31 December 2007

Netscape: A Look Back

As of February 2008, the Netscape Navigator browser will no longer be maintained by AOL (its current owner). Netscape had recently released the last (and now final) version (version 9) within the past month or so, and while it does present a very sleek appearance, it's basically just a fancy skin of Firefox 2.0 (the Netscape release notes for Navigator 9 even say this).

I downloaded and ran it, just for the look, and it's made me awful nostalgic. Netscape was the first browser that many cut their internet "teeth" on, and the sad story of its fall still haunts many tech-aficionados minds. (Side note: Netscape actually won the Netscape v. IE war, back in the day -- Microsoft paid Netscape somewhere close to 750 million dollars back in the day to settle the lawsuits. This was probably AOL's goal in buying Netscape anyway, however the billions AOL spent purchasing Netscape made this settlement less than profitable.)

Netscape 9's Default Look

I must admit -- I was impressed by how polished Netscape 9 looks. It's definitely not hacked-together, despite being just a skin of Firefox.

Using it made me curious, though -- what were the previous versions of Netscape like? (6, 7, 8, etc.) So, on a whim, I downloaded them all and installed them.

Netscape 4

Ah, the granddaddy of them all, Netscape Communicator 4.7. This is what we old folks used back in the Web 1.0 days.

It's real hard to get this thing to correctly render anything you find on the net these days -- up until a few months ago, it still rendered Google.com fine, but that all changed recently (I guess Google modernized their HTML or something).

Oddly enough, when I installed this on my work computer, Domino Designer picked it up and added it to my list of "preview modes" that I can preview my web applications in, for all the good that does (for what it's worth, it's never picked up any other browser).

Netscape 5

Netscape 5 was never really released -- Netscape open-sourced the code (it later became the Mozilla project) when the company decided to switch to the Gecko rendering engine. Some people say, on quiet nights, when you're browsing through Wikipedia for hours because you've got nothing to do, that you can hear the aborted ghost of Netscape 5 whispering through the lines of XHTML...

Netscape 6

To be honest, I couldn't even get Netscape 6 to install. It kept giving me an error message about a "Another version of Netscape 6 is already running" right after it unpacked itself. The only other Mozilla browser I was running at the time was Firefox, and if Netscape 6 was going to conflict with it, then forget about it -- we'll leave Netscape 6 to the annals of history.

Netscape 7

Netscape 7 was pretty much just a skin of the old Mozilla suite (which I absolutely loved back in the day around 2002 or so -- it's built-in popup stopping was what first got me away from IE).

Other than that, there's nothing really remarkable about it. It can't auto-update, there's not much to do in the way of customization (in my opinion), though it is notable because of the built-in search box (I guess). Basically, if you were familiar with the old Mozilla suite, Netscape 7 should seem familiar.

Netscape 8

Netscape 8 is more polished looking and well-made than I would have ever guessed. Featuring a completely custom skin (as well as custom button functions), it seems to be loosely based on Firefox, but it's got quite a few things that are unique to it, like the built-in "Security Center."

It may seem kinda silly to we experts, but as a user interface designer, I can see where this kinda thing could come in handy to the novice internet user. Collecting these functions into a handy little bar at the bottom that pops up when you click on it is an easy way to get the average user aware of things like site security and keeping their browser up to date (something that even Firefox makes it too easy to ignore).

The Spyware Protection caught my eye in particular -- apparently, Netscape 8 had a full, built-in spyware scanner. I don't know what engine it's running, and I'm kinda wary about running it to see -- knowing AOL's record on consumer information control, I can't help but worry about what kind of information this thing'll send back to AOL after it gets done scanning my entire hard drive.

One other thing I liked about Netscape 8 were the built-in specific-site controls found within the preferences box -- once again, it may seem kinda silly to an expert user, but to a novice, this thing is brilliant. A user can see at a glance all the specific security settings for the sites they visit, and can even choose a rendering engine to use to display individual sites.

There's even a "master" setting that the user can click on in the upper-left hand side of the box, in case the specific options (VBScript running, ActiveX, etc.) are too confusing -- a user can just click "I trust this site" or "I'm not sure" to get a pre-selected security level.

Additionally, I was quite suprised to find that Netscape 8 already had a link to the "XRay" page examiner that I've used sometimes on IE to observe how things are being rendered. Weird, but neat. Kinda goes against the entire "extremely novice user friendly" thing Netscape 8 had going, but I guess a novice user wouldn't really ever notice it, anyway.

Final Thoughts

Upon loading up all the old versions of Netscape, I can see that it was never really all that bad. Misunderstood, yes, but it was never a bad product -- just unnecessary. It's not like AOL spent a huge amount of money advertising it after it was bought, but, as we've seen from the success of Firefox, sometimes that isn't even necessary.

I'm still surprised that Netscape never really found a niche in these later years, especially since it still had the power of its name (almost everyone's familiar with it) -- especially Netscape 8, which was actually quite a well-made product. I can definitely see a niche for it -- the extremely novice user (think your parents, grandparents, upper management, etc.) who's found quite a few things to hate about IE but that's still fearful of all the "hype" surrounding Firefox (and that's one thing we OSS zealots need to understand one day -- sometimes hype, especially overzealous hype, can be a bad thing and actually turn people away from a great idea).

Yeah, I can definitely see a niche for that kinda user. I think I'll pass along a few copies of Netscape 8 and 9 to some people I know, just for the hell of it. ;)

Adobe's Impropriety

You may have heard about the little bit of fishy business ("Lies, Lies and Adobe Spies") that Adobe has been engaging in recently. Users of Adobe CS3 had apparently been the unwitting partners in a little datamining/anti-piracy program -- basically, as you used the program, it started connecting to 2o7.net (a known datamining company) and sending personal information about what you were doing on your computer.

And it wasn't just connecting to any 2o7.net address -- it was connecting to some address that they had set up on 2o7.net as "".

Ick -- yeah, I know. If that doesn't look like bloody trojan/malware behaviour, I don't know what does. The address is designed to look "safe" so that anybody running an aggressive firewall may potentially just quickly look past it and allow it to connect.

Now, an employee of Adobe has released a nice little corporate-sounding response which explains a few things, except for why the address is disguised to look local and why they're using a datamining service.

Want a little tip (especially if you run Windows or a Mac)? Use an aggressive Firewall, such as Little Snitch (Mac) or ZoneAlarm (Windows). Both have free versions (though you have to dig for ZoneAlarm's free version).

27 December 2007

An Easy Way to Debug WebQueryOpen/Save Agents

Ever have trouble debugging WebQueryOpen and Save agents? I sure do -- there's no way to debug them, as far as I know. :p

From what I can see, they usually fail silently, so there's no way to know what's going on, or what's screwing up!

Here's what I usually do (this is for LotusScript agents, by the way):

Create a form called "WebAgentDebugDoc" and give it one field called "DebugInfo" (or whatever you like).

Now, in your WebQueryOpen/Save agent, make sure you have your little "On Error Goto ExitAndDelete" line up at the top, followed by the appropriate "ExitAndDelete:" label down at the bottom.

Put this code underneath the "ExitAndDelete:" label:

Dim errorDoc As NotesDocument
Set errorDoc = DB.CreateDocument()
errorDoc.Form = "WebAgentDebugDoc"
errorDoc.DebugInfo = "id: " & Str(Err) & ", message: " & Error$ & ", line: " & Str(Erl)
Call errorDoc.Save(True, False)
Exit Sub

Now, whenever your WebQueryOpen/Save agent fails silently, you'll have this little doc telling you what went wrong (or at least what line number it went wrong on).

If there's an easier way to do this, feel free to tell me, for I could be missing some feature that makes this a breeze to do without code, or there could be something that you Domino Administrators out there can do that little ol' Designers like me can't. ;)

Safari Rollback

Well, that's it -- I got sick and tired of Safari on Windows' latest quirks, so I rolled back to version 3.0.2 (522.13.1). Luckily I still had the installer file saved locally from back when I installed it as a standalone (and not via the Apple Software Updater on Windows).

Seems to have fixed all the problems with it freezing up, too.

26 December 2007

Fark it.

First day back at work after the Christmas break, and I break my damn Ubuntu virtual machine -- apparently it was the kernel update that was pushed out recently. (I always did have problems with those and virtual machines.) It must've been a minor update, though, because I can't go back to an older kernel in the bootloader screen...

19 December 2007

Latest Build of Safari for Windows Sucks Arse

No, it's true. Whatever the hell's wrong with this build (3.04.523.13), Apple needs to push something out.

The damn thing's been constantly freezing up, most of the time before it even gets finished loading up -- it's not my computer, either (pretty sure), since Safari was working fine just a few days ago (before this build was pushed out by the Apple Software Updater).

18 December 2007



This story is actually kind of sad, in a dorky sort of way.

Still, it's actually a pretty smart solution for a cash-strapped budget. :P

14 December 2007

Ext 2.0's New Component-based System

I don't know about you, but I'm really starting to dig Ext 2.0's "component" based system -- it's ridiculous easy to customize any layout, no matter how complex.

You just stick in whatever Ext object you want, wherever you want, be it a toolbar, grid, or form.

If you're curious, take a look at the Ext 1 to 2.0 Migration Guide. It's more than just a migration guide; it's actually just a good primer for how the Component system works.

10 December 2007

Conyers, House Judiciary Members Introduce Bill to Protect Creative and Intellectual Property Rights

Conyers, House Judiciary Members Introduce Bill to Protect Creative and Intellectual Property Rights [house.gov link]

"PRO IP Act" Aims to Increase Infringement Penalties and Expand Government Enforcement [eff.org link]

"Intellectual property is not just the product of rock stars and movie stars. It accounts for more than 11 million American jobs and is a driving force in our economy," said Rep. Schiff. "American intellectual property is leading the way all around the world and this bill will help ensure that we protect this work from being stolen in the black market."

I don't understand the spokesperson's reasoning here -- how will a domestic law in any way help worldwide piracy, which the vast majority of comes from China?

Please, read up on the scary "PRO IP" bill currently going through Congress right now. In addition to the many other bad decisions this law makes (including the creation of a new agency, just like the ATF or the FBi, especially for copyright enforcement), it gives law enforcement agencies the right to confiscate and sell off any property you own if you're arrested for copyright violations, even if you're later found to be completely innocent. And, no -- you won't be compensated later on (it's called civil asset forfeiture -- read up on it).

Warning sounded over 'flirting robots'

Warning sounded over 'flirting robots' | Beyond Binary - A blog by Ina Fried - CNET News.com [via Slashdot]
"According to Ina Fried, a chatbot is making the rounds that successfully emulates an easily-laid woman. As such, it dupes lonely Russian males into divulging personal and financial details at a rate of one every three minutes. All jokes aside — and a lot of them come quickly to mind — that sure sounds like the Turing Test to me."

You know, for some strange reason I never thought that someone might use human sexuality to somehow defeat the Turing Test, but now that I think about it, it makes perfect sense (and I don't think it breaks the rules of the test).

Why not pre-weaken a human's sensibility with sex during or before the test?

06 December 2007

Longhorn, VMWare, and Pax extraction

Well, from a post at one of my favorite tech sites (TechPowerUp.com), I found out that Microsoft is offering six-month trials of the new 2008 version of its server software -- not bad, eh?

I was needing a new environment running on Vista's core to test my web applications in (can't install IE7 on my work computer yet), too. So, I'll admit it's a bit of overkill, but this'll do nicely.

Just go through the BS registration process and get your key -- the same page will have a link to download the ISO on it (I have to give props to MS for actually offering this in ISO format, and not some weird, proprietary shit that only works on Microsoft Virtual Machine or somethin').

I had heard horror stories of some versions of Windows not wanting to run correctly inside VMWare's virtual machines, but after configuration a hacked-together VMX configuation file that pointed to the Windows ISO, it installed just fine!

Fast, too. So fast, in fact, that I thought something had gone wrong, but it seems to be just fine... wierd, eh?

Then I noticed it wasn't picking up VMWare's network adapter. Great. What the hell do I do now?

Through some Googling, I learned that this can sometimes be a problem, and that installing the VMWare Tools package can help. Unforunately, there's no download existing for the VMWare Tools package -- it comes bundled with the Enterprise "VMWare Workstation" package. (I just have the free VMWare Player.)

What to do? After some more searching around, I found this page on some guy's personal website: http://www.brandonhutchinson.com/Installing_VMware_Tools_with_VMware_Player.html.

Apparently, you can just download the VMWare Workstation Trial and extract the tools from it! Brilliant!

The instructions were for Linux, so I fired up my Ubuntu VM and went to work. I followed the instructions from that guy's website, and everything went great. (While I was in there poking around I grabbed the Linux VMWare Tools, as well -- just replace "vmware-distrib/lib/isoimages/windows.iso" with "vmware-distrib/lib/isoimages/linux.iso". Easy peasy.)

I just left the files in ISO formats, since it was easier to get it onto the Longhorn VM that way (well, not easier, but my USB drive wouldn't work with it. Stupid Sandisk U3 software... -_-' Everything else about that drive is great except for that.)

I tried running the Windows installer inside the Longhorn VM, but it wouldn't install the Ethernet driver -- don't worry, if you get the same problem, just go into the Device Manager and install it manually (just point it at the mounted ISO).

And there we go. A reasonably fully-function copy of Vista+IE7 for me to work with.

03 December 2007

NASA's Done Got Its Website Re-did


Well, look who's all Web 2.0-y now? Being serious, this is a very, very well-designed site. Whoever did NASA's work for them deserves much credit.

It's all built on Prototype+Scriptaculous, and is very well executed -- check out the expanding "Blinds"-style menus at the top. No Flash there. (In fact, if you ask me, those menus on NASA's site are a damn site quicker that I've ever seen Flash do.)

Checking the site with Firebug, though, there seems to be a huge amount of JavaScript includes (like about 30!). I wonder what the developers were going for with that?