It's a tough call to make–but Firefox is better than Chrome

Which is the best browser? Certainly it would have to be a standards-based browser, so that would rule out Internet Explorer 7 and before (IE 8 is at least better than previous releases, even if it’s still not at all outstanding). Preferably a good browser would be free and open source so that it offers a free and accessible platform for developers, so that would rule out Opera (which really is an excellent browser, though probably not a platform in itself). Safari meets the free and open source test (more or less given its relationship to the Webkit project), but given that it comes from Apple, there is some questions as to whether it can likely offer a solid and open development platform.
But offering all of those things is Mozilla’s Firefox and Google’s Chrome. So which one of those is better? Since Firefox has been around for a few years, it has a lead in the overall platform situation–many features, add-ons and plugins are available to modify the browser for myriad specialized uses, including the ability to use bookmarklets in the toolbar, implement IRC chat, use the Stumbleupon toolbar, and use local Javascript create UI changes on popular web sites like Gmail or Yahoo Mail.
But Chrome already has a plugin system in beta builds, so many of the popular tools available on Firefox should be available soon. So the really difference comes down to usability and performance. And those are the reasons I have recently gone back to Firefox after using Chrome for several months. Even though Chrome is really very fast, Firefox 3.5 has narrowed the raw performance gap compared to Chrome (and the also very fast Safari) for loading one page at a time. And in terms of handling multiple tabs and overall user interface, Firefox is just better. It can load a page that you open up in a tab, even with Flash in it, even though you don’t visit it. Chrome can’t really seem to load a page effectively unless you sit with its tab open, at least for a few seconds. In the modern multi-tabbed web user experience, it’s easy to see why Firefox is definitely in the lead for now.

Facebook sucks, time to move on

How close are we to admitting that Facebook is just the next Myspace, waiting in line to languish in obscurity and infamy?
I’ll tell you this–it looks like they’re slowballing my updates stream via Twitter. (I have my Facebook Twitter app configured to update my profile.) This could be Twitter API issues, sure, but based on the last few days I think that they may be simply waiting until a tweet is a day old before they put it into my “mini-feed” or “live feed” or whatever stupid name they use to refer to a profile page.
You know, Myspace is backed by vile Australian buccaneer Rupert Murdoch (if you don’t get my reference then you’re not watching enough Keith Olbermann), but Facebook is actually backed by people who are even worse persons in the world than that. Go ahead and research it if you want, there’s no reason to say any more about that one here.
Anyway Facebook’s user experience totally sucks–its photo sharing tools are right out of the 9th circle of hell, its visual design could best be described as DarkBlue Corporate Douche, its recommendation system is worthless, Microsoft is among its shareholders and the loathsome and idiotic Sarah Palin is becoming its highest profile active user.
All that was fine for a while because I would only use Facebook to post links to outside resources hosted on my own web sites and also auto-post an echo of my Twitter stream, and I would log in occasionally to find out what people were up to, because instead of having blogs with RSS feeds that I can read in Google Reader, many people I know (some of them otherwise rational, sane people) have decided to lock their data into a stupid web site where they have very little control over it (remember how Facebook claimed the rights to all photos posted on it for a while until they got caught and “changed” the policy?). But the Twitter auto-post feature acting slowly, perhaps intentionally, is probably the decisive event that turns me off to using Facebook for a while.

Advertiser-driven stupidity at CNET

Microsoft and companies whose products run its software are important ad buyers at CNET. It is hard not to think about that when I see a headline on one of CNET’s blogs that reads:

“Get over it already. Microsoft is not the Anti-Christ.”

Well, first of all, I don’t know who’s saying that. But informed people are saying that Microsoft is a convicted monopolist with a long history of anti-competitive practices, livid hostility to open source software, an embarrassingly lame portable media player, and a disastrously bad new operating system whose horror stories have deterred me (a Microsoft DOS/Windows user since the 1980s) from wanting to buy another Windows machine when I upgrade.

But why focus on that? Why not attack a straw man who proclaims Microsoft to be an apocalyptic danger to the world, or whatever?

Taking some Microsoft lawyer at his word, the author wants us to believe that Microsoft has thoroughly changed its spots. Maybe he’s just stupid–but again, it’s probably just the advertising money talking.

Perhaps realizing that he has gone a bit too far to have any credibility on the matter, toward the end of the CNET post the author, Charles Cooper, offers this assertion:

“I’m not going to alibi for Microsoft.”

Fair enough, but only because “alibi” is not used as a verb by most educated people. That aside, Cooper is certainly shilling for Microsoft.

Trance Tuesday: not every Tuesday


I really want to figure out how to make the right production mix to craft classic female leads for vocal trance music. Anyway I’m convinced there’s a formula that has to do with creating a husky, sensual echo sound that must involve multiple vocal tracks in layers.

Well one of the world’s foremost practitioners of trance at the moment, Gareth Emery, mixes a song that he used in a previous mix but lets the whole vocal track play through, unlike in the previous mix. The effect is a totally new understanding of the song’s meaning. Trance, at its best, is like that–equivocal but always intriguing.

Gareth Emery has a podcast that has become my favorite source of new trance music. Too much time is occasionally used for unenthused reading of listener emails, but most of it is good music.

Not that there’s much competition. It’s too bad Trance Tuesday, a more techie style trance podcast from San Francisco, only comes out every few months now. Certainly 2007 is not a high point for trance music, but it is a high point for Gareth Emery, whose podcast #40 exceeded expectations with an excellent hour-long mix set.

Other trance acts worth checking out right now include quirky Danish psy-trance outfit Flowjob and the always-brilliant work of Sander Kleinenberg, Paul van Dyk and Deadmau5 and Fine Taste.

Techcrunch misunderstands basic finance

As few exciting new startups emerge in the web 2.0 landscape, the flaws of a blog like Michael Arrington’s Techcrunch become more and more apparent.

Toward that issue, yesterday Dave Winer wrote:

‘Nelson Minar says he likes TechCrunch, but they’re not journalists so be careful what you say to a TC reporter at a party.’

That’s fine, but I’ll go one further–I don’t like Techcrunch, and furthermore, it’s a reminder that attending one of those insular web 2.0 bashes brings with it the constant danger of some moron coming up to you and talking business. How unrefined.

But my real problem is that their writers are often stupid, the staffers more so than Arrington. Duncan Riley sounds on the blog like a combative idiot and Nick Gonzalez’s work makes me think he’s a lousy writer. It’s too much work to recount all of their dimwitted mistakes of reasoning and logic, and their shameless hype of Microsoft products.

But unfortunately the site’s new writer, a refugee from a collapsed business magazine, is really going to fit in.

For example, today we have this moronic line of thought from Eric Schonfeld, who was writing about CNET:

‘If a stock buyback manages to jack up the market cap, a takeover could be averted.’

I’m not sure how stupid the market is, but here’s my guess–less so than Schonfeld thinks. Spending cash from the corporate treasury to buy up shares should, if proportions hold through the market’s reaction, jack up the price of the shares a bit. But the putting aside of the purchased shares into the company’s treasury stock will lead to reduced number of publicly available shares.

Market cap is, after all, price times number of shares.

Apparently Mr Schonfeld could be gamed this way; but I think the market is rather too smart for that.

In fact, the economic (though not the accounting) effect from stock buybacks is actually closest to the economic effect of issuing dividends. (I had to argue this one out with an accounting professor, but think it through–stock buybacks are the preferred method of dividend-type transactions [i.e. returning capital to investors] for some large traders because the money will be automatically reinvested in the same company instead of run through capital gains because of dividend payments.)

Yes, CNET is trading at what seems like a low total valuation of a little more than a billion, and it could become a target for corporate takeover or private equity. And if Facebook is really worth $15 billion like Microsoft seems to believe, then couldn’t a company with a suite of popular niche sites including Gamespot, Webshots, and be worth more than a tenth of that?

But that’s an assumption I’m not ready to make. For now, we’ll have to wait for the news–preferably from a reputable source.

update 11:26 p.m. PT: The announcement is that Webshots is being sold for $45 million. No buybacks have been announced, and the minutia of stock buyback accounting is really peripheral to my denunciation of Techcrunch’s shoddy argument that some (hypothetical) balance sheet maneuvering (that Techcrunch was speculating about but was not subsequently announced) will change the underlying takeover value perceived of CNET. In fact, at its size, has long seemed to me to be a very possible target for a larger internet brand–and now that Webshots is being sold to American Greetings, CNET has no Flickr competitor but it does have some targeted sites and a San Francisco location, two things a Yahoo looking to rejuvenate itself might be drawn to.

Oh, K2 1.0, what am I going to do with you?

With new versions available for the popular and powerful WordPress theme K2, I should be making the updgrade, right?

Well, no. First of all, I already converted my diary blog over to 2.3, and I really like it–the Javascript seems to load much faster, it has URL improvements, the tagging is integrated–check this post by Matt from WordPress for more info about it. Overall, it’s a great product, the web 2.0 blog platform.

But for this blog, I’ve it, at least for now, on 2.2.3 because I can use Twitter tools, Ultimate Tag Warrior, and all sorts of other plug-ins that the new WordPress taxonomy system breaks. And when I tried the new K2 release candidate 1, it just wasn’t the same. Now, the theme uses a lot of Ajax so it can have problems depending on browser, and apparently lots of these issues have come up with IE as they move to the new version Not that I use IE, but some people don’t mind if the occasional user of that clunker stops by their blog. The sidebar widget system has been badly redesigned in 1.0, with a clunky interface, and other issues keep coming up too. That’s what I loved about K2 0.9.6–the really cool sidebar tools, much better than the default WordPress ones–and the new 1.0 doesn’t seem the same. (If you want to try 1.0 make sure the find the latest version, which as I write this is release candidate 3, because some of these issues might be fixed by then.)

Google buys Jaiku – is Twitter angling to be next?

Well it’s out there–Google is buying short messaging service Jaiku.  I’ve been a fan of Jaiku, and I guess it’s a sign of Google’s telecom ambitions that they are acquiring this rather cool service.

I’m using Twitter more and more to aggregate my content, but I think the RSS/atom feed inflow is a very cool enhancer that Jaiku offers and Twitter doesn’t yet natively.

This could change if Google adds lots of cool enhancments to Jaiku, but for now I’m on Twitter more.  Here’s my “river” page that takes in all my tweets; here‘s my commensurate page on Twitter.  You can see my Jaiku page here.

It’s worth speculating about who if anyone will buy Twitter now, although this may decrease the likelihood of them being acquired by Google as some people had predicted.

The Pownce situation as a management case study

The Case Study

You are the lead developer of a small but promising web 2.0 startup. As the young, intelligent engineer with a specific plan for the mechanics of a new web site, you find that interest is flowing in from many of your colleagues in the technology world.

As a key partner in the project, you pick an established but young web 2.0 figure who is a key executive at a social bookmarking site as well as at a tech podcast company. Highly popular among the tech fans on his site and well-known in the industry, your business partner may be the closest thing these days to a “rock star” of web 2.0. Skeptics might say that he is not yet particularly well known outside the Silicon Valley–but then the same can be said for Twitter, Ajax, even for the term ‘web 2.0’. You surmise that his track record of previous success and ability to gain over a million users for his still-growing social bookmarking site ensure that he will offer sound judgment in running and promoting your business as well.

Since your goal involves launching a site with a code base that you have developed as a side project, you decide to move the product as fast as possible to an open beta–and then have an invitation only version launch that limits the number of new users that can join. Your marketing is based on your contacts in the tech industry and the buzz you have been able to create on the web, especially on tech blogs which happen to be obsessed with micro-blogs, social bookmarking, tumbelogs and short messaging services. Your site has elements of all of these, has a modern, Ajax-intensive design and uses a certain kind of Python framework.

After a round of frequently positive reviews for your site, your invite system soon goes to work and people start joining in large numbers. Although you face many competitive threats from similar sites which also allow users to exchange short messages, you offer the unique value-added feature of file sharing. Many of tech’s coolest people join in.

Rushing to the market has gotten your site has established, and now you are racing to add features. For now your pro accounts promise only to take away ads and increase your file upload size; some consumers are expecting more from a “pro” account. You just added the XFN standard for the social graph, and there’s no reason that your site won’t become an important part of it. For now, you lack an open API like many competitors but are working on it.

In the mean time, your “rock star” executive has been working on stuff, too–at his other sites. Browsing the new features on his “social bookmarking” site, the project with a million users that he had previously been involved with and was now splitting his time with, you notice that they have now blatantly stolen one of the key design elements of your site. When people sign up, they now see an incredibly similar form for a certain question that users on your site also see at your sign-up page. As a user and even previously a vociferous fan of this social bookmarking site, you know this feature that copied yours has just been added. What do you do?


Well, in the case of Leah Culver and Pownce, here’s the story:

‘Pownce co-founder Leah Culver has made a post to Digg suggesting that she feels the new social networking features that the site added last week were copied from Pownce. In the posting, which links to a now deleted Flickr photo, Culver writes:

“Since I originally came up with the Pownce gender list, I’m somewhat miffed that Digg copied Pownce.”’

My first thought on this–maybe she’s trying to make a point exactly the way she did, or maybe she will decide to handle disputes at a different level. Either way, I hope it works out well for her and Pownce–I think it’s a good platform, what it needs is more users and more file sharing methods in my opinion, but at any rate I despaired of using Digg a few months ago whereas I use Pownce every week.

Pownce’s strengths:

–new features

–popular entrepreneurs backing it

–tech-savvy user base

Pownce’s weaknesses:

–no public API (for user-built apps)

–limited user base

–no widgets for use on other pages

Pownce’s Opportunities

–Build “best-in-class” reputation for file sharing with web 2.0 set the way Flickr has with photos–then get people to buy pro accounts

–Match advertisers with tech-savvy user base

–Add features one at a time to build lightweight but useful social networking product

Pownce’s Threats

–Close competitors: Twitter, Jaiku, Facebook, Gmail

–Eventual bubble burst in web 2.0 inevitable

–Kevin Rose’s other sites stealing trade secrets from the inside

Microsoft on the margins

Microsoft still occasionally annoys; but with the rise of Firefox and its main backer, Google, it’s getting easier to use PCs all the time as more and more time is spent on the web browser platform rather than the Windows platform. With the bundling of Sun StarOffice with Google’s software downloads pack, it’s time to reflect on just how much ground Redmond has lost to Mountain View, and why on balance that’s a good thing.

I had a professor in college who taught a sort of postulate he called “the law of exact duplicates.” To illustrate it, he told the story of two people walking into an apartment. One person walks in and says, this isn’t my stuff! His friend says, of course it is this is your place, and I’ve seen this stuff before, it’s yours. But, the apartment dweller answers, someone came in and replaced every item of mine with an exact duplicate.

John C. Dvorak writes:

‘Personally, I wonder if the company can survive without Gates there on a day-to-day basis, berating the masochistic coders with his chiding. Two of his favorites include, “Do we actually pay you to work here?” and “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve EVER heard.” People always complain that Steve Jobs is a big meanie to the staff, but Gates is just as bad.’

But here’s where exact duplicates come in–what if Bill Gates if just a great programmer and businessman and is truly surrounded by idiots that really do totally exasperate and disappoint him, stifling the innovation he so vehemently works for?

Ok, well, what’s the difference anyway. The point is that (even in the view of this Windows XP desktop user) Microsoft is a lousy company that treats customers poorly and peripheral stuff like the Zune and the Xbox 360 and the $60 MS Office for Students deal isn’t going to stop the momentum behind the platform being built on Firefox (and IE to some extent, sure) that will run just as easily on cool Apple machines and cheap Linux boxes as the old PC platform–especially if their latest operating system product Windows Vista, which I’ve never used, is as bad as some people say.

Microsoft, after all, has a long history of outright corruption in their busines practices, from becoming a convicted monopolist (a final verdict that the Bush administration arrived to late to overturn–though the judge who reduced the punishment went on to head the rubber stamp FISA court) to paying fees that belonged to Novell to now-bankrupt intellectual-property shakedown racket SCO.

Of course, Republican lobbyist and convicted fraudster Jack Abramoff worked for the law firm of Bill Gates’s dad until the end of 2000.

So the Google guys are paying NASA a million plus to land their private jet at Moffet Field. That’s not a big deal compared to Microsoft.

Seeing the screenshots of Microsoft’s answer to Google Analytics and trying to use the awful IE 7 (despite what people might say, it’s a terrible browser for what it’s worth; even Safari for Windows is better) to test pages today was just the reminder I needed to finally write this post.

Yes, Google has its flaws and downsides. After so much innovation with Ajax-powered apps like Gmail, Reader, Calendar and Docs, they seem to be sort of taking a break. But their programs in the online space are mostly very good, they keep getting better and they are much, much better than similar entries from Microsoft, who will always be off their turf outside the PC desktop platform.

Pelicans have no need for Perl 6

With Perl 6 coming up, now is a good time to assess the various popular web programming tools. It seems like a certain backlash is happening against the venerable interpreted language, of course it’s hard to tell how much of that is from bloggers complaining about Movable Type. I’ve heard that dealing with old Perl code is sometimes an issue from people working on enterprise systems with enormous amounts of complex code written in a language where “there’s more than one way to do it” and everyone might have their own way.

I’ve always liked Perl since I started working with it in 2002 but all my recent development work has been in PHP. If I look beyond PHP for something else, I think the dramatic changes in Perl from 5 to 6 make the switching costs that much lower because the new version pushes me down the learning curve anyway.

I can see both sides expressed in this article [excerpted below in single quotes]:

‘It seems every day I am questioned about why I write in Perl versus PHP, Java, C#, Ruby, Python, or [insert your favorite language here]. People say things like, “Perl isn’t used anymore is it?” or, “Ruby on Rails is all I read about anymore.”


Perl is, in fact, alive and thriving, and it is uniquely suited to a variety of programming projects with its flexibility, power, and extensive code base. I write in Perl because it provides everything needed to support enterprise software applications. I write in Perl because it is actively being maintained and developed. I write in Perl because nothing else gets the job done better: long live Perl.’

For my small-scale development needs I’m betting that at this point something gets the job done better. For now, anyway, pelicans have no need for Perl.