Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Essential Firefox extensions

When working on websites I've tested them in Internet Explorer and Firefox for some time but until recently still used IE as my main browser. A couple of months ago I decided to take the plunge and switch completely to Firefox. There are so many things that make Firefox better than IE, especially for web development. What follows is a list of my current favourite extensions:

Spell checking
I always found it ridiculous that IE doesn't have a built in spell checker. Firefox has many languages available for download so you can add spell checking to your web forms.

Firebug
This is probably one of the most useful tools I have come across for web development. It allows you to inspect and edit CSS, HTML and Javascript on-the-fly directly in the browser. I find it particularly useful for debugging CSS layouts when I'm just not sure where a mysterious 50 pixel wide gulf between elements has come from.

Flashblock
Flash adverts can be very annoying when I use RDP to connect to my desktop remotely. This extension lets you decide whether or not to run them.

Greasemonkey
Greasemonkey is an extension that allows scripts to edit the way pages look. For example you can add extra links to ebay that only show negative feedback, or perhaps show a clock counting down to the end of the auction. There are hundreds of free scripts for all kinds of popular websites available at http://www.greasespot.net/.

IE tab
Firefox is great but sometimes you need to check a page in Internet Explorer. To avoid the sick feeling clicking the blue 'e' icon produces IE tab allows you to render pages using the IE engine within a Firefox tab. It also allows you to set certain sites such as Windows Update to always open in the IE engine.

Web Developer toolbar
This is a Firefox toolbar with various useful options. Similar to Firebug it reveals the structure of the page and has lots of handy features for working with forms and images.

Fiddler
Not really a Firefox extension but hugely useful, Fiddler is a free HTTP debugging proxy. Basically it sits between your browser and the server showing you everything your browser requests and allowing you to "fiddle". You can view anything from raw hex, to XML to an image as well as build requests. It's invaluable for troubleshooting all kinds of web applications and also just exploring how they are put together. Whilst being Windows only (it's from Microsoft) there is also Charles for OS X.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Parallels 3.0 released

Parallels 3.0 (previous blog here) was released yesterday. Their download server must have been working hard because I had to leave the 80MB download running overnight. I've just installed it and tried out the DirectX using Google Earth as a comparison between the OS X and Parallels Windows versions and I'm impressed. It's obviously not as fast as the native version but very usable and works well in a coherence window.

I also like the integration of the XP Start menu/OS X Applications menu so you can fire up applications from either OS. I've not tried SmartSelect yet but I'm planning to use the new snap shot feature before installing Vista to see how that runs.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Parallels 3.0

The new version of Parallells (Windows on a Mac) is apparently only days away from shipping. I haven’t tested the beta but have pre-ordered my copy because it contains a major new feature on my wish list which is DirectX emulation. The main reason I need to reboot into my Bootcamp partition is DirectX which is a hassle.

Whether it will be fast enough for gamers remains to be seen. There must be some overheads translating DirectX instructions to draw onto the Mac display although there are videos around of it running Quake 4 quite respectably.

In addition Snapshots (à la VM Ware) will also be added to Parallels 3 as well as a new feature called SmartSelect which allows you to assign filetypes to open an application in either OS X or Windows. For example, MS Word files double-clicked in either OS X or Windows can be set to always open in the Windows version Word.

I’m looking forward to trying 3.0 out with Vista on the Mac in the next week or so and see how it copes with Aero.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Photosynth

Photosynth takes a large collection of photos of a place or object, analyses them for similarities, and displays them in a reconstructed 3-dimensional space. For example you could search Flickr for snaps of a famous landmark and bring together photos from various people taken at various times. Photosynth can then piece them together into a 3D representation of the landmark.

You can try out the technology here (Windows only): http://labs.live.com/photosynth/

And a few videos here: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=afe093ae-b780-4ee0-b0f1-897dfd42f0f9&displaylang=en
http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/129