recommended.
  • gui:config
    Gives you a GUI (Graphical User Interface) for some great about:config items.
  • Hide Caption
    Hides the title bar of Firefox and moves the Minimize, Restore/Maximize, and Close buttons to the address bar line.
  • Hide Menubar
    Hides the menu bar of Firefox, which can be temporarily reshown by pressing ALT.
  • Hyperwords
    Makes all the text on a page interactable.  Numbers can be converted from one form to another (e.g. Celsius to Fahrenheit or milimeters to inches) right on the web page.  Words can be referenced or entered into a search engine.  Words can be translated – right on the page.  No redirects.  See the home page for more info.  Highly, highly, highly, recommended.
  • InvisibleHand
    When a shopping page (Amazon, NewEgg, Borders, etc) is visited and a different page has the same item for a cheaper price, InvisibleHand lets you know with an unobtrusive bar at the top of screen.
  • LeechBlock
    Within a user-set period of time, actively blocks a user-defined set of sites.  As a high school student faced with homework or the entire internet, very useful indeed.
  • Morning Coffee
    When clicked, the taskbar button opens up a user-defined set of sites.  I use this every day to check on blogs that either don’t have an RSS feed or from which I don’t want every post showing up in Reader.
  • Omnibar
    Integrates the address bar and the search box into one.  A very slick affect.
  • PermaTabs Mod
    Lets you keep permanent tabs that only load when clicked on – so Firefox doesn’t take any longer to load up than normal.  When paired with FaviconizeTab, permanent Mail/Reader tabs can be created.
  • Speed Dial
    Gives you a Chrome- or Opera-like home page (more like Opera) that gives you nine slots that can be set to any URL you desire.
  • StumbleUpon
    Helps you discover new websites with a toolbar that has a “Stumble!” button.  The sites you are sent to are based of your interests, which you identify during sign-up.
  • Stylish
    Enables Styles, in a process similar to Greasemonkey.  The difference is that Greasemonkey uses JavaScript and Stylish uses CSS scripting.
  • Tab Mix Plus
    Gives you various option to control exactly how you want your tabs to behave and look.

So:  have fun!

SphereXPlorer

This is meant to be a browser where instead of tabs, it pulls up multiple windows and you can arrange them around a ‘sphere’. Good idea, not so great program.

Pros:
Good idea for a program.  Easy to resize and move your windows around. 

Cons:
Hard to see the tiny windows on my MSI Wind’s screen.  Issues with lag.  Leaves behind marks when you move or close a window.

Rating:  4 4/10

You can download it here, if you like.

About the ratings: 
I copied Wired Magazine’s rating system because I like and I think it works well.  Here’s the key:
1 = A complete failure in every way
2 = Barely functional – don’t get it
3 = Serious flaws, proceed with caution
4 = Downsides outweigh upsides
5 = Recommended with reservations
6 = A solid product with some issues
7 = Very good, but not great
8 = Excellent, with room to kvetch
9 = Nearly flawless – get it now
10 = Metaphysical product perfection

SphereXPlorer

Firefox: Uber-maximized Reading Area

I installed some Stylish scripts and some addons and got a Firefox window that is nearly totally reading area, but still has total functionality. I love it. You’ll have to use both addons and Stylish scripts to get this to work like I have it. Here’s the screenshot, to entice you to read further. *NOTE: Screenshots are being taken on my awesome 20” widescreen monitor, so there’ll be a lot of blank space on the sides. Be forewarned.

Enticing Screenshot

Addons I’m using to get this:

  • Hide Caption
    Hides the useless title at the top of a window (Mozilla Firefox, in this case). The close, maximize, and minimize buttons are moved to the navbar, screenshots at the bottom (as usual).
  • Hide Menubar
    Reviewed in my previous post, “My Recommended Firefox Add-ons” Screenshots on that post.
  • Speed Dial
    Shows 8 user-selected clickable thumbnails on a new tab. (Plus a weather thumbnail that… um… shows your current weather. Can be turned into a regular page.) Allowed me to remove 8 icons from my bookmarks bar, so now the whole bookmarks bar fits on my MSI Wind. Screenshots below, still as usual.
  • Stylish
    Reviewed in my previous post, “My Recommended Firefox Add-ons” Screenshots… yeah. I’ll stop telling you this. You probably got it by now.
  • autoHideStatusbar
    Reviewed in my previous post “My Recommended Firefox Add-ons

Stylish scripts I’m using to get this.

Yay! Screenshot time!

Caption Hid!
Caption Hid

Note that the close and such buttons are moved to the navbar:
close on the right

Speed Dial
Speed Dial

Bookmarks Toolbar hid…
Bookmarks Bar hidden

… until mouseover!
bookmarks bar shown

Tabs at the top, woohoo!
Tabs be at the top

Neither back nor forward buttons visible…
New tab, so no back or forward

… here’s just the back button
Just Back Button

Note the lack of home button (the button there is refresh)
No home button

Here’s just the reload button
Page not loading, so just refresh

Now the page is loading, so there’s a stop button too
Loading, so there's a stop button

So there you have it! As always, I apologize for random vertical stretching on some of the pictures.

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Questions? Comments? Spam? Just leave a comment on the post and I’ll see it and get back to you as soon as I can.

If you find a typo or a grammar fail, please let me know. Thanks!

My recommended Firefox Add-ons

Here’s all the Firefox Add-ons that I’m using and like.  Some of them are in the official recommended list, some aren’t.  This isn’t necessarily all the ones I like, I may find more that I like later.  Anyways, here goes:

  • about:me
    Collates your Firefox History into a cool-looking page with graphs (type about:me into the address box).  As I write this, it shows the following things:  Most visited Sites, Hourly Browsing Activity, Download Media Types, Daily Download Trends.  Screenshots below.
  • Add-On Collector
    Makes it easier to add Add-Ons to a collection, either for sharing or backup or whatever.
  • autoHideStatusbar
    Pretty self explanatory:  hides the status bar at the bottom unless you hover your mouse a customizable distance from the bottom, defaulted to 5 pixels.  Perfect for me, I work on a netbook. Every little bit of extra space is good.
  • Better Gmail 2
    Some stuff to make Gmail look and work better.  On a side note, my favorite Gmail theme is Shiny.
  • Better GReader
    I use this one a LOT.  Some of my favorite features:  minimalist view (maximized space for viewing articles, again good for my netbook) and clicking on the title of a feed pulls up the page in that tap.  Screenshots below.
  • Cooliris
    A really cool  looking (I actually liked the older version better, though) ‘Wall’ for viewing photos or videos, off of any page with pictures (hover over a picture then click the Cooliris icon that comes up) or from your computer (open the Cooliris page, then choose My Computer) or, once the Cooliris page is open, you can search sites like YouTube, Hulu, DeviantART, Google Images, etc.  Screenshots below.
  • Download Statusbar
    Shows downloads in a bar on top of the statusbar, instead of in the normal pop-up window.  I love it, I do a lot of downloading programs and things.  Screenshots below.
  • FaviconizeTab
    Shrinks an open tab to just its Favicon.  I use it for Google Reader, with the Unread Count in Favicon from Better GReader and for Gmail with the Unread Count in Favicon from Better Gmail 2, so that I can see if I have new mail but still have lots of room for other tabs.  Screenshots below.
  • Fission
    Shows how much a page is loaded in the address bar, like in Safari.  Eye candy.  Screenshots below.
  • Hide Menubar
    Um… Hides the menubar.  Bring it back up temporarily by pressing Alt.  Good for my netbook.  Screenshots below.
  • InvisibleHand
    One of my favorites, InvisibleHand checks the item you’re looking at on Amazon, Newegg, TigerDirect, Target, etc. and tells you if there’s a better deal on any other site.  I have saved quite a bit with it.
  • Personas for Firefox
    I don’t use this one too much, I have the heaven.cube theme installed, but it’s still awesome.  Dresses up your browser with one click.  Nothing but eye candy. 
  • StumbleUpon Toolbar
    I usually have this hidden, with custom shortcuts for Stumbling, Liking, and Disliking (Ctrl+F1, Ctrl+Shift+F1, and Ctrl+Shift+1, respectively).  StumbleUpon is awesome.
  • Stylish
    Lets you install a whole bunch of user scripts, instantly (click Install then click OK) that change how a site looks.  I have a grey-and-black-and-red colored Facebook at the moment, for example

And there you go.  You can download everything here at an Add-on Collection I made, if you want.

Screenshots:

about:me page
about me page

GReader page from title
greader

Cooliris Wall – searching DeviantART
cooliris deviantart page

Download Statusbar
download statusbar

Faviconized Tabs
favoconized tab

Fission loading bar – about halfway loaded
fission bar

Look, Ma!  No Menubar!
no menu bar

Please excuse the weird vertical stretching on the last picture.  I don’t know why it does that.

Arora

Arora is a browser, along the lines of a less feature-saturated Firefox.  I use Firefox and run beta and alpha releases, and hardly ever get a bug, except for two that are relatively common:

– Browser shutdowns, which is fixed by reopening the browser and everything is as it was

– The browser refuses to load, which I fix by using Arora whilst I give Firefox some down time.

Arora looks pretty bland, but has a blazing fast startup time and pretty fast page load time.  Also, one of the built-in bookmarks is xkcd.  That’s awesome.

Also, Arora “runs on Linux, embedded Linux, FreeBSD, Mac OS X, Windows, and any platform supported by the Qt Toolkit” (from the Arora homepage)

You can get Arora for free (as in free speech and free beer (from the homepage)) here.

The default startup pageimage

Quick Firefox interestingness

I discovered today that middle-clicking on an open tab on the tab bar in Firefox closes it.  Middle clicking on a link opens said link in new tap; this I already knew.  It makes you life just that much easier to click anywhere in the tab to close it instead of the little ‘x’.