June 8, 2008
If you’re a Firefox user, and you haven’t tried out Firefox 3 yet, you’re missing out on some genuinely awesome features. I’ve been testing it since the early beta bits were available, but I think that the recently released RC2 build is stable enough for anyone to use.
If you’re still hesitant, watch this screencast by Mozilla’s Mike Beltzner, in which he introduces some of the major new features; you’re bound to be impressed.
If I had to pick my favorite feature, it would have to be the revamped address bar (check out the screencast to see it in action), but I also like the integrated add-on manager, and pause/resume support in the new download manager.
Vista users – install the Glasser extension to enable the Aero Glass effect on the browser chrome. Now you’ve got a browser that fits in much better, visually, with the rest of the system. :)
February 7, 2008
It’s not the car you idolized as a kid.
It never made your bedroom wall, or high school locker.
And there were no 1/18th scale models of it on your shelf.
Because it didn’t exist.
The Audi R8 – Revise your list of dream cars.
Consider that list revised! Move over, Ferraris, Lambos, and Porsches; we have a new winner. In fact, I feel a sudden, strong urge to save up $100K, just so that I can get my hands on one of these some day.
A car this stunning deserves an equally impressive ad campaign, and Audi’s promo site for the R8 doesn’t disappoint. Their “Dimension R8″ sequence is quite simply the best ad for a car I have ever come across — the music, the matrix-esque camera angles, and the lighting and scenery just set your pulse racing. Don’t miss it!
September 17, 2007
In case you missed the news a few days ago – Microsoft is offering full, legitimate copies of Office 2007 Ultimate to students for $60 from now until April 2008 through a promotion called “The Ultimate Steal.”
A number of universities offer free MSDNAA subscriptions to students, which include licensed copies of several Microsoft apps, but Office is not part of the package, so this is a good way to get the missing piece on a student budget.
A retail copy of the full suite costs over $600 on Amazon, and even the discounted “Home and Student” edition (which only includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote, but surprisingly not Outlook!) would set you back ~$120. This is a fantastic deal if you’re eligible.
July 21, 2007
In yesterday’s post, I mentioned Firefox as an example of an application that auto-updates itself in a simple and elegant manner, and highlighted some of the things that other software vendors could learn from Mozilla’s example.
Today, let’s look at one of my favorite aspects of modern Linux/BSD distributions – full system updates – and consider how Microsoft could potentially work with ISVs to build a similar mechanism for Windows in the future.
The screenshot on the right shows the Update Manager window from my Ubuntu setup. Notice how it offers to update Firefox and Gimp, both of which are “third-party” applications in the sense that they are not strictly parts of the operating system. In fact, any application that’s installed from Ubuntu’s vast software repository can be automatically updated in the same way. It’s a wonderfully convenient system that ensures that everything on your computer stays up-to-date, down from the OS kernel all the way up to high-level applications like web browsers and image editors.
Windows Marketplace – Evolved:
So how could something like this work on the Windows side? Here’s my idea. Many of you have probably heard of the Windows Marketplace, a Microsoft site that showcases thousands of third-party Windows applications from big and small ISVs. Microsoft could launch a campaign to revamp the Marketplace into a true software repository with the help of prominent software partners. Incentive programs could be set up to encourage smaller ISVs to also get onboard.
Consumers would be able to install third-party software quickly and easily from this repository via a companion utility. Commercial applications would be available for purchase through the Digital Locker and would be installed using the same system. An update utility similar to Windows Update (with BITS support) would then ensure that all these applications are always kept up-to-date.
There’s no doubt that implementing something like this would be a huge undertaking, and there are bound to be roadblocks along the way, but wouldn’t the end-result be great?
July 20, 2007
Firefox 22.214.171.124 was released earlier this week, which I promptly installed on my computers, and it got me thinking about how software updates are pushed out by various software vendors in the market.
Even though most software updates are delivered via the internet in some shape or form, there’s still a large fraction of applications that don’t include any kind of built-in updating mechanism (which is why tools like FileHippo are so handy). No wonder I come across so many people who continue to run old versions of software on their computers for months, or even years; they simply don’t know that there are updates out there, and who can blame them for it?
Moreover, out of the applications that do include the ability to update themselves automatically, very few manage to do so in an elegant way. Some applications install separate helper utilities that run when the system boots up, and they remain in memory, checking for updates at regular intervals. These tools often slow down the boot up process, consume system resources, and pop up update dialog boxes when you least expect them. Other applications relentlessly notify you of available updates, then force you to manually save and close all your work when you finally run out of patience and give in. I won’t point fingers at any particular apps, but I’m sure most of you can figure out which ones I’m referring to. ;)
For these reasons, I find the Firefox update process so refreshing. It works exactly like one would expect it to, and even goes above and beyond to avoid inconveniencing the user.
- There are no separate memory-resident helper utilities; Firefox automatically checks for updates only while it’s running.
- When an update is found, a dialog box appears, giving the user the choice to download and install the update, or defer the process for later.
- If the user accepts the update, Firefox saves its state (all open tabs), closes, installs the update, and re-opens in the same state as it was before. Brilliant.
- The update mechanism plays well with the User Account Control (UAC) feature in Windows Vista, something that even many commercial applications have yet to achieve.
If only more software vendors would follow Mozilla’s example, the desktop would be a much better place.
In the next post, we’ll take a look at another great software updating mechanism that uses a different approach, but works very well too. Until then, can you think of other applications that do a particularly good job at keeping themselves up-to-date without getting in the user’s way?