Why you should download a Seamonkey

Column published on Saturday December 15th 2007 in The Guardian
“Why you should download a Seamonkey – The Guardian headline

We looked last week at changing Themes via Firefox’s Tools-Add-Ons menu. Themes are all very well, but it is extensions that offer the real powerhouse possibilities

Last week I showed how easy it was to change your browser to Firefox, a customisable, personalisable (mmm, such attractive words) web browser that offers much more control over your web life than the standard, bundled applications Internet Explorer (IE) and Safari, for Windows and Mac platforms respectively.

A little history might interest you: Firefox is the work of the Mozilla Foundation, which was founded years ago (in digital time) as part of an attempt to “kill” the first universally successful web browser, Mosaic (Mozilla is a portmanteau word derived from “Mosaic Killer”). The Mozilla design led to Netscape, the most popular browser of the late 90s, which was in turn killed by IE, the browser Microsoft cobbled together from bits of – you’ve guessed it – Mosaic source code. This internecine cannibalism led to all kinds of lawsuits and the ultimate demise of Netscape. Mozilla itself stayed alive, however, and three years ago came up with Firefox, the Third Way. There are others: Opera is carving out a niche on hand-held and gaming platforms, while various Gecko-based browsers follow the Firefox protocols. I don’t dismiss them, but we are concentrating here on the big alternative.

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This blog was posted in Guardian column

“…on pimping your browser”

Column published on Saturday December 8th 2007 in The Guardian
“…on pimping your browser” – The Guardian headline

Stephen Fry shows you how to enhance your browsing experience with a few simple alterations to your set-up. Technical types are free to look away and snort gently. Go on, take Firefox for a test drive.

Dork Talk will devote itself over the next two weeks to those of you who regularly browse the web but don’t consider yourselves in any way expert at techy, dweeby, geeky things. I want to show you how to enhance your browsing experience with a few simple alterations to your set-up. They don’t involve any kind of specialist knowledge and they are all reversible.

firefox2.jpg

Technical types can look away and snort gently: this is aimed at – well, I have many friends who can, so to speak, drive around the web, but who have never thought much about the software vehicle taking them through the traffic.

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This blog was posted in Guardian column

“Is this the greatest living Englishman?”

Column published on Saturday December 1st 2007 in The Guardian “Is this the greatest living Englishman” – The Guardian headline

Despite being the frontrunner, Tim Berners-Lee is admirably modest.

timbl-lee-2.jpg Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Who is the greatest living Englishman? It would be hard to argue against the merits of Tim Berners-Lee, the sole begetter and inventor of the world wide web, an organism whose initials, www, have (in some languages, including our own) three times more syllables than the phrase they’re abbreviating, which is perhaps the only flaw in Berners-Lee’s grand design.

The story of how he devised the hypertext transfer protocol (http) and the entire language and structure of the web on a Steve Jobs NeXt computer at Cern in Switzerland in 1990 has passed into legend, though I would certainly recommend reading his own excellent and highly readable account, Weaving The Web. Sir Tim remains an idealist, passionately committed to an open, free and wholly public web as he guides the W3 Consortium towards an unknown future from his base at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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This blog was posted in Guardian column

“Eco Media Player Cranks up the volume”

Column published on Saturday November 24th 2007 in The Guardian “Eco Media Player Cranks up the volume” – The Guardian headline

I was mean to the Philips Streamium Player the other week. Some of you might have thought, “Well, that was a PC product and Fry is a Mac man to his boots, so what can we expect?” I can hardly express therefore the pleasure with which I am able to rave about another, in many ways, similar device, and one that is even more emphatically PC-oriented.

Trevor Baylis leapt to fame 10 years ago with his wind-up radio. Now comes his Eco Media Player (around £170). There is something about this adorable device that makes me smile, and keep smiling. The difference between it and the Streamium says a lot about the crucial emotional reciprocity between manufacturer and consumer of which one is aware the moment one opens the packaging. One product gives off an air of corporate indifference and separation from the human world, the other a sense of wanting to please, of wanting to love and be loved.

Eco.large.jpg

Chunky, rubber-skinned and round-cornered, the Eco Player’s dimensions make it thicker than the mainstream generation of players, but then it has to house the famous Baylis crank. For all that, it feels lighter than a packet of cigarettes. My version has 2GB of internal flash memory, but models up to 8GB are (or will be) available. All that you’d hope to find is present and correct: mini USB connector with which it can be charged via your PC or Mac’s USB (2.0) port, slot for a mini-SD memory card and sockets for headphones and line-in. Plus FM radio (great quality), a music player in all the usual formats (if you like volume, this blasts the iPod out of the water), video (using the asv codec: boo), a voice recorder, a self-styled ebook reader and a startlingly bright torch. Yes, torch.

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This blog was posted in Guardian column

“Storm”

Column published on Saturday November 17th 2007 in The Guardian “Dork Talk” – The Guardian headline

Gazing into the techno-future can be fun. We all dream of utopias involving benign robots, food for all and fusion power that is free, safe and unlimited, but then there are the cacotopias too – nightmare visions of malevolent machines that turn on mankind. It has been usual to suppose that the two-pronged threat to our liberty and our privacy would emanate from big business and government, from untrammelled corporate and bureaucratic greed, stupidity and wickedness. But let me paint another scenario…

I expect all of you have heard of the risks posed by the various forms of attack code that go under names like virus, Trojan horse, worm, malware and so on. These are little bits of clandestine code that your computer picks up, usually through email attachments, designed to infect the host (your PC), raid its address books, send out copies of themselves to all your friends and contacts and then either spitefully screw with your operating system, rendering it inoperative or, more likely these days, record your keyboard input and send back to the malicious code’s originator a log of such keystrokes which can be used to determine your passwords, credit card numbers and other sensitive data.

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This blog was posted in Guardian column