Testing a new blogging tool

I joined this really cool network called Mac Developer a few days ago. The programmer from Celmaro, creators of Webbla, pointed me to the site. Anyway, Mac Developer is a beta testing site. Basically, developers put their software up there and let users test it. They can submit bug reports, suggestions, and contribute to making the software better. As a reward for testing software, users gain points that can be used to gain free licenses, discounts, and more.

Anyway, I was alerted yesterday about a new project up there called Blogo. Blogo is, well, blogging software. I’ve used a variety of blogging tools thus far and, to be honest, LiveWriter has been the best. However, as I’ve moved over to a Mac, using LiveWriter is, well, not convenient.

I’ve been looking for something decent to use on my Mac and thus far I’ve only found Ecto and ScribeFire, a Firefox plugin, to be somewhat decent. Neither of these seem to have the features that LiveWriter has, though. LiveWriter handles images quite nicely, even going as far as adding some on-the-spot enhancements such as cropping, adding borders, and more. The interface was actually pretty decent, especially for a Microsoft product.

Anyway, I’ve been checking out Blogo, and I figured writing an actual blog entry might give me some more insight into how it works. Thus far I’m pretty impressed. The interface is pretty straightforward and seems to have all the major features right out in the open. I don’t see anything for video, but I can handle pasting in an embed in html mode. It seems to handle images, so let’s show a screenshot of the editor in action.

According to the image tool, which you can see in action in the next shot, it handles both fullsize and thumbnail images. I definitely like that particular feature. It does not display the image itself in the editor, though, and I’m not sure how I feel about that yet. On the one hand, I suppose it’s ok. On the other, it would be nice to see the image, just to know which image is which. Though clicking on the image in the editor shows it in the little preview area, so that helps a lot and generally saves precious screen real estate.

Blogo has a preview feature as well. It accesses your blog and attempts to create a template that it uses to create a preview of the blog entry. It can periodically update the preview as well. Below, is an image of the preview feature in action.

Anyway, it’s looking to be a pretty decent tool so far. I’ll beat on it some more and hopefully get the points I need to get a discount. If not, I’m definitely interested and unless something really bad pops up, I think I may have found my new blogging tool. Here’s hoping!


Prepare yourself, Firefox 3 is on the way…

Having just released beta 4, the Mozilla Foundation is well on its way to making Firefox 3 a reality.  Firefox 3 aims to bring a host of new features, as well as speed and security enhancements.

On the front end, they updated the theme.  Yes, again.  I’m not entirely sure what the reasoning is, but I’m sure it’s some inane marketing thing.  Probably something along the lines of “we need to make it look shiny and new!”  It’s not bad, though, and only takes a few moments to re-acquaint yourself with the basic functions.

One significant change is the function of the front and back history buttons.  In previous versions you could click towards the bottom of the button and get a history of the pages forward or back in your history, relevant to the button you pressed.  They have combined this into a single button now, with a small dot identifying where in the history you are.  Back history expands to the bottom of the list while forward history moves up.  It’s a little hard to explain in words, but it’s not that difficult in action.

Next up is the download manager.  They revamped the entire download manager, making it look quite different.  Gone is the global “Clear History” button, in is the new “Search” box.  It seems that one of the themes of this release is that history is important, so they added features to allow you to quickly find relevant information.  But fear not, you can still clear the list by right clicking and choosing clear list.  It’s just not as apparent as it used to be.  In addition, you can continue downloads that were interrupted by network problems, or even by closing the browser.

Some of the pop-ups have been reduced as well.  For instance, when new passwords are entered, instead of getting a popup on the screen asking if you want to save the username and password, a bar appears at the top of the page.  This is a bit more fluid, not interrupting the browsing experience as it did in the past.

Many of the dialogs related to security have been re-vamped in an attempt to make them more clear for non-technical users.  For instance, when encountering an invalid SSL certificate, Firefox now displays something like this :

Other warnings have been added as well.  Firefox now attempts to protect you from malware and web forgeries.  In additions, the browser now handles Extended Validation SSL certificates, displaying the name of the company in green on the location bar.  Clicking on the icon to the left of the URL provides a small popup with additional information about your connection to the remote website.

A plugin manager has been added, allowing the user to disable individual plugins.  This is a very welcome addition to the browser.

The bookmark manager has been updated as well.  In addition to placing bookmarks in folders, users can now add tags.  Using the bookmark sidebar, users can quickly search by tag, locating bookmarks that are in multiple folders.  Smart bookmarks show the most recently used bookmarks, as well as the most recently bookmarked sites and tags.

The location bar has been updated as well.  As you type in the location bar, Firefox automatically searches through your bookmarks, tags, and history, displaying the results.  Results are sorted by both frequency of visits, as well as how recent your last visit was.  For users who clear their history on a regular basis, this makes the location bar much more useful.

Behind the scenes there have been a number of welcome changes.  The most noticeable change is speed.  Beta 4 is insanely fast compared to previous versions.  In fact, it seems to be significantly faster than Internet Explorer, Opera, and others!  And, as an added bonus, it seems to use less memory as well.  Ars Technica did some testing to this effect and came out with some surprising results.

Mozilla attributes both the speed increase to improvements in the JavaScript engine, as well as profile-guided optimizations.  In short, they used profiling tools to identify bottlenecks in the code and fix them.  The reduction in memory is attributed to new allocators and collectors, as well as a reduction in leaky code.

Firefox 3 was built on top of the updated Gecko 1.9 engine.  The Gecko engine is responsible for the actual layout of the page on the screen.  It supports the various web standards such as CSS, HTML, XHTML, JavaScript, and more.  As the Gecko engine has evolved, it has gained additional capabilities, as well as performance.  In fact, using this new engine, Firefox now passes the coveted Acid 2 test.

Overall, the latest beta feels quite stable and I’ve begun using it on a daily basis.  It is definitely faster than previous releases.  I definitely recommend checking it out.  On a Windows machine, it will install separately from your primary Firefox installation.  It imports all of your bookmarks and settings after you install it, so there is no danger of losing anything from your primary install.  Just be aware that there is no current guarantee that any new bookmarks, changes, add-ons, etc. will be imported into the final installation.  Many add-ons are still non-functional, though there are plenty more that work fine.

Best of luck!

XNA Game Studio Express Beta 2 is out!

Saw over at both LetsKillDave and Gamasutra that XNA Beta 2 has been released. As with the previous release, VC# Express needs to be installed.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do much of anything with Beta 1, but I’m hoping to play around a bit with Beta 2. Definitely going to need to learn C# though. Just another language to add to the growing list of languages I’m familiar with.. :)

There are also a few sites dedicated to XNA development. Check them out :


XNA Spot

XNA Resources

GarageGames has also been working a bit with XNA and their Torque engine and they’ve ported it over to XNA. It’s going to Beta on November 6th, but should be released around the same time XNA is officially released. Of course, release dates slip so don’t take my word for it.. Exciting stuff!

Windows Live Writer Beta

I’m writing this post using the new Windows Live Writer Beta. It’s a blogging tool that allows you to write your blog entries offline and upload them later. Useful, I guess, if you’re not connected all the time. For me, it’s just something to play with. Time will tell whether I like it or not.

To use Writer with a Serendipity blog you’ll need to install the XML-RPC plugin. Once that’s up and working you need to tell Writer what kind of blog you’re using. After it fails the auto-detect you’ll need to choose the API to use. I’m using the Metaweblog API and it seems to be working fine. It also asks for the URL for publishing. For the XML-RPC plugin, the URL will be something like this : http://www.example.com/blog/serendipity_xmlrpc.php

So, for now, I’m just messing around with the system to see what it’s capable of. It seems to be a fairly nice system, pretty at least. Just a document editor with the standard font options on the surface. Hyperlinks are available (as they should be), and it seems to handle media as well such as pictures, movies, audio, etc. I’ve haven’t dealt with media yet on this blog, so I’m not that interested in those capabilities.

Writer won’t download the categories I have set up on my blog, so I’ll have to hand-edit that after I publish. No big deal I guess, but kinda defeats the purpose of this utility. I also don’t see a way to add serendipity tags, so that’s another hand-edit. You can add third party tags such as those from Technorati, LiveJournal, and others, but I have no interest in that.

The web preview is pretty nice. It shows you exactly what the web page will look like when you publish it. It’s pretty cool and seems to work well.

Well, I guess it’s a little nicer than the JavaScript WYSIWYG editor that’s built into serendipity, but between the need for XML-RPC and the lack of serendipity features, I don’t think I’ll be continuing to use Live Writer. While trying to get Writer to work, I also ran across two other tools, w.bloggar and Performancing. The first is a program similar to Writer that seems to allow offline editing. The second is a Firefox plugin that seems to have a ton of features. I’ll be checking both out in the near future.

Firefox 2.0

The latest incarnation of the Firefox browser is nearing release. Version 2.0 brings with it a smattering of nifty features as well as an updated UI and enhanced add-on handling.

I’m particularly fond of the built-in spell checker which comes in really handy. It works in a fashion similar to how the spell checker in MS Office and Openoffice works. Each misspelled work is underlined in red. When you right click on the underlined word, Firefox pops up a list of suggestions. You can choose one of the suggested replacements, or add the word to your dictionary. The spell checker only checks text boxes by default, but you can right click on any text entry field to force a spell check.

The new UI places a close icon on each tab, allowing you to close a tab in a rapid fashion. I can see this causing slight problems with people that are too quick to click as it doesn’t prompt you to close the tab. If you have a large number of tabs open, it begins to suppress the close button on all but the current tab. There is also a drop down on the far right side of the tab bar that shows you all of the open tabs in a list, allowing you to read the full title before jumping to the tab you need.

Firefox now defaults to opening all links in new tabs instead of new windows. I prefer this behavior to simply opening new windows. In addition, the popup blocker has apparently been enhanced. Since installing 2.0, I have not seen a single popup.

The default search bar now supports suggestions. As you type, the search engine you have chosen will offer suggestions for search terms, helping you find the information you want. This is the same technology that Google uses for Google Suggest. The new search engine manager allows you to add in additional search engines as well.

Overall, I think this is a real positive step in Firefox’s evolution. You should check it out, it’s a really great browser!