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 users are commies?

An article in OSOpinion discusses a common theme from commentators who know next to nothing about history or politics. Linux nerds, he posits, are communists following Marxist ideology of collective ownership.

Unfortunately this assumption is tainted by a century where a number of totalisation regimes have called themselves or others "communist". It is also tainted by the ideology of the US that communism=unamerican.

Equally the notion that free software is anti-capitalist leads to the knee jerking in the communist direction. Free software is in fact highly compatible with capitalism: witness the recent RedHat IPO. It's just that conventional wisdom in the computer business is that your code is the crown jewels, when in fact what people are paying for is the service. Big companies like IBM are slowly starting to realise this.\r\n\r\n

So with all these apolitical nerds around, what sort of politics does cover free software? Why anarchy of course. Before you think of anarchy as simply

chaos you should realise that anarchy is actually an old and respected political theory. It has been defined as a political theory opposed to all forms of government. Anarchists believe that the highest attainment of humanity is the freedom of the individual to express himself, unhindered by any form of repression or control from without. The belief that all governments rest on violence to control their subjects.

If you consider the tyranny of being helplessly locked in to a single vendor and their agenda as violence, the model fits. The concept of free software projects forking demonstrates how everyone is free to do as they please, free of constraints placed on them by another.

So with that said, on we go enjoying the unbounded freedom of controlling our own computing destiny. Vive le Linux!

Just discovered this excellent paper on this issue.