Ramblings on Small Business Technology

Archive for June, 2008

FireFox 3 (or What’s The Best Browser, Part 3)

This week, the latest version of the FireFox web browser was released to much hype and fanfare.  Ignoring the hype, it’s still a major accomplishment.  I’ve been using it for almost a week now and I can tell you that I’m impressed by the increase in rendering speed and overall performance.

FireFox is another Open Source development effort (part of mozilla.org).  Interestingly, the very first web browser (Mosaic) was also open source.  It eventually was reincarnated as Netscape Navigator, the first widely available and used browser.  After Microsoft effectively killed off Netscape, the mozilla project was reborn from the proverbial ashes, and thankfully lives again.

I switched to FireFox when I got frustrated with Internet Explorer 6, which is arguably one of the worst browsers ever.  When IE7 came out (it’s amazing what a little competition will do to Microsoft), it was a significant improvement, but it still lacked the standards compliance and extensions model of FF2.  And there was a lot of standards non-compliance to get rid of.  Having been bitten by the DHTML/CSS web standards bug several years ago, most everything I develop is developed to current web standards.  I am continually amazed about how many things render differently in IE7 and more standards-accurate browsers (like FF), and consequently how much time I waste trying to make everything work correctly in both browsers.  But FF2 had its problems too – It had a significant memory leak and would slow down if left open for multiple days.

After 2+ years, FireFox 3 is here.  It’s significantly faster that its predecessor (GMail is almost tolerable in FF3) and hasn’t lost any of the rendering compliance of FF2.  What’s more, I found myself checking the extensions catalog for compatibility to see if my favorites had been upgraded to support FF3 before I pulled the trigger on the upgrade.  I wasn’t going to upgrade to FF3 without AdBlock or the Web Development toolbar!  Extensions are a big part of the overall FireFox allure.

Like I said earlier, it’s amazing what a little competition can do.  Microsoft has announced they are working on Internet Explorer 8.  While I’m sure they will ram it down everyone’s throat (through Windows Update), they better get busy – there’s a lot of ground to make up to catch the current leader!

Open Source Software

I have recently become a big proponent of Open Source software.  What is Open Source – it is software that is (usually) developed by a community of people (as opposed to a specific company).  The “open” comes from the publication and modification rights, which usually specify that the source code for the software is freely available and can be used, modified, or repurposed – as long as the result is also “open” (most Open Source projects are released under the GNU Public License (GPL)).

What does this mean for you? It usually means that the software is : 1) more robust (due to the larger number of community developers), 2) free (since no one company is profiting off the development), and 3) less platform-specific (since many developers mean many different preferences for platforms).  For most people, Linux (an open source variant of Unix) is synonomous with the open source “movement”.  But there are open source packages for many different applications.  For example,  this blog is powered by WordPress, an open source blogging package.  The “LAMP stack” (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) is a popular web and application server that is all open source.  I also use OpenVPN as a way to connect back to my network (and pretty much do anything I need to do!) when I am out of my physical office.  There is also Nagios, an open source network and host monitoring system, and SugarCRM, an open source competitor to Microsoft Dynamics CRM and salesforce.com.  And these are just the ones that I have used!  There are hundreds more.

Coming from a predominantly Microsoft-based corporate environment, I embraced most Microsoft products as inevitabilities.  But lately, I’ve discovered that there ARE viable alternatives that are just as capable (and sometimes moreso, since Microsoft tends to intimidate market share rather than to lead with innovation).  There is even a very capable alternative to the 800 pound gorilla that is Microsoft Office (Open Office).

Open Source software is not always free to end users and customers, since most require some effort to install, implement and customize, as well as support.  One of the penalties (if you choose to see it that way) is that open source software doesn’t come with a “one-click” installer (like a lot of commercial software) – that’s usually because installers are usually very limiting and open source packages are usually very flexible.  Also, there are business models where companies have grown around enhancing and selling services around open source software.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because many of these open source model companies have products and services that are stellar in comparison to their commercial equivalents, for a fraction of the price.

I encourage you to embrace Open Source – I sure have!