As well as my full-time job, in my spare time I also design and build websites. It’s something which fits well with my skillset as a technical communicator, and allows me an insight into the world of development as well and has mirrored my career every step of the way.
The first company I worked for sent me on a training course to learn how to create web pages and, since then (13 years ago), I’ve continued to follow the trends and techniques involved. I’ve been through using tables for layout, to the introduction of frames, the launch of Internet Explorer and the first release of CSS.
The parallels between the theories of technical communications and those of web design are very similar, the key aim is to keep the audience in mind at all times. The way you structure and present the information is also important, as is a sense of usability of the content itself.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a fairly constant stream of web design work, largely by word of mouth, and have just finished chatting with another potential client. Part of my approach is to ask to have a questionnaire filled in, largely to help me understand the requirements for the website, as well as to have something to focus the initial conversations around.
Two of those questions are:
Who will be using your website? What is the intended/current audience?
Does your current website meet the needs of your audience? If not, why not?
Which, as I’m sure many of you will already have realised, is exactly the kind of questions we, as technical communicators, should be asking ourselves on a regular basis.
Over the past few months I’ve become much better at backing up the important stuff on my PC. Largely this is photos, music, any ripped DVDs and important House documents, license files and so on.
So, if my PC dies a death then at least I’ve got the important stuff backed up. The rest, the downloaded freebies, fonts, software and so on can be downloaded again and, in a way, it’s a chance to re-evaluate things.
Not that my PC is dying a death but it does, this very moment, have a virus. Not quite sure where it came from, as I’m very careful (having worked for an anti-virus company I remain somewhat paranoid about these things). All I know is that I was downloading an update to DirectX so I could have a go at Football Manager 2009 (a guilty pleasure if ever there was one), and as Microsoft downloads can be a bit flaky under Firefox, I fired up Internet Explorer (7) and kicked off the download.
Somewhere, somehow, I now have a virus. It’s proving a bugger to fix so I’m doing a little research to make sure I’ve got the right tools at my disposal. Such is the advantage of having a laptop. I can research the issue, download the right tools and fixes, dump them on a USB drive and I’m ready to tackle the virus.
It’s THIS kind of thing that just pisses me off. I don’t download illegal software, I virus check everything that I do download, even if it’s from a ‘safe’ source, and I have a good clean system which is checked for spyware, malware and viruses every 6-8 weeks. Then something like this happens and I just know I’ll spend a couple of hours fighting it.
That’s not why I have a computer. It’s not supposed to be a battle, it’s supposed to be a tool. Just like those arseholes who keep creating and releasing viruses. They’re a bunch of tools too.
Bookmarks dotted about all over the place. A del.ico.us account that rarely gets used. Various clever Firefox extensions. My miniblog. My custom start page. My blogroll(s). Bloglines. The sites I “use”, the sites I visit, the useful sites, the information sites, so many sites, so much information and so many ways of filtering and accessing them these days, I’m getting a bit overwhelmed. Aren’t you?
So I put aside a couple of hours* and fired up my web browser with the aim of getting better organised, wasn’t sure HOW exactly, but figured the organic “leap in and start” approach would serve me best. I think it did.
So let me talk you through the process, or better still, roll up your sleeves and try it yourself. As with most things the way you work and use the various technologies will differ from me, but hopefully this will be useful to someone. Always remember that YMMV.
* took a lot longer than this but you can do it in stages if you want.
It’s been a while since I posted about Firefox but as it’s just crashed through the 24 million downloads mark, and has increased it’s browser share AGAIN I thought it was reasonable time to look back over the past year of using Firefox and see how, if at all, it has changed my browsing habits.
Blimey, I’ve been using Firefox for an entire year, how time flies!
The main and most obvious change to my browsing habits has been my ready adoptation of tabbed browsing. It’s now an integral part of my browsing technique (for want of a better term) and, coupled with an extension that remembers what tabs were open the last time I closed the browser, I find I rarely have to bookmark anything of interest any more. Instead I can open the sites in a new browser tab, and if I don’t get around to checking them out they will be re-opened the next time I start Firefox. Note that this cycle may repeat for up to a week, and has certainly been a key factor in improving my online information management.
Whether it’s articles of note, to do (Ta Da) lists, or just silly email links, I just open them in a new tab and get to them when I’m ready. Did someone mention an interesting book at lunch? A quick Amazon search in a new tab and it’ll sit there until I either order it, or add it to my wishlist (which itself sits open in another tab, just in case). Ohh and that “quick Amazon search” is also something I should mention.
The timesheet application we use at work has a web based front end. Unfortunately it only works properly in (you guessed it!) Internet Explorer. So last night, as I’d done a wee bit of work when I got home, I fired up IE and what did I find? It had been hijacked (browser hijacking is a manifest of spyware = not good).
A quick scan using Ad-Aware soon cleaned things up but it’s annoyance. Something I don’t have to put up with whilst I use Firefox.
Which brings me to mention that I’ve updated my original post about Firefox extensions. I’ve added one (Tab Clicking Options) and checked/correct all the links. Ohh and if you have come across any other “must have” extensions, please let me know.
I should also point out that there is a new version of the Opera browser now available. It has been simplified a lot, and whilst I think it’s a huge improvement over the previous versions (previous UI was clunky) I still prefer Firefox. Internet Explorer – Come in, your time is up!
UPDATE: All of the extensions have been checked and are compatible with Firefox 1.0.
Thanks to Adrian and Thom for some additional suggestions.
I’ve recently introduced a couple of people to the Firefox browser. I have to admit to getting quite a buzz watching their faces light up as you show them the basic features (efficient popup blocker, tabbed browsing, excellent FIND function) and how fast it is compared to IE.
The next thing I do is show them the extensions I have installed, and I figured some of you guys might appreciate these too – you HAVE switched to Firefox, haven’t you?
On with the extensions then, and I should note that there are many many more extensions available, and that the following are the ones I’ve found most useful over the past couple of months:
Tab Preferences – this is the second Tab extension I’ve used and is very easyto use (the other is called TabBrowser Extensions, does much more but is a bit confusing). I’d recommend this one for most people, an excellent way to get to grips with tabbed browsing as well.
Paste and Go – Subtle one this. Copy a URL, right-click the address bar and select “Paste and Go”. Saves you pasting THEN bashing the enter key to load the page*. Simple but you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it.
Gmail Notifier – If you have a GMail account, this is the better of the notifier extensions. Nicely located in the statusbar too.
ForecastFox – RENAMED from WeatherFox. Adds a configurable weather display, many options.
Statusbar clock – currently being updated for 1.0 – simple enough I think. Configurable display. Time and date in the statusbar.
FoxyTunes – For hardcore surfers this one. If you just CAN’T focus away from your browser, then use the highly configurable statusbar controls to do so. Supports just about every media player I’ve heard of.
Web Developer – OK, maybe not EVERYONE needs this one but if you do anything even remotely related to web design then install this. I can’t really say more than that as it has so many features I’d be here all day.
Bookmark Synchronizer – excellent tool if you have your own FTP space. Easy way to move bookmarks between two PCs.
DuplicateTab – Allows you to duplicate a tab to a new tab or to a new window,. Also allows you to merge different windows in one window.
blanklast – Makes the last tab blank when closing it, and prevents the tab bar from hiding.
* Or you can add a “Go” button (a la IE) by selecting the ‘View’ menu then ‘Toolbars’ and then click ‘Customise’. From the window which opens, drag the ‘Go’ button to the toolbar next to the address bar.
Then there are Live Bookmarks. Sort of like a site monitoring tool, if you see the RSS button appear in the statusbar (if you are using Firefox you should see one now), click it and select the RSS Feed to use. Now when you select that Bookmark from the bookmark menu, you should be able to go directly to any of the last 15 entries of this site. Clever stuff. Not quite an RSS Reader, but a handy tool to quickly see if there is new content.
Top Tip: To remove an entry from a ‘remembered’ dropdown list, highlight the entry, and press SHIFT+DELETE.
So there you go, everytime I come across a minor irritation with this browser I find someone has already created an extension, many of which will migrate into the product itself. So, aside from people curtailed by their corporate IT policies, why haven’t YOU switched yet?
UPDATE: Maybe this articles will help you decide: Firefox 1.0 explained is a very good article which explains everything in clear, simple language. If you aren’t sure what a browser IS, then head here. I’d also point out Why I don’t recommend Firefox which makes some very valid points and, contrary to the title, promotes the best points of Firefox very well.
FURTHER THOUGHTS: If you work between to computers and use Sage as your RSS reader, I recommend you also use install the Bookmark Synchronizer. Sage stores the feed addresses as bookmarks, meaning you only need to add a new feed once. The next time you sync your bookmarks the new feed will be pulled to your other computer and available via Sage.
I should point out that there are some websites that do not function correctly when you use Firefox. Unfortunately it means you will need to have a copy of Internet Explorer available. This is not the fault of Firefox, but because those websites are using code that only Internet Explorer can understand. In other words, they’ve not been designed f
or everyone to use. Only Internet Explorer users can access those sites properly.
It is also noticeable that there is a new version of Opera, which has been simplified a lot. I’ve tried it, but still prefer Firefox. Internet Explorer – Your time is up!