Archive WWW
28. May 2013

Last month, I was all excited because both Google and Opera had announced to work together on a new fork of the Webkit engine called Blink and I assumed that a new version of the Opera browser would be just like the old ones with the rendering engines switched out. Now Opera has released Opera Next 15, which is not exactly billed as a beta nor a preview, but as a kind of development version. It is the much anticipated first version of the desktop browser with the Blink engine, but unfortunately it turns out I was wrong with my assumptions because there isn’t much left from the previous versions.

[Update 3.6.: I now think that most of the worries expressed in this post are mostly unfounded… the first impression was simply wrong and based mainly on a misunderstanding that Opera Next 15 is a finished product. It is most definitively not and Opera has said in a posting today on Google+ that they are working on re-integrating many of the popular features. They also said that simply switching from Presto to Blink was impossible, because the user interface is too tightly interwoven with the user interface. They’re actively working on building up the new browser and they are listening to their users.]

But first the very good news: the Blink and V8 rendering engines are fast as blazes even on my old work notebook. I had been using Google Chrome for Google+ and Facebook in the last months because Opera’s old Presto engine was simply slower than Webkit in these cases. Opera Next 15 is still faster and seems to consume much less memory, making it a more streamlined and not so bulky version of Chrome – working with it on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and even in WordPress is very smooth compared to Opera 12. This is the one most impressive feature of Opera’s new version and there’s absolutely nothing to complain about the speed of the browser.

The bad news is that the user interface is actually just a clone of Chrome – there is absolutely nothing left from Opera 12. This has produced a huge backlash on the social media sites like the Google+ announcement and even on their own blog posting there is a lot of understandable anger. While this version is clearly labeled as a development build, removing everything that made Opera great before – the bookmark system, the sidebars, the high customizability, the download manager and many other things – is shocking to say the least. There isn’t even a proper bookmark system, the user interface is not customizable and the preferences are only a shadow of the previous version. I really hope that this release is really meant only as a demo for the new rendering engine, otherwise Opera will become totally redundant by just becoming Chrome with an Opera logo on it.

The problem here is that Opera is not very communicative about the new version – if they would have said that it is just a test version to show the engine, it would have been okay. But this version, while impressively fast and really usable as a browser itself, completely lacks the individuality of an Opera browser. I can see the need to build up a new user interface after all that time and the first steps are okay, but if this is an indicator of a finished product, Opera has got a huge problem. I hope that the developers will come to their senses and put all the great features of the previous versions back into Opera 15 – otherwise many people will have to stay with version 12 and just use 15 or even Chrome as a secondary browser.

I have actually switched from Google Chrome to Opera Next for some resource-intensive sites, but Opera 12 stays as my main browser until I can import my bookmarks into 15 and at least the most important features of the older versions are implemented again. I’m not giving up on Opera, but I’m a bit worried about the direction this could be heading.

Kategorie: WWW
25. May 2013

Last week, Google kicked its own social network Google+ at least five years into the future with a huge makeover – it didn’t please everyone and there are still some issues to be worked out, but overall it’s a great evolution of a social network which has always been far ahead of its competition. But there were two other huge updates in the mobile world this week: first Google updated the Google+ Android App and then Opera followed with the completely new version of Opera Mobile. Both are pretty substantial updates and show that the companies are not sleeping when it comes to porting their programs to Android – especially compared to some other tech giants, who can’t seem to get their act together. But these two are doing it right and are first and foremost listening to their users.

Google+ version 4.0 is actually not such a huge update like the jump from 3.5 to 3.6, because this time Google has just implemented the changes from the new version of the website in the mobile app. The new layout introduced with 3.6 was actually the basis for the website redesign, so there are no huge surprises here other than the integration of hashtags and trending topics into the stream. But there have been some huge improvements under the hood: rendering speed is now much better and while loading still sometimes takes a few seconds on low-end devices, there are no more problematic slowdowns. The biggest improvement is, however, the ability to access and manage the Google+ photo albums, which means that it is now possible to share photos that not only have been taken with the internal camera directly from a mobile device. Unfortunately it is not (yet?) possible to share images from the device’s sd-cards or even from an external server, which should really be implemented. Otherwise the new version now feels much more mature and makes working with Google+ on mobile devices very comfortable.

Opera Mobile has been the best browser I’ve encountered so far on Android, but the user interface of version 12 was clunky and not really suited for larger tablets. When Opera had announced a while back to switch their mobile and desktop versions to Webkit, I was somewhat concerned about the performance on my low-end tablet, but the beta versions of Opera Mobile 14 with the Webkit engine had proven otherwise. I had already completely switched to the new version and gladly updated to the final – I was, however, a bit miffed when I discovered that not the beta 14 was upgraded, but my installation of the old version 12. Luckily, all the bookmarks were imported in a legacy folder in the Speed Dial system, so nothing was lost. I didn’t miss the old version in the least, especially when I discovered that the final release, which was updated once more on Thursday, had become even faster and more stable than the betas.

The user interface is extremely minimal and the final version has switched to a fullscreen mode in which the address-menu-bar scrolls off the top – exactly the feature I was waiting for! No bookmark system has been implemented, only the speed dial, history and a somewhat useless “discover” page with links and news are available. Opera has not yet managed to connect the new browser with its own Opera Link service, only providing a link to the web interface. Also, there is still no progress indicator, which makes the actually faster loading times seem longer. Unfortunately, Flash is no longer supported – but that was expected since Adobe also has ceased to support Flash on Android. If Opera fixes the user interface a bit and gets a real bookmark system going, Opera 14 for Android could become the best browser for the platform – it’s already 90% there and Opera has just said today that they’re listening to their users and are working on it.

[Update 28.05.: Opera has made the previous version 12.1.4 available again in the Play Store as Opera Mobile Classic. If you have upgraded to the new version, you are not able to bring the bookmarks and other settings back unless you have a backup of /data/data/com.opera.browser – if you have one, just install Opera Classic again, start it one time and copy the files to /data/data/com.opera.browser.classic to bring everything back.]

19. May 2013

So on Wednesday, Google made some changes on Google+. Okay, make that a LOT of changes… during the IO Conference a whole lot of updates were announced and to the amazement of many users, were rolled out almost immediately. But while the changes of the user interface of Google+ are drastic to say the least, the new layout is not altogether new – it’s basically the look of the mobile app adapted to the desktop. The multi-column layout is taking a little getting used to, but it actually works quite well. The reactions from the users range from excited to horrified, but the majority seems to like it – and I have to say, that apart from some small issues, I’m also in favour of the new design.

I loved the old user interface of Google+, but after using the Android app about half the time I was wondering how long the actually rather old-fashioned UI would last. A redesign was inevitable, and I think Google was quite successful with it – for a start, it does look like a completely original creation and now has left Facebook firmly behind. I was a bit concerned regarding the rendering speed since we don’t have very fast computers around here, but apart from the expected slight slowdown in Opera, Google+ now even works faster especially in Google Chrome. The user interface now doesn’t feel like a website anymore, but like a real program, especially when you run it in fullscreen. The new layout wastes a bit more screen real estate, but even on my small 1024×768 notebook screen it’s more than acceptable. Apart from the layout changes, Google has also changed the default font to Roboto, which is really easy on the eyes and now consistent with the Android system.

But there are still some problems to be ironed out. Some photographers have complained about the new photo album system and there have been reports that the photo upload is sometimes extremely slow. I’m not a heavy user of the photo albums since I only throw my images in the photos from posts bucket and use the gallery software on my own website, but some users have real issues with the new system, which disrupted their workflow so heavily that they refuse to post any more photos. There is also one grievance that has hit me: when I want to upload a photo – which works now with drag and drop – the posting box becomes so big that I have to scroll down to use the post-button. This only happens on my 1024×768 notebook screen, but it’s still a little bit of nuisance which could be easily fixed with some smaller margins in the post box. It may be possible to fix this with a modified CSS code, but I have not yet looked into a solution for this.

Overall, the new layout is an amazing evolution of Google+ and while the surprisingly fast changeover could have gone better and there are still some teething problems, there is no reason to believe that Google is going to ignore the users. More control over the look of the user interface would be good and there have been some rumours that this is exactly what Google is working on at the moment. The new incarnation of Google+ will surely be even more improved and there is no need to panic or to do a rage quit. After all, Google is offering us a completely free service and while this does not mean that the users are not allowed to complain, there have been a few (understandable) overreactions in the last few days.

Google+ Icon comes from – much better than the official ones :-).

7. May 2013

Back in March, the announcement from Google that their RSS reader will be closed down on July 1st came as a big shock and the scramble for alternatives immediately started. I must admit that I’ve been lazy and just sat back for a few weeks to await further developments, but now I’ve found an at least temoprary solution – it’s called Tiny Tiny RSS and is basically an online RSS reader which can be installed on your own webserver. I got interested in it because the programmer of the Android app gReader, which I exclusively use for reading RSS feeds, has integrated support for Tiny Tiny RSS in a new beta version. Tt really works, but also has a few drawbacks.

First, of course, you need your own webspace. The Tiny Tiny RSS website says that shared webspaces won’t work, but I’m on a virtual server and I’ve had no problem installing and running it. Maybe it has something to do with the server load – I hope I won’t get into hot water with my webspace provider, but I don’t think this will put too much strain on the server. Installation is easy – if you’ve ever installed WordPress or some other software package you won’t have any problems following the Install Notes and the automatic, web-based installation routine. The best way is to put Tiny Tiny RSS on its own subdomain and give it its own database, but it can also work in a database with other stuff in it.

The system requirements are somewhat steep, especially the requirement of PHP 5.3, which not everbody has installed yet. My webspace provider provides access to PHP 5.3.1 via PHP-CGI – all you have to do is put an .htaccess file with the line AddHandler php53-cgi .php into the root directory of the installation to make it work perfectly. I was able to run Tiny Tiny RSS on the very first try out of the box and I even managed to import my OPML feed list from the Google Reader which I had saved with Google Takeout. The web interface of Tiny Tiny RSS is minimal, but it actually works quite well – and the connection with gReader under Android works perfectly, too. There is actually no difference in gReader between using Google Reader and Tiny Tiny RSS.

There is only one potential drawback, which I have not yet fully explored – updating the feeds. There is no manual method in the web interface, instead the software relies on several different methods to update the feeds. I can’t use the recommended way,  updating as a daemon, because I don’t have command line access on my virtual server. I also can’t make manual changes to crontab, but I am allowed to run http-calls as cronjobs – there’s an obsolete, but still working method to do just that. The URL to start the feed update can also be called manually from any sort of webbrowser, even from a tablet. This is not exactly ideal, but the best method I’ve found yet. The best thing would however be to let Tiny Tiny RSS update on an external API call, but that is not (yet?) supported yet.

I have successfully tried out Tiny Tiny RSS with gReader, but because of the feed update issue, I’m still using Google Reader as a RSS source at the moment. If I can get Tiny Tiny RSS running properly on my own webspace, it would be great, but I also would have no problem using another service like Feedly if I can get it to work with gReader. But it’s good to have a fallback method with Tiny Tiny RSS if nothing else materializes when Google Reader goes down in about eight weeks.

23. April 2013

I already wrote about the Opera Browser switching to the WebKit engine a while back in February, but at the beginning of April the story had become even more interesting: Opera is not simply going to switch to WebKit, but will work together with Google on a fork of the open source WebKit code, which is going to be called Blink. This makes a lot of sense and while Chrome and Opera will always remain completely seperate entities, they will be powered under the hood by the same engine adhering to the same standards.

Actually only a part of Webkit called WebCore will be forked to Blink, that actually excludes a Javascript engine, which Google has developed seperately as the open source project V8. This is the engine Opera will also use, and presumably contribute to, in the future. I like Opera because of its unique user interface and features no other browser has, but I must admit that I have been using Google Chrome at the same time especially for Google+ and Facebook, because on my old, but trusty notebook Opera doesn’t render these pages as fast and fluid as Chrome. So an Opera browser with Webkit and V8 inside is going to be very handy for myself, but it’s also going to make the work of web designers much, much easier. It can also be safely assumed that the look and feel of Opera is not going to change much even after the engines have been switched. Only one thing worries me… what is going to become of Dragonfly, the powerful developer tool of Opera? Since this is geared towards the old Presto engine, it might become obsolete.

There have been no Opera desktop versions with Webkit yet, but the Norwegian browser manufacturer has already released three beta versions of Opera for Android with Webkit implementation. These have become amazingly good and are even on low-powered tablets as fast as the old Opera Mobile, but there is still a bit of work to do on the new user interface. There is no bookmark management, only a barely functioning speed dial and progress indicators are still missing – but the rendering speed and low memory usage are so good that I’ve almost completely switched to the new Opera version on my tablet.

So Opera is going to have a very bright future with Blink on the Desktop and presumably also on Android devices. Now I’m anxiously waiting for the first Beta of Opera 14 – they’re going to skip version 13 not because of superstition, but simply to mark the big internal change. Opera has wisely refrained from giving a specific release date – but I’m sure it is going to happen sometime this summer!

26. March 2013

After the depressing news about the demise of Google Reader, here are some good news from Google. Yesterday, an update for the Google+ Android app had been released and after several previous updates just with some minor improvements and fixes, the new version 3.6 came with some amazing surprises. For starters, the posting stream in both the circles and the communities has been slightly revamped without losing the “magazine”-look. Completely new plus-, share- and comment-buttons in style of the web interface have been added and even thumbnails of the commenters are displayed in the stream overview. The dynamic reformatting of the posts also seems to work much better now, although the right and left margins have become a little larger. But most importantly, the app now scrolls vertically in landscape mode instead of horizontally like before.

There are also two special changes in the streams which photographers on Google+ will love: 1) images are no longer randomly cropped into a square format and 2) tapping on an image directly leads to the gallery view while tapping on the post header calls up the single post view. The single post view has also been very much improved, now showing the header, the image in full width, the comments and a fixed one-line comment box on the bottom. The user profile view now shows the complete larger header image, but the user photo is still square, although it is displayed as a circle in the stream. The circle view now also boasts a very handy new addition: a header with nine thumbnails of people and a tenth box with the number of users in the circle. Underneath is a settings button, which calls up a long-missing feature from the web interface: in the Android app it is now possible to adjust how many postings of the circle are seen in the main stream. This is also present in the community, it can be found when the header is expanded.

There might be even more new features I have not yet discovered, I’ve heard that there are also new functions for moderating a community. I also don’t know which of these changes are present in the iOS version, since I’ve only used the Android app. All in all, it’s a brilliant update which makes many of the features from the web interface finally available on smartphones and tablets – and it shows how far developed Google+ on mobile devices really is in comparison to Facebook. The Android app also really works well on low-powered devices like my little Odys Xelio tablet – version 3.6 runs much smoother now and for some reason I was able to update it directly from the Play Store for the first time.

But Google has also been a little lambasted recently for the introduction of Google Keep, a little Android notepad app, which directly syncs with a special new section in Google Drive and can also be used from the web interface. It just does what it says on the cover: keep notes, but you can also enter lists, take photos and insert pictures. The layout is like a post-it collection, and while the functionality is totally basic, not much more is really needed to make it a very handy little program which is ideal for taking short notes or even transferring small texts or web adresses from a computer to a tablet. Of course there are other apps like Evernote, Note Everything or Handrite, but Google Keep beats them all for sheer simplicity.

15. March 2013

This knocked me nearly off my chair… Google is actually killing off its RSS reader on July 1. Well, they say, that RSS is a dead format and nobody uses it anymore, but why are nearly all websites and blogs still offering a RSS feed? It’s in every kind of blog and content managing software and a brilliant way to keep on track with many websites at the same time. I’ve been using RSS since my early days on the Palm PDAs to read my news offline and after moving to an Android tablet last year, I finally switched to Google Reader and the great Android app gReader. And now it’s all supposed to end on July 1? Hopefully not!

Maybe it’s selfish to say, but I actually don’t care about the Google Reader itself. I have only used the web interface to sort the feeds and I do all the reading on the tablet, so I’m not really dependent on Google’s RSS aggregator itself. I don’t like to live in the cloud and I haven’t chosen Google Reader for this reason, but the app I have found to read my RSS feeds on my tablet just happens to use Google Reader. However, it seems that the RSS world is not goint to end in the middle of the summer – Digg has already said that they are building a replacement with a compatible API, the maker of gReader seems to be working on an alternative and a couple of other RSS aggregators seem to be ready to jump into the gap.

What is actually sad is the behaviour of Google – what they call “spring cleaning” is actually a massive disappointment for a company who says that they care about their users and who want to be the good guys. There’s already a petition going on with more than 97.000 100.000 signatures, but I’m not sure if this is going to change Google’s mind. But this is not the occasion to do a “rage quit” and say Google is evil! Don’t use Google’s services! – this kind of gut reaction has never led to anything. After all, Google Reader is a FREE service and if they choose to shut it down, they are in the full right to do so. No, it’s not particularly nice towards the users, but they are not terminating a paid contract. So it’s best to calm down and see what the next months will bring – at least they had the decency to give everyone a few months notice!

26. February 2013

Ich muß zugeben, daß ich als langjähriger Benutzer des Opera-Browsers zuerst ein bißchen von der Nachricht geschockt war, daß die norwegische Browserschmiede ihre eigene Rendering- und Javascript-Engines aufgeben und komplett auf Webkit umstellen will. Die erste Aus-dem-Bauch-Reaktion ist natürlich, daß Opera sich dadurch nicht mehr von der Konkurrenz unterscheiden wird, aber bei genauerer Betrachtung macht dieser radikale Schritt doch viel Sinn. Ein Webbrowser besteht ja nicht nur aus der Rendering-Engine – der Grund, weshalb ich Opera so gerne mag, ist die Benutzeroberfläche, an der sich durch den Austausch der Innereien nichts ändern wird. All die kleinen Annehmlichkeiten, die die anderen Browser nicht zu bieten haben, werden dadurch nicht verschwinden und Opera wird seine Individualität behalten.

Aus der Sicht des Webdesigners bin ich sogar erleichtert, daß ich für Opera in Zukunft keine Extrawurst mehr braten muß. Ich teste meine Webseiten zwar immer zuerst unter Opera und oft treten bei der Darstellung zwischen den verschiedenen Browsern dann auch kaum Unterschiede auf – aber meistens ist es dann beim Feintuning von Abständen via CSS meistens Opera, bei dem gelegentlich seltsame kleinere Diskrepanzen auftreten. Auf der anderen Seite ist mir aber Webkit auch nicht so fremd, als daß ich damit ein größeres Problem hätte – ganz im Gegenteil funktioniert jede meiner eigenen Webseiten und externen Projekte ganz hervorragend mit der Webkit-Engine.

Was ist aber mit der eigentlichen Geschwindigkeit von Webkit? Wie viele Leser wahrscheinlich wissen, arbeite ich ausschließlich auf sehr alten Computern – mein Arbeits-Notebook ist ein mittlerweile fast zehn Jahre alter Compaq N610c, der aber trotzdem für meine Zwecke völlig ausreicht. Opera hat sich gerade auch früher auf noch erheblich älteren Rechnern immer als der schnellste und ressourcenschonendere Browser von allen herausgestellt, aber ich muß zugeben, daß ich inzwischen für Google+ immer öfter auf Chrome ausgewichen bin, weil die Web-Oberfläche des sozialen Netzwerks damit einfach viel flüssiger läuft. Auch bei bei WordPress merkt man den Unterschied und gerade unter diesem Gesichtspunkt fände ich einen Opera mit Webkit-Engine keine schlechte Idee.

Die erste Opera-Variante, die mit der Webkit-Engine ausgestattet werden soll, wird ersten Berichten zufolge die Mobile-Version sein. Ob ich das gut finde, weiß ich noch nicht, denn auf meinem kleinen Android-Tablet hat sich Opera mit der eigenen Engine als schnellster Browser erwiesen und die Webkit-Browser eher als schwerfälliger. Vielleicht gelingt es Opera aber, einen richtig schnellen Webkit-Browser unter Android zu ermöglichen. Aber genauso wie bei der Desktop-Version wird man ja nicht unbedingt zu einem Upgrade gezwungen, denn zumindest unter Windows sind ja auch parallele Installationen von verschiedenen Opera-Versionen möglich.

Fazit: der Einsatz von Webkit wird bestimmt nicht das Ende von Opera bedeuten, ganz im Gegenteil – es ist eine große Chance für die Zukunft und deshalb werde ich dem Browser auch in Zukunft weiterhin treu bleiben.

9. February 2013

Ich will niemandem den Spaß verderben, aber bitte laßt mich damit in Ruhe: wie jedes Jahr wird hier wieder dem Karneval getrotzt und die karnevalfreie Zone ausgerufen. Im letzten Jahr hatte ich mein selbstgebasteltes Verkehrsschild zum erste Mal als SVG-Vektorgrafik zur freien Verfügung gestellt, die Datei ist natürlich immer noch online und wer möchte, kann sich die Grafik ausdrucken und als Warnung irgendwo hinhängen :-).

Viel mehr habe ich im Moment allerdings nicht zu berichten, irgendwie bin ich Webseiten-Mäßig noch nicht so ganz im neuen Jahr angekommen. Ich gebe mir zwar Mühe, jeden Tag drüben im Foto-Archiv ein neues Bild zu posten, aber im DVDLog gabs diese Woche nur ein paar englischsprachige Reposts (und nächste Woche nur ein paar News) und auch hier habe ich nur zwischendurch den Artikel über die Hangouts übersetzt.

Warum aber plötzlich alles auf Englisch? Nun, ich poste mittlerweile einen Link zu jedem Posting auch bei Google+ und dort ist einfach die Mehrheit der Leute, die ich dort erreichen kann, englischsprachig. In Zukunft werde ich mich wahrscheinlich von Fall zu Fall entscheiden, ob ich nun auf Englisch oder Deutsch schreibe – allerdings denke ich, daß der größte Teil der hiesigen Besucher sowieso genug Englisch versteht, um meine Artikel lesen zu können.

Science & AstronomyWWW
20. January 2013

Im Oktober hatte ich einen langen Artikel über eine Sammlung von Google+ Hangouts zum Thema Astronomie und Wissenschaft geschrieben, der nach drei Monaten ein Auffrischung notwendig hat. Statt den vorherigen Artikel zu überarbeiten, poste ich heute eine neue Version und werde dies zu einer regelmäßigen Sache machen, wenn sich wieder etwas geändert hat – eventuell wird es demnächst auch eine englische Version geben. Seit Google die Hangouts im August auch in Deutschland freigeschaltet hat und wir endlich auch live zuschauen können, hat sich einiges getan und gerade in Sachen Wissenschaft und Astronomie gibt es einige sehr interessante Veranstaltungen, die dieser Artikel kurz vorstellen soll.

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