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Week of 10 December 2001

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Monday, 10 December 2001

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9:24 - I finished one of the new chapters, Parallel Communications, on Friday and sent it off to my editor. It's posted on the Subscribers' Page for download, if you're interested in reading it. If you're not yet a subscriber, visit this page to learn how to subscribe. Today I start heads-down work on the USB chapter. USB is going to be fun to write about because it simply isn't a reliable technology unless you happen to be very lucky. And, even if you have been lucky, plugging in a new USB peripheral may collapse the whole house of cards. I'm not sure yet how I'll handle this chapter. It should be interesting.

We haven't had a chance to get the telescopes out much lately. The weather hasn't been good, and it looks like it will continue cloudy until the end of this week. As of now, the Weather Channel and Weather Underground say it'll be clear toward the end of the week. We'll see. We'll miss the peak of the Geminid meteor shower, which occurs Thursday night/Friday morning. Not that we'll be missing much in relative terms after the Leonid storm we watched last month. The Geminid shower will peak at one meteor every minute or two, whereas the Leonid storm peaked at one meteor every second or two.

But we are looking forward to getting out to look at some stuff. I hope they're right about this Friday night and/or Saturday night being clear. Luna won't be a problem, so we should get a chance to observe some deep-sky stuff.

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Tuesday, 11 December 2001

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9:03 - I downloaded Opera 6 for Windows yesterday morning and spent the rest of the day using it. It's very nice. I like it much better than V5. However, I did run into one truly hideous rendering problem. If you're using Opera and want to see what I mean, visit Scoptronix and click on the link in the left frame for "Tele Vue Eyepieces". That loads the Tele Vue eyepieces page into the right frame, but you can only view the top 10% or so of the page. Seeing the rest would require vertical scrolling. There's a scroll bar, but it does nothing. To see the entire page, click this link, or simply right-click the Tele Vue Eyepieces link and tell Opera to open it in a new window. I encountered the same problem on several other pages that use frames, so whatever the problem is it's not uncommon.

I tried visiting the page with Internet Explorer, and it renders properly. I'm sure that the problem is caused by incorrect HTML coding on the page in question, but in practical terms that doesn't matter. As I've said here many times, users don't want a browser to function as an HMTL validity checker. That is, if a browser encounters broken HTML, users want the browser to make its best guess at doing something sane with the HTML code, rather than truncating it or simply giving up in despair. If I have one major objection to the way Opera does things, it's this tendency not to make a "best guess" effort at rendering poorly written HTML.

That said, I really do like Opera 6.

-----Original Message-----
From: Giles Lean [giles at nemeton dot com dot au]
Sent: Monday, December 10, 2001 6:46 PM
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Subject: Linux, mail clients, and applications

Hi Robert,

Feel free to quote this if you want to; it's in response to your daynotes postings about your Linux plans.

I read of your like for Outlook with bemusement. Given the historic plethora of Unix mail user agents it is also fascinating to hear you bemoaning a *lack* of such for Linux!

I agree that application preference is very much a matter of taste, but I'd love to know know what it is you like about Outlook. Personally I find it impossible to use productively.

My own preferred mailer is MH, usually with the emacs mh-e frontend. I don't expect that you'd like that combination at all, but it does everything I want except be able to read MS Office attachments I sometimes get sent. Win some, lose some -- it integrates well with my other essential tools, like source code browsers.

One thing you might bear in mind with Linux (I'll say Linux, but Unix generally) is that it is less inclined toward all-in-one applications than Windows. This has advantages and disadvantages: it's often possible to replace selected components of applications, but harder to configure everything "just so" since you might need more than one Unix application to match the functionality of a single Windows application.

Have fun with your Linux project. I use NetBSD, but that's probably historical accident as much as anything. I suspect I'd prefer Linux if I'd started using it instead in 1993!

Cheers,

Giles

What attracted to me about Outlook in the first place was that it is an integrated PIM/mail client. I adopted Outlook 97 the day it shipped, despite the fact that its mail functions were inferior to Pegasus Mail (which I'd been using), because it tied together email, calendaring and scheduling, and task management. With each subsequent release, the mail client functionality got better, as did the PIM functions and the level of integration.

Ximian has done a very smart thing with their Evolution client in that they've cloned Outlook as closely as possible, both in appearance and functionality. I have no doubt that when I eventually transition to a Linux desktop I'll be running Evolution as my PIM/mailer. By being a drop-in replacement for Outlook, Evolution removes one of my reasons for sticking with Windows. The same is almost true of StarOffice 6, and I suspect will be true completely of StarOffice 7. Now if only there were a FrontPage clone for Linux--something that would take my existing FrontPage webs and import them--I'd have little need for Windows at all.

Barbara took Duncan to the vet yesterday because she was concerned about several things. He'd lost one of his teeth completely (in the lower central jaw) and had broken off one of his large canine teeth. Also, there was a bite on his back that didn't seem to be healing. The vet appointment was at 1630, and the vet is only ten minutes from here, so when Barbara hadn't returned by 1745, I was beginning to get concerned. Barbara was obviously upset when she got back. I asked her if Duncan was okay, and she said, "No ... yes ... I don't know." As it turns out, he's going to be okay, but he may have a tick-borne illness. They're screening for that now, and Barbara will be taking Duncan back, probably next week, for some more work. They'll anesthetize him and do several things, including probably a root canal to save the damaged tooth and possibly some minor surgery on the abscess on his back. There's more over on Barbara's page. But Duncan will be okay.

Barbara is off to volunteer at SciWorks this morning. I'll be working on the USB chapter, again.

 

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Wednesday, 12 December 2001

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9:01 - The vet called yesterday with good news. Duncan's blood tests were fine. He doesn't have any tick-borne infection. Barbara will be taking Duncan and Malcolm in to the vet next Wednesday. Duncan to have the abscess seen to. Malcolm to be neutered. I've protected Malcolm as long as I could, but the fights between Malcolm and Duncan are becoming too frequent and too severe. I finally agreed to let Barbara take him in and have him neutered. Things have calmed down a lot since then, and I'm trying to get her to reconsider, but she insists on having it done.

Roland Dobbins sends me this link with the comment, "The sooner you migrate, the better." Well, I've downloaded Linux Mandrake 8.1, Opera for Linux, Ximian Evolution, StarOffice, and several other Linux products. I have a box to run Linux on, so once I get this book put to bed I'll be putting in some quality time with Linux. As Jerry Pournelle says, I'm dancing as fast as I can.

Here's a good reason to avoid digital television. If I'm watching TV, I don't want someone watching me...

An article over on The Inquirer reminded me that there's something useful I do automatically after installing Windows 2000 that I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned here. There's a file named \WINNT\inf\sysoc.inf that controls which parts of Windows 2000/XP are available for removal in the Add/Remove Programs applet in Control Panel. 

Here's the unmodified sysoc.inf file from my Windows XP box (it was an upgrade from Windows 2000, which is presumably why the Windows 2000 references remain).

[Version]
Signature = "$Windows NT$"
DriverVer=11/14/1999,5.00.2183.1

[Components]
NtComponents=ntoc.dll,NtOcSetupProc,,4
Display=desk.cpl,DisplayOcSetupProc,,6
Fax=faxocm.dll,FaxOcmSetupProc,faxsetup.inf,hide,7
NetOC=netoc.dll,NetOcSetupProc,netoc.inf,,7
iis=iis.dll,OcEntry,iis.inf,,7
com=comsetup.dll,OcEntry,comnt5.inf,hide,7 ; temp fix for 64-bits
dtc=comsetup.dll,OcEntry,dtcnt5.inf,hide,7 ; temp fix for 64-bits
IndexSrv_System = setupqry.dll,IndexSrv,setupqry.inf,,7
msmq=msmqocm.dll,MsmqOcm,msmqocm.inf,,6 ; temp fix for 64-bits
ims=imsinsnt.dll,OcEntry,ims.inf,,7
fp_extensions=fp40ext.dll,FrontPage4Extensions,fp40ext.inf,,7 ; temp fix for 64-bits
iisdbg=iisdbg.dll,ScrptDbg,iisdbg.inf,,7 ; temp fix for 64-bits
imagevue=ockodak.dll,ImagingOcEntry,imagevue.inf,hide,7 ; temp fix for 64-bits

; old base components
Games=ocgen.dll,OcEntry,games.inf,HIDE,7
AccessUtil=ocgen.dll,OcEntry,accessor.inf,HIDE,7
CommApps=ocgen.dll,OcEntry,communic.inf,HIDE,7
media_clips=ocgen.dll,OcEntry,mmopt.inf,HIDE,7
MultiM=ocgen.dll,OcEntry,multimed.inf,HIDE,7
AccessOpt=ocgen.dll,OcEntry,optional.inf,HIDE,7
Pinball=ocgen.dll,OcEntry,pinball.inf,HIDE,7
MSWordPad=ocgen.dll,OcEntry,wordpad.inf,HIDE,7


[Global]
WindowTitle=%WindowTitle%
WindowTitle.StandAlone=%WindowTitle_Standalone%


[Strings]
WindowTitle=Windows 2000 Professional Setup
WindowTitle_Standalone=Windows Components Wizard

And here's that same file after some minor surgery.

[Version]
Signature = "$Windows NT$"
DriverVer=11/14/1999,5.00.2183.1

[Components]
NtComponents=ntoc.dll,NtOcSetupProc,,4
Display=desk.cpl,DisplayOcSetupProc,,6
Fax=faxocm.dll,FaxOcmSetupProc,faxsetup.inf,,7
NetOC=netoc.dll,NetOcSetupProc,netoc.inf,,7
iis=iis.dll,OcEntry,iis.inf,,7
com=comsetup.dll,OcEntry,comnt5.inf,,7 ; temp fix for 64-bits
dtc=comsetup.dll,OcEntry,dtcnt5.inf,,7 ; temp fix for 64-bits
IndexSrv_System = setupqry.dll,IndexSrv,setupqry.inf,,7
msmq=msmqocm.dll,MsmqOcm,msmqocm.inf,,6 ; temp fix for 64-bits
ims=imsinsnt.dll,OcEntry,ims.inf,,7
fp_extensions=fp40ext.dll,FrontPage4Extensions,fp40ext.inf,,7 ; temp fix for 64-bits
iisdbg=iisdbg.dll,ScrptDbg,iisdbg.inf,,7 ; temp fix for 64-bits
imagevue=ockodak.dll,ImagingOcEntry,imagevue.inf,,7 ; temp fix for 64-bits

; old base components
Games=ocgen.dll,OcEntry,games.inf,,7
AccessUtil=ocgen.dll,OcEntry,accessor.inf,,7
CommApps=ocgen.dll,OcEntry,communic.inf,,7
media_clips=ocgen.dll,OcEntry,mmopt.inf,,7
MultiM=ocgen.dll,OcEntry,multimed.inf,,7
AccessOpt=ocgen.dll,OcEntry,optional.inf,,7
Pinball=ocgen.dll,OcEntry,pinball.inf,,7
MSWordPad=ocgen.dll,OcEntry,wordpad.inf,,7


[Global]
WindowTitle=%WindowTitle%
WindowTitle.StandAlone=%WindowTitle_Standalone%


[Strings]
WindowTitle=Windows 2000 Professional Setup
WindowTitle_Standalone=Windows Components Wizard

The difference is that I used Notepad's Search and Replace function to locate each occurrence of the word "hide" and replace it with nothing. For example, compare the following two lines, the first from the original version and the second from the modified version:

Fax=faxocm.dll,FaxOcmSetupProc,faxsetup.inf,hide,7
Fax=faxocm.dll,FaxOcmSetupProc,faxsetup.inf,,7

Simply removing the word "hide" and then saving sysoc.inf allows the Control Panel Add/Remove Programs applet to display those previously hidden components. Be very careful to remove only the four letters "hide". You must leave the preceding and trailing commas in place.

Speaking of stuff I haven't mentioned here, I've been following Jerry Pournelle's war on spam in his Inbox. He mentioned that he creates filters based on the subject lines of spam he receives, which is obviously an exercise in frustration. So I sent him the following email last night:

In reading about your struggles with filtering spam, it struck me that you're going about it exactly the wrong way. Rather than trying to write individual rules to kill spam, which is a never-ending process, why not assume that everything is spam and filter out the stuff that isn't? The people you *do* want to receive mail from is a tiny fraction of those you don't, so it's much more efficient to identify the good ones and assume all others are bad rather than attempting the converse.

My first rule in Outlook is what I call my Beziers Rule (AKA, "Kill them all. God will know his own.") You can construct your own version of that rule in two parts. Part A is "Kill them all." Part B is "God will know his own." Construct your rule as follows:

A. When mail arrives, delete it.

B. Except if subject contains [list of trigger words] or Except if recipient contains [list of your valid email addresses] or Except if sender contains [list of specific senders who'd otherwise be filtered by the preceding]

You can then use the second and subsequent rules to filter stuff into folders as you do now.

Some notes on stuff:

The first part of the rule sounds extreme, but actually it's less extreme than you'll probably eventually use. "Delete it" simply means that Outlook moves it to the Deleted Items folder. You may wish temporarily to change your Outlook settings in Tools -> Options -> Other by clearing the check box labeled "Empty the Deleted Items folder upon exiting". That way, if the rule deletes something it shouldn't have, that item will still exist in Deleted Items until you clear it manually. As you find ones that shouldn't have been deleted, you can update your exception conditions so that those messages won't be killed next time.

After you've used the rule for a month or two, you'll probably have very few real messages going to Deleted Items. Once that's true, you can change "delete it" to "permanently delete it". That option actually deletes messages irretrievably and instantly. Of course, you'll have to remember to modify your exception conditions when you sign up for a new mailing list or whatever.

Speaking of mailing lists and exception conditions, most mailing lists use a bracketed identifier to make sorting easier. For example, I belong to several astronomy related mailing lists, one of them called Talking Telescopes. Messages from that list all have the ID [Telescopes] in the subject line, so I've added that to the exception conditions. Similarly, I get mail to many addresses at ttgnet.com, hardwareguys.com, and my other domains. So I've added an exception condition for messages in which the To: header contains those domain names. This means I still get some spam, because a small percentage of spam comes addressed "To:" one of my domains (most uses a meaningless To: address). Also, I'm on a few lists that simply use BCC, which means there's not an ID in the subject line, nor is the To: address predictable. For those cases (fortunately not many, and each has few members), I simply add those people to the exception condition for senders.

Using this rule deletes literally 95%+of the spam I get. A few still end up in my Inbox (because they're addressed To: valid addresses that I use), but it takes only a few seconds a day to delete those.

Barbara captured the following image of me working at my system in the den:

PC110071.jpg (236849 bytes)

More work yesterday on the new Chapter-that-will-not-die, USB Communications. More work today. I'll eventually finish it. Eventually.

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Thursday, 13 December 2001

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8:38 - I see that Google now has the entire USENET archive from 1981 to date available for searching. They say there are 700 million articles. Of course, I immediately searched the archive to find my earliest post. That was dated 4 September 1991, used a UUCP bang address, and came only a few days after the first USENET post mentioning a new idea which was to become the World Wide Web. Interestingly, in that post I was bemoaning the lack of coverage of UNIX alternatives in an article that reviewed DOS software products. 

Actually, that isn't my earliest post by any means, but I don't recall any of the earlier addresses I used. I'm sure that I was an active USENET user as far back as 1988, and I'm fairly certain that I'd posted to the USENET as early as 1980. Back in those early days, I posted anonymously or pseudonymously. Oh, well. I'm sure those early posts are in there somewhere among the 700 million other posts.

We haven't seen the sun for a week or so, and it looks like it may be another week before we do. Ordinarily, this time of year is good for observing, but our telescopes are just gathering dust for now. Barbara's parents are coming over for dinner on the 23rd, and they've never looked through a telescope. Barbara wants to show them a few sights from our front yard--Luna, Jupiter, Saturn, the Great Nebula in Orion, etc. All of those things will be well placed for viewing that evening, assuming the weather cooperates.

Back to work on the USB chapter. This is certainly more fun than I expected.

 

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Friday, 14 December 2001

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9:19 - Barbara is off to run errands and volunteer at SciWorks. I'm still working on the chapter. We were hoping to haul the scopes up to Bullington tonight, but the weather doesn't look promising. There may be a clear period from about 2100 to midnight, but it's to be quite windy. We may just set up the scopes in the yard tonight. Or not.

10:15 - Microsoft has released a patch for the gaping security hole in Internet Explorer that was reported a couple days ago. This is a critical update, as in "install this update or you will die." If you don't install this update, an attacker can run the code of his choice on your system. Antivirus software doesn't protect you. All you need do to allow this exploit to occur is visit a malicious web site. It doesn't matter if you've disabled scripting, because the exploit doesn't require JavaScript, ActiveX, or anything else special. Just plain HTML can do it. Read about the problem and solution here. 

Note that this patch pertains only to IE 5.5 and 6.0. I knew when I decided to stick with 5.01 that I was making a good decision.

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Saturday, 15 December 2001

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9:11 - The following is one of many similar messages I received yesterday about the IE security problem:

-----Original Message-----
From: Philip Hough [mailto:phil4 at compsoc dot man dot ac dot uk]On Behalf Of Phil Hough
Sent: Friday, December 14, 2001 11:52 AM
To: bob@ttgnet.com
Subject: IE5.5/6.0 Hotfixes

"Note that this patch pertains only to IE 5.5 and 6.0. I knew when I decided to stick with 5.01 that I was making a good decision."

Note:

"Microsoft tested Internet Explorer 5.5 and 6.0 to assess whether they are affected by these vulnerabilities. Previous versions are no longer eligible for hotfix support."

Could well mean that v5.01 is just as vulnerable.

ATB.

Phil

____________________________________________________________________
Phil Hough The website you seek
E-mail: phil at philhough dot co dot uk Can not be located but
WWW: http://www.philhough.co.uk Countless more exist.
___________________________________________________________________

I didn't read it that way, but you're probably right. It appears that Microsoft has changed their policy for security notices. It used to be that they included all versions affected, whether or not they were currently supported. The "Affected Software" section in the header mentions only IE 5.5 and 6, so I (perhaps foolishly) assumed that those were the only two versions affected. In particular, the body text mentions that one of the exploits affects only 6.0. Now, reading that statement several times, it appears to me that they're saying they don't even bother to test as recent a version as 5.01.

Yet another reason to get away from Microsoft software as soon as possible.

Silly me. After checking the source documents, it turns out that IE 5 is indeed vulnerable to the problem. Of course, the truly critical security hole is easy enough to plug. Simply disable file downloads for all Internet Zones in IE. So that's what I've done on all our main machines. If I need to download a file, it's easy enough to do it with Opera or with my FTP client. I also deleted the Internet Explorer icon from my desktop, so I won't be tempted to use it.

I was correct in my speculation that Microsoft didn't even bother to test IE 5.01. That's a change. Until fairly recently, they at least tested older versions, including IE 3 and IE 4. Often, their only advice to those running those versions was to upgrade to a later version, but at least they tested them and alerted people using those older versions that they were affected by the problem. Now, Microsoft simply pretends that the older versions don't exist.

Like most people, I'm contrary. If someone attempts to force me to do something, I tend to dig in my heels. I'll decide to do something if and when it makes sense for me to do it, not because someone else decides I should. Over the years, I've gotten more and more upset at Microsoft for attempting to force me to do things, particularly because my impression has usually been that it's in Microsoft's interest that I do those things rather than in my own interest. If there's one thing that's become obvious over the years, it's that Microsoft always has an agenda. Beware of Microsoft bearing gifts. They give something small with one hand, while taking something big with the other.

So it's off this Microsoft merry-go-'round for me. I will transition to Linux as my desktop OS, and sooner rather than later. I've learned to use a lot of operating systems since I first touched a computer in 1969. I can learn another one. And I'm in a much better position than most Linux newbies because of all the friends I've made over the years I've been keeping this journal. I can call upon true Linux experts if I encounter a problem. Heck, several people have offered to build and configure a Linux workstation for me. Much as I appreciate those offers, I think I'll do it myself, if only as a learning process.

As always, applications are my main concern. Here's the basic configuration I've about decided on:

  1. Mandrake Linux 8.1
  2. Sun StarOffice 6.0
  3. Ximian Evolution 1.0
  4. Opera 6.0 for Linux

Obviously, I'll need to fill that out with small utilities--replacements for things like WinZip, IrfanView, and so on. But the one thing really missing from the group is a replacement for Microsoft FrontPage. Is there such a thing as a WYSIWYG web page editor for Linux? Ideally, I'd like something that I could point at my existing FrontPage webs and have it import them intact. This really isn't a critical need, because I'll of course continue to run Windows on many systems, if only to do screen shots for books. And, of course, I can install VMWare and probably run FrontPage on my main Linux box. But a native Linux application would be nice.

And I see that I'm not the only person who's considering dumping Microsoft. The Register says that the UK government is seriously considering dumping Microsoft Office from 500,000 desktop systems and will give Open Source Software equal consideration in procurements. Articles here and here. There's no question that Microsoft is scared to death of Linux. Here's an interesting article that includes a confidential Microsoft memo that makes that very clear.

Tonight is a scheduled club observation, but it looks as though the weather will be marginal. The Clear Sky Clock says right now that we'll have clear skies from about 1500 until 2000 or 2100 tonight, with clouds moving in after that. It gets dark early now, so Barbara and I will probably head up to Bullington just before sunset to get set up. If we have to pack up and come home at 2100, that will be fine. I need to get the Dobsonian out today and collimate it before we head up tonight. I also need to clean eyepieces and do other minor maintenance. We haven't had the telescopes out for a couple weeks, so even a short session would be nice.

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Sunday, 16 December 2001

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9:15 - The Clear Sky Clock was wrong, for once. We drove up to Pilot Mountain last night for the club observation. The CSC claimed that we'd have zero cloudiness until 0300 this morning. When we got there about 1730, the cloud cover was 8/10 or 9/10. Only one other couple showed up, so we sat around with them in the dark for an hour or so hoping the clouds would dissipate. By 1830, the cloud cover was down to about 7/10, but even the areas that were free of clouds were still hazy. So we packed up our chairs--we hadn't bothered to set up the scopes--and came home. I hope the club members who went to other club observing sites had better luck than we did.

As much as I like Opera 6, it has two very serious flaws:

First, among the big three, it is by far the worst at rendering web pages. IE is by far the best at that. Certainly, there are some pages that IE butchers which are rendered reasonably by Navigator and/or Opera, but those are by far the exception. IE renders about 99.99% of the web pages I visit sanely. Navigator renders perhaps 98% of them usably, although there are frequent minor rendering problems. That's bad enough, but Opera isn't even in the same class as Netscape. I'd estimate that Opera has at least minor rendering problems on fully 20% of the pages I visit, and major rendering problems on 3% to 5%. Everything from text crammed together, to missing spaces between words, to text overrunning a graphic boundary, to obviously wrong font sizes, to unreadable text. Opera also has very frequent problems with vertical spacing, frequently overwriting part of one line with part of another. This is not a video adapter/driver problem, because it does the same thing on several of my systems that run Intel, ATI, Matrox, and nVIDIA video.

When I call their attention to these problems, the usual response is that the HTML is poorly written. That may be true, but it's immaterial. As I've frequently said, people want their browser to render pages, not to verify the quality of the HTML that comprises those pages. I want my browser to make sane decisions about how to render broken HTML, not to give up and display garbage on my screen. In that respect, IE does superbly, and even Navigator sometimes makes an effort. Opera simply does a very poor job of rendering anything other than perfect HTML. But the problem, of course, is that the world is full of web sites that have many pages with minor (or major) HTML errors on them. Simply blaming poor rendering on the HTML code is unacceptable.

Second, Opera is simply not viable as one's only browser. If I'm going to use Opera as my primary browser, I have no choice other than to have some other browser as backup. There are simply too many web pages and web sites that Opera is unusable with. And I'm not talking about sites like Microsoft.com that are intentionally designed to use IE to the exclusion of other browsers. I'm talking about sites that weren't designed with IE in mind. Sites like, say, my own messageboards. I can't access them with Opera. Oh, the main pages display, and I can browse messages, but as soon as I try to reply to a message, Ikonboard tells me I'm not logged in. Under Opera V5, I could do several refreshes on the login screen, log in, and proceed to post. That's no longer true. Ikonboard returns a message about not allowing remote posts, and then tells me I'm not logged in. This despite the fact that my name is in the upper left corner and that cookies continue to be written to my drive by IB. 

According to Opera, the problem is with Ikonboard, but that's just another case of shifting blame. Ikonboard works fine with IE and Navigator. Sure, perhaps IB is doing things improperly, but if IE and Navigator can deal with it, so should Opera. I don't want excuses from my browser. I want page rendering. And Opera is very good at excuses and very poor at page rendering.

Speaking of cookies, that's another bad thing about Opera. How can a supposedly modern browser not have any facility built-in that allows one to manage one's cookies? I'm not talking about things like forbidding third-party cookies. Opera does that fine. But it writes cookies to a binary file and provides no mechanism I can find for manually deleting them. I have a third-party utility, OFE, that allows me to display and edit the Opera cookie file, but there's no excuse for that feature not being a part of the browser itself.

So right now, I'm unhappy. I have a choice among three browsers: IE, which is full of gaping security holes, and for which each update simply furthers Microsoft's plans for world domination. Navigator, which is a poor excuse for a browser. Or Opera, which sucks at rendering pages and won't allow me to log into or post to my own messageboards. There has to be something better than this. So I'm downloading Mozilla 0.9.6 as I write this.

I actually wrote that bit about Opera yesterday afternoon. I did download and install Mozilla 0.9.6. Based on a few hours of playing with Mozilla, it seems reasonably fast and stable. As a browser, it is relatively feature-poor and lacking in configurability as compared with either IE or Opera. Rendering seems good overall, much better than Opera, and perhaps just a half-step behind IE. 

Most of the rendering problems I've encountered seem quite minor. For example, at the top of this page, there are two horizontal lines, one over my photo and one under it. In IE, those lines are rendered properly--a thin gray bar below my photo and a thicker gray bar above it. In Opera, neither line shows up at all. In Mozilla, the bars show up correctly except that thicker bar is black instead of gray. Similarly, on Barbara's home page, she has her email address below her photo. In IE, the email link displays properly, centered under her photo. In Opera, the email link displays offset well to the right of her photo. In Mozilla, the email link displays centered on the page, which isn't as good as having it centered under the photo (as in IE), but is far better than displaying it at a random horizontal position (as in Opera). Is the HTML broken? Probably. But again, the simple fact is that IE tends to render things sanely regardless of how bad the underlying HTML is. Mozilla appears to do pretty well at that as well. Opera is in a class by itself at punishing bad HTML and the people who try to view it.

My impression of Mozilla is that it is a decent basic browser whose developers would do well to examine IE and Opera in detail with an eye to stealing the best features of each. It'd also be nice if they'd put the Home icon up on the same line as Forward and Back, where it belongs. Better still, follow the lead of IE and Opera by allowing users to define what items they want to appear on the main toolbar, how those items are displayed, and in what order.

As of now, I'm using Opera as my default browser. I have icons for Opera and Mozilla on my desktop, with IE banished to the Start Menu. I'll be using both Opera and Mozilla to do my real work, so I should have a good idea before long of which I want to use as my default browser when I bring up a Linux workstation.

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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.