Friday, October 20, 2006

Surprise, Surprise. IE7's Got a Bug

Never saw this one coming. Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7.0, just officially released Wednesday, already has a security bug. According to the Register, the bug is a result of faulty code carried over from IE6. So if IE7 was supposed to be a rewrite, and it has IE6 bugs, what does that say about Vista, which is supposed to a complete rewrite as well? Will we see XP bugs showing up?

Eweek has written a fairly favorable review about IE7, that talks about some of the security features that are admittably an improvment. I think IE7 is certainly a worthy release (that's long overdue), but it doesn't make IE the best browser available.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

IE7 Official Release: First Reactions

Internet Explorer 7 is officially released--download RC1 here, it is the same version being bundled as the official IE7 in a Yahoo package that went out today. (Edit 10/20/06: Now officially IE7, not referred to as RC1)

I downloaded IE7 RC1 and checked it out. Here is a screenshot of it showing My Forty-Two Cents, as well as a screenshot of Firefox 1.5 showing the same page:

IE 7:
IE 7
IE 7

My first reaction to the new IE was, "awkward." As soon as I opened it, it didn't feel good. This could be simply because it's new, and when it comes to computers I get used to things easily and like having them set up the way I'm used to them. However, the interface doesn't look real thought out.

Note in the screenshot the tab. Sweet, finally IE got tabs. But I have only one web site open, yet the tab bar is still there, wasting screen space. Looking at the top of the screenshot, and you'll see more wasted space--extra room between buttons, odd toolbar sizes, etc. And that screenshot is taken with "Small Button Sizes" enabled. One nice thing was a small button that shows a thumbnail of all the pages loaded in tabs, but a Firefox extension known as foXpose does this too.

My next reaction was surprise at a lack of a menu bar. At first, I found this odd, until I realized that I knew all of the shortcuts and don't use the menu bar anyways. And if I didn't it's easily enabled under the right-click context menu. However, as further evidence of the wasted space, the toolbar section in IE without the menu bar is just as large as my toolbar section in FF with the menu bar. Something's wrong here.

Next I navigated away from the display-once welcome page IE loaded the first time with. I went to Google. And the font was big. Too big. In the screenshot, the text size is set to "Smallest" in IE, and is still slightly larger than the lettering in FF when FF is set to "Normal." Also, when I shrunk the text down to "smallest," the font went out of wack. Now the letters look bolder than they should, and the line-spacing looks squished. Images were the same--too large (and there is no ImageZoom extension like in Firefox).

Microsoft, you really screwed up this next part. Pages do not render correctly. Look at the header of My Forty Two Cents in the IE screenshot, compared to the FF screenshot. Notice the style-sheet is clipped at the top in Internet Explorer. Whoops, guys. Even Firefox rendered the page correctly.

Next I started exploring the toolbar. It's pretty much the same as IE6, just rearranged. The forward, backward, home, refresh, and stop buttons, however, are scattered around and in weird places. I think they should be grouped together, but they aren't. The RSS feed controls look better, but not on par with a dedicated aggregator program. One nice thing is the Tools menu being available from a button, so you don't have to enable the menu bar to, say, clear your cache.

IE 7 includes a number of new security features, and only time will tell on their effectiveness. The most obvious is the new phishing protection. When pages load, IE7's status bar at the bottom shows an icon letting you know it's verifying the authenticity of the site. Other security measures remain less obvious, like the pop-up blocker, which continues to notify you of its actions with a bar that appears at the top of the page.

All in all, IE7 seems like an improvement over IE6, but doesn't quite reach the standard set by Firefox, or even Safari or Opera. It's behind the 8-ball on new features, doesn't offer as much customization (or extensions), and at first reaction doesn't seem particularly user friendly. After so much time between versions, I'd have thought Microsoft would have done better.

Now only a few more days until Firefox 2.0 becomes official. RC3 is out.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

So what's the best configuration, anyways?

I really like to listen to music. That's why, for Christmas I asked for (and Santa brought) a Creative Labs SoundBlaster X-Fi XtremeMusic soundcard. And then a couple of months ago I bought a new soundsystem: Logitech Z-5500 Digital 5.1 Surround Sound speakers.

And I love them. With the X-Fi processing and the Z-5500 power, my music (and games and movies and even mundane system noises) sounds spectacular. Bass rumbles in the floor--if the subwoofer's at more than 25%, it shakes dishes downstairs in the kitchen. And every noise, from the lowest bass drum to the highest screeching tire in a movie, to the quietest whisper to the loudest bang, is clear. Distortion simply does not exist.

But I've got a question, which arises from the presence of reduntant features in the speakers, the soundcard, and the software. What settings do I enable in which component to ensure the highest overall sound quality? Let me brake it down:

  1. Volume. Do I leave my speaker volume at 100%, and adjust the volume on my computer for the soundcard output? Do I leave both of them at 100%, and adjust the volume in whatever program is playing the sound? Or do I cap everything at say, 80%, and just adjust each one without regard? Basically, what volume controls should I leave alone, and what should I adjust?

  2. Stereo to 5.1 Upmixing. Do I turn off the upmixing in the Z-5500 decoder, and let the X-Fi CMSS-3D engine handle it? Or vica-versa?

  3. Multi-channel Decoding. Do I use the external decoder on the Z-5500s for Dolby 5.1 and DTS 96/24, or do I turn off digital bitstream out on the soundcard and let the X-Fi decoders work their magic?

  4. Recording/Line-in/Microphone. This is just on the X-Fi, because obviously the speaker system is pure output (and quite powerful at that, too). Where do I adjust the input volume, on the recording level in the program, such as Audacity, or in the X-Fi's line-in volume knob, or on the microphone or amp itself?

Because I love my setup, but I'm OCD enough to want to get every last peanut of perfection out of it. I know both the X-Fi and the Z-5500s are great pieces of hardware, but for each of those categories, which one is better? Where do I make my adjustments: the speakers, the soundcard, or the software?

If anyone has some advice, please comment. I'm going to keep experimenting and researching, and maybe call up Logitech or Creative Labs.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006, I forget about you

There's one website in particular that I use regularly but haven't given much thought. I almost take it for granted that everyone knows about it. It's Take a look at it yourself, you'll see why it's so great.

It's a fast and easy way to send files to people, without needing email addresses or setting up direct connections in P2P programs like Limewire. Their FAQ will do a better job describing it than I probably can; basically, you enter the path you want to upload, and it it returns a download link you can distribute.

There isn't much more to it. Rapidshare is simple to use, and effective. Like me, you might not see a need for it, but once you try using it you'll realize it's more useful in more places than you'd expect.