Youtube Prefers HTML5 Video to Flash – But What About All That Old Stuff?

Flash is one of those necessary evils.  It was like Java, reflexively installed onto computers that weren’t really quite up to the task of running it. Just checked, nope, I don’t have Java – and you should not either.

The computer would bog down, act cranky, and even crash when Flash was running.  Flash also has persistent cookies that you had to remember to delete.  Some people would have those cookies for years.  Security is a bear.

But there is one more nail is in Flash Player’s coffin.  Youtube is now preferring HTML5 over Flash when you watch videos there.

Why is that important?

More and more Flash had been the target of people wanting to hijack passwords, insert viruses, and track your movements with those persistent cookies.  Adobe had put more and more patches into it and it became a joke.  Start the computer, patch Flash, restart the computer and do your work – every single day. 

Worse, some people that I supported would simply tell the update check to go away and never come back.

You are getting closer to the day you can do that for good. Many of us already have.

My Linux computer, currently Xubuntu, is not even supported on current Flash Player, and I did an uninstall of it a couple weeks back.  I didn’t see the value of keeping an old piece of software on something that was running well without it and I almost never used.

My windows computer will get the same treatment.

About the only thing I ever do with Flash is to watch videos on Youtube.  The few games that I have kept over the years will get deleted.

That’s about the only problem that I see with this.  Videos can be streamed using “native tools” but the content that was created in Flash will simply go away.  Quite a lot has been created in Flash over the years, even a few Broadcast TV Programs, and many commercials as well.

After all, when was the last time you played a video tape?  Beta?  VHS?  Vinyl Records?

That is the kind of problem that Librarians have.  Content on a platform that is unsupported.  Music on Cylinder Beeswax Records from the Edison era.  78 RPM records.  Heck, I even have a few 45s floating around here.  Silly looking 7 inch donuts.

For most of us, it’s simply easier to find the track elsewhere and save it on something new.  But for librarians, especially archival libraries, they have to worry about that sort of thing every day.

Anyone still have and use a zip disc?  Nope?  Didn’t think so!

So the net result to you is that if you are running one of the four major browsers in one of the top four major operating systems on the desktop/laptop you’re fine.  Just make sure your browser is up to date.  Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Opera all work with HTML5.

See, that’s easy!

The iPhone and Android based phones will typically use the Youtube client or the browser will take care of it.

One aside though, with Android, it’s usually recommended that you do not use the base browser and go out and grab either Firefox or Chrome.  The reason is that if you are on an older version of Android, Google is not going to support the old “Browser” browser.

So it’s just safer that way.  Listen to big brother even if it is a bother.


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.

What’s A Virtual Machine?

Wanting to write about something is one thing.  Wanting to write about something that will be read is another.  Getting too techie is a sure fire sign that you’re writing something that is “TL/DR” – too long/ Didn’t read.

But on the other hand, I was asked “What is a virtual machine anyway?” by someone in a social setting.   It was phrased a bit differently than that but here we go.  Hopefully it won’t be TL/DR.

The idea is that you are looking at this on a browser running on a computer.   Statistics say it’s probably Windows since this is where I get about 2/3 of my readers.  That means it is most likely a PC.

PCs are wonderful things that run something called Software.  Software can make your PC do things like play Solitaire, Surf the Web, listen to music, and make pretty pictures.

What if a piece of software simply “looked like” a computer?

Now you have a computer inside a computer.  

Add an operating system to that computer inside of a computer and now you have a computer running inside a computer that you can actually DO things with.

That’s it.  That simple.

Why would you want to do that?  At home you may have one computer in the house.  This is less likely now, but back in the last 20 years that was the way it was.  A desktop PC sat in a corner with a monitor and it was shared.  What if that desktop PC had a virtual computer for each person on it?  Now your stuff and my stuff would not get mixed up.   If you got a virus, I wouldn’t.  That’s what you get when you surf “Those” websites.

Keeping things simple, there are other ways to use this thing in a home environment.

By now we all have an “Old Computer”.  I know people who are paranoid and don’t want to give those machines away so they end up having a closet full of computers that date back into the 80s.

Since the days of Windows XP, oh so many weeks ago, you could clear that closet up by running a piece of software that would create a virtual computer out of the old computer.  Basically now you have copy of that old computer running in a window on your newer computer.

That is how I get rid of my old machines – make a virtual computer so I don’t lose the software.  Why pay for that software again when you can’t find the install CD and it already works well on that creaky old computer?  After all it’s only 20 GB right?

Companies do this sort of thing all the time.  They create a server that is intended to house all these machines in a closet and “host” them all.  It saves space and a lot of power. 

The down sides are that if that computer is damaged (power spikes will murder a PC), you lose every one of those machines if they weren’t backed up.  Also, you have to have a legal license to that computer.  You can’t just make virtual computers with Windows or Mac OSX for free.  Linux isn’t a problem and I make virtual computers with Linux all the time. 

The way I am currently using virtual machines is like this.

My laptop is running Windows 7.  I have a copy of something called “VMWare Player”.  That will let me create and run virtual machines.  I installed a copy of Ubuntu Linux into it.  I then installed all sorts of things like Database (MySQL), a Web Server (Apache), and a programming language (PHP).  When I could serve websites with it to my home network, I then installed a copy of a Contact Management Software called SugarCE.  It all works like a champ, it’s all free, and fits really well on my lap.

Like I said, it’s a very basic answer to a basic question that can be quite complex.  Probably more involved than a basic answer, but that’s a start…

Got a Mac? Time to Upgrade or Else

Don’t get me wrong, I have always been one of those PC users that have had a serious case of Mac Envy. 

When Windows was a kludgy mess of crashes and hidden DOS it barely ran.  Meanwhile, Apple computers tended to run and run fairly well with a simple but elegant design.

You must like it in the Windows World since there really isn’t that much difference between the current version of Windows and Mac OSX on the surface any more.  Besides we’re all running software on the web these days, and the software that sits on the computer is not completely unchallenged.

Of course I am summarizing greatly.  There are some significant design considerations under the hood.  To the end user, the differences are not really all that obvious.

On the other hand, the Mac had a significant problem with it.   The way Apple choses to orphan machines. 

You see an electronic device could conceivably work for decades or more.  There are plenty of antique devices.  There is a point after which they’re not supported any more.  You can’t get Vacuum Tubes at the corner Drugstore for example.

Things do wear out, and there is a point after which keeping that old machine running simply makes no sense. 

With Computers, they improve them on such a rapid pace that many times it makes sense just to get a new one.  Mind you, I’ve done quite well using other people’s old machines for a very long time.  I would keep a desktop at the cutting edge and a second machine around that typically would be a year or two old.  That machine would be my daily driver and I’d use it to do all those tasks that I would want to bang away at quickly and move on.  The heavy lifting goes on the desktop.  

The desktop is gone now.  My 2 year old machine is sufficient.

That’s because I’m running Windows on it.  I expect to be able to get a new version of Windows for this machine and run on until the battery no longer holds a charge or the dog knocks it off the coffee table.   I’ll probably use it as a tethered machine to play music after that and squeeze a year more out of it.

That flexibility means that I’ll be able to expect that I’ll be safe and sound.  I won’t be serving out advertisements for a Russian Porn Site or for “marital aids” because someone somewhere decided I wasn’t going to be supported.   Sure, software gets dropped in the PC world, but generally you just don’t get cut off and left to twist in the wind if you have a PC.

Now, look at the Apple Mac user.  It doesn’t profit Apple if you don’t upgrade so every so often. They will then make a decision that they will not support the older machines.  After all, those new machines are so Shiny you will just want to run out and get that new shiny object!

I have an old G4 Power Mac that I keep on my desk for “Mac Emergencies” and it hasn’t been supported for quite a few years.  I hardly ever use that thing which is a shame because it runs about as fast as I would expect a fairly recent machine to run. 

It is however a security hole.   That is because it hasn’t been supported by Apple for all that time.   When they made the change to “normal” Intel hardware like your PC uses, they decided that they would eventually stop supporting that aging beast after the next operating system is put out.  If you want up to date, you have to get a new machine. 

Not by my choice, but theirs.  That physical machine is still running happily, but at this point you really don’t want to do too much with it because you may get a virus.

You see this sort of thing is happening right now in the Mac World.  Sure they are beautiful machines but Apple has decided that some not so very old machines won’t be supported.  They won’t be allowed to upgrade to the latest operating system because they are incapable of running the thing.   In this case it’s their transition from 32 to 64 bit architecture. 

Windows is still supporting the older 32 bit machines, but because of the way Microsoft does its support, you won’t be cut off from security updates and cause a problem immediately.

Apple has just thrown up a wall and said you’re not supported, buy a new one.

More importantly, Apple is also not going to update the older versions of its application software.  The biggest security hole in all of this is their browser, Safari.  The browser will not be supported on the older platforms and security updates will not be issued. 

Browsers are the biggest problem in computing these days since they’re used so intensely on so many different sites.  I have gotten “virused” before and I watch extremely closely what I’m doing.  I’ve had many friends call and ask what to do about a virus.  “Update your scanner, run a full scan, update your computer, and change your passwords” is the basic suggestion.

In this case, Apple users can’t do that.  They’re locked in on the older computers to an older browser.

The solution in that case is either get a new Mac or get new software.   My suggestion is Windows or Linux.  At least you don’t have to give up your shiny hardware because of a design decision.


After all, the browsers on Windows and Linux are being kept up to date.  The biggest security hole is safer there.  The application software like a Browser is being supported by another organization outside of the walled garden of the operating system and hardware vendor.   You’re simply safer when control isn’t so concentrated. 

That’s the definition of a single point of failure.  Now go check your virus scanner and help “mom” get hers checked too.  You’ll be happy you did.

New Firefox and Turn Off The Smoothscrolling

I love Firefox.

Well no, Pee Wee I don’t want to marry it.

On the other hand, I’m so very used to the way it works and its quirks that I can’t conceive of using anything else.

It works on all the computers I use – Linux, Windows, and Mac.   It does things well.  It can be extended so that I block advertisements and “nasty” websites.  It does not spy on me (Hear that Chrome?).  It’s not Bloated (I’m talking to you Internet Explorer).  It isn’t forced on me (I don’t want to go on a Safari to check into a website).

So yesterday I updated my Firefox.  If you click on the link, it will tell you if you are up to date.

After loading up my normal 150 web pages and muddling through most of the routine, I see only one problem.

Smoothscroll was turned on “accidentally” by the upgrade to Firefox 13.

I’m not the kind of person who likes Smoothscroll.   It reminds me of when I was a kid sitting on a swivel chair and spinning around faster and faster so that when I stopped the world kept moving.

On this particular laptop (2 year old Core2Duo with Windows 7 and 8 Gigs of Memory), Smoothscroll doesn’t smoothly scroll it fidgets to the next page.   In a spastic wretching and lurching forward, you get the next page of data instead of a quick “Snap!” to the next page.

I know Smoothscrolling is supposed to look like you are skimming down a written page but to me it is annoying.   Not nausea inducing, just annoys me while I sit there thinking why isn’t it there yet?

I don’t want to be that kid in the back seat saying “Are We There Yet” when I’m looking at pictures of cats or puppies, nor do I want to be wondering why it’s taking so long to scan to the bottom of a page of 100 jobs in a job search website.

Do the job.  Do it quickly, efficiently, and with a minimum of that eye candy nonsense.  You’re just slowing me down.

Ok, enough of the rant.  If you want to turn on or turn off Firefox’s “feature” of smooth scrolling down your pages – which doesn’t work, here are the basic instructions.

  1. Launch Firefox.
  2. Click on Tools.
  3. Click on Options.
  4. Click on the Advanced icon that looks like a gear.
  5. Click on the General Tab (No, not the one that looks like a light switch, the tab below that.  I’ll wait.  Good.)
  6. Look down to the middle of the panel in the browsing section and click the box to the left of “Use Smooth Scrolling”.
  7. Enjoy.

Now that you have finished, here’s your treat.  A short video about an adorable little girl being taught by a friendly Boxer dog how to drink from the hose.

Repeat after me… Awwwww.

R.I.P. Steve Jobs

Ok, so you’ve heard by now, Apple‘s co-founder Steve Jobs died from Pancreatic Cancer yesterday.

To put it mildly, he’s an interesting character.  A Game Changer.

As Barack Obama said it, “The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Steve’s wife Laurene, his family, and all those who loved him.”.

I’m sitting here listening to a classical music station on an old iPhone that someone gave me.  No, I don’t use it as a phone, more accurately I use it as a computer.   That in itself is a statement of the power of the phone/platform/computer itself.  I have a Windows laptop on my lap using what was originally derided as a ripoff of the Mac platform.  The current Windows 7 look and feel is very similar to that of the Mac OSX.

I’ve also got a serious case of Mac Envy.  It happens when you know what the other guy has, but can’t “justify” the expense.   That “Apple Distortion Field” hasn’t convinced me to run out and spend $1100 for a Mac Book Air, the machine I truly want since a similar Windows PC would cost significantly less and frankly, money is very tight.

The Mac is, however, the machine I recommend to semi-technical users who are open to trying something different and don’t want to have to go through the fiddling around that you have to do to get a windows machine to purr.  My own laptop has a software problem that is stopping it from shutting down cleanly – it’s an annoyance that some day I’ll try to fix and is caused more from my insistence of using the machine like a server or a desktop machine than a laptop tool.

If I can mess up a Windows PC, no matter how slightly, think of the wonderfully weird things a non technical person can get into with just the right virus mix!

The environment that a Mac has is instantly recognizable to someone who is used to using a Windows PC, and comfortable immediately.  There are some things it does better, and lets face it Apple machines were almost always just a better looking box than the directly comparable Windows PC.

To stop the flame wars of Mac Vs PC, the reality is that most of what 90% of us do today are on a browser or could be so the operating system is secondary.  In fact, that sleek looking Mac could run Windows if you decide you don’t want that OSX thing running.  

If you did, I’d do more than raise an eyebrow at you and probably cast aspersions at you loudly.

If you were on the fence about being a “Switcher” and going with a Mac, that extra money you spend on the hardware is a good investment.  They tend to run longer with fewer problems these days, and Steve’s “departure” won’t change that.  The new CEO, Tim Cook, was running things behind the scenes for years so the direction of the company won’t stray too quickly.   Besides, you probably won’t have that new machine from the mostly white store with a fruit logo ten years from now.

Although you just may.  They are built to last, as are many Windows based laptops from premium product lines.

If you want to know the future of the whole Mac OSX line, take a look at the iPhone’s operating system.  All big icons and touch sensitive.  My laptop is a touch sensitive machine, but since it runs Windows, it does it badly.  I hardly ever use the touch screen.   The experience on an iPhone or iPad is amazing.  Windows will be playing catch-up on the next version of Windows 8.

So for now, I’ll stick with my old iPhone and continue listening to the Sousa march on my headphones.  Mixed approaches are the best – pick what fits your needs.  After all, that mindset is what built that company from a garage to the largest computer company today.