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.

Image: Firefox Quantum with Web ExtensionsXUL 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.

Web Extensions

Web extensions are written in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. These extensions are written in the same languages as the web and have some advantages over XUL:

  • 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.

You can find out more about web extensions from Mozilla’s website and learn how to write your own here.

Aside

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

Luanchy Default ThemeLaunchy 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.

Program Settings

Luanchy General SettingsThe 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).

Launchy Settings Search DatabaseThe 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.

Launchy Settings PluginsThe 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.

What would you like us to cover next?

Many of us have old games laying around and realize that they just don’t work right. This can be due to many issues, but today we will cover DirectX issues using WineD3D for Windows.

WineD3D for Windows is a “DirectX 1-11 to OpenGL wrapper based on WineD3D”. Normally WineD3D is used to run DirectX games on Linux, but some old Windows games do not run on Windows anymore. Lets take Star Wars Battlefront 2 for example. On Windows 10, some maps have issues displaying the right colors. To fix this we will need a replacement for DirectX 9.

You can download WineD3D for Windows here.

Getting it Working

There is a readme in the zip folder that WineD3D come in. For Battlefront 2, we will copy the d3d9.dll, libwine.dll and wined3d.dll into the data directory that the game’s executable is located. BattlefrontII.exe is located here.

When you load it up, the game works as it should.

Battlefront2

Battlefront 2 Data Directory.

WineD3D

WineD3D for Windows Zip File.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The game should now run properly. This works with many games, but is not guaranteed.

WineD3D is far from perfect and has issues: Some games will not work, stutter, or lock to low resolutions. If you would like to help improve it, it is open source under the GNU LGPL Version 2.

The reason we chose Firefox as our web browser in the Introduction to Computers series is due to its great customization features. By using Extensions and Personas we can make Firefox our own. Make sure that you have the program installed before continuing.

Personas: Firefox’s Skin

The easiest way to customize Firefox is with a Persona. These are similar to wallpaper on your desktop, but cover the browser toolbars. You can find them on Mozilla’s Firefox addons site under themes. To apply a Persona just click the “+ Add” button. You can also test a theme without installing it by hovering over it with your cursor. Persona ExampleIn the past Firefox had a much more powerful theme system that could change the whole layout of the browser. Due to some unfortunate design decisions they have simplified the system and made it more difficult to achieve system wide changes.

If you would like to know how to make your own persona you can, we will go over how to do so in a future tutorial as it will require some image editing.

Extensions: Make Firefox Better

Firefox is rather powerful on its own, but some things that should be default are not and some things need to be fixed. This is where extensions come in. These are bits of code that add functionality to the browser. All of the extensions that are peer and Mozilla reviewed, if something is bad it will not stay for long if it ever gets approved in the first place. You should not install addons/extensions from untrusted sources.

We will go over some of the most useful and fun extensions in this article.

Adblock Plus/uBlock Origin

Disable AdsMost websites make money using ads, without them we could not afford to keep in business. There comes a time, however, when ads are obnoxious or even harmful. Video ads, animated ads, scams, etc. Ads slow down your browsing experience. These two extensions are the most known and respected ad blockers around. Either one will work, but Adblock Plus has had some shady deals with advertisers and has some issues with high CPU usage.

If you chose to install Adblock Plus, disable “Allow some non-intrusive advertising” option in the options.

Also consider adding us to your browser white list by clicking on the extensions button and clicking “disable on this domain”

You can add either one by simply clicking the “+ Add to Firefox” button.

Classic Theme Restorer

Classic OptionsI have already gone over this extension in the past. Remember how I said that Firefox use to be more customizable? This plugin gives some of that customization back. You can change the style of tabs, the menus, and more importantly the search box. One of the biggest issues with the design direction in the newer Firefox is the search box functionality. The decision prevents you from quickly switching between search engines in favor for one click searching. In the Classic Theme Restorer options you can set the behavior back to a more useful state.

Stylish

Keeping with the theme of Customization, Stylish allows you to to theme websites with custom CSS. Basically personas for websites. If you find that a website is too light or has a bad color scheme, you can change it yourself or in most cases find a theme that someone has already made for you. Though it is mostly cosmetic, it is useful to have and will surprise your friends when Google looks different.

Greasemonkey

Moving away from cosmetics and into functionality, Greasemonkey is the Swiss Army Knife of extensions. It functions similarly to Stylish. By itself, Greasemonkey is useless, but by applying userscripts you can change anything on the web. Userscripts are like mini-extensions written in JavaScript. Some auto-load the next page on Google, wist others change the way Facebook works all together. You will have to work at this one for it to be useful, but useful it is.

VimFx

VimFx brings Vim-style keyboard shortcuts to Firefox. It is a bit complicated to go over in this article, but keyboard shortcuts make everything faster. With VimFx, pressing “x” will close a tab, “t” will open a new tab, “o” will activate the search bar, and “i” will disable the shortcuts. The extension is not perfect, you cannot exit insert mode when on YouTube as it has its own shortcuts for example, but VimFx provides great shortcuts that will save anyone time.

Firebug

Firebug allows you to make live changes to a website’s source code. This may sound a bit complicated to a normal user, but it is very useful. Some website will have full page ads that block content and do not go away even with ad blockers for example. You can disable the ad by erasing the line in the source code or adding a new CSS rule. It is also useful for web developers and designers when mocking up website changes.

Disconnect

Most websites track you. Ads track you, Facebook, Amazon, even my website has some trackers. Sometimes they are harmless, just to keep you logged into your account. Often they are malicious. Amazon and Facebook do not need to know that you are looking into buying a computer and that random Chinese advertising agency does not need to know that you are talking to your grandma on Facebook. To help prevent these issues Disconnect blocks the invisible tracking elements on websites. This will often speed up website load times as an added benefit. Remember, you should never need to sacrifice privacy.

Add to Search Bar

Have you ever been on a website or custom search engine and wanted to search with it directly from the search bar? Unfortunately very few web browsers have a way to easily customize your search engines. Fortunately this extension gives you the ability to add any search box to your search engine list. If you are a student you can finally add that search database that your school uses to Firefox.

We hope that you have found this article helpful. What web browsers do you use?

Now that we have an understanding of how to get around, we will go over installing software and the internet. We will only cover the minimum here, in the future we will go over email, Facebook, and other things.

There are a couple of programs we will be installing to get you up and running properly on the internet. These would be a web browser and a firewall.

An Overview

The internet is, in its most basic form, a connection between computers. These computers can send data between one another. For our purposes your computer and a web-server will be communicating.

These servers hold the data that makes up websites and other things that you download.

Why access this data? For many reasons: The Internet holds vast amounts of information from encyclopedias to movies and games, you need to know how to use it effectively to hold a job and there is much fun to be had as well.

Getting Online

Wireless Icons

Wireless on the Left and Wired on the Right

Before you can do anything related with the internet you need to be connected. In the notifications area you should be able to see your connection status and if you are not connected, connect to a network. The icon for this will very depending on whether you are using a wired or a wireless connection.

If you are connected by Ethernet then you have nothing more to do, but if you are using wireless you will need to click the wireless icon. A new menu will appear showing all available networks. You will need to click on the network that belongs to you and enter the password for it.

If you do not know the password it may be on the router that you are using. A router is a devise that routs wireless connections, either your service provider sent you one or you will need to buy one to get wireless.

Now we have one more step, that is open up a web browser. We will be using Microsoft Edge at the start of this tutorial, but will be changing that really soon. There are multiple ways to open Edge, the ‘e’ icon that is on the task bar and start menu, in the start menu you can click all apps and find “Microsoft Edge”, or you can open the start menu and start typing “edge” and hit enter when it appears.MS Edge

Getting Around and Installing Better Programs

Now there are a couple of things you can do now; you can check the weather, make a Facebook account, or watch a movie, but we will be getting a new web browser and an anti-virus.

“Why do I need another browser?” Though Microsoft Edge is far better than what Microsoft had in the past, it is not powerful and is completely controlled by Microsoft. As said previously, we want to keep dependence on them to a minimal.

There are much better options out there than Edge, the two I recommend are Firefox and Google Chrome. This depends on your philosophy and how much power you wish over your browser. Firefox is founded on the principle of privacy and freedom to control the browser as you see fit. Google Chrome is controlled by one of the largest data collection organizations in the world, who just so happens to control a large amount of the internet. With Chrome you do not have control like in Firefox and privacy is questionable, but you have full integration with Google’s services and an easy to use interface.

I will be using Firefox for this tutorial, but the same principles apply to both browsers.

In the search box, the box on the top of the page, you should type wish to find, in this case “Firefox”. A web page should appear with a list of search results. Click on the blue text “Firefox Web Browser – The Official…”, this will take you to the Firefox website. There should be a button that says “Free Download”, click it.Firefox Bing Search

At the bottom of Edge there should be a download status that gives you information on the download.

The first thing you wish to do once the file is downloaded is click “Run”. You will see a green extraction bar and then a warning asking if you would like to run the file, say yes.

Installing Firefox

The installer is a fairly self-explanatory, click next once it opens. You are then presented with options for a Standard or Custom install. For most programs you will want to do a Custom Install when it is an option, as some software will do undesirable things to your computer unless you disable them. Firefox will not do said things, but it is best to get in the habit of doing things this way.

7 Firefox_Install_0

Next you will be asked where you wish to install the program. You are best leaving this alone, but take note how things are set up. You are given the folder that the program will be installed into, how much space is required for the program, and how much you have on your hard drive.8 Firefox_Install_1

The next option given you is to install the “Maintenance Service”, you will want to have this. You should always have your software up to date, this keeps it secure and keeps you from getting a virus.

There will also be the options to have an icon on your Desktop and in the Start Menu. You will want to have the start menu, but there is no need for a desktop icon as we will have a quick launch icon on the task bar shortly. Thus you will want to uncheck the desktop option.

You will be given a summery of the installation, where the program will be installed. All you need to do is click “Install”.

A green progress bar will show you how things are going and then you can just click “Finish”. Firefox will start automatic unless you unchecked it.Firefox, Gateway to the Internet

Follow similar steps if using Google Chrome.

Firefox and the Internet

You are finally here, you have a competent web browser and are connected to the internet. Now there is some simple setup needed for Firefox.

11_Firefox_Search_OptionsWithout a little work, Firefox is not as powerful as it could be. So we need to go into the menu and click on options. This menu is on the far right of the browser, just under the close button. Within the options you will find a tab that says Search, under that tab you will have the option to change search engines. You will want to change it to Google under the drop down list that says Yahoo. Just click on the button and it will open this list, then click Google. Yes, that Google.

Then you just close the options by clicking the ‘x’ on the tab that is in the top of the browser. These tabs will become very important in the future.

Windows comes with a simple Firewall and anti-virus, but they are rather simplistic and lacking in some areas. If you are comfortable with that, you are set for the internet. However we will be covering anti-virus software in our next article.

Sadly our short attention span culture means that this website would suffer if I continue here. Keep an eye out for our next step, installing an anti-virus and exploring the web.

As you can see, we have made some visual changes to the website. Personally, I like dark colors. Unfortunately many do not like to or have problems reading light text on dark backgrounds, so this is a compromise.  Over time I will improve the CSS for the website, but this is functional for the time being.

SSL Website Encryption

A more important change is that the website is now using SSL encryption provided by Let’s Encrypt. Let’s Encrypt is a free SSL certificate authority sponsored by many large organizations including Mozilla and The Linux Foundation.
If you check the URL to the website you should see that it uses https instead of http and there should be a lock icon nearby, depending on your web browser.

For you who do not know: SSL encrypts web traffic, preventing big brother and others with nefarious intent from spying on you. Google and other search engines penalize websites that do not use SSL and give advantage to they that do. By encrypting the web we take power from organizations like world governments less control over our data. Encryption is necessary not only to protect from theft, but to create and protect a free and open internet.

We will go over Encryption in our Introduction to Computers series after going over the basics, look forward to it.

This year Random Thoughts will start an Introduction to Computers series of posts to give readers a better understanding of how to use computers and their important in society.

School and work have prevented me from keeping this blog up to date, but with the upcoming year I will dedicate some time each month to writing.

The Plan:

The series will be geared towards people who have little experience with computers. I have found that the majority of people are woefully ignorant of how to use a computer for more than simple searching and Facebook. In our connected and computer filled world everybody needs to know at least the basics of computers.

The series will start off with a general introduction to computers and then get into Windows 10’s User Interface, settings, and basic software needs that open-source software can provide. Wist this may seem remedial to some, I have encountered many people who have hardly touched a computer or who only know enough to post on Facebook. That is who this series is for.

As time progresses Random Thoughts will cover more advanced topics such as networking, basic web markup (HTML & CSS), etc. As we cover software we will go over the necessities first, what is needed to get the job done. We will go in depth in separate articles.

As an example of the structure we will use LibreOffice Writer:

Most users will need to know typing, character formatting, header and footer formatting, and paragraph spacing. That is all that is required for most college papers in MLA and APA format and more than what most people will ever need in an introductory level office job.

After covering the basics an advanced article will be available to people who need a little more guidance. In such we would cover page and paragraph formatting, advanced keyboard shortcuts, tables, and using images.

You will find that Random Thoughts will always encourage you to experiment and find your own answers, but we will try our best get you where you need to go.

Our plan is to be helpful to you in the coming year. Feel free to ask about anything to do with consumer and small business level computing.

Hopefully we will see you in 2016.

 

The Problem:

Microsoft did not include Solitaire or MineSweeper in Windows 10, instead you can get Microsoft Solitaire Collection. This is Microsoft’s attempt at making solitaire into a service that you will pay for. You will either pay a fee to get an ad-free experience or get bombarded with obtrusive advertising. To top it all off you need a Microsoft Account to use it. Who would have ever thought that you would have to pay to play something computer users have enjoyed for free for so long. Microsoft Solitaire Collection is a bad joke.

The Solution:

PySol is an open-source version of Solitaire written in Python. Sadly development has stopped and it has not aged well.

Look at all of them.

Look at all of them.

Fortunately it works on Windows 10 and has more than a thousand solitaire games, including Mahjong Solitaire. The interface is intuitive and the games work.

Disclaimer: I do not play Solitaire and am not qualified to review PySol’s quality in regard to game-play.

PySol is under the GPL and can be modified and improved. If you know a little bit of Python and love Solitaire I encourage you to bring the project back to life as no one wishes to give Microsoft any more than they must.

PySol can be downloaded from Sourceforge here.

Our computers fill up with a lot of useless programs over the years and many computers come with a lot of useless programs pre-installed, much to our annoyance. You could use Windows built in uninstaller, but it does not do nearly as great of a job as one would want.

The Problem:

Windows uninstaller does not always clean up files programs spread amongst multiple directories or the registry keys left behind in the registry. Some programs cant even be uninstalled from the control panel so you need to find their uninstallers somewhere hidden in Program Files.

The Solution:

Revo Uninstaller, a third party uninstaller that cleans the leftover bits left behind by Windows. Revo Uninstaller has a freeware version and a professional version, but today we will be looking at what is freely available.

First I wish to say two things: Freeware is different than Open-source so read the licensing agreement before you use Revo Uninstaller commercially and be careful when messing with the registry, if you do not know what you are doing leave it alone.

After you install Revo Uninstaller you will see a screen full of your installed Uninstaller_Appleprograms. You can change the view using the view button on the top tool bar if you would prefer a more detailed view or list.

In our Example we will be getting rid of Apple Software Update, but the same principles apply. We will want to double click on the program we wish to uninstall, this will start the uninstaller.

The first options you will be presented with are to run the built in installer, the vary thing we wish to avoid, Safe, Moderate, and Advanced. Most of the time going with Moderate is your best bet. The program explains what each one does in case you wish to do something Uninstall_Modedifferent. When you hit next it will start the program’s default uninstaller. After this Revo Uninstaller will scan for leftovers. If it finds any you will be prompted to clean them.

If you are uninstalling a game for example and the game did not remove old saves or config files, they would show up here. You can select what you want to remove and what Revo Uninstaller should keep. This is the same for the registry. Do not do anything to the registry unless you know what you are doing as Revo can make mistakes and you could remove something important to running Windows. Some registry keys are self-explanatory, but most are not.

Revo Uninstaller has some other tools, but there are other programs that handle these tasks better.

You can get Revo Uninstaller at its website here.

Firefox has experienced a major update with built in chat and a new search box. Some of you may find the new search box inconvenient if you use multiple search engines regularly, fortunately there is an easy fix to the problem.

To use the old search box in Firefox in version 34 or higher you will need to edit the configuration settings.

Type about:config in the URL bar to see Firefox’s settings. Hit “I agree” If prompted.

There should be a search box on the top of the page type this into the box:

browser.search.showOneOffButtons

Set the setting to false by double clicking it or right clicking and hitting Toggle.

After resetting Firefox the search bar should act like it did in earlier versions of Firefox.