Saturday, June 24, 2006

Google Browser Synch for Firefox

Google has pretty much always been recognised as one of the stalwarts of the internet search arena but recently they've been offering a raft of really useful tools and services for free. These include web based e-mail, an image editor, browser toolbar, desktop integration tool, language translation, maps and global imagery, office tools, web page hosting and even a personalized home page.

What I'm going to do here is try to comment on a particular browser tool or service, one per blog entry, and maybe list possible alternatives if I can find any. So to start the ball rolling, here's one I only found out about this morning…

Google Browser Sync Google Browser Synch for Firefox Apple CompatibleLinux CompatibleWindows CompatibleOnline  Service

This is an extension that constantly synchronizes your Firefox browser settings such as bookmarks, persistent cookies, history, saved passwords and open windows and tabs across sessions on different systems.

I'm currently using both a PC and a Mac at work and this is an ideal way to keep both system's browser bookmarks, site cookies and passwords, etc. in synch. Similarly, with the expansion of home networks and broadband access, if you had a few machines at home, then finding the kids hogging the main machine wouldn't stop you getting at your favourite sites on a second system. It could also be useful in a lab or classroom full of machines with a standard login.

It works on versions of Firefox 1.5 or above, on all operating systems that support it, and requires a Google account (you need to save the data somewhere). The information is PIN protected and can be encrypted for greater security.

On the negative side, it only works with Firefox and not IE, Safari or even Mozilla and that's a pity as I use both IE and Safari as well. Another strange point is that is isn't integrated in any way with Google Bookmarks and, while they are different tools, they do both work with your bookmarks. It'd be a nice extra to be able to access and edit your browser bookmarks from anywhere online.

Definitely worth trying out! No matter that everyone is using social bookmarking services like and LookSmart's Furl, almost everyone still uses the built-in browser bookmarks for sites they visit regularly and who knows, Google may eventually integrate all of its tools together.

For more information and to download the tool, please visit Google.


At the moment, there really aren't any alternatives that cover this range of browser settings. The only thing that comes close is…

FoxMarks Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer Apple CompatibleLinux CompatibleWindows CompatibleOnline  Service

I've been using this excellent Firefox extension and it does the job pretty well but it's only for synchronizing bookmarks. This also works on versions of Firefox 1.5 or above, on all operating systems that support it. It's also similar in that it also doesn't work with any other browser and requires you to sign up for an online account to be able to save the bookmarks but you can disable automatic synchronization and do it manually if you want to.

What this has above the Google offering is the ability to work on two systems at once without having to continuously reconnect and you can access your browser bookmarks online. If you can live without synchronizing cookies, passwords, etc. then this is an excellent alternative.

Running Windows On A Mac!

Now that Apple have finally jumped on the Intel processor bandwagon, the possibilities for running Windows on Macintosh hardware start to look much more friendly. First let's get the previous solution out of the way…

Microsoft Virtual PC for Mac I've had cause to try and use Microsoft's Virtual PC for Mac several times over the years and it has never, ever managed to hit my expectations on usability. My last experience of trying it out was with a 1Ghz iMac G4, 1Gb RAM and version 7 of Virtual PC for Mac. I set up sessions for Windows 98 SE, Windows 2000 and Windows XP and only the Windows 98 setup came close to being acceptable. The others were simply painfully slow, so much so that they were absolutely unusable.

Virtual PC for Mac does not currently run on Intel based Macintosh systems and the company's latest quote on the subject is "We are working with Apple to determine the feasibility of developing Virtual PC for Mac for Intel-based Macs.". With their stated lag time for releasing new versions of Microsoft Office for Macintosh being every 2-3 years, that means we could be waiting until 2007 until a compatible version appears.

…and now onto the interesting stuff…

Apple Boot Camp With the arrival of Intel based Macs, Apple finally gave in to pressure and released the beta version of their own solution, which is due for inclusion in the upcoming new version of Mac OS X, Leopard. Apple Boot Camp provides a straightforward means of letting an Intel based Mac run Windows.

First, it creates a partition on the hard drive to allow you to install the Windows operating system and it also provides the necessary interface between the Apple hardware and Windows drivers. The major drawback is that you have to choose which operating system to run at startup time. You can't run one within the other, it's either Mac OS X or Windows XP and if you want to access the other then a rerstart is required.

The next contender in the ring is Parallels Desktop for Mac, another virtual solution that can run Windows, Linux or any other operating system and their critical applications at the same time as Mac OS X.

What's really interesting about this is that it looks like Apple are actually recommending it on their Get a Mac pages as the way to go for running Windows on the Mac. Will Apple Boot Camp ever make into Leopard or will they drop it in favour of third party solutions like Parallels Desktop or, god help us, Virtual PC? Anyway, I've ordered a couple of copies of Parallels Desktop to try it out so, as soon as our license keys arrive, I'll get it installed and then I'll let you know how it fares!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Screen Capture Tools

I do a fair bit of documentation and even the odd user guide/procedure so having a utility to capture parts of the computer screen, menu, window or even the whole screen is an absolute must. As always, free utilities are usually my first choice so here's a couple that make my job so much easier…

Gadwin Printscreen - Gadwin PrintScreen Windows Compatible

Gadwin PrintScreen basically does everything I need to capture a Windows screen. It defaults to using the Print Screen key, but you can change that if you want, can capture the current window, client window, full screen or a user selected rectangular area and you can even capture the mouse cursor if you want to.

It gives you a preview of the capture and can save directly to the clipboard, printer or a file. If you're saving to a file, it'll let you choose where and you can pick from a selection of graphic file formats. There are a few other options such as delayed capture and grey scale colour, etc. but I find the basic stuff does the job adequately enough.

ScreenHunter Windows Compatible

Another good Windows option is the Free version of ScreenHunter, which also comes in Plus and Pro commercial versions.

It has a few minor extra features over Gadwin PrintScreen but nothing of any note unless you pay them some money for the commercial versions. I suppose it depends what kind of capabilities you want in a screen grabber but both free Windows versions are sufficient for me.

- Mac OS X Apple Compatible

Macs make capturing the screen, or part of it, very easy as it's built into the Mac OS X operating system. All you have to do is press the right key combination as follows…

  • Take a picture of the whole screen - Press ⌘-Shift-3.
  • Take a picture of part of the screen - Press ⌘-Shift-4, then drag to select the area you want in the picture.
  • Take a picture of a window, a menu, the menu bar, or the Dock - Press ⌘-Shift-4, then press the Space bar. Move the pointer over the area you want so that it's highlighted, then click.
  • Screen shots are saved as files on the desktop.

    If you want to put the screen shot in the Clipboard, rather than create a file, hold down the Control key when you press the other keys. You can then paste the picture into a document.

    PS: I can hardly call this free as you have to pay for Mac OS X but it doesn't cost you any more if you already have a Macintosh running Mac OS X.

    - SnapNDrag Apple Compatible

    Even though Mac OS X makes it so easy to take screen shots, SnapNDrag makes it even easier as it lets you take a screenshot by just clicking a button and dragging the resulting screenshot off to a folder or an application.

    It supports PNG and TIFF for times when image quality cannot be compromised or you can use JPEG with adjustable quality for smaller file sizes.

    Portable Applications - Carry 'em around in your pocket!

    Ever fancied carrying around your favourite applications, say on a USB pen drive or even an iPod, so you don't have to rely on whatever potential junk is on the machine you get to sit at? e.g. at your friends house, a hotdesk at work or in an internet cafe! It could also be a lifesaver where you don't have install permissions on the computer although, being a systems administrator, I would never condone such an action if it subverted any company software policies.

    Like the idea? Okay, it'll never happen with behemoth-like commercial software like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop but some enterprising developers have been hard at work and have produced versions of popular, free internet applications such as Firefox, Thunderbird, GIMP, OpenOffice and Nvu for just such a purpose.

    Open source is the key here and that basically allows any developer to modify the code to suit their own purposes and the best bit for us users is, it's all free! Seriously, the quality of open source software has improved greatly and it's now perfectly feasable to "just say no!" to high-cost commercial products from companies like Microsoft or Adobe.

    Windows users can download about 18 portable applications, including Firefox, Thunderbird, GIMP. OpenOffice and Nvu, from, while Mac OS X users can also download 18, including those above, from FreeSMUG, the Free Opensource Software Mac User Group.

    Originally posted to The Jumbled Box, 1/2/2006

    Thursday, June 22, 2006

    Cheap Wireless NAS

    We were recently asked to provide a means of allowing about 25 laptops, Macs and PCs, to share some common file storage while they were at an offsite event. The concurrent access limitations of the built-in filesharing of Windows XP and Mac OS X wouldn't allow us to use one laptop as a server so we needed a better solution and preferably one that didn't involve setting up a real Windows or OS X server.

    That's when I came across the iomega NAS 100d range, which provides 250GB of network attached storage (NAS). The thing that really made it the gadget of choice was the fact that it can also function as an 802.11g wireless base station or client. The laptops were all wireless equipped so we ended up driving a wireless network from the iomega box itself and everything worked very well. This excellent little piece of kit will now be a standard accessory for our offsite events.

    Originally posted on The Jumbled Box, 27/9/2005

    PS: I suspect the NAS 100d range has been discontinued as, while the link above works, it can't be found browsing the site. The nearest equivalent looks like the Storcenter Network Hard Drive, which provides capacities from 250GB to 500GB.

    Wednesday, June 21, 2006

    Which Internet Browser?

    If you're fed up with Microsoft's domination of the browser market and want to experience new features like tabbed browsing before Internet Explorer 7 hits the streets, then here's a round-up of some of the more popular alternatives available and the ones that I have on my system...

    Firefox Apple CompatibleLinux CompatibleWindows Compatible - Easily the next in line of succession in the browser wars, this has everything going for it - extremely fast page rendering, tabbed browsing, loads of extensions, popup blocking, RSS feeds, integrated search bar, anti-spyware, virus checking and its got the coolest icon. It's my default browser these days and, being open-source, you can get versions optimized for G4 and G5 processors and there's even a portable version.

    Safari Apple Compatible - Safari is the browser that accompanies all variants of Mac OS X. It comes with tabbed browsing, popup blocking, RSS feeds and integrated search bar. It's an excellent browser without doubt but it suffers from compatibility and display issues with some web sites. e.g. I managed to lock myself out of my online bank account using it.

    SeaMonkey Apple CompatibleLinux CompatibleWindows Compatible - If you were one of those people that used to use, or even still do use, either Mozilla or Netscape because they came with built-in mail, newsgroup and html editing support then look no further. Official development on Mozilla has been stopped but it being open-source, a group of developers have taken the Gecko engine based code further and produced SeaMonkey, a tabbed brower, mail & newsgroup client, IRC client and web page editor all in one. Well worth investigating.

    Camino Apple Compatible - Camino is yet another open source Mozilla project but it is specifically written and optimized for Mac OS X using the Cocoa environment. It comes with tabbed browsing, annoyance and popup blocking, Spotlight integration and enhanced security features.

    Shiira Apple Compatible - Shiira is another fast, Cocoa based browser written and optimized for the Macintosh. It's also open-source and uses the same WebKit rendering engine as Safari but it has a few nice features that make it worth checking out. They've even got a Dashboard widget version for the more gadgetty minded.

    Opera Apple CompatibleLinux CompatibleWindows Compatible - Opera has been around a long time. It started out as a commercial browser, then they offered an additional free but advert ridden version but now they've seen sense and it's now free and advert clean. It's a decent, well used browser and worth looking at. It includes pop-up blocking, tabbed browsing, integrated searches, and advanced functions like E-mail, RSS Newsfeeds and IRC chat.

    I'm a Macintosh user so I'm afraid the bias is towards Mac browsers but I've indicated Linux and Windows comptibility where relevent. The above selections are only my choices and there are many more browsers available, especially for Windows and Linux. So what of the other well known names that seem to be missing here?...

    Microsoft have stopped development of Internet Explorer for the Macintosh and no longer offers it for downloading. The current 5.2.3 release has fallen far behind the others and has compatibility issues with some web sites so I wouldn't recommend using it. Most Windows users will, no doubt, upgrade to version 7 when it becomes available and Windows Vista will almost certainly have it built-in.

    Mozilla Mozilla is no longer being developed and the company is focusing on Firefox as its main browser product. If you still want the functionality that Mozilla provided, then SeaMonkey is well worth looking at.

    Netscape Netscape was my favourite browser for a long time, well at least it was until they released the bloated and bug-ridden version 6 and it still has to prove it's worth after that disaster. Version 8 looks better and comes with tabbed browsing, RSS feeds, spyware and adware protection but it looks like they've dropped the integrated mail and HTML editing, etc. Development on version 8 for Macintosh doesn't seem to be happening so confidence isn't high that this will ever be a serious contender.

    And of course, there are dozens more but those above are the most well known of the pack.

    Originally posted to The Jumbled Box on 3/2/2006.

    Monday, June 19, 2006


    Having jotted down some comments and musings on technology themes such as software and hardware on my main blog The Jumbled Box, I thought it'd make more sense to hive those off to their own home. I work in I.T. support so most of my day is taken up with things of a technological nature and I'm hoping to share some of my experiences, findings, horror stories, etc.

    Being a bit of a Macintosh fan, most of the stuff I'll waffle about will be biased towards things Apple, Macintosh and Mac OS X. I also use a Windows PC at work and my kids have one too so I'll try to include some things along those lines as well and, if possible, cross-platform compatibility may feature here too.

    So here it is -my tech(nology) log(g)…