New browsers and tools
June 12, 2006 7:16 PM   Subscribe

Revamping the browser Browser add ons such as Browster for IE and Firefox or entirely new browsers such as Flock (limited info) promise to rework the way browsing has been done during the IE only years from 1997 to 2004. More inside...
posted by hockeyman (38 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I installed Browster on IE 7. Works great with MeFi. Crashes IE on Google search. Interesting product, though. I'll try it with Firefox next.
posted by hockeyman at 7:18 PM on June 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

IE only years from 1997 to 2004

I was using Opera long before 2004...
posted by WhipSmart at 7:44 PM on June 12, 2006

posted by zouhair at 7:48 PM on June 12, 2006

The San Francisco company lets people viewing a Web page, say, a list of Google search results, see what lies beyond the hyperlinks simply by placing the mouse over those links -- without having to click on them or open a new window.

So, it's prefetching all of the pages that are linked? Isn't that going to pretty well knock down a whole lot of sites, once everyone starts doing it?
posted by swell at 7:55 PM on June 12, 2006

BEWARE: Browster requires Windows XP or 2000 (the information superhighway was paved with Indians' tears).
posted by foot at 8:01 PM on June 12, 2006

What about I/O/D/4? Now there was a browser as concept art!
posted by hincandenza at 8:11 PM on June 12, 2006

Flock developer preview builds.
posted by SweetJesus at 8:23 PM on June 12, 2006

So, how are you supposed to pronounce this "Brow-Stir" ?

Is it 'browse' with a 'ster' added, as in "Browse-Stir"?

Or is it more like one fluid sound all the way to the T: "Browst'r"?

I'm weary of things that have "sters" added on them.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 8:28 PM on June 12, 2006

swell writes 'Isn't that going to pretty well knock down a whole lot of sites, once everyone starts doing it?'

Somehow, I doubt 'everybody' is gonna jump on the pre-load bandwagon. It just makes browsing slower. by loading a lot of sites you don't actually intend to go to, IMO:
posted by signal at 8:30 PM on June 12, 2006

I dunno. I could be wrong, but this statement:

now-common social activities, such as blogging, RSS-based news reading, and photo sharing.

seems wrong to me. I don't believe these activities are common (and two of them don't even require a redesigned browser). They might be in another 5-10 years, but the truth is, many of these activities require broadband access, and since so many people use their work connection for major downloads and broadband is still so damn expensive, these "activities" still seem like beta products.

I read somewhere that the number of people still using dial-up is huge, and since telephone and cable still cost a ridiculous sum of money (here in the States anyway), I don't see people signing up for $40/month broadband just to "share photos".

For what the internet is right now, I think that Firefox does a great job (though I use Camino). Unless people start creating additional standards to communicate information, I don't see browsers specializing much more than they have now. Websites are so freaking messy right now (because people think of sites as works of art instead of mediums of communication).
posted by SeizeTheDay at 8:32 PM on June 12, 2006

Wow, broadband for $40 a month? Sign me up! It's like 1 billion dollars a month with Time Warner in NYC.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 8:34 PM on June 12, 2006

Websites are so freaking messy right now (because people think of sites as works of art instead of mediums of communication).

Also, I think this is part of the point - this was true, and is still true, but is becoming less true - more less true than ever! So why wait to develop products that will help us sift through the more thoughtfully arranged internet spaces? I think their copy is a little hyperbolic, but it always seems to be in product pitches.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 8:36 PM on June 12, 2006

Somehow, I doubt 'everybody' is gonna jump on the pre-load bandwagon. It just makes browsing slower. by loading a lot of sites you don't actually intend to go to, IMO:

For real. It's a limited market, with limited utility or importance. I can see doing something like Ask Jeeves does, where they generate an image of the web page and deliver it the same way as Bowster does. After getting a general sense of whether or not you want to browse the web site, why wouldn't you just use your browser? Who wants to browse the web inside a little window?

It's not something I think I'd ever use...

As for Flock (having downloaded the developer build) unless you use, flickr and blog all the time, it's also pretty limited in it's usefulness - it seems to be just a fork of the firefox tree.
posted by SweetJesus at 8:43 PM on June 12, 2006

SeizeTheDay, are you posting through a wormhole in spacetime? Why don't I loan you $5 and you can buy a month's worth of groceries.
posted by bingo at 8:45 PM on June 12, 2006

I don't see people signing up for $40/month broadband just to "share photos".

1.5 down
posted by MikeMc at 8:58 PM on June 12, 2006

1.5 down

Limited availabilty. Still requires you to have a $20/month phone service in addition to the 13-18/month for DSL.

And bingo, sorry for being dense, but I don't get what you're saying.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 9:12 PM on June 12, 2006

Broadband has very deep market penetration these days, no one seriously develops for dialup anymore, beyond a few specialized verticals.

Browster is an interesting concept - perhaps more useful than traditional cache (after the fact) techniques.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:52 PM on June 12, 2006

I think it's supposed to be like "Punky Browster".
posted by kenko at 9:54 PM on June 12, 2006

For what it's worth, Flock is interesting. It's actually Firefox with some integration. There's no telling if I'll actually use it beyond today, but as a browser, it is thus far the same experience as using Firefox with a different theme.
posted by sequential at 10:02 PM on June 12, 2006

Adoption of high-speed internet at home grew twice as fast in the year prior to March 2006 than in the same time frame from 2004 to 2005. Middle-income Americans accounted for much of the increase, along with African Americans and new internet users coming online with broadband at home. At the end of March 2006, 42% of Americans had high-speed at home, up from 30% in March 2005, or a 40% increase. And 48 million Americans -- mostly those with high-speed at home -- have posted content to the internet. -- Pew Internet study

Since "blogging" is a vague term that can include having a page on MySpace or Facebook, I think it's safe to call it common nowadays.

Anyway, I don't know if I want it for my regular browsing, but I use a utility on Wikipedia that lets me view links in a pop-up before clicking on them -- powered solely by javascript. It's quite handy, but then I use it for utility functions like glancing at the changes made to an article. For browsing, why not just middle-click and go look at the tab when it's done loading? Seems intrusive to me, or maybe I'm just used to the experience of getting new pages in the background and having them ready for me. In fact, it's a bit like the Windows foreground-application problem where every app is competing to be in the foreground. I hate that -- I'd rather they sit back patiently and come when called.

Upshot, though, is that these are esoteric little add-ons to regular browsing, not something that's changing the face of browsing. Tabs are damned useful, but they're more of a usability tweak; they don't fundamentally alter the structure of the internets.

I am glad -- and perplexed -- that Browster turns out not be a social browser. Really, people have been touting "co-browsing" since the mid-to-late 90s and it never goes anywhere.
posted by dhartung at 10:35 PM on June 12, 2006

So, what's their business model? How are they making money? I'm not really sure what they're offering other than just a utility that caches pages in my bookmarks list.
posted by slatternus at 11:29 PM on June 12, 2006

I was going to post this anyway if no one had yet, and was surprised no one thought of this immediately (maybe I'm too cynical - it was my first question) - then right at the bottom slatternus finally asks the question (compliments!) -

Browster claims it's not spyware but the "privacy policy" says and I blockquote:
# We DO collect information about web pages or their content, based on what you're viewing or Browster is preloading. This is to provide you information about the page's availability or to prepare accurate matches for sponsored links.
# The Browster plugin may show sponsored links or other content within the separate Browster content area at the top of the window. This content comes from Browster's partners and not from the owner of the page you are viewing.
We make every effort to ensure that content is relevant to what you are searching for or valuable to you in some other way.
posted by jam_pony at 12:53 AM on June 13, 2006

I just used browster (stoopid name, dudes!) to rollover most of y'all's usernames on this page, and was greeted with a quick peak at your user profiles, without the bother of opening a new tab, flipping over to it, and then coming back to this page.
It's a neat little trick that I can see using similarly in the future. It's not going to replace mulitple tab usage for me, and I'm sure this isn't the revolution Browster wants you to believe it is, but it seems like a somewhat useful means of taking a quick glance at the link destination without another tab.
As for Flock...well, I'm no sheep (okay, that's "baa"-d!), but I don't get it.
posted by I, Credulous at 1:17 AM on June 13, 2006

Browster should be pretty fun for picking out the pr0n...
posted by Samizdata at 1:42 AM on June 13, 2006

As for Flock (having downloaded the developer build) unless you use, flickr and blog all the time, it's also pretty limited in it's usefulness - it seems to be just a fork of the firefox tree.

I do those things and Flock is still completely useless - it takes longer to upload photos than using the form on Flickr does (and takes about ten times longer than the Quicksilver plugin), routinely mangles posts to weblogs (eg. converting your HTML to HTML entities, so you get a post full p tags when you wanted paragraphs) or posts them multiple times, and spazzes out completely if you've been using long enough to have built up a hefty number of links. Not unreasonable idea, terrible execution.

Browster looks interesting, but I'm not sure I like that privacy policy jam_pony quotes above.
posted by jack_mo at 4:14 AM on June 13, 2006

There's a FF extension similar to Browster here, and I swear I've seen others.
posted by youarenothere at 5:26 AM on June 13, 2006

Yup, here's another. None seem quite as fleshed out as Browster, but I don't think any of the extensions serve up ads, either.
posted by youarenothere at 5:28 AM on June 13, 2006

no one seriously develops for dialup anymore

Unless they want to reach the majority of Americans, who still use dialup. (A slim majority, true, but that's still a lot of people.) Or unless they understand that optimizing for low-bandwidth traffic when possible is always a good idea, because it makes your application or site faster and easier to use, lowers your costs, lets you serve more simultaneous users, etc. So, basically, everyone should develop for dialup, unless they're youtube or some other explicitly broadband service. And the good ones do.

I wish all web designers were forced to use dialup connections at least half the time; the web would be improved immensely by it.

Meanwhile. Browster seems like something you could easily replicate using GreaseMonkey, and leave out the spyware while you're at it. I find the idea of a generalized tool like GreaseMonkey for modifying existing sites much more exciting than a one-shot addon like Browster, especially since it's possible to look at GreaseMonkey code and see exactly what it's doing; you don't have to trust that some toolbar developer's privacy policy won't change without warning.

I also think seeing browster-like popups on every single link would get real annoying real fast. It'd be useful in certain circumstances, perhaps; google results for instance, but not ubiquitously.

Flock's features, too, seem tuned to support specific sites, not any sort of fundamental feature addition to the web. I'd be much more interested in seeing those features peeled off from the browser as a standalone app, frankly; I'm not a big fan of all-in-one tools.

Also, the phrase "The IE-only years" made me die a little, inside.
posted by ook at 7:41 AM on June 13, 2006

During the "IE only" years:
September 2002 - a little known Mozilla-based browser called Phoenix was released, which would eventually become Firefox.

June 2002 - Mozilla 1.0 is released.

March 2000 - Opera 4.0 is released.

March 1998 - Netscape Communicator source code posted on the Internet via
Its not too different today. Those who want choice seek out alternatives. The other 80-90% just use the IE on their desktops.
posted by skallas at 8:17 AM on June 13, 2006

ook : "Browster seems like something you could easily replicate using GreaseMonkey, and leave out the spyware while you're at it."

Er, ok, I'll bite: I like the functionality of Browser (more than the firefox extensions which only show tiny thumbnails if Alexa has thumbnailed the sites yet), but I know nothing of programming or greasemonkey. If it's simple, what would I need to do? How long do you think it would take?

Note: the above is exactly 50% flippant, and 50% honest. I strongly doubt that one could "easily" replicate this in greasemonkey. However, if it actually is easy, and I'm overguessing how difficult Greasemonkey is to program for, then my questions are all ones I'd sincerely like to know the answers to.
posted by Bugbread at 8:32 AM on June 13, 2006

Bugbread: Greasemonkey lets you write javascript functions that will be executed on specific web pages when you load them in Firefox; the script itself can choose which page(s) it will affect: everything on a specific domain, one specific page, every page everywhere, whatever.

Its advantage over a toolbar is, it's just javascript. Anyone can read a GM script and see what it does; and writing one requires only the same skills you need to develop for the web in the first place.

So to replicate Browster's functionality, you would have to write a javascript function that would do this:
* for each <a href="..."> tag in the page, insert an onMouseOver call that will:
* insert an icon before the link, which when clicked will call yet another javascript function which will:
* insert a floating div in the page,
* retrieve the original href via XmlHttpRequest, and
* insert the results into that div.

You'd need to add a bit of code to give the user a way to get rid of the preview div, and a few other bits of window dressing, but that's more or less all there is to it. (Unless Browster does something else desirable that I'm missing.)

Not totally trivial, but the sort of thing a reasonably proficient javascript coder should be able to hack together in an afternoon or two. Certainly far less complex than my favorite greasemonkey script, the life-changing Mondo Meta; probably more comparable to my second-favorite, the time-saving TWP Whole Story. (The Whole Story is actually pretty similar in functionality, except that instead of preloading whole pages on each href, it preloads and combines all text from a series of pages for a specific website.)

I'm not aware of any existing GM scripts that do exactly what Browster does, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if there is one kicking around out there somewhere. I'm tempted to take the rest of the day off to write it myself, frankly.
posted by ook at 9:39 AM on June 13, 2006

ook : "Unless Browster does something else desirable that I'm missing."

The only thing that I think is missing that Browster does is put a "next" button at the top of the floating div, which, when clicked, will skip to the next link on the main page and present the contents. So if you're at a place with 10 links, and you want to see the previews of each, instead of mousing over each link and clicking the BrowsterPreview icon, you can just do that for the first, and click "next" to go to the other links. But that's just a nice implementation aspect, and not the "meat" of Browser.

ook : "I'm tempted to take the rest of the day off to write it myself, frankly."

Ook, that would actually totally rock. I'm not requesting that you do it (who the fuck am I to request that someone spends the rest of their day coding something for me?!), but if you do make it, could you let me know? I'd really appreciate it.
posted by Bugbread at 9:52 AM on June 13, 2006

Oh, and I had a lot of missing element issues with Browster...
posted by Samizdata at 11:24 AM on June 13, 2006

There ya go.
It's still buggy enough to be unsafe to use -- for example, if the page you're looking at includes a "log out" link, the preview will log you out -- but the basic functionality is there.

If you (or anyone else) would actually find this useful, let me know and I'll flesh it out the rest of the way. (Also if any GreaseMonkey coders want to touch up my code, I'd be grateful; this was my first GM script, so I'm sure I'm doing some things the hard way.)
posted by ook at 8:19 AM on June 14, 2006

Ha! Yeah, I accidentally left it enabled when visiting this page; it marked every comment as a favorite and logged me out. :) I'll need to force it to ignore any url which looks like a cgi script to try to prevent that. Meanwhile, use it with care or not at all.
posted by ook at 9:18 AM on June 14, 2006

I tried it out ook (and thank you very much, by the way), but you're right, the triggering of every link was problematic for the sites I wanted to use it on. Still, no worries, while it may be of some convenience, it isn't enough to put in hard time troubleshooting.
posted by Bugbread at 10:37 AM on June 14, 2006

No sweat, it was actually kind of fun to play around with.

I've made some tweaks already -- it now tries to avoid previewing cgi scripts and in-page links. Still not ready for primetime, but I might just carry on with it for shits and giggles. If it ever feels "done" I'll throw it into Projects or something.
posted by ook at 2:40 PM on June 14, 2006

This is fucking awesome for a quick and dirty script. Very nice. Hope to see a finished version in projects someday.
posted by skallas at 3:45 PM on June 14, 2006

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