New version of extension for Firefox


Wonderful thing about Firefox extensions is the autoupdate feature. Go to Tools->Extensions, select Find update and for all installed extensions you get the latest and greatest …. usually.

One extension where the update did not work was the button for Firefox. I was happily using version 1.2 of the plugin and would never found out about the update, if I had not set the new workstation. The latest version 1.5.29 did not show in the updates. Which is too bad, because it is so much better …

New extension gives you new menu item and sidebar, with two panels: tags and bookmarks. The tags are interconnected, for example, if you have bookmark tagged as ‘3d’ as well as ‘animation’, you will see animation as child of 3d tag as well as 3d as child of animation. Tags can be sorted by alphabet or by frequency, bookmarks by last added, site, most visited, last visited.

Complete tutorial is here. If you are still using the previous version, go ahead and upgrade – by uninstalling the old version and installing new from here. It is absolutely worth it.

Avalon – reloaded …


Now this is something really interesting: as found on Adobe Labs site, their technology codenamed Apollo is approaching Alpha status. What Apollo is – in a nutshell – is another virtual machine, similar to Java runtime or .Net framework, with few minor twists: it is multiplatform (as Java) as well as multi-language (as .Net) at the same time. Before flame wars start – I am aware that JVM is capable (more or less) to support multiple languages beyond Java and also that .Net is (more or less) capable running on  non-Windows platforms (e.g. Mono project), but that is not the point. The point is what is different about the Apollo compared to JVM or CLR.

First thing that is different is developers skill-set. Adobe is trying to leverage the experience of Web application developers and allow to use traditionally Web oriented technologies to create desktop applications: HTML, Flash, Javascript and PDF in context of desktop applications. The other is that Apollo is designed with notion of being “occasionally connected”, or in other words online/offline applications. It does support well the regime when you can work offline with local copy of the data and reconnect / synchronize with master copy on-line, providing both access to local resources (as traditional desktop application) as well as rich asynchronous XML capable communication library (as Web 2.0 application running in browser on the client).

Using Javascript/HTML for desktop-ish apps is not really an innovation. If you look on how the Firefox extensions are created, or on Widgets/Gadgets in Vista or OS-X you will see something very similar. The same idea was also implemented in Avalon – renamed to Windows Presentation Foundation – which uses XML to define the user interface and “scripting” that determines the logic. In WPF, you use the .Net languages to do “scripting” (Javascript being one of them) and you need a .Net 3.0 capable platform to run it (currently Windows XP SP2, Windows 2003 and Vista, unless I am mistaken). Even with similar language (Javascript), programming WPF is quite different and requires different skills from Web application programming. Allowing the use the Web app development skills and adding variety of Flash/Html/Javascript/Pdf combinations may be very appealing for somebody who needs to create desktop-like application without learning WPF. Plus the ability being platform-independent is added bonus and could be finaly a solution for a problem that Java did not really addressed well. It has been possible to create rich client Web-startable applications  for several years and yet, it has not become the mainstream. Possibly because of the complexity of creating Swing-UI applications in a first place ?

Compared to Firefox important point is that Apollo departs from browser while keeping the Web capabilities – such as rendering Web pages or creating mixed apps. Eliminating browser is important from security point of view. Installed runtime can give the Apollo application access to local machine resources such as local files without compromising security – as it would be in case of browser based applications. Access to local resources together with modern approach to remote connectivity is very interesting. The browsers are very much Web 1.0 with the request/response shaped vision of the world and adding the asynchronous capability in AJAX was one grandious hack … Another good reason why getting  rid of browser is simplicity of supporting one version of runtime versus making sure that you new great Web2 app works with wildly different Javascript/DOM capabilities of Internet Explorer 5, 6 and 7, Firefox 1.0, Safari, Opera, and so on …

The demonstration videos on show few interesting capabilities of new application types – follow the ‘Sample Apollo applications’ link and also here.

It is still Alpha so it is too early to get excited, we have no data about performance, resource requirements or real world application development experience. Positive is that both runtime as well as SDK should be free. And it is always good to have more options available 🙂

FEOTD: Google Notebook


Today’s extension provides easy way how to access and add content to great free service from Google – Google Notebook. I am using it for over 3 months now and find it very useful and easy to use.

As other Google product, Google Notebooks is simple, has clean interface and not too many features. The extension available from Google tools for Firefox make using it even easier. It allows you to create notes – Web clippings, by selecting part of Web page and choosing “Note this (Google Notebook)” from context menu, selection is added to currently active notebook.

The extension also allows to work with your notebooks. It occupies right bottom part of the Firefox status bar:


after opening it by clicking on it, you can either keep the notebook opened in minimalistic one line version:


or mini-window (by using the first of the three buttons on the right in notebook header). Here is is the mini-window view:


The last button closes the notebook and the second button opens (in new tab) full screen view of the notebook:


On the right sight, you can see list of existing notebooks. Every notebook can contain many clippings. Each clip can be either expanded to show full content or collapsed to display two line summary. You can rearrange order of the notes in notebook by drag and drop (which is much easier when they are collapsed). You can organize the notes within the notebook into sections. The action menu on the right allows to create/delete section, add, rename or delete notebook. One of the notebook is always active and all your clips will end up inside it. If you want to keep separate notebooks for different areas, you can use the button next to Notebook title to quickly change active notebook:


Google notebook is providing very similar functionality as the Scrapbook extension – but it keeps all clippings on-line, which is both pro and cons. If you are using single computer, Scrapbook has an advantage of keeping saved pages available even when you are offline. It also gives you more options for managing clips: merge, import/export. GN allows only rearrange content, simple edit and print.

As many other Google tools, Google Notebook does one thing and does it well. Saving Web clip can hardly be easier. If you do not need import/export and want to have access to your clips from any place, give it a try.

FEOTD: Clippings – GMail’s best friend

  • Thanks to Lifehacker I have discovered this extension which add missing piece of GMail functionality:

This very simple extension allows you to enter multiple sets of text (such as e-mail signatures) and paste them into forms simply by right-clicking.

Why is this such a big deal ? I am using GMail for both my personal and work stuff. To make sure my work related email appear as coming from company email address, I set the proper From address when composing an email. GMail can be configured to stay with the recipient address when replying. The only problem is signature. In private emails, I want to have link to the blog, in work emails, to company site. And GMail offers only one signature. With this extension, I do not use any signature from GMail, just simply insert correct one from the Clippings buffer.

There are other solutions Gmail multiple signatures Greasemonkey script but they are quite heavyweight for simple problem (which was main reason I did not try them out).

Get it at usual place.

FEOTD: well hidden secret


Today’s extension is one that most people do not know about – and still almost everybody has it installed. The explanation for both is that it is distributed with Firefox, and unless you specifically prevent it’s installation, you will get it. It is DOM Inspector.

Why would you care about something like this ? Unless you make living by creating Web applications, you probably would not. But if you do, it can help you a lot !

To open an inspector window for any page, select Tools->DOM Inspector and press ‘Inspect’ next to URL (it copies URL of the page you are on, but you can type in any URL). The window is divided in three panes – document tree, node properties and in lower panel the rendered HTML. Now you can walk through the document tree and see the node properties (and note that in rendered page a blinking red rectangle will highlight the node you are on). Or you can go the other way – click on the top left button (“Find a node …”) and then click anywhere in the rendered document – the tree will reveal position of the element you are on. This is very usefull especially when you are trying to locate the chunk of HTML buried deeply in nested structures of tables.

DOM Inspector will also help you see (and debug) the CSS and see the Javascript objects of the page. Best way how to find out, it to start experimenting. You can also get more information on how to use it, including nice snapshots on this and this blogs.

If you need less detailed information about the actual tree, but more summary type info on the page, try Ctrl-I (or Command-I on OS-X). It shows you page information dialog, with tabs for full HTTP headers (request as well as response), list of all links on the page, all media on the page (images, flash, ect) with option to save them to file, as well as information about everything that contributes to the rendered pages with its size.

So next time you will be trying to make sense of huge, complicated HTML source of a Web page, remember that help is only one click – Apple-Shift-I (or Ctrl-Shift-I for the Windows) – away.

FEOTD: Stealther


Today’s extension is from the area of – surprise surprise – security and privacy. I guess I am getting slightly paranoid from all the security related stuff I am listening to. But I promise I will switch back to “standard” TWIT, MacBreak and Windows Weekly to compensate the security heavy topics. But it certainly true that the more you are aware of what is technically possible, the more hostile Internet you will see …

The extension name is Stealther and it can help you surf the web without leaving a trace in your local computer. What it does is temporarily disable the following:

  • Browsing History (also in Address bar)
  • Cookies
  • Downloaded Files History
  • Disk Cache
  • Saved Form Information
  • Sending of ReferrerHeader

In other words, with Stealther on, you can visit dubious sites without leaving traces on your local computer – this is the key. It is important to understand what it does NOT do because people sometimes get false feeling of security when using tool like this. Even with Stealther on,

  • Remote site still will know your external IP address
  • you will be vulnerable to all exploits to the degree your browser is vulnerable (with Firefox, you will be much better of than with IE version <= 6, but not really secure
  • full history of your interaction with the site can be recorded at the site or at your ISP

Simple experiment can visualize what exactly is the difference between surfing with and without Stealther: using the LiveHTTPHeader extension, let’s click a link ‘Firefox Help and add ons’ on Firefox default start page and compare the difference. Here is the HTTP request without Stealther (ignore the line numbers, they are from Smultron):


and here is same request with Steather on:


What is missing is the Referrer link – the foreign site will not know where you came from. Which may or may not be important. Other than that – the site will still get all information about your browser version and OS, which can be used (in case of malicious Web site) to render page that will try install spyware or virus or benefit from known browser exploits.

Despite of that, Stealther is very useful to control cookies. In Firefox, you can set option that every attempt to set cookie can be examined and manually confirmed. If you decide to do that, you must have a patience of a saint, because browsing will become very annoying sequence of deciding whether you allow or disallow cookies. With Stealher, you can keep your browser setting on less draconian (and more practical) level and activate “cookie killer” on request, whenever you will enter zone of aggressive sites that may try to trace your digital pathways.

Stealther does pretty decent job in covering your trails on local computer side. It is very small, fast and non-intrusive. Of course, if you want *really* to be sure you have not forgotten anything, the best way is to install Linux in virtual machine with Firefox browser, surf from the VM environment and throw the virtual disk away after you are done. Do not forget to use few anonymizing proxies (ideally located in different countries) and start your surf from public anonymous internet location like Bridgehead . Hush hush …

FEOTD: Linky


Today’s extension is yet another one that somehow works with URL’s aka links. If you now have strange feeling that all extensions in last few days *were* about links, you are right. But realize that links are the most crucial feature of the Web, and therefore extensions dealing with links are really useful.

After you download Linky (the download is very small – only 32 kB), it adds few entries into your context menu. How many new menu entries are added can be configured in plugin option. On activation, Linky shows you number of links and image links (URL pointing to picture) on currently page displayed page and allows you to open links in new tabs or new windows or open image links in new tabs or windows. In both cases, Linky displays dialog window with all links and allows individual selection of which links will be included.

Linky - context menuLinky - Selection of links

If you before right-clicking on page (or Ctrl-Click if you are on Mac) select part of page, you can perform all actions mentioned above with links contained in selection. Linky also allows opening links that are not really links – the text links – but if you use Linkify plugin, you will never see these. Very nice feature is also opening all images from page (or selection) in single new window or single new tab.

Linky is extremly useful on sites that maintain links – for example, digg or google . You fist select set of links by selecting the tags of interest and then open all links in tabs. While you read one tab, others are loaded in background. This is extremly efficient “wide surfing” which is very handy when you need to revies large amount of information without getting lost or distracted … The only downside is memory consumption.

And now for something completely different: I visited Steve Gibson’s site and tried his very handy, free online security service. If you believe that your system or network is secure – verify it by visiting his site and checking whether your network shields are indeed up.