Tag Archives: Firefox

Creating Offline Web-Based Apps On Your Desktop

The net is a wonderful place if you know how to use it properly. In recent years, a lot of the new web applications out there such as Google Calender or Google Docs have been focused on giving the user the full capabilities of offline installed programs but with the added benefit of being able to unify and share their information with other users in an instant. It's just that with programs that run on cloud computing, you have to assume that you'll be connected to the net all the time.

In the event that you're cut off from the net, the applications that rely on an online connection cannot work. If those applications are important to you, that's going to be a big pain in places you can't imagine. A truth that I've discovered quite recently being cut off from the net for a week.

So for the past few days I've been experimenting on some viable alternatives to making sure that the online applications I rely on are still accessible to me even though I'm not actually online. For it to really work for my benefit, they have to fulfill 2 criterias.

  1. They have to act like separate programs with windows on their own giving me the ability to minimise, maximise and move them about the desktop layers when I want to.
  2. They do not require the installation of additional software than I need to run it.

Off the bat, this means I ignored the use of Google Desktop, Adobe Air or other widgets based programs. This is because these applications, while highly versatile required me to install and configure those apps. Having played with it before, a lot of those widgets are eye candy that remain attached on a desktop level. It would be hard for me to configure it so that I can call it above my other windows when I want it to, given that my web browser is always open and maximised.

This is where Firefox and a couple of Firefox add-ons come in, specifically Prism and Google Gears. Given that I already use Firefox as my browser, there isn't any need for me to install any other program. To top that off, these add-ons are lightweight and can be configured for (almost) any site. The idea is remarkably simple though.

Prism is used to create the standalone window for whatever web application you choose. Think of it as a Firefox window of that specific application with it's own icon on your Desktop or Startup Menu, but without the navigation and address bars and other things that bloat up Firefox. It's a self contained window on its own right. Google Gears on the other hand allows certain sites to operate offline. While it is not supported by every site, a lot of the major sites I use such as Google Calender, Gmail, Remember The Milk and WordPress 2.6 and above are able to use Google Gears to operate offline. So the recipe for this mad concoction is as easy as a few steps and it only works assuming you use Firefox as your main browser.

  1. Install Prism and Google Gears for your Firefox.
  2. Navigating to your web application such as Meebo, Twitter, Gmail or Remember The Milk, covert the page to a desktop application using Prism (you can do this by going to Tools -> Convert Website To Application)
  3. If the site supports it, open it as your desktop app (you might have to log in again) and then sync it using Google Gears.

That's it really. Now your application can run offline as in its own window. If you're a productivity geek like me, you can even configure it to activate with a hotkey (using another awesome lightweight program called AutoHotkey) to call your applications whenever you want. It's simple and it works right out of the box. The best thing about it is that for calenders like Google Calender and scheduled task lists like Remember The Milk, they work perfectly in their offline environment, allowing you to still use them without being online. This saves time and space rather than having you install bigger programs that do the same thing. If you have any further questions, just toss me a comment and I'll be happy to answer it.

For setups like this, I recommend you play around with it. See which web applications work best for you offline in its own window. Then again, if you've gotten that far, you would have done so to begin with. After all, that's what being a geek is all about. We might as well make the best of it and see how awesome it goes.

Unifying Your Geeky Lifestyle

As a general rule, I like having everything I need at my fingertips. That much about everyday technology I'm spoiled rotten. I just don't like having to deal with multiple windows and multiple systems across the gadget-strewn digital microcosm. I know it can't be helped given the multitude of systems and programs out there, but being the geek that I am, I've managed to put some things together for my own benefit. I thought it's time to share it with you for your benefit as well, though because I'm primarily a Windows and Linux user, I won't be putting anything Mac specific here, so that you have to work it out on your own.

Firefox
For a browser, I'd have to say that this is still one of the most flexible programs out there. Depending on the addon extensions you put in to spruce up your default system, it can be a bit of a resource hog at times, but the benefits still outweigh a lot of other browsers out there. Because of that, I use Firefox on 3 separate systems. One happens to be on my Windows desktop, one on my thumbdrive (more on this below) and one on my Linux powered EeePC.

Logically, all the settings and history on one browser differs from another. I never liked that. I usually like all my forms, search history and passwords to be the same everywhere. Prior to this, Google came up with a solid solution to this which was the now defunct Google Browser Sync. Given that it's not supported anymore, Mozilla Labs came up with a similar Firefox Addon called Weave which does the same things.

It synchronizes you browser history, cookies, saved forms, passwords and tabs between all your browsers. It's secure enough that you need a password and a separate encryption phrase to access the unified data and it has the benefit of being able to store the data on your own server (which you need to now anyway because Mozilla Labs stopped accepting people from syncing with their servers). Either way, you never really leave your main browser that you use, no matter where you are.

Pidgin
Unfortunately I'm pretty much tied into my instant messages, both as a form of work and entertainment. The problem is that the Internet Gods decided to give us a ridiculous amount of instant messenger clients and protocols. I happen to be one of those people who have at a good number of them because of geographical location and the popularity of the IM client at the time. Because I have contacts on MSN, Yahoo, Gtalk, AIM and ICQ (yes I still use ICQ), it would be crazy of me to run separate programs for all of them, especially since some of them are bloated software, it'll just clog up my system.

So I turned to Pidgin on both Windows and Linux, which is essentially an all in one instant messaging software that allows you to connect to so many different clients. It's lightweight, flexible and above all, it does what it's supposed to. It does have a lack of audio and video support but since I separately use Skype for that, it's not a big issue. I'd rather have 2 IM clients running on my desktop than 8. Best yet, because it's open source as well, I've managed to add my Facebook chat and Twitter as part of the mix. My communication to the outside world at the touch of my fingertips.

Portableapps
Home away from home in the portability of your thumbdrive. Portableapps is what it says it is. It's the portable version of common open source programs that you can run off your thumbdrive rather than installing them onto an unknown or locked out computer. In my case, what I can't do without is Firefox and Pidgin running at all times, but I don't have that problem because there are portableapp versions of both these programs – updated as they come out.

The result? As long as the system is connected to the net and has a USB port, I can essentially and securely use the programs I want instead of being at the mercy of an alien computer. Coupled with the fact I already synchronise Firefox browsers and that your Pidgin contact lists are the same everywhere you go, I don't really have to bother with anything else. In fact, I'm writing this on a Firefox that I'm running off my thumbdrive. I use it that often.

The only downside to this is that you do need to invest a little bit into the speed of your thumbdrive and not the size. Running Firefox 3 off my older thumbdrive was as slow as growing molasses. I had to get myself a faster thumbdrive to get it to run smoothly. But come on, even you have to admit that it's worth it.

So there we have it, some of the things I use to make sure I'm not missing something important and be glued to one system all the time. There are of course plenty of other things to make your geeky life a little easier with this grand unified theory. But I'll only share it if you guys really want to hear more of it. After all, I don't usually write about these things to begin with.

At the end of it, it's all about the simplicity of putting everything together because you know, I have a life and I'm sure you do to. At least with this, you don't have to spend so much time, energy or money running all over the place trying to put together the things you need. With the world at your fingertips at least, you've got more time to do the things you want. If there are days when technology can't go wrong, this would be it.

Toning Down Firefox Evangelism

Ok…here is a thought, when you added in something that actively annoys Internet Explorer users for some time and you still have over 50% of your readers still using Internet Explorer, you have to ask yourself one question. Am I loosing more readers than I realise?

If anything, I would have to say…yes. Seeing that the average returning visitors for this blog dropped from almost 50% to less than 30% ever since I've installed the "Internet Explorer Only Splash Page", that's not really a good thing altogether. That and the fact that I've been getting comments and emails from Internet Explorer users regarding my…aggresive evangelism. It's fair to say that, I do appreciate the feedback on it. I mean you took the time to read what I have to say and comment and it's fair enough that I try and accomodate what would make things easier on you. It's what a friend of mine would call business acumen. Not that I have much of it, doesn't mean I don't have any.

So yeah, I have toned the evangelism down a bit. The splash page doesn't show up any other time, it just comes out once every 2 days after you've viewed my blog. It's a whole lot better than having a permanent bar over the top of the blog saying that you need to switch away from Internet Explorer. I have my reasons for switching away from Internet Explorer, I really do and I'm starting to realize I can't force everyone else to do the same thing because of my reasons. I can do what I can, but there is a difference between convincing people and closing people away from you. What I can do is at least try and find that middle point somewhere that tells people, this is still not something I prefer you to view my blog with.

You still have a choice though, hopefully now, it'll be less anoying.

Welcoming Internet Explorer Users

Sometimes you got to take a break from needful things, especially when you've been regularly sleeping at 3am doing them.

So I've taken the liberty and added a little something extra for Internet Explorer users, just to say thanks for all the years the browser has made my life extra difficult by forcing me to waste more time coding my pages twice so that everyone can see the same thing. If that wasn't hard enough, imagine that you're partially clueless about CSS and how to code things.

It isn't the most lightweight work in the world tweaking and refreshing the page, I can tell you that. But if you didn't see anything on the way in, then that's definitely a good thing. If you did see on the way in, then…it might do you some good to actually do what it says because if not, you're going to keep seeing that page for a long long time. If you want to see it, why don't you fire up IE and see exactly what happens? You'd be glad you won't be annoyed to see that come out everytime you open a new page.

However if you just happen to be in a public area where you can't simply switch from Internet Explorer, there is another solution which just happens to work very well with your thumbdrive and will make all the bad messages go away:

Introducing Portable Firefox

Don't you think it's time to get something that works a little better? It's not that hard a choice to make, I can promise you that.

Portable Applications: Something Techie-Like Even

General Warning: This post is mostly tech based. Hazards to health might involve dizziness, losing consciousness, waking up with keyboard face and severe head trauma.

(You may skip this part of the post entirely)

I'm a fussy computer user and you really can't blame me for that, I have spent a lot of time tweaking and configuring my system the way I want to and pretty much have everything in it's place and a place for everything. So when you're basically camped away from your system for most of the day, I needed something to make sure I've got the basic things whenever I want, wherever I want it.

Then I found PortableApps.

Basically it's a new site that has taken the major open source programs out there, shrunk and turned it into portable applications that you can run off your thumbdrive. It's got all the basic things you need like Firefox, Filezilla and OpenOffice that you can use on any computer you're on without having to install it. All you have to do is insert and run it straight from the thubdrive. It's that easy.

Personally, I've got, personalized and tweaked Firefox, Gaim and Filezilla in my thumbdrive. Which is no surprise seeing that I recently installed WordPress on my USB drive as well and that took me a shitload of space on my thumbdrive. So either way, I still can work on WordPress blogs wherever I go which is a very good deal either way.

Now all they have to do is find a way to shrink Gimp down to size and I've got everything I need. Of course by then, I'd probably need a bigger thumbdrive too.

(End of hazardous post)

Crap…I definitely need more money. Then again, who doesn't?

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