Saturday, September 19, 2020

TenFourFox FPR27 available

TenFourFox Feature Parity Release 27 final is now available for testing (downloads, hashes, release notes). Unfortunately, I have thus far been unable to solve issue 621 regarding the crashes on LinkedIn, so to avoid drive-by crashes, scripts are now globally disabled on LinkedIn until I can (no loss since it doesn't work anyway). If you need them on for some reason, create a pref tenfourfox.troublesome-js.allow and set it to true. I will keep working on this for FPR28 to see if I can at least come up with a better wallpaper, though keep in mind that even if I repair the crash it may still not actually work anyway. There are otherwise no new changes since the beta except for outstanding security updates, and it will go live Monday evening Pacific assuming no new issues.

For our struggling Intel friends, if you are using Firefox on 10.9 through 10.11 Firefox ESR 78 is officially your last port of call, and support for these versions of the operating system will end by July 2021 when support for 78ESR does. The Intel version of TenFourFox may run on these machines, though it will be rather less advanced, and of course there is no official support for any Intel build of TenFourFox.

Google, nobody asked to make the Blogger interface permanent

As a followup to my previous rant on the obnoxious new Blogger "upgrade," I will grudgingly admit Blogger has done some listening. You can now embed images and links similarly to the way you used to, which restores some missing features and erases at least a part of my prior objections. But not the major one, because usability is still a rotting elephant's placenta. I remain an inveterate user of the HTML blog view and yet the HTML editor still thinks it knows better than you how to format your code and what tags you should use, you can't turn it off and you can't make it faster. And I remain unclear what the point of all this was because there is little improvement in functionality except mobile previewing.

Naturally, Google has removed the "return to legacy Blogger" button, but you can still get around that at least for the time being. On your main Blogger posts screen you will note a long multidigit number in the URL (perhaps that's why they're trying to hide URLs in Chrome). That's your blog ID. Copy that number and paste it in where the XXX is in this URL template (all one line):

Bookmark it and you're welcome. I look forward to some clever person making a Firefox extension to do this very thing very soon, and if you make one post it in the comments.

Friday, September 11, 2020

TenFourFox FPR27b1 available (now with sticky Reader View)

TenFourFox Feature Parity Release 27 beta 1 is now available (downloads, hashes, release notes).

The big user-facing update for FPR27 is a first pass at "sticky" Reader View. I've been paying attention more to improving TenFourFox's implementation of Reader View because, especially for low-end Power Macs (and there's an argument to be made that all Power Macs are, by modern standards, low end), rendering articles in Reader View strips out extraneous elements, trackers, ads, social media, comments, etc., making them substantially lighter and faster than "full fat." Also, because the layout is simplified, this means less chance for exposing or choking on layout or JavaScript features TenFourFox currently doesn't support. However, in regular Firefox and FPR26, you have to go to a page and wait for some portion of it to render before you enter Reader View, which is inconvenient, and worse still if you click any link in a Reader-rendered article you exit Reader View and have to manually repeat the process. This can waste a non-trivial amount of processing time.

So when I say Reader View is now "sticky," that means links you click in an article in reader mode are also rendered in reader mode, and so on, until you explicitly exit it (then things go back to default). This loads pages much faster, in some cases nearly instantaneously. In addition, to make it easier to enter reader mode in fewer steps (and on slower systems, less time waiting for the reader icon in the address bar to be clickable), you can now right click on links and automatically pop the link into Reader View in a new tab ("Open Link in New Tab, Enter Reader View").

As always this is configurable, though "sticky" mode will be the default unless a serious bug is identified: if you set tenfourfox.reader.sticky to false, the old behaviour is restored. Also, since you may be interacting differently with new tabs you open in Reader View, it uses a separate option than Preferences' "When I open a link in a new tab, switch to it immediately." Immediately switching to the newly opened Reader View tab is the default, but you can make such tabs always open in the background by setting tenfourfox.reader.sticky.tabs.loadInBackground to false also.

Do keep in mind that not every page is suitable for Reader View, even though allowing you to try to render almost any page (except for a few domains on an internal blacklist) has been the default for several versions. The good news is it won't take very long to find out, and TenFourFox's internal version of Readability is current with mainline Firefox's, so many more pages render usefully. I intend to continue further work with this because I think it really is the best way to get around our machines' unfortunate limitations and once you get spoiled by the speed it's hard to read blogs and news sites any other way. (I use it heavily on my Pixel 3 running Firefox for Android, too.)

Additionally, this version completes the under-the-hood changes to get updates from Firefox 78ESR now that 68ESR is discontinued, including new certificate and EV roots as well as security patches. Part of the security updates involved pulling a couple of our internal libraries up to current versions, yielding both better security and performance improvements, and I will probably do a couple more as part of FPR28. Accordingly, you can now select Firefox 78ESR as a user-agent string from the TenFourFox preference pane if needed as well (though the usual advice to choose as old a user-agent string as you can get away with still applies). OlgaTPark also discovered what we were missing to fix enhanced tracking protection, so if you use that feature, it should stop spuriously blocking various innocent images and stylesheets.

What is not in this release is a fix for issue 621 where logging into LinkedIn crashes due to a JavaScript bug. I don't have a proper understanding of this crash, and a couple speculative ideas didn't pan out, but it is not PowerPC-specific or associated with the JavaScript JIT compiler as it occurs in Intel builds as well. (If any Mozillian JS deities have a good guess why an object might get created with the wrong number of slots, feel free to commment here or on Github.) Since it won't work anyway I may decide to temporarily blacklist LinkedIn to avoid drive-by crashes if I can't sort this out before final release, which will be on or around September 21.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

I'm trying really hard to like the new Android Firefox Daylight. Really, I am.

I've used Firefox for Android nearly since it was first made available (I still have an old version on my Android 2.3 Nexus One, which compared with my Pixel 3 now seems almost ridiculously small). I think it's essential to having a true choice of browsers on Android as opposed to "Chrome all the things" and I've used it just about exclusively on all my Android devices since. So, when Firefox Daylight presented itself, I upgraded, and I'm pained to say I've been struggling with it for the better part of a week. Yes, this is going to be another one of those "omg why didn't I wait" posts, but I've tried to be somewhat specific about what's giving me heartburn with the new version because it's not uniformly bad and a lot of things are rather good, but it's still got a lot of rough edges and I don't want Daylight to be another stick Mozilla gives to people to let them beat them with.

So, here's the Good:

Firefox Daylight is a lot faster than the old Firefox for Android. Being based on Firefox 79, Daylight also has noticeably better support for newer web features. Top Sites are more screen-sparing. Dark mode is awesome. I like the feature where having private tabs becomes a notification: tap it and instantly all your naughty pages private browsing goes poof (and it's a good reminder they're open), or, if this doesn't appeal to you, it's a regular notification and you can just turn it off. Collections sound like a neat idea and I'll probably start using them if things get a little unwieldy. I'm not a bar-on-the-bottom kind of guy myself, but I can see why people would like that and choice is always good.

All this is a win. Unfortunately, here's the Bad I'm running into so far:

This has been reported lots of places, but the vast majority of the extensions that used to work with the old Firefox suddenly disappeared. For me, the big loss was Cookie Quick Manager, which was a great mobile-friendly way to manage cookies. Now I can't. Hope I don't screw up trying to get around those paywalls sites storing data about me. At least I still have uBlock Origin but I don't have much else.

Firefox Reader doesn't universally appear on pages it used to. Sometimes reloading the page works, sometimes it doesn't. This is a big problem for mobile. Worse, the old hack of prepending an about:reader?url= doesn't seem to work anymore.

Pages that open new windows or tabs sometimes show content and sometimes don't. This actually affects some of my sites personally, so I filed a bug on it. Naturally, it works fine in desktop Firefox and Chrome, and of course the old Android Firefox.

Oh, and what happened to the Downloads list? (This is being fixed.)

Now, some pesky Nits. These are first world problems, I'll grant, but my muscle memory was used to them and getting people onto a new version of the browser shouldn't upset so many of these habits:

When I tapped on the URL to go to a new site, I used to see all my top sites, so I could just switch to them with a touch. Now there's just a whole lot of empty space (or maybe it offers to paste in a URL left over in the clipboard). I have to open a new tab, or partially type the URL, to get to a top site or bookmark. This might be getting fixed, too, but the description of exactly what's getting fixed is a little ambiguous. Related to this, if you enable search suggestions then they dominate the list of suggestions even if it's obvious you're typing part of a domain name you usually visit. In the old browser these were grouped, so it was easy to avoid them if you weren't actually searching.

I often open articles in private browsing mode, and then tap the back button to go to the regular tab I spawned it from. This doesn't work anymore; I have to either switch tab "stacks" or swipe away the private tab.

Anyway, that's enough whining.

I don't really want to have to go back to the old Firefox for Android. I think the new version has a lot to recommend it, and plus I really despise reading bug reports in TenFourFox where the filer drops a bug bomb on my head and then goes back to the previous version. Seriously, I hate that: it screams "I don't care, wake me when you fix it" (whether or not it's really my bug) and says they don't have enough respect even to test a fix, let alone write one.

So I'm sticking with Firefox Daylight, warts and all. But, for all its improvements, Daylight needs work and definitely not at a time when Mozilla has fewer resources to devote to it. I've got fewer resources too: still trying to work on TenFourFox and keep Firefox working right on OpenPOWER, and now I may have to start doing PRs on the Android browser if I want that fixed also. It just feels like everything's a struggle these days and this upgrade really shouldn't have been.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

TenFourFox FPR26 available

TenFourFox Feature Parity Release 26 final is now (finally) available for testing (downloads, hashes, release notes). The delay is due to the severe heat wave and rolling blackouts we had here in overly sunny Southern California; besides the fact that Quad G5s have never been considered particularly power-thrifty, I had the A/C reduced to save electricity further and running the G5 and the Talos II simultaneously would have made the rear office absolutely miserable. There are no additional changes other than outstanding security updates, though since we will be switching to ESR78 for FPR27 anyway, I pulled a few lower-priority security and stability fixes from ESR78 in advance that didn't make it to ESR68. Assuming all goes well, it will go live tomorrow (Monday) afternoon/evening Pacific time.

For FPR27 we will be switching over the EV and TLS roots that we usually do for an ESR switch, and I would like to make a first pass at "sticky Reader mode" as well. More soon.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

TenFourFox FPR26b1 available (after all, Mozilla's not dead yet)

TenFourFox Feature Parity Release 26 beta 1 is now available (downloads, hashes, release notes). There isn't a great deal in this release due to continued heavy workload at my regular job and summer heat here in excessively sunny Southern California making running the G5 and the Talos II at the same time pretty miserable, and I also had the better part of a week laid up ill to boot (note: not COVID-19). Still, this hopefully completes the work on DOM workers and the usual security updates, which will switch to 78ESR starting with FPR27. All going well, it will be released on August 25.

With much of the low-hanging fruit gone that a solo developer can reasonably do on their own, for FPR27 I would like to resurrect an old idea I had about a "permanent Reader mode" where once you enter Reader mode, clicking links keeps you in it until you explicitly exit. I think we should be leveraging Reader mode more as Readability improves because it substantially lowers the horsepower needed to usefully render a page, and we track current releases of Readability fairly closely. I'm also looking at the possibility of implementing a built-in interface to automatically run modifier scripts on particular domains or URLs, similar to Classilla's stelae idea but operating at the DOM level a la Greasemonkey like TenFourFox's AppleScript-JavaScript bridge does. The browser would then ship with a default set of modifier scripts and users could add their own. This might have some performance impact, however, so I have to think about how to do these checks quickly.

A few people have asked what the Mozilla layoffs mean for TenFourFox. Not much, frankly, because even though the layoffs affect the Mozilla security team there will still be security updates, and we'll continue to benefit as usual from backporting those to TenFourFox's modified Firefox 45 base (as well as downstream builders that use our backports for their own updates to Fx45). In particular I haven't heard the layoffs have changed anything for the Extended Support Releases of Firefox, from which our continued security patches derive, and we don't otherwise rely on Mozilla infrastructure for anything else; the rest is all local Floodgap resources for building and hosting, plus Tenderapp for user support, SourceForge for binaries and mirrors and Github for source code, wiki and issues.

But it could be a bigger deal for OpenPOWER systems like the Talos II next to the G5 if Mozilla starts to fade. I wrote on Talospace a good year and a half ago how critical Firefox is to unusual platforms, not least because of Google's general hostility to patches for systems they don't consider market relevant; I speak from personal experience on how accepting Mozilla is of Tier 3 patches as long as they don't screw up Tiers 1 and 2. Although the requirement of a Rust compiler is an issue for 32-bit PowerPC (and Tiger and Leopard specifically, since we don't have thread-local storage either), much of the browser still generally "just builds" even in the absence of architecture-specific features. Besides, there's the larger concern of dealing with a rapidly changing codebase controlled by a single entity more interested in the promulgation of its own properties and designing their browser to be those services' preferred client, which is true whether you're using mainline Chrome or any of the Chromium-based third-party browsers. That may make perfect business sense for them and for certain values of "good" it may even yield a good product, but it's in service of the wrong goal, and it's already harming the greater community by continuing to raise the barrier to entry for useful browser competition. We damned IE when Microsoft engaged in embrace, extend and extinguish; we should make the same judgment call when Google engages in the same behaviour. We have no spine for meaningful anti-trust actions in the United States anymore and this would be a good place to start.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Google, nobody asked for a new Blogger interface

Even New Coke is better than New Blogger!

I'm writing this post in what Google is euphemistically referring to as an improvement. I don't understand this. I managed to ignore New Blogger for a few weeks but Google's ability to fark stuff up has the same air of inevitability as rotting corpses. Perhaps on mobile devices it's better, and even that is a matter of preference, but it's space-inefficient on desktop due to larger buttons and fonts, it's noticeably slower, it's buggy, and very soon it's going to be your only choice.

My biggest objection, however, is what they've done to the HTML editor. I'm probably the last person on earth to do so, but I write my posts in raw HTML. This was fine in the old Blogger interface which was basically a big freeform textbox you typed tags into manually. There was some means to intercept tags you didn't close, which was handy, and when you added elements from the toolbar you saw the HTML as it went in. Otherwise, WYTIWYG (what you typed is what you got). Since I personally use fairly limited markup and rely on the stylesheet for most everything, this worked well.

The new one is a line editor ... with indenting. Blogger has always really, really wanted you to use <p> as a container, even though a closing tag has never been required. But now, thanks to the indenter, if you insert a new paragraph then it starts indenting everything, including lines you've already typed, and there's no way to turn this off! Either you close every <p> tag immediately to defeat this behaviour, or you start using a lot of <br>s, which specifically defeats any means of semantic markup. (More about this in a moment.) First world problem? Absolutely. But I didn't ask for this "assistance" either, nor to require me to type additional unnecessary content to get around a dubious feature.

But wait, there's less! By switching into HTML view, you lose ($#@%!, stop indenting that line when I type emphasis tags!) the ability to insert hyperlinks, images or other media by any other means other than manually typing them out. You can't even upload an image, let alone automatically insert the HTML boilerplate and edit it.

So switch into Compose view to actually do any of those things, and what happens? Like before, Blogger rewrites your document, but now this happens all the time because of what you can't do in HTML view. Certain arbitrarily-determined naughtytags(tm) like <em> become <i> (my screen-reader friends will be disappointed). All those container close tags that are unnecessary bloat suddenly appear. Oh, and watch out for that dubiously-named "Format HTML" button, the only special feature to appear in the HTML view, as opposed to anything actually useful. To defeat the HTML autocorrupt while I was checking things writing this article, I actually copied and repasted my entire text multiple times so that Blogger would stop the hell messing with it. Who asked for this?? Clearly the designers of this travesty, assuming it isn't some cruel joke perpetuated by a sadistic UI anti-expert or a covert means to make people really cheesed off at Blogger so Google can claim no one uses it and shut it down, now intend HTML view to be strictly touch-up only, if that, and not a primary means of entering a post. Heaven forbid people should learn HTML anymore and try to write something efficient.

Oh, what else? It's slower, because of all the additional overhead (remember, it used to be just a big ol' box o' text that you just typed into, and a selection of mostly static elements making up the UI otherwise). Old Blogger was smart enough (or perhaps it was a happy accident) to know you already had a preview tab open and would send your preview there. New Blogger opens a new, unnecessary tab every time. The fonts and the buttons are bigger, but the icons are of similar size, defeating any reasonable argument of accessibility and just looks stupid on the G5 or the Talos II. There's lots of wasted empty space, too. This may reflect the contents of the crania of the people who worked on it, and apparently they don't care (I complained plenty of times before switching back, I expect no reply because they owe me nothing), so I feel no shame in abusing them.

Most of all, however, there is no added functionality. There is no workflow I know of that this makes better, and by removing stuff that used to work, demonstrably makes at least my own workflow worse.

So am I going to rage-quit Blogger? Well, no, at least not for the blogs I have that presently exist (feel free to visit, linked in the blogroll). I have years of documents here going back to TenFourFox's earliest inception in 2010, many of which are still very useful to vintage Power Mac users, and people know where to find them. It was the lowest effort move at the time to start a blog here and while Blogger wasn't futzing around with their own secret sauce it worked out well.

So, for future posts, my anticipated Rube Goldbergian nightmare is to use Compose view to load my images, copy the generated HTML off, type the rest of the tags manually in a text editor as God and Sir Tim intended and cut and paste it into a blank HTML view before New Blogger has a chance to mess with it. Hopefully they don't close the hole with paste not auto-indenting, for all that's holy. And if this is the future of Blogger, then if I have any future projects in mind, I think it's time for me to start self-hosting them and take a hike. Maybe this really is Google's way of getting this place to shut down.

(I actually liked New Coke, by the way.)