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Monday, June 28, 2010

10 Days Later – And I’m Using Firefox Again

Well, just 10 days after posting my Browser test and deciding to use Apple’s Safari as my default browser, I switched back to Firefox yesterday.  I just felt it’s fair to share my reasons with you.

Don’t get me wrong – Safari is an excellent browser.  In many respects I still like it more than Firefox.  I love its polished and shiny feel (like all things Apple, it looks amazing).  I like the fact that it highlights the points I would probably be most interested in on web pages – like the Username / Password boxes.  Its “Top Sites” feature is far superior to Firefox or Opera’s Speed Dial.  It’s a superbly integrated, fully-featured browser.

But here are my complaints:

1.  Too many unsupported web sites.  Some sites simply wouldn’t display certain functionality, no matter what features I enabled.  I know it’s almost futile to hope for a browser that has 100% support for all sites, but still, with Firefox I find maybe one site per month that I have to open with Internet Explorer.  With Safari I had 7 of these sites within a week.

2.  Trouble with Joomla’s back-end.  I design web sites from time to time, and I do this mostly with Joomla.  But I find that Safari has some problems in the Joomla back-end, specifically when uploading media or creating hyperlinks (sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t – and I can’t work with “sometimes”).

3.  Some irritating lagging.  Often, when opening a new page (not just specific pages, or with specific kinds of content, as far as I can see), Safari would stop responding completely for a few seconds (around 10 – 20 seconds most of the time), totally randomly.  This is just plain irritating.

So, no offense to my Apple-supporting readers, but yesterday I exported my bookmarks and moved back to Firefox.  No, it doesn’t look as good, and I’m not 100% happy with it.  But at least it’s stable, and familiar, and pretty well supported!

So for now, that’s it from me.

Lourens, out.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Very Awesome Tool #1

Well, after a weekend-and-a-day off, I’m back!  But before I get to the point of this post, I want to say thanks for all the comments I got so far.  I appreciate all of them!  So far we had comments from some passionate Apple-supporters, and some passionate Open Source-supporters, making things very interesting.  Since I never (yet) had much exposure to Apple, and my exposure to Open Source software is very limited, it’s good to have some input from people who have the knowledge that I don’t!  So thanks guys.

Now to the subject at hand.  This is the first in a series of posts I’ll do once in a while to show some impressive software tools I discover.  Today I want to talk a little about a cool tool called “Speccy”.

Home PC users – have you ever had the problem of telephonic IT support guys asking you what motherboard or CPU you have?  I mean, I know some of these terms get weird.  One of my business partners once had a guy holding up a power chord and asking him if it’s a flash drive.  So trust me, I get it.  Well, Speccy solves that problem.

IT guys – ever needed to download a driver, but you either had to open the case or restart the PC to see what motherboard is inside?  Just to stare at one of those cryptic older Intel boards without any proper indication of make or model number?  Well, I feel your pain.  But now you can just use Speccy.

So what is Speccy?  Well, quite simply, it shows you exactly what’s running inside (and outside) your PC, in detail.  I mean, it even shows the motherboard make, model, and revision number.  It tells you how many RAM slots you have, and what kind of RAM chips you have in each slot.  It gives you your Windows version, your Windows serial key, and the temperature of all CPU and GPU cores you may have!  (If none of this made sense, you still need Speccy, because those are the kinds of questions your IT technician will ask you.)

My favourite feature of Speccy?  Well, it’s FREE.  That’s right, free to download (and small too! Just over 1MB).  Just click on the word “Speccy” anywhere on this page to get it!

For those who want to see what it looks like, here are some screen captures (with some info blanked out for privacy and security reasons).  This will also answer some of the questions I got regarding what kind of PC I’m running.




So that’s my jabbering for today.  But I want feedback – Tell me about some of your favourite software tools!  I will check them out and share my opinions here!

Well, that’s it for now.  Have a great week!

Lourens, out.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Are all browsers created equal?

So in yesterday’s post I mentioned that Internet Explorer 9 apparently looks very promising.  So I said to myself, “Well, Myself, are you going to put that to the test?”  And so I decided, if I’m going to test Internet Explorer 9, I may just as well do an overall test of all the current web browsers in comparison.

So here you have my findings.  My methods probably weren’t perfect, but I took every care to ensure that they are accurate.  All browsers were tested after a clean reboot, with no add-ons or accelerators enabled, on a fairly stable Vodacom 3G / HSDPA connection, and on one computer system.  Now, I know we probably all have our favourite web browsers, and I’ve been a fan of Mozilla Firefox for a long time now, and never felt the need to move away.  But these results were quite surprising to me.  So without any further ado, here’s my results:


Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 (Version 8.0.7600.16385)

Well, first up Microsoft’s current browser.  Internet Explorer is the most widely-used browser on the planet, mainly because it ships with the most widely-used operating system on the planet.  (Even Europe’s attempt at limiting Microsoft’s distribution of IE with Windows 7 within Europe had a very small impact on this statistical fact.)  Because of this there are very few (if any) web sites that won’t load in IE.  In all honesty, it’s a good browser, with version 8 thankfully rectifying the instability problems we had in IE7.  The coloured tabs add a nice touch, allowing you to keep track of your browsing.  In Windows 7 (with the full Aero interface) you can preview all tabs as separate images when you hover the mouse over the icon, which is nice.  However, IE8 feels rather sluggish to me.  And add to that the fact that I could find nothing like “Speed Dial” in Internet Explorer 8 (which is an absolute must-have in my opinion), and I have to say IE8 is not my choice of browser, but a good idea to have hanging around in the background for those “hard-to-open” pages.

In terms of speed, this is how IE8 scored:

Load Time:    6 seconds
Opening a new tab:    2 seconds loading time:    14 seconds loading time:    21 seconds loading time:    17 seconds loading time:    14.5 seconds
This blog’s loading time:        8 seconds

Average Speed Factor: 11.79 seconds


Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 (Platform Preview 9.0.7766.6000)

This is the one that caused this whole test.  Firstly I have to say that this is not a complete browser yet; it lacks a lot of basic features.  But I was quite impressed.  It doesn’t have the same sluggish feel to it that IE8 has; it genuinely feels quite stable and fast.  But it won’t open all pages completely; some features in this blog wouldn’t open, for example.  Also, at present it doesn’t feature tabs or Speed Dial, but you never know what could change during the next few months before its release.  So actually delivering a verdict on this product is unfair; but go ahead and try it for yourself if you want (it won’t overwrite or replace your current IE).

In terms of speed, this is how IE9 scored:

Load Time:    4 seconds
Opening a new tab:    NOT SUPPORTED YET loading time:    6 seconds loading time:    24 seconds loading time:    11 seconds loading time:    15 seconds
This blog’s loading time:        7 seconds

Average Speed Factor: 11.17 seconds


Mozilla Firefox (Version 3.6.3)

My web browser of choice since 2004.  Over the last few years it developed so much that it can open almost all web pages.  It’s very widely supported (last I heard it’s the second most-used web browser in the world after Internet Explorer), and I believe this is to a great extent thanks to the fact that it’s pretty universal.  You can get Firefox on Windows, Linux, and Apple MacOS.  It’s stable, with very good performance, but it can get a bit sluggish sometimes, especially after a few hours online.  In Windows 7 Aero it only displays the current tab in preview, which is a bit of a disadvantage in my opinion.  But in its favour, it has Speed Dial available as an optional add-on (along with a whole bunch of other good add-ons).

In terms of speed, this is how Firefox scored:

Load Time:    5 seconds
Opening a new tab:    1.5 seconds loading time:    12 seconds loading time:    23 seconds loading time:    21 seconds loading time:    11 seconds
This blog’s loading time:        25 seconds

Average Speed Factor: 14.07 seconds


Opera (10.53 Build 3374)

This browser isn’t all that big yet, but it’s getting there.  It has the potential to do great things, and it already has quite a loyal following.  Firstly, some nice features I noticed in Opera.  One thing that was absolutely awesome was the fact that it has a “Resume” feature for failed downloads.  I know Firefox has a similar feature, but it won’t resume all failed downloads, while I didn’t get one that Opera couldn’t resume.  It also shows all tabs in Windows 7’s Aero preview, and it has Speed Dial built in! (Yay!!)  However, on the negative side, I struggled to get Speed Dial activated (I’m still not 100% sure how I did it, and couldn’t really find any proper help online).  Also, its shortcut keys are not standard.  What I mean by that is that, for example, Alt-Tab will open a new tab in most browsers.  Not in Opera.  That’s just one example.  So surfing with Opera is a brand new experience, but not really necessarily in a good way.  I also experienced some “This program has stopped responding”-errors when opening more than about 10 tabs (yes, I actually do use that many tabs often!), and I found quite a few pages that had features that wouldn’t show in Opera (the weather elements on, for example).

In terms of speed, this is how Firefox scored:

Load Time:    4.5 seconds
Opening a new tab:    0.5 seconds loading time:    10 seconds loading time:    19.5 seconds loading time:    23 seconds loading time:    15 seconds
This blog’s loading time:        41 seconds (What’s up with that?!)

Average Speed Factor: 16.21 seconds


Google Chrome (5.0.375.70)

This is a good browser with impressive features, but I find that it takes a while to get used to.  (But apparently, once you’re used to it you love it.)  It is quite fast, but I found that it struggles a bit with some features such as ads and images on some pages.  It also shows only the current tab in Windows 7’s preview, but on the plus side it has Speed Dial as an optional extension.  My main problem with Chrome is something that some people will probably see as an advantage, and I can see why, but I’m just weird in not liking it – it’s the fact that you don’t have a separate search box, you search simply by typing your search into the address bar.  A nice idea but… I just can’t get used to it.  All in all a great browser, and it would have scored much better, but it REALLY suffers on some sites, as you’ll see in the performance comparison.

In terms of speed, this is how Chrome scored:

Load Time:    4 seconds
Opening a new tab:    0.5 seconds loading time:    7 seconds loading time:    22 seconds loading time:    56 seconds loading time:    21.5 seconds
This blog’s loading time:        125 seconds (No, that’s NOT a typo!!)

Average Speed Factor: 33.71 seconds


Apple Safari 5.0 (7533.16)

Fairly unknown in Windows circles, Apple’s web browser turns out to be a hidden gem.  Yes, it is available for Windows; and I’m pleasantly surprised!  It has superbly fast page loading, different tabs show as previews in Windows 7, and it has excellent performance in general.  It offers Top Sites, which is similar to Speed Dial, but it has Apple’s “clean and sparkly” look.  There are only two negative things I can say at this point.  The first is, it’s the biggest download of all the browsers covered here (around 30MB); the second problem is that it has weird Windows 7 functionality.  When pinned to the taskbar, all other icons stay where they are when opened.  Safari creates another icon on the taskbar to show that it’s open, and each successive click on the original icon opens a new tab.  But that’s a minor inconvenience in my opinion.  I am running Safari for a few days to see if I find something that bothers me about it; but so far this one looks like a clear winner!

In terms of speed, this is how Safari scored:

Load Time:    8 seconds
Opening a new tab:    1 seconds loading time:    7.5 seconds loading time:    15 seconds loading time:    12 seconds loading time:    10 seconds
This blog’s loading time:        16 seconds

Average Speed Factor: 9.93 seconds

Here’s a graphical illustration for those who are interested.  It’s the speed comparison between the web browsers, and less is better:


Remember that these tests are based purely on my own experience, and you may feel differently about things.  That’s fine.  But for those who are looking for something different, I hope my comparison helps!

Wishing you all a great weekend,

Lourens, out.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

So when did Microsoft become Mr Popularity again?

I took my first few baby steps on PC’s with Microsoft DOS.  Back then most people were dependent on it.  It was the ultimate in operating systems (except for the small elite that used Apple, but Apple support in South Africa was virtually non-existent back then, so it wasn’t really a practical option for us).  Back in the 80’s and early 90’s people actually liked Bill Gates and thought him some kind of genius.  (These days I get about 5 emails per year trying to prove that he’s the antichrist… My, how things have changed.)  Even the early releases of Windows were met with some kind of awe.

But all that seemed to change with the release of Windows 95.  Suddenly people were complaining about the “pathetic performance” and “instability”.  Three years later saw the emergence of Windows 98, and people complained that it’s just a “bug-fix” for Windows 95, with “even more bugs”.  Yet by then most of the world already adopted one of the two latest releases of Windows.

Let’s fast-forward a bit – Windows 2000 was released, but with “bad gaming support” (because it was built on Windows NT, not the old DOS-based Windows versions), and Windows Me (still often called the most unstable Windows version ever, though I used it for 3 years with no problems).  Through all of this Microsoft’s public image got worse and worse; technicians complained about Windows, users complained about Windows, everyone complained about it, and yet everyone paid good money for it… or rather, some people paid good money for it, the others just copied it from those who paid the good money for it, but almost everyone used it.

Windows XP was met with some enthusiasm, but even more complaints (“You need a monster PC to run it”, and “It has security holes you can drive a truck through” were two of the most popular.)  But over the course of almost 7 years, most of the world adopted Windows XP, and accepted the ever-popular “Blue Screen of Death” as a part of life.  But still Microsoft were ridiculed and insulted by the masses.  Some brave souls (including myself) ventured into the Linux field in search of alternatives.  But most people who made the switch still had Windows XP humming in the background somewhere, if only to play their games.

Then came Windows Vista…  What more can I say?  People loved to hate it (and many still do).  What were the two major complaints?  Performance and security (the same things that plagued Windows 95, 2000, and XP when they were released, but by then people forgot about that).  In all honesty, I liked Windows Vista (please forgive me).  If you had a capable PC, and tweaked Vista a bit, it actually performed quite well, and added features that I never even realized I missed in XP.  But by now Microsoft were insulted even more than ever (the “Bill Gates = antichrist” propaganda increased exponentially).  People complained that they “over-charged” for “sub-standard, buggy, insecure and unstable software”.

But now to get to the point that I’m trying to make.  Somewhere in the last 12 months or so, things started to change.  Not suddenly, or dramatically; no public displays of affection or apologies to Mr Gates for all the slandering; but over the last few months I noticed it happening.  Middle of last year I removed Ubuntu from my PC and rather opted to run the RC version of Windows 7 as my main operating system.  Many people I know, who could never afford to buy Microsoft software, actually forked out the money to buy Windows 7 and legal copies of Office.  Anti-virus software, commercial and free ones (including BitDefender, Norton, AVG and Avira AntiVir) were little by little uninstalled and replaced with the awesome, powerful, super-fast (and FREE)  Microsoft Security Essentials.  WinAmp was replaced with the latest version of Windows Media Player.  And Microsoft finally seems to be gaining some respect in the computing world again.

I had the opportunity to install Microsoft Office 2010 on a customer’s computer the other day, and I was extremely impressed.  It’s user-friendly, stable, and very fast.  Only time will tell if it’s secure and stable enough to handle whatever people can throw at it, but for now at least I’m impressed.  From early reports, even Internet Explorer 9 seems to out-perform Mozilla Firefox at this stage (though it’s not a completed product yet, so we’ll have to wait and see).

So, to summarize, at least from my own life.  A year ago I was running Ubuntu, with all of its free software packages, including  Today I’m typing this blog post in Windows Live Writer, running on Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, with Windows Media Player playing my tunes in the background, and Microsoft Security Essentials and Windows Firewall ensuring my on-line safety.  In a few minutes, after finishing this, I will open Windows Live Mail to check my email, and chances are that I won’t be getting any “Bill Gates is the antichrist” propaganda today.

For my part, at least; Mr. Gates, I apologize.  You and your team have my respect, and my gratitude.

Lourens, out.

PS: Remember to check out Renovo Computers, if you haven’t done so already!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Introductions are in order…

Seeing as how this is my first post in this blog, I suppose introductions are in order.  My name is Lourens.  Hi, it’s good to meet you.  (Except if I already know you, in which case I’m glad that I met you sometime before.)

Now that we know each other, first a disclaimer.  I am not a “computer genius” or a “programming wizard”.  So that is NOT the kind of content you can expect to find here.  If that’s what you’re looking for, I can recommend a few other blogs…  Some of my friends ARE “computer geniuses” and “programming wizards”, so I’m extremely well connected, and they often make me look good!

On the other hand, I have been involved with IT and computers for well over 20 years.  It started when I was just a little boy.  While my brother was studying in Pretoria, staying there all week and coming home on Fridays, I would spend weekdays after school inserting one floppy disk after another (yes, the old 5 1/4” disks that were actually floppy), looking for games at a DOS command prompt, and trying every single executable, command, or batch file I could find.  Often with disastrous results.  And then I’d spend the rest of my afternoons trying to find a way to fix, before Friday, whatever I broke this time!  That eventually lead to my career in computers and the IT field in general.

So the info I will be giving in this blog will actually be a list of my experiences.  I’m a naturally inquisitive kind of guy, always sticking my nose where it may not necessarily belong, trying to find new things and trying them out.  So you will at least be able to benefit from this general inquisitiveness (hey, is that even a real word?  “Inquisitiveness”…)

So go ahead, follow this blog if you want.  I’m going to try to add a post more or less daily, and I’ll appreciate your input and comments.  And also, if you want me to discuss anything in particular  (preferably computer-related), please let me know and I will try to stick my nose into it!

And to end off this first blog post, I would like to add some unashamed propaganda!  Please go and take a look at the web site of Renovo Computers in South Africa.  That’s the IT company I’m affiliated with and co-founded.  So take a look at the awesome services.  Or even just look at the awesome web site (it really is very impressive, and I can boast about it because I didn’t design it!  Yeah, I rock at being humble.)

And also, please do me a favour and click on the ads if they interest you.  (Don’t go through any trouble to click on them just because I’m asking you to, though, but if something interests you, please do.)  Those ads help to support this blog and my babbling, and pay for medical expenses when I get my nose stuck somewhere it didn’t belong.