With the introduction of Firefox Quantum, Mozilla removed support for legacy XUL extensions in favor of Web Extensions. This naturally made a lot of people angry. XUL extensions had full control over the browser and could change everything from how downloads where handled to the user interface. This powerful framework gave Firefox what many seen as a competitive edge. Extensions this powerful came with some shortcomings, however, and this lead to the adoption of Web Extensions in Firefox.
The Problems with XUL Extensions
We already established that XUL is powerful. Many of the most popular extensions, Classic Theme Restorer for example, are written in XUL. They are able to change most aspects of the browser, make complex themes, and essentially rewrite parts of the browser. This comes with some inherent risks:
Extensions are single processor.
Updates can brake extensions.
Extensions can break browser functions.
Extensions are not sandboxed.
XUL Extensions are powerful, but are unstable. If Mozilla wanted to add a new feature or change a function in Firefox, they would risk breaking popular extensions. This held Firefox back and kept Firefox from developing much needed features such as multi-processor support and tab sandboxing. Imagine a tab crashing and your whole browser crashing in the process, not very fun. Powerful extensions that could change every aspect of the browser are not secure, break things, and keep the browser in the past.
Very few extensions actually needed XUL to function and the technology was putting Firefox behind other browsers.
Extensions are more secure.
Extensions are unlikely to brake.
They can run in their own process.
Web languages are more accessible to developers than XUL
Extensions are cross-platform
Web Extensions cannot change core browser features. This is a mixed blessing. They cannot add a sidebar or give you a debug console for example, but by the same token they are not able to hijack core functions of the browser and are unlikely to change something that will get updated. That said malicious extensions do exist and they could break with an API update. Firefox can now develop much more rapidly without breaking things.
These extensions come with a new Firefox built to handle the modern web. The browser can now handle multiple processes. Tabs no longer bring down the rest of the browser with them and run in their own sandbox. Undoubtedly Quantum is a faster browser. Firefox would have continued to lose its market share without these improvements. How can the “Browser with a mission” complete that mission without users, funding, or developers?
The Future of Firefox
Web Extensions are likely the future. They may not be nearly as powerful as legacy extensions, but the benefits outweigh the downfalls. Most other web browsers use web extensions, implementing the API allows for cross-platform extensions, greatly expanding Firefox’s plugin library. Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi, and others all use the same underlining technology.
Mozilla has not just been copying other browsers. They know that web extensions lack functionality and have enhanced Web Extensions. Extensions in Firefox are far more powerful than in their competitors. The move away from extensions has also prompted the idea of making the browser more powerful out of the box. New ideas and built in features will come with time.
Firefox is one of the few major open source browsers with power to shape the web. Firefox is still one of the most customizable browsers online, even without the power of XUL extensions. The commitment to privacy is commendable, but now Mozilla has something to back up their ideals.
Will I still be using Firefox? Perhaps in the future, but for now I will be using Vivaldi as Firefox matures. Firefox’s sidebar is half-backed; the UI is customizable, but limited; and the built in features do not compare to Vivaldi’s. Firefox is a good browser, Mozilla is improving, and they have a future. Bad marketing decisions and deals aside, Firefox is an open source browser that respects your privacy.
The less time you use the mouse the faster you can navigate a computer. That said, sometimes keyboard shortcuts are not enough. When you need to launch programs or search for a file quickly for example. Enter in Launchy, the open source application launcher.
Launchy: What is it and how it works
Launchy is a program that lets you open programs and files on your computer. All you have to do is press the keyboard shortcut (Default is alt+space) and start typing the name of the program or file. You can add new files to the program’s search database, but any program that adds items to the start menu or desktop should automatically be added.
You can download Launchy form its website. After installing let the program build a database. The time this takes will depend on how many programs you have installed.
The first thing you will want to do after installing is go through the settings. To do so, press alt+space on your keyboard. This will open up the search window. Before typing anything click the gear icon in the topmost right hand corner.
In the general settings you will find the ability to edit the user interface, setup internet proxy settings, control how many options appear in the suggestion list, and some general options for how the program behaves.
These settings are explanatory for the most part.
The next tab is the skin settings, you can customize the way the program looks here. You can find new skins on Devientart. Just place the skin’s folder in the program’s skin folder (Default: C:\Program Files (x86)\Launchy\skins).
The catalog is where things get interesting. This is Launchy’s heart.
Launchy will scan the files in the directories you chose. If the file matches the file types set in the list to the right, it will appear when you type. Press the plus (+) sign to add new paths and file types and minus (-) sign to remove them. Including executables will allow you to directly launch a program, but I recommend that you use shortcuts to do such work. Directories will let you search the directories and launch an explorer window to them. I recommend that you keep this unchecked as well.
The last tab is for Plugins. These extend Launchy’s abilities beyond what it can do be default. This includes Calcy for performing math calculations and Weby for searching the web directly from Launchy. As there is too much variation with plugins, they will not be covered here. You can toggle them on and off with the check boxes in the left window.
Now you can launch any program on your computer from the keyboard. You will save time, improve your typing speed, and not have to deal with the start menu.
2016 has been an interesting year. Random Thoughts has produced a series of articles Introducing Computers, another Simpsons joke came true, and many other things came to pass.
We plan to continue our computer series with some more specialized tasks throughout 2017. An overview of VLC Media Player and some HTML for example.
I (Matthew Lamont) will be taking more classes at college this spring semester and will not have as much time to write. To make up for this, there will be more smaller articles and tips. Occasionally I will share a keyboard shortcut, a small settings change, or a browser plugin that is useful. These short posts will not replace the long form content, but serve to complement it. There will be at least one tip a month with two or there being the norm.
Philosophy posts will be few and far between as they will require more research and time to write on my part. We will have articles ranging from materialistic scientism to Plato over time.
Random Thoughts will always encourage respectful and logical debate here. We want philosophy to be fun for everyone. That being said, it is not always fun to have your core beliefs questioned. We ask that you come in with an open mind full of questions.
2017 and Onward
We will be trying to get as many articles as we can converted into a video format to increase accessibility. This action will be of a lower priority than writing articles due to the time and hard drive space required to edit and keep videos. All computer articles should get a video to accompany them over time.
At this point Random Thoughts is run by just one person. I hope to bring others into Random Thoughts and increase production quality over the next year. This will allow for more detailed articles in subjects that I am not well antiquated.
We will open a Patreon account if we get enough traffic and popularity. This will allow us to accept donations to fund more complex projects and increase production value.
Last time we went over computer hardware. Today we will be installing Windows 10. Windows 10 is the most recent version of the Windows Operating system (OS). We will first go over installing the OS from a disk, if you bought a computer with Windows 10 on it you can skip ahead to part two.
Windows 10’s Localization Selection
Part 1: Installing from Disk
To interact with menus in windows you will use the left mouse button to select items and the keyboard to type information.
The first thing you will see when you start installing the system is the localization settings. You will want to select your language, time and currency format, and keyboard to mach your region. In the screen shot we have everything setup for a United States computer. Then hit Next.
On the next screen you should screen Install now and a Repair your computer button. Click Install now.
Windows will ask you for your serial number. It will be on the case of the installation disk. If you do not have it you can click I don’t have a product key, but you will run into trouble later if you cannot find it.
The next window will ask if you want to Upgrade or do a Custom install. We want to do the second. Click Custom.
You will just need to click on your hard drive and then the next button on the next screen, unless you know what you are doing.
We will go over partitioning in a later article.
Windows 10 is installing, it will only take a minute.
The next window will show the installation progress of Windows 10. This will take a few minutes. After it is done your computer will restart.
Part Two: Setting up Windows 10
Now we start setting up Windows 10 for use. This is where things get tricky for the uneducated user. Windows 10 will do everything in its power to get you to consent to giving more information than you should. If you do not care about your privacy you can ignore the next part of the article, but you should care. “but I have nothing to hide.” is an evil and dumb statement, never consent to giving your information when it is not required.
The next screen will ask you if you want to Use Express settings, you do not want to. Each point that the installer makes about why you want to use them is another piece of your private life that Microsoft can use for marketing and something that can be used against you.
There is a small Customize settings button near the bottom left of the screen, click it.
The next few windows will have a lot of options you will want to click off.
Oh where art thou, oh where art thou privacy?
You will want to click each one of these option to off. These options will allow Microsoft to track everything you type, your location, your calendar information, and the
contact information of others. Most of the programs that use these “features” are more prevalent on cellphones, so you do not benefit much by giving this information to Microsoft.
Once you have everything off click next.
Connectivity and error reporting:
Computer security 101: Never connect to a network you trust, ever. The next three options are more dangerous to have on than just giving Microsoft your information. When you connect to a network you make your computer open to what is on it. You will want to change these to off.
Sending error reports to Microsoft actually sounds like a good idea, but in my experience diagnostics never return results. It is better not to give Microsoft this information as you will not see results and Microsoft will sell what they get from you.
More options to turn off:
More things to turn off, hooray!
Windows 10’s SmartScreen feature is useful if you go to less savory websites, but in exchange, Microsoft gets to know where you have been online and what you are downloading.
Page prediction will be useless for us as we will be using a third party program to brows the internet. If left on, Windows 10 will send your internet and download history to Microsoft. Even if you do use the integrated web browser, you will not benefit much by having this on.
The last option will use your computer to send updates to others and allow you to receive them from others. This will use your internet connection, thus wasting bandwidth and slowing down your internet.
Turn these off.
Windows will restart after you click next.
Part Three: Creating a Local Account
We are almost done! Unfortunately Microsoft tries to ware on your willpower by making it easier to just hand over the keys to your life.
It is a trap! Do not fall for it.
Windows 10 will ask you to sign in to or make a Microsoft account. This account will allow you to connect your devices and will allow Microsoft to put a name, address, email, and phone number to all the data they collect.
They make it hard to say no by making the Skip this step and Microsoft privacy statement buttons small. Read that privacy statement, it is vague and misleading, but it basically states that Microsoft will be sharing your information with the government, sending it to advertisers, and using it for the improvement of Windows 10.
We will want to Skip this step. There are some honest benefits to using a Microsoft account, parental controls and online backups, but there are alternatives that do not want to sell you ever chance they get.
Creating a Local Account
This is the screen that they should greet you with.
We are going to setup the account for the first user on this computer, this will be the system administrator and will have full control over the system.
The user name can be your name or anything you want. On this system I will be using “Random Thoughts”. The password is very important. This is what keeps others out of your computer. It would be a shame to have gone through all that effort to lessen Microsoft’s grip just to hand the keys over to someone else. Use the keyboard to enter one that uses a combination of Upper and lower case letters, symbols, and numbers. Unless you are expecting someone with physical access to your computer to brake into your computer, it does not need to be overly strong.
An example password could look something like this: hTF1%g%#Gl#6U
Never usepassword as a password.
The password hint can help you remember what you have entered here, if you forget your password you will not be able to access your computer.
Now Windows 10 will play an animation as it sets things up for the new user. Just wait wist it finishes.
We are done, just one more thing to do.
Congratulations, Windows 10 is now installed. There is just one more step. If you have your computer connected to the internet already, you will want to decide if you want your computer viable to others on the network. If you are at home you can select yes. If you are using a laptop or a computer that is on a public network you will want to say no.
If you have no plans on running a server or doing anything regarding computers interacting with each other you are better off saying no, you can always change this option.
We will be going over the windows interface next time and setting things up for you to use. We will also install our first few programs in the next article.
Before we learn how to use a computer we must understand what a computer is and the underlining concepts that allow computers to work.
At the most basic level a computer takes data (input) and processes it into information (output). Lets say you us a calculator to solve a 2 + 4. The numbers 2 and 4 are your input along with the plus (+) sign. The plus sign is an operator that tells the calculator how to process the input. The output will be 6. This is how computers work, everything you wish to do on a computer follows this principle.
ENIAC, the first general purpose computer.
Brief History of The Computer
Technically commuters have been around for thousands of years, but we are only interested in the past two hundred years.
Charles Babbage conceptualized programmable computers and began to build a Difference Engine in 1822. After building his Difference Engine, he thought it would be possible to have a system that used punch cards for input. This punch card system was called the Analytical Engine. Unfortunately Babbage died before he could get it working.
Ada Lovelace wrote the first algorithm for the Analytical Engine. Wist the Engine was not finished, Lovelace wrote what is attributed to be the first computer program.
These Difference and Analytical Engine are both mechanical computers. Though there where electronic computers near the beginning of the 1900s, the first general purpose electric computer was announced in 1946. This computer was named the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC). ENIAC combined the abilities that other earlier computers had and ran at a much faster speed.
Computers come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from so small that 150 of them can fit on your thumb (M3) to ones larger than ENIAC. The smallest computer we will be going over in this series is your cell phone and we will not be building server farms so we will not concern ourselves too much with size.
Computers have become such an integrated part of our society that it is almost impossible to get a job without knowing how to use one. Even cash registers have computers integrated into them.
Types of Computers
We will be going over several types of computers during this series. This includes:
Smart Phones have largely replaced standard phones for most things. These phones are computers that can connect to cell-phone networks and WiFi networks. This gives the phones the power to both access the internet and make phone calls. Smart Phones can run software to do anything that a desktop computer can, from playing games to doing your taxes.
Single-board Computers have one circuit board with all of the components soldered to it. These boards are often used in manufacturing and hobbyist projects. The most notable computer of this type is the Raspberry Pi. These computers are often inexpensive and perfect for simple tasks like weather tracking. We will go over Raspberry Pi projects some time in the future.
Laptop and Desktop Computers:
Laptops are computers that have a folding screen that comes down over the keyboard. Laptops are more expensive and less powerful than Desktops, but run off battery power and are portable. Desktops are cheep and powerful, but are not as portable as laptops. Both run the same type of software and the same principles apply. This is the type of computer this series will focus on.
Next time we will go over the basic hardware that will be needed and how hook everything together.
For further reading you can read the Wikipedia pages for concepts we have covered:
In our hyper connected world it is important to know how to use a computer. Unfortunately, many people do not have the knowledge of computers to get far in a work environment. Thus Random Thoughts will start an Introduction to Computers series of posts. This is to help people who have little knowledge of how to use computers become more than competent with them. By the end of this series you should be your own computer guy.
Assumptions I Have Made:
As it is impossible to predict every scenario, I have made the following assumptions.
You have a computer and are running Windows 7 or newer. I will be using Windows 10 in this series as Windows is the most common operating system. I do not have access to a Mac and Linux has too little of the market to make this useful to the majority. In the Future I will have a few articles on Linux, but the same principle apply.
You have never used a computer or only use computers for basic research, games, and social media. If you know how to go on Facebook and how to search Google for cat pictures, but do not know how to change paragraph format a word possessor, you do not know how to use a computer. If you have never used a computer before or never did any maintenance on your computer, this is geared to you. Likewise, if you are an avid computer programmer this is not for you.
You have an internet connection. You will not be able to download the software we will be using without an internet connection and the majority of things we will cover will use the internet.
You are willing to learn, mess up, as questions, and find answers on your own. If you are not willing to learn, you will not learn. You need to experiment, that means messing up and potentially breaking something. It is okay if you mess something up, you can always fix it. You do not learn by studying theory, you learn by tinkering. You will need to find your own answers for many problems, we will help point you in the right direction.
You have administrator rights to your computer. This is important as you need administrator access to do many of the early things we will be covering and to install software.
I look forward to seeing in part one of Introduction to Computers