Why do web browsers still suck?

Back in 1994 when web browsers were new, we expected a little instability. Hell the operating systems on which they ran were pretty damn flaky too. When Netscape came out, we all justified the flakiness to ourselves by marvelling at the great new features: things like tables and blink tags.

Now explain to me why web browsers are still flaky? I don't use Internet Explorer if I can help it, but the RSS viewer I use at work does have it embedded. At least twice a day, the IE component flakes out, taking all the "seen" data with is.

As my main browser, both at home under Linux and at work under Windows, I use Mozilla Firebird. It's a great browser in most respects fast, standards compliant and massively configurable. The one regard where you see its Netscape lineage is stability. It hangs, eats progressively more memory the longer it's open and the Linux version regularly sits there chewing 100% CPU while seemingly doing nothing.

Now I'm willing to give the developers the benefit of the doubt. They rely on a bunch of plug-in developers' code for stability, and I suspect the Macromedia Flash and Java plugins might well be problematic. But it's nearly ten years since 1994 when the web explosion happened, and you'd kinda expect some progress in that time...


I'm always fascinated with what's underneath modern cities. It's incredible when you look into it how much of the infrastructure is under our fee The third dimension hides sewers, power and water mains, transport systems, old conveyers, bomb shelters and of course historical materials.

My Mum, on her recent visit, discovered and dragged us to the Guildhall in the City of London with its intact section of a Roman amphitheatre. It's amazing what lies beneath!

Anyway, what brought this all to mind is this excellent description of the stuff going on at Kings Cross as they redevelop it for the Channel Tunnel rail link. Really interesting stuff, and very well presented.

Email is down

Annoyingly, my ADSL router died yesterday. However, my ISP are absolutely brilliant. I phoned them up, described the problem and they've agreed to send out a replacement which should arrive tomorrow. Brilliant! Couldn't recommend this ISP any more highly.

Yahoo IM want and deserve to die

Yahoo's instant messaging system recently blocked third-party clients from connecting to their network. Microsoft are about to try the same thing soon. The hackers have just sorted it out.

All of these vendors want to own the instant messaging marketplace. Yahoo, however, are pretty stupid in doing this. They're probably number three, at best, in this market (and that's counting AOL and ICQ as one company), so they really can't afford to piss too many users off. Piss too many of 'em off and they'll just all decamp to MSN or AIM.

Next month, Microsoft plans to do similar things, changing their protocol in an attempt to knock out all the third-parties. I hear that most of the third-party groups already support the new protocol, so I won't be having any problems.

Thing is, this shit doesn't really bother me. I have accounts on all the major ones: AIM, ICQ, MSN and Yahoo. You can contact me on any of those. I don't do it with some integrated, upgrade-every-time-the-protocol-changes client. Instead I use Jabber, a standardised and free instant messaging system. It has server-side gateways to other networks, which keeps me in touch with people still using neanderthal systems.

So if you use Trillian, GAIM or one of these systems, let me recommend Jabber. Go get yourself one of the clients and stick me on your roster. My Jabber ID is the same as my email address. Enjoy the difference.

Guess this needs a rewrite

This site has been mostly the same since 1998, at least structurally. It's been tweaked here and there, a few kludges hacked upon, a ghastly colour scheme updated to something more sedate, but never really redesigned from the ground up. It's time for that redesign!

Obviously it'll be all the web technologies that have become useful since 1998. It'll be valid XHTML with CSS for presentation, not the horrible tables I've been using since 1995 or so.

For management, I'll be using Blosxom because I love it. It's simple, extensible and doesn't rely on complicated, heavyweight software packages like databases.

So watch this space. It'll start developing as I have time.

Music matching

One of the best features of the late, lamented Audiogalaxy music sharing system was the suggestions it made of music you might enjoy. If you looked at the page for a particular artist, it would also offer artists that were similar.

This matching process wasn't done by humans but automatically calculated based on what the users of the system actually had. So, for example, Metallica fans might well also have a lot of Sepulchura and Slayer, so that suggestion would be made. Other suggestions were less close stylistically but seemed to work based on taste. It was one of the best ways to discover new music.

Unfortunately Audiogalaxy has gone the way of the dodo, thankyou music industry (another set of dodos, just hanging on a bit longer). The future for all the excellent things Audiogalaxy did seems to be to decentralise it. Decouple the file sharing system from the inventory of music and perhaps decouple that from the similar artists functionality.

This is where a new system I've just discovered comes in. Audioscrobbler works as a plugin to your favourite audio playing software and reports what you're listening to into its centralised database. It can then offer suggestions of music you might like. Yes there are both Windows and non-Windows plugins. Pretty cool!

A side-effect of this is that you can see what I've been listening to here.

Video conferencing

I've got my camera working a bit better now, so if you want to talk to me, you can go here using Netmeeting or Gnomemeeting or whatever H.320 compliant thingy and chat. Woo! Should save some money on phone calls, at the least.

Drool material

Sharp are reportedly releasing a Zaurus handheld running Linux. Worthy drool material! I have a friend coming over from Japan next month. Hmmm...

Anyone wanna buy a used Ipaq 3630?

More seriously, the great thing about handhelds finally becoming "real" computers capable of running modern operating systems is that last years' castoffs are still perfectly usable. For this reason, I recently bought an Ipaq 3130 with a dud battery. I plan to make it a stereo component to play back digital audio. Everything will run on my desktop machine except an X server, the infra red remote interface and a network sound server. I'm planning to use Perl/Tk to do it.

Webcam is up

All very passe, I know, but if you're feeling bored, check out my webcam now beaming out images from my street around the clock.

Yes I bought an insanely cheap digital camera to use for videoconferencing and have got it working. Not without some trouble though: seems the UHCI USB chipset by Via isn't very good. Absolute shite, in fact. In case you're wondering, I had to hack up usb-uhci.c as proposed in this message.

Anyway, enjoy the webcam. Will post details of how to videoconference to me as soon as I work out the video loopback driver.

Linux aint there yet

Every now and then I get a bit overly excited and proclaim that Linux is 6 months off dominating the desktop.

In some ways this could happen, particularly in corporate environments where it's important for people to be able to hot desk and for the IT department to have total control over the systems--no games, no dodgy themes and certainly no Word macro viruses.

The barrier to the desktop is that people are used to ease of installation for hardware and gurus in this area are few and expensive. It always amazed me the amount of fiddling one had to do to get something like a scanner or sound card working in DOS. The Mac had always been incredibly easy in this way, no fiddling with IRQs and all that crap, so DOS seemed like a real step backwards.

Linux takes us back to those bad old days of DOS. To get a soundcard running I have to decipher the barely readable output of pnpdump and then work out what options my sound card takes. Of course to get it working I need to find out what IRQs, memory addresses and DMA channels are in use on my machine. Then, if I'm lucky, I can insert the appropriate modules and mabye get sound.

I tried this last weekend and finally got it all going, only to find that all sounds were repeating as if it were playing each chunk of audio twice. The IRQ wasn't in use but changing the IRQ fixed it. Why?

Now I know that this should be an issue for the manufacturers of hardware devices, but they don't care enough yet. In order to make them care we need enough people using the platform that they have to support it.

Why can't isapnp be integrated with the modules and devices be automatically loaded? The only barrier I see to this is the requirement of a database of identifiers for each peripheral. Come now, how hard would that be for some talented hackers? Hell, instead of taking the Windows model of the database being on the hard disk, why not stick it on a web server somewhere and have it queryable by whoever needs it? That way when new identifiers come out it'll already be in the database and the person who managed to get it working can finalise the record.

If I could code I'd be in there but it's not my thing. I'll happily document it! Drop me a line if you want to do this.