Mozilla’s new ad feature

Edited to remove erroneous statements about what gets sent to Mozilla based on Matthew Miller’s comment below.

Mozilla’s release last week of in-browser ads has caused quite the discussion on the Fedora development mailing list. Firefox now will show sponsored “tiles” on the default home screen when a new or cleared profile is used. Although Mozilla claims to collect data in such a way that it’s not personally identifiable, there are reasons to be concerned. Sure, this can be disabled, but the default behavior is the only thing most users will experience.

The reactions on Fedora-devel spanned the gamut from indifference to insistence that Firefox be removed from the repository entirely. My own take (which was already represented on the mailing list, so I refrained from “me too”-ing) is that the right answer is to disable this feature in the Firefox build that ships in Fedora, effectively making it opt-in instead of opt-out. Mozilla has a history of being a good actor and I don’t begrudge them trying to make some money. However, I’d prefer that the user have to consciously enable such tracking.

Though I disapprove of the implementation, I find it hard to get very worked up about this. The Internet is awash in tracking. Google and Facebook probably know more about me than I do about myself. But that’s because I decided the value I get from those sites (well, not so much Facebook) is worth the data I give them. I respect the right of others to come to their own decision, which is why opt-in is preferred.

I appreciate the opinion of those who think the only appropriate response is to remove Firefox entirely, but I find that to be a wholly impractical solution. If Fedora wants casual desktop users (and I see no reason to not court that use case), having Firefox is and important part of a welcoming environment. A great deal of casual computing is done in the browser these days and Firefox is a well-known browser (even if some people call it “Foxfire”). Sure, there are other FLOSS browsers (including IceWeasel), but few of them work as well for casual users as Firefox and none of them have the familiarity and name recognition. Given the good Mozilla has done for free software over the years, this hardly seems like a bridge worth burning.

Firefox’s market share stuck below 25%?

Last week Ars Technica reported that Firefox may never hit 25% market share.  Firefox has certainly put a big dent in Internet Explorer’s share over the past few years, but it seems to have stalled out. Certainly Google Chrome is one reason, as it has attracted the attention of many web users in the past year. Since its 1.0 release in 2004, Firefox has been the most widely-adopted success of the open source world, but now it appears to be stuck.  And my response is “who cares?”

I’ve been a Firefox user since the 1.something days, with occasional forays into Opera and Chrome.  I appreciate the work the developers have done, and I think Firefox has been an excellent product, but I don’t particularly care what the market share is.  In fact, the more browsers that are in widespread use, the better I think it is for the web.  Having a larger number of browsers forces browser and site developers alike to adhere to standards instead of implementing however they see fit.

The whole point is that users should have a choice, and that websites should work no matter what browser is used.  Realistically, we’re not to that point yet, but look what’s happened in the past six years with less than a quarter of the market. I’ll continue to use whatever browser I feel is best for me, and I won’t care how many others agree.  It’s just a tool, people.

Using bookmark synchronization on Google Chrome for Linux and Mac

For a long time, I blamed the sluggish performance of the web browser on my Linux machine at home on the ancientness of the hardware.  However, when my much nicer Linux machine at work showed the same problem, I began to think maybe it was just Firefox.  I’ve been an avid Firefox user for many years, but my loyalty wavers when my browser can’t keep up with my keyboard.  Based on the advice of strangers on the Internet, I decided to give Google’s Chrome browser a try.

Chrome is still a maturing browser, but it is fast and capable.  There’s only one real drawback: bookmark synchronization.  With Firefox, I had been using Xmarks to synchronize my bookmarks, but that’s not currently available for Chrome.  In the “Early Access” builds of the Linux and Mac versions of Chrome, the bookmark sync that the Windows version has is available.  This syncs the bookmarks to your Google Docs account, which makes it rather handy.  However, synchronization is not enabled by default.  To enable it, you have to pass the –enable-sync option at launch time, which is easier said than done.  Fortunately, it’s not too terribly difficult.

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Setting up a new Mac

As part of my new job, I got a shiny new 13″ MacBook Pro.  Even though I’m quite a Linux fanboy, I really enjoy the quality of the hardware and OS X. However, it isn’t perfect.  There are a lot of applications that I like to have available.  Since I have nothing better to talk about, I figured I’d list them here:

  • Adium — one of the best instant messenger clients I’ve ever used.  It has support for just about every major IM protocol except…
  • Skype — I don’t really use it for IM, but it’s great for audio and video calls.
  • Firefox — I prefer it to the Safari browser that ships with OS X.  It happens.  And with that comes…
  • Xmarks — a browser plug-in that syncs bookmarks.  It comes in very handy when you use multiple computers.  So does…
  • Dropbox — allows you to synchronize arbitrary files between multiple computers.  I mostly use it for configuration files (e.g. .bashrc, .screenrc)
  • VirtualBox — sometimes you actually need to use another OS to do some important task (like play Sim City)
  • DOSBox — is good for playing some of the older games that I like
  • Chicken of the VNC — I’ve played with several VNC clients for Mac, and this one is the best.
  • iTerm — hands-down better than the default
  • ZTerm — a program to make serial connections.  I used it a fair bit in my old job, I don’t anticipate needing it much in my new job.
  • Colloquy — an Internet Relay Chat client
  • VLC — a media player that will play just about anything
  • Grand Perspective — a program that shows a graphical representation of disk usage, allowing you to find the files that are chewing up all the space on your hard drive.