New Firefox and Other Browser Update Weirdness

I’m settling in to get some things done and notice a blurb.

There’s going to be a rollout of the next Firefox over the next few weeks.  I pay close attention to that because I use Firefox extensively.  I’d be lost without it. 

I’m so tightly trained to use Firefox that I have to step back and actually “think” how to use any other browser.  Since I use Windows 8.1, Windows 7, Mac OSX Mavericks, and Debian Linux on a daily basis as well as Android and an occasional toe dipped into Apple’s iOS, I have to remain as flexible as possible and Firefox is on all of those computers. 

Except the iPhone but I hardly ever use them.

I will eventually install Firefox on the Windows machines when it tells me that it is available.  I’m not in a rush.  The last time they changed the way it looks, the User Interface or UI, it borked it for me.  I ended up installing things to make it look the way it did before I updated the browser while growling at Firefox in general.  Keystrokes and mouse clicks and all that moved.  They removed the status bar. The bookmark strip got lost, or rather hid, and that stores some of your bookmarks.  They removed the title bar.

Why?  Never heard a reason, but I installed Classic Theme Restorer and it brought it all back.  Immediately after that I installed Adblock Edge to get rid of the blasted adverts and other nasties that hitch a ride onto your computer as a result.  More Privacy means for a faster experience as well as fewer viruses and spyware pushed onto your local computer.  Nobody actually “Likes” ads anyway, we accept their presence and usually are annoyed or distracted by them, but “Like”?  I doubt it.

Rule Number One of Software User Experience (UX) is if you change the way something looks, you will break the way people work.  I learned that back in the days of the Mainframe and College. 

Rule Number Two of Software User Experience is that if you do change it there will be unintended consequences.

In My Case:

I have a computer that has what they call a “Clickpad“.  It’s also running Debian Linux.  I know Linux in general fairly well, but Debian Linux doesn’t manage Clickpads well.  Clickpads are those weird trackpads that are flush with the case.  You click on the pad instead of having normal buttons like every other Synaptic trackpad. 

I do know that is fixed in the next version of Debian, and I do know how to fix it now, but it is an annoyance that I have to deal with.  It basically forgets that it has a physical button in Debian Stable/Wheezy, and you’re stuck with whatever you touch on the trackpad.  I only get a Right Click when I tap.  I have since configured a two fingered tap to be a Left Click.

What that all did change did is to break the way Firefox works.  You see, on that particular computer, I can’t Right Click.  I can’t get the pop up context menu.  They changed the UI right away from it. 

Since that machine is Debian Linux, I have to wait for the next version anyway.  It isn’t even using Firefox, but something rebranded as “IceWeasel“.  To put it short, and sarcastic, Debian had a spat with Firefox over the branding.  Since Firefox/Mozilla doesn’t want anything proprietary at all on their default install, someone in the Debian Project grabbed the source code, recompiled it, created the graphics, and renamed everything to IceWeasel.  It works like Firefox but is Older.  About a version back. 

If you’re running Stable, or Wheezy, you could be quite a few versions back.  Jessie has a more current Firefox, but it also has a lot more annoying bugs in it because it is “Testing”.

But Windows?  Yeah, you’ll get it soon.  Just remember Classic Theme Restorer and Adblock Edge, and you’ll be fine.

As for the Mac?  When it is available, you’ll get a blip on the bottom of the screen telling you you’re ready for an upgrade.  You can also go back to the old theme if you want, but I do recommend Adblock Edge as well.

Why the harping on the ads?  It’s a much faster browsing experience when you surf a page without the ads.  No blinky pictures, crawling things, or text ads.  If you don’t download them, you use less data.  Things pop faster.

Trust me on that one.  You can always turn it off later.

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Outlook.com – How To Block Messenger

Microsoft, please don’t annoy me before 6AM.

I had gotten in after the dog walk, settled in for some iced tea, and wanted to check my email once the computer got started.

Using www.outlook.com has never been a pleasure for me.  I want an email service that stays out of my way with extra “features” that I don’t want.   Having a chat service tied into an email program that is a bloated mess was not my choice.  Even Hotmail.com was better than the steaming pile of garbage that Outlook.com has been bloated into.

At the lower left of the browser screen was a helpful “Messaging” area with little icons of people who I have written in the past.  I found myself immediately looking for a way to turn it off.  After wasting a half hour in the “Byzantine” settings menu in Outlook, I went to do a search for how to do it.  I found this page suggesting that I add an entry into a low level file and restart my computer.   The low level file is a text file called “Hosts” that your computer reads in when it starts.  What Hosts does is to override networking.  

In Windows it is at C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc and Linux keeps it at /etc/hosts which would be where I would expect to find it on Mac OSX.

Some very basic and oversimplified networking concepts.

If you type in http://www.ramblingmoose.com your computer doesn’t know what that does. It consults your network stack, finds the gateway, and then talks to your internet service provider.  In this case it looks at a giant phone book called your DNS and gets the IP Address of the site.  Since my blog points to a blogger site, that number changes, and it’s hosted by Google anyway. 

But I can change that.

If I bring up Hosts in notepad or any other TEXT editor, I can add in a line saying that a specific IP address is to be used when you go to a specific web address or URL.

For example, if I want to block Google, I add a line to the file:

127.0.0.1  http://www.google.com

Save the file and restart the computer.

This works for some sites that are advertising providers and other nuisance sites.  My own Hosts file is pretty large having gotten one that has most of those malware and advertising sites that were known at the time.

But all this is annoying to maintain.  Fortunately, there is an easier way to do it.

Adblock Edge or Adblock Plus in Firefox and whichever other browsers it supports.  Adblock Edge is always the first thing I add when I install Firefox.  It allows me to block ads, hide pictures, and even block whole websites (domains) if I choose to from a semi-friendly interface.

Simply add a custom “rule” to adblock to block the following URL:

geo.gateway.messenger.live.com

It would be a whole lot simpler if Microsoft had decided that it would give you a way to block that Messaging app within Outlook.com settings, but they chose not to.  Luckily I can turn it off and get some things done.

How to add a custom rule:

  • Ctrl+Shift+F will open a window called “Adblock Edge Filter Preferences”.
  • Click on the “Add Filter” button in the upper right of the window.
  • In the blue box, enter geo.gateway.messenger.live.com and Enter.
  • Close the window by clicking the Close Box.
  • When you refresh Outlook.com in your browser, it will be blocked in that browser only.

Dealing with Facebook Annoyances Using Adblock Plus

Audience is either Firefox Users or Chrome Users.

Facebook is the website you love to hate.

Teens are leaving it, adults can be addicted as a time sink, marketers think they can buy the world’s information at a song.

You can tame the beast some. 

Lately Facebook has made some changes to the way they present information.  It’s all about getting you to opt into more things – you know, to “Like” them.   That helps them build a profile about you.   Since you tend to give up that information freely, it’s pretty valuable.

But lately it got to be a bit much.  Since I manage a number of websites, and a number of social media presences online, I have to be on Facebook – all day.

First thing is you really need a good ad blocker.   The reason is that those ad services may be entertaining but they are watching what you do everywhere.  You may not have a problem with it, but I do.

I went to Firefox years ago and installed an adblocker.  The latest iteration of it is called “Adblock Edge”.  It will block both intrusive and non-intrusive advertising.   The distinction between that and “Adblock Plus” is that Adblock Plus has been paid by Google and perhaps others to not block their text ads.  That raises the question of what else are they not telling you.  Supposedly Adblock Plus is making the decision as to whether something is acceptable, and I’m not comfortable with that.

  • Simple, get Adblock Edge instead.  Adblock Edge will allow you, once you learn how to use the thing, to block any advert as well as things like frames and those reprehensible “Fancybox” and “Lightbox” things that seem to float over a web page.

I’ll let you look into that whole learning process.   It’s best that you look into it yourself, but the default settings on Adblock Edge are pretty good to begin with.  The simplest explanation is that you can right click on an ad, Select “Adblock Plus: Block Image” and tailor what you see.

The next step is to import something into Adblock Edge that works with Facebook itself.   There’s a big long list of things that they added that annoy me, as well as clutter their interface.  Frankly I don’t have time for most of it, but a long list of that stuff can be found in this article. 

Those annoyances are the “You May Like” or the “You May Know” genre of items.  They got to the point where they were more than half of what I would see on Facebook.   So when I saw the article, I followed the simple instructions:

  • First Surf this page.  It gives you a graphical representation of things you don’t want to see.

  • Second, select the link you want.  I selected the Block All in the first column but that may be a bit too much.  You can see the graphic and select the one you want by clicking on the green “+ add” button.

  • Third, add the rules to your Adblocker.  When you click on the “+ add” button, it will pop up the Adblock dialogue box for “Add Adblock Plus Filter Subscription”.  Click on the button to “Add Subscription”.

You’re done.  Facebook will be less cluttered – until they break that by changing things.

You can always hide those people or businesses by unfriending or unliking them, but that is a bit of a Nuclear Option.   This keeps the friends but loses the “chaff”.

It just got too hectic, so thankfully Technology came to the rescue.

Do Not Track – It’s A Start But Only A Start

In the “modern” browsers there’s a setting deep down that tells advertisers that you don’t want to be tracked for advertising purposes.

Internet Explorer sets that on by default.
It is also in Chrome and Firefox.

For Firefox you can set it yourself by:
Click on Tools
Click on Options
Click on Privacy

Under Tracking, there is a tick box that promises to tell advertisers that you do not want to be tracked.

Mine is checked, but I don’t believe it actually works.

You see you’re telling someone that you don’t want to be a source of their income.  That’s how advertising works, they have learned that they can watch what you surf and build a profile of what you’re doing.   They can tell pretty much everything you can do.

You can lower their effectiveness but you can’t eliminate what they’re doing unless you do something that is fairly “heroic” by installing all sorts of software or learning another operating system and surfing from that.  There is InPrivate mode in Internet Explorer but it also breaks sites sometimes.  Better solution than most, but nothing is perfect.

When I set up a computer for myself or anyone else, I immediately install a few pieces of software.

Firefox as a browser.

Then I install an extension that is also available for Chrome called “Adblock Plus“.  That breaks some more of the advertising as well as some of their tracking.   The benefit is that I do not see advertising.  I can also block that sort of thing. 

For me, browsing a website on someone else’s computer is a jarring experience.  Ads blink, flash, and sometimes even scream at me.  On my own computer, it’s a blissful experience.

That and it also speeds up browsing. 

I’ve taken it a step further by adding a hosts file onto computers that I am not doing web development on which simply tells the computer not to search any web pages that are at a certain address. 

I went so far as to add a hosts file to my Android phone and it’s quite nice not having to look at ads.  It’s a great “advertisement” for “Rooting” your Android phone.

The software I use on Android is Adfree to help block advertising by placing that hosts file in the right spot.  Just because I want to be “complete” I also installed a Hosts Editor but strictly speaking I don’t really need that.

Both of the above only work on Rooted Android phones.  If you’re not rooted, you’ll need to find a guide on how to do it for your specific phone, model, carrier.   It gets complex but usually there’s a step by step guide to do the work for you.  Once I found mine, it took about 10 minutes.

They can’t track you if they can’t find you.