February 10th, 2010

Can't We[b Browsers] All Just Get Along?

Can't We[b Browsers] All Just Get Along?

I really wish Firefox used (or could be configured to use) Windows's built-in user-specific "Favorites" folder as a bookmark repository. As it now stands, using more than one web browser is an enormous pain for anybody who likes to keep his/her bookmarks/favorites/what-have-you consistent from browser to browser. Updating my Firefox bookmarks to match my Internet Explorer favorites is an arduous process that requires deleting all the old ones, re-importing from IE, and then moving things around so the contents of IE's "Favorites Bar" go into Firefox's "Bookmarks Toolbar," and the rest don't remain buried in some "Imported from IE" folder.

Given the overhead and hassle involved, I do this rather infrequently and usually just suffer the inconsistencies.

Even aside from the appealing idea of a shared bookmarks repository, IE's approach of storing bookmarks as discrete files within actual folders is significantly better than how Firefox keeps everything in one HTML file. The IE way frees the user to perform maintenance on his/her bookmarks through the regular Windows interface, rather than being limited to the browser's built-in bookmarks organizer tool (which is not nearly as useful when you're doing a lot of reorganizing).

Plus, you get that nice "Favorites" link from the Start Menu, which is convenient for launching the browser directly to a target URL. I personally even go a step further and use a "Links" toolbar on the Taskbar which directly pops up the contents of my IE "Favorites Bar," for quick access to my most frequently visited web sites. This approach will launch URLs in whichever browser is set as as the system's default, but it's still IE's favorites you're accessing.

In any case, I'm at a point where I'm not able to commit to any one browser, and I know I'm not alone on that. Although I always liked IE 6, Microsoft thoroughly lost me with the bizarre (and non-user-defeatable) UI layout "reinvention" in IE 7 and 8 (probably one of those cases of taking one fringe-element focus group's oddball input as a heavenly mandate). Safari has a decent layout, but it's too "Apple-ish" for my liking, and Chrome is even worse in the UI department than IE; nowadays, only Firefox looks and acts like a Windows web browser should. However, IE 8 feels quite a bit faster than Firefox. It starts significantly more quickly, and scrolling long pages is much smoother. Ultimately, there's no clear winner.

So for now, I'm stuck between IE and Firefox; but even if I wanted to switch completely to Firefox, my wish would be stymied by Firefox's proprietary (and annoyingly less flexible) bookmarks functionality. For all I know, there may be a plug-in/add-on/hack that fixes this, but I prefer to avoid such measures where possible, and the functionality really should just be built into Firefox anyway.

It's a far-fetched possibly that Mozilla is afraid of treading on Microsoft's legal turf, but that strikes me as a bit unlikely. If anything, accessing Windows's built-in bookmarks functionality would only validate Microsoft's design and give Firefox a higher level of integration with the OS, rather than reinventing the user experience wheel, which OS vendors always rightfully frown upon. A consistent, predictable user experience is supposed to be a hallmark of modern software design philosophies, but this is one area where the industry seems a few steps behind itself.

Thought of the Day: Too Close for Comfort

Thought of the Day: Too Close for Comfort

What is up with those combo paper-towel-dispensers/garbage receptacles you see in a lot of restaurant bathrooms, anyway? You know, the ones with about a (Warning: mild exaggeration ahead) half-inch gap between the source and the destination, so the clean paper towels frequently dangle and mingle with the often-overflowing pile of waste below?

It conjures up thoughts of the old "two worlds collide" motif of the pretty young girls from wealthy, well-mannered families in the suburbs falling (no pun intended) for the scrappy, dirty, unscrupulous "bad boys" downtown. Sometimes, opposites attract, but in this case, I'd like mommy and daddy to keep a tighter leash on their little princess.

I'm actually surprised such a design doesn't constitute some kind of sanitation violation. It certainly drives me nuts, when I'm standing there trying to figure out how to dry my hands without contaminating myself with who-knows-what got thrown in the garbage earlier. Because you know that for every few paper towels actually used to dry freshly washed hands, there's a snot rag or old wad of gum in there. (Not that I necessarily trust the thoroughness of people's hand-washing anyway, but I don't want to come across as a *ahem* total paranoid germophobe...)