Stopping videos automatically playing in Opera

Though I am writing this in Firefox Developer Edition, I stuck it out with Firefox ESR while plugin developers caught up with the new extension model put in place for Firefox Quantum. Eventually, heavy memory consumption and sluggish rendering forced me to move along even if the addon bar continues to be missed.

During my time of sticking with Firefox ESR, I often turned to Opera when I needed something more speedy and it was then that I found videos playing automatically in loading web pages. Twitter was one offender as was YouTube though it is possible to turn off such things for the former by going to the Accessibility section of your user account settings.

In Opera, I wanted to have a more universal solution and found out where the Experiments section could be found. Though there is a need to realise that there may be changes in the future, entering the opera://flags in the address will get you there. Then, you need to look for Autoplay policy unless you have used the more direct address of opera://flags/#autoplay-policy. After that, you need to change the setting to Document user activation is required and that should sort things. If not, a browser restart will complete the task.

Toggling the appearance or non-appearance of the Firefox session exit dialogue box

One thing that I notice with Firefox installations in both Ubuntu and Linux Mint is that a dialogue box appears when closing down the web browser asking whether to save the open session or if you want to have a fresh session the next time that you start it up. Initially, I was always in the latter camp but there are times when I took advantage of that session saving feature for retaining any extra tabs containing websites to which I want to return or editor sessions for any blog posts that I still am writing; sometimes, composing the latter can take a while.

To see where this setting is located, you need to open a new tab and type about:config in the browser’s address bar. This leads to advanced browser settings so you need click OK in answer to a warning message before proceeding. Then, start looking for browser.showQuitWarning using the Search bar; it acts like a dynamic filter on screen entries until you get what you need. On Ubuntu and Linux Mint, the value is set to true but false is the default elsewhere; unlike Opera, Firefox generally does not save sessions by fault unless you tell it to that (at least, that has been my experience anyway). Setting true to false or vice versa will control the appearance or non-appearance of the dialogue box at browser session closure time.

An avalanche of innovation?

It seems that, almost in spite of the uncertain times or maybe because of them, it feels like an era of change on the technology front. Computing is the domain of many of the postings on this blog and a hell of a lot seems to be going mobile at the moment. For a good while, I managed to stay clear of the attractions of smartphones until a change of job convinced me that having a BlackBerry was a good idea. Though the small size of the thing really places limitations on the sort of web surfing experience that you can have with it, you can keep an eye on the weather, news, traffic, bus and train times so long as the website in question is built for mobile browsing. Otherwise, it’s more of a nuisance than a patchy phone network (in the U.K., T-Mobile could do better on this score as I have discovered for myself; thankfully, a merger with the Orange network is coming next month).

Speaking of mobile websites, it almost feels as if a free for all has recurred for web designers. Just when the desktop or laptop computing situation had more or less stabilised, along come a whole pile of mobile phone platforms to make things interesting again. Familiar names like Opera, Safari, Firefox and even Internet Explorer are to be found popping up on handheld devices these days along with less familiar ones like Web ‘n’ Walk or BOLT. The operating system choices vary too with iOS, Android, Symbian, Windows and others all competing for attention. It is the sort of flowering of innovation that makes one wonder if a time will come when things begin to consolidate but it doesn’t look like that at the moment.

The transformation of mobile phones into handheld computers isn’t the only big change in computing with the traditional formats of desktop and laptop PC’s being flexed in all sorts of ways. First, there’s the appearance of netbooks and I have succumbed to the idea of owning an Asus Eee. Though you realise that these are not full size laptops, it still didn’t hit me how small these were until I owned one.  They are undeniably portable and tablets look even more interesting in the aftermath of Apple’s iPad. You may call them over-sized mobile photos but the idea of making a touchscreen do the work for you has made the concept fly for many. Even so, I cannot say that I’m overly tempted though I have said that before about other things.

Another area of interest for me is photography and it is around this time of year that all sorts of innovations are revealed to the public. It’s a long way from what we thought was the digital photography revolution when digital imaging sensors started to take the place of camera film in otherwise conventional compact and SLR cameras, making the former far more versatile than they used to be. Now, we have SLD cameras from Olympus, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony that eschew the reflex mirror and prism arrangement of an SLR using digital sensor and electronic viewfinders while offering the possibility of lens interchangeability and better quality than might be expected from such small cameras. In recent months, Sony has offered SLR-style cameras with translucent mirror technology instead of the conventional mirror that is flipped out of the way when a photographic image is captured.  Change doesn’t end there with movie making capabilities being part of the toolset of many a newly launch  compact, SLD and SLR camera. The pixel race also seems to have ended though increases still happen as with the Pentax K-5 and Canon EOS 60D (both otherwise conventional offerings that have caught my eye though so much comes on the market at this time of year that waiting is better for the bank balance).

The mention of digital photography brings to mind the subject of digital image processing and Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 is just announced after Photoshop CS5 appeared earlier this year. It almost feels as if a new version of Photoshop or its consumer cousin are released every year, causing me to skip releases when I don’t see the point. Elements 6 and 8 were such versions for me and I’ll be in no hurry to upgrade to 9 yet either though the prospect of using content aware filling to eradicate unwanted objects from images is tempting. Nevertheless, that shouldn’t stop anyone trying to exclude them in the first place. In fact, I may need to reduce the overall number of images that I collect in favour of bringing away only good ones. The outstanding question on this is can I slow down and calm my eagerness to bring at least one good image away from an outing by capturing anything that seems promising at the time. Some experimentation but being a little more choosy can  save work later on.

While back on the subject of software, I’ll voyage in to the world of the web before bringing these meanderings to a close. It almost feels as if there is web-based application following web-based application these days when Twitter and Facebook nearly have become household names and cloud computing is a phrase that turns up all over the place.  In fact, the former seems to have encouraged a whole swathe of applications all of itself. Applications written using technologies well used on the web must stuff many a mobile phone app store too and that brings me full circle for it is these that put so much functionality on our handsets with Java seemingly powering those I use on my BlackBerry. Them there’s spat between Apple and Adobe regarding the former’s support for Flash.

To close this mental amble, there may be technologies that didn’t come to mind while I was pondering this piece but they doubtless enliven the technological landscape too. However, what I have described is enough to take me back more than ten years ago when desktop computing and the world of the web were a lot more nascent than is the case today. Then, the changes that were ongoing felt a little exciting now that I look back on them and it does feel as if the same sort of thing is recurring though with things like phones creating the interest in place of new developments in desktop computing such as a new version of Window (though 7 was anticipated after Vista). Web designers may complain about a lack of standardisation and they’re not wrong but this may be an ear of technological change that in time may be remembered with its own fondness too.

On web browsers for BlackBerry devices

The browser with which my BlackBerry Curve 8520 came is called Web’n’Walk and, while it does have its limitations, it works well enough for much of what I want to do. Many of the sites that I want to visit while away from a PC have mobile versions that are sufficiently functionality for much of what I needed to do. Names like GMail, Google Reader, Met Office and National Rail come to mind here and the first two are regularly visited while on the move. They work well to provide what I need too. Nevertheless, one of the things that I have found with mobile web browsing is that I am less inclined to follow every link that might arouse my interest. Sluggish response times might have something to do with it but navigating the web on a small screen is more work too. Therefore, I have been taking a more functional approach to web usage on the move rather than the more expansive one that tends to happen on a desktop PC.

For those times when the default browser was not up to the task, I installed Opera Mini. It certainly has come in very useful for keeping an the Cheshire East bus tracker and looking at any websites without mobile versions for when I decide to look at such things. Downloading any of these does take time and there’s the reality of navigating a big page on a small screen. However, I have discovered that the browser has an annoying tendency to crash and it did it once while I was awaiting a bus. The usual solution, rightly or wrongly, has been to delete the thing and reinstall it again with the time and device restarts that entails. While I got away with it once, it seems to mean losing whatever bookmarks or favourites that you have set up too, a real nuisance. Because of this, I am not going to depend on it as much any more. Am I alone in experiencing this type of behaviour?

Because of Opera’s instability, I decided on seeking alternative approaches. One of these was to set up bookmarks for the aforementioned bus tracker on Web ‘n’ Web. What is delivered in the WAP version of the site and it’s not that user friendly at all. When it comes to selecting a bus stop to monitor, it asks for a stance number. Only for my nous, I wouldn’t have been able to find the ID’s that I needed. That’s not brilliant but I worked around it to make things work for me. The observation is one for those who design mobile versions of websites for public use.

Another development is the discovery of Bolt Browser and, so far, it seems a worthy alternative to Opera Mini too. There are times when it lives up to the promise of faster web page loading but that is dependent on the strength of the transmission signal. A trial with the Met Office website showed it to be capable though there were occasions when site navigation wasn’t as smooth as it could have been. Up to now, there have been no crashes like what happened to Opera Mini so it looks promising. If there is any criticism, it is that it took me a while to realise how to save favourites (or bookmarks). While the others that I have used have a button on the screen for doing so, Bolt needs you to use the application menu. Other than that, the software seems worthy of further exploration.

All in all, surfing the mobile remains an area of continued exploration for me. Having found my feet with it, I remain on the lookout for other web browsers for the BlackBerry platform. It is true that OS 6 features a Webkit-powered browser but I’m not buying another device to find out how good that is. What I am after are alternatives that work on the device that I have. Porting of Firefox’s mobile edition would be worthwhile but its availability seems to be limited to Nokia’s handsets for now. Only time will reveal where things are going.

Worth the attention?

The latest edition of Web Designer has features and tutorials on modern trends one new ways to use fonts and typography in websites. One thing that’s at the heart of the attention is the @font-face CSS selector. It’s what allows you to break away from the limitations of whatever fonts your visitors might have on their PC’s to use something available remotely.

In principle, that sounds a great idea but there are caveats. The first of these is the support for the @font-face selector in the first place though the modern browsers that I have tried seem to do reasonably OK on this score. These include the latest versions of Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera and Chrome. The new fonts may render OK but there’s a short delay in the full loading of a web page. With Firefox, the rendering seems to treat the process like an interleaved image so you may see fonts from your own PC before the remote ones come into place, a not too ideal situation in my opinion. Also, I have found that this is more noticeable on the Linux variant of the browser than its Windows counterpart. Loading a page that is predominantly text is another scenario where you’ll see the behaviour more clearly. Having a sizeable image file loading seems to make things less noticeable. Otherwise, you may see a short delay to the loading of a web page because the fonts have to be downloaded first. Opera is a particular offender here with IE8 loading things quite quickly and Chrome not being too bad either.

In the main, I have been using Google’s Fonts Directory but, in the interests of supposedly getting a better response, I tried using font files stored on a test web server only to discover that there was more of a lag with the fonts on the web server. While I do not know what Google has done with their set up, using their font delivery service appears to deliver better performance in my testing so it’ll be my choice for now. There’s Typekit too but I’ll be hanging onto to my money in the light of my recent experiences.

After my brush with remote font loading, I am inclined to wonder if the current hype about fonts applied using the @font-face directive is deserved until browsers get better and faster at loading them. As things stand, they may be better than before but the jury’s still out for me with Firefox’s rendering being a particular irritant. Of course, things can get better…