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.)