Jorge Villalobos
Ideas, technology and the occasional rant

Friday, September 30, 2005

Chatting all the way to Firefox

I just had the most random idea. I'm a subscriber of CNET Downloads (don't as me why) and just out of boredom I decided to check the top 50 download list (as a side note, look at the incredibly ugly URL chosen for a mostly permanent page). I usually like to see where Firefox stands and see all the other popular programs. I noticed something that is not new but stuck me in a different fashion today: ICQ and Trillian are extremely popular.
ICQ is the all-time winner at CNET. It has been the most downloaded application in its history, I believe, and now Trillian has gained a lot of popularity too, since it basically extends ICQ functionality to cover MSN as well as other types of messaging providers.
Messaging has always been an important part of the Internet experience and it doesn't seem to be slowing down in growth and acceptance. Google Talk is now in the race and Microsoft has been injecting significant improvement into the mandatory MSN Messenger. But I digress.
I think Firefox and the Mozilla Foundation in general would greatly benefit with the introduction of a XUL/XPCOM based Internet messaging application. And now I have to explain why.
Just as mail applications, messaging applications are tightly related to browsing and markup rendering technologies. A Mozilla Messenger (Waterant, Lightcow or whatever weird name you might wanna give it) would greatly benefit from the existing Gecko rendering engine and all the already developed components that from the Mozilla code base. Its system-independence and simple and highly functional interface would make it as portable as Gaim and as robust as Trillian. I think this is something that might get people very excited about Mozilla products in general.
A messaging application creates a lot of buzz, and it's specially appealing to younger audiences. I think this is how Trillian gained so much popularity. I remember it was a very common name to hear when I was in college, because the admins were only blocking MSN Messenger :). Google Talk is now very popular because it's also hard to block, so it's a good way to keep an open channel through a firewalled world.
This application could benefit as well from XUL's extensibility and skinability through CSS. Most users love this stuff, specially the latter. A lot of very exciting extensions could be developed in a chat application, making it probably as powerful as MSN messenger.
Furthermore, a properly developed application could be extended to work on enterprise environments, where Windows Messenger is almost the only option. Since both Firefox and Thunderbird are already looking to immerse themselves in both the mainstream and enterprise environments, this chat application might give them additional leverage. It would be a more complete package.
There's some obvious cons, which I should also mention. First of all, this application might be a bit heavy for a simple messenger. The whole runtime required to run XUL/XPCOM applications might create bloated installers and memory hog releases. Although, checking the Trillian installer, it's already more than 8Mb, which is larger than Firefox or Thunderbird. In general, I think the memory leaks should be dealt with before expecting people to run a whole array of Mozilla products at the same time.
Another good point is that it might be most appropriate to develop this application based on the Xul Runner framework. It's still a bit distant, but it would make the application's installer and footprint almost insignificant, considering people already have Firefox.
In conclusion, I believe that developing a messaging application might attract new audiences towards Mozilla, and consequently Firefox. I wonder if this idea has been proposed before. It probably has. I think it's a good idea and deserves some serious attention. I know that the Foundation has a lot on its hands, with Firefox, Thunderbird, Sunbird, Lightning and XUL Runner, so it might take some time for this project to see the light of day. But if it does, I predict a new wave of acceptance.
I posted this on my blog because SFX is currently down. I expect to publish something there as well when eveything's back to normal.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

I hate umbrellas so much

I've said it before and I'll say it again: umbrellas are one of the worst modern inventions I have ever used. I hate them. I absolutely hate them.
Their usability is terrible. They're uncomfortable to carry, and it's ten times worse when they're wet, because you cant' just put them in your backpack. Some umbrellas come with this kind of Teflon coating, but that doesn't last much. They turn into regular umbrellas in no time, and it's hardly worth the extra money. One would expect that something you pay for actually delivers. I don't know, that's just me.
They don't even cover you from the fucking rain! What the hell? Isn't that their sole purpose? A little wind and the whole thing goes to hell. You can tilt it and try to maximize its effectiveness, but that will only take you so far. Any decent rain will have you soaking wet from the knees down. That's if the damn thing doesn't break into pieces.
This leads me to my next point: umbrellas are made with such poor materials. They will bend and break like dry twigs. The whole reason for this rant is that the "metal" pole in my umbrella broke in two this morning. That's a first. Usually one of the "tentacle" thingies will bend or break, but this time it was the only part that I assumed to be stable. The last stronghold in a very poor defense has fallen.
The alternatives aren't very attractive either. I don't want to walk around dressed like a plastic bag. There was this creepy Asian variation that extends the umbrella almost all the way to the floor, but that sounds pretty dangerous. Tripping over seems very likely and you're pretty much trapped when falling. I guess humanity gave it its best shot.
And no, I don't have a solution. First of all, there might not be a solution at all. Assuming everything is solvable is the root of many of mankind's deficiencies. I tried to think of alternatives, but nothing realistic came to mind. I though about using heat or wind to deflect or vaporize the rain, but that will most likely deflect and vaporize other things, such as people.
I guess there's not gonna be any advancement in umbrellas in the near future, and I'll have to live with it. Still, I hate umbrellas, but I feel a little better (impending cold aside) after this rant. Nothing to see here, move along.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Avast! Look at me patch, mateys!

Arrrr!!!! Yesterday was Talk Like a Pirate Day! What is it? I think the name is pretty self-explanatory. Sounds stupid, you say? Well, it's supposed to. I think it's gonna become one of those weird traditions that only Internet geeks know about. Are there non-Internet geeks? That's a good question... Anyway, it's a fun "holiday" that lets you act like a moron and convince yourself that you have a good excuse. It has a song too! As usual you can find all the answers on Wikipedia. It's so much better than Google. *ducks*
So, what's with the late celebration? Well, conveniently, I have 2 good reasons to celebrate today. Today I have a patch. Today marks the day when my first bug patch was checked in into the Mozilla Firefox source code. Yes, my friends, code written by yours truly will power the coolest fucking browser in the planet now and forever (or for a while, whatever comes first). It's celebration time, baby!
Are you ready? Behold the glory of my patch for Bug 296827. It only took 3 months, 3 versions (the changes were microscopic) and a dozen lines of code for me to become immortal. Well, some might say it's a simple patch. Some might say it's trivial. You might be thinking that this stupid patch could have been coded by any 10 year-old that knows how to use a computer! Well, damn you all to HELL, sea scoundrels! Arrrr!!!! ARRRRR!!!! Serenity now, serenity now...
It's a simple patch, I know, but it's still significant. It deals with the find bar and drag and drop, as you may read in the title. Anyway, I'm very proud of it and I'm sure people will appreciate this fix. Or more precisely, the won't bitch anymore for the lack of it.
I'm so happy for this. It really motivates me to keep going. I guess it's kinda off-putting giving and giving without even knowing if people are noticing you. But now I know that it just takes some time. I hope my other patches have the same luck.
Now that I have a kickass computer I can compile the code, so I can get involved in all kinds of patches, including backend bugs. I prefer XUL, but it's actually hard to find XUL-only bugs. I'm so much better settled now, I think I can allocate some decent time of the week to helping out in Bugzilla again. I loved doing that. Maybe someday I'll be known in the Mozilla Foundation.
Sigh... the dreams of developers. So sad, sooo sad...
That's 'bout it, mateys! I'm now a citizen of (or at least a homeless guy at) Mozilla development and I do not intend to be just that. If you love Firefox, say ARRRRR!!!! as loud as you can.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Firefox 1.5 Training Video

For everyone interested in the upcoming Firefox 1.5, a SpreadFirefox member (quantum00) created this incredible video that shows many of its new features. It's really great. You have to see it.

'What's New in Firefox 1.5?' Training Video

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Monday, September 12, 2005

Nerd test

Found this test on a friend's blog and as usual I HAD to take it. I have a problem with online tests, I don't know. I'll look on my last blog, I think I have results from dozens of funny tests it took :). So, anyway, the score for the nerd test is (drumroll, please):

I am nerdier than 79% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

I did pretty well, I think. Not as nerdy as expected. Taking this test should mean I'm extremely nerdy, though. I wonder if they consider that.

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Friday, September 09, 2005

I little pic from my home country :)

This pic is from a trip I did to an island in the pacific coast of Costa Rica, my home country. I'm not the explorer type or the nature type, but this place was just awesome. I had a great time and was able to see why most tourists love this country :).
I guess us locals don't appreciate much the place we live in. I'm sure most people who have visited Costa Rica can tell you so much more about it that I can. What I usually see is cities, computers, you know, "standard" life.
I hope I go back to Isla Tortuga some day. I have excellent memories from that day.
Anybody interested in going here can look it up in Google, there's plenty of options there. I can't seem to find the ones I went with, but they all pretty much offer the same package.

Playa Tortuga, Costa Rica. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Mail clients and servers are in the stone age

I'm no expert in mail clients or servers, but I have a brain, so here it goes: configuring mail clients sucks donkey balls.
This struck me today, when I was configuring Mozilla Thunderbird to access the university's mail server, so that I wouldn't have to login every time and deal with the almost obligatory ugliness and unfriendliness of webmail interfaces. After a long inspection of the site, I found no references to POP3 or IMAP support, so I had to contact the computer services people to see if there was any. They did, only they gave me a wrong outgoing server name, so I wasn't able to write emails. Since I had a good idea of what was going on, I pinged the server and realized that it didn't exist. I proceeded to contact the computer guys again, and this time they gave me the right configuration. But there's a lot of things that I know, being a geek and all. So, is this something everyone should deal with?
Configuring mail clients to connect to mail servers is just too technical for the average user. I you try to convince someone that it's very practical to use a mail client, he might go with it, but after you start saying things like "POP3", "IMAP" or "incoming server" they will say "You know, I'll keep checking it online". It's too technical. You will usually need to know if it's POP or IMAP, you'll need to know the incoming and outgoing servers, and maybe even the ports. How many people can actually understand this last sentence? There's gotta be a better way.
As usual, Microsoft comes up with some obscure solution, applies it to their software and doesn't let anyone know bout it. Outlook Express can be very easily configured to access Hotmail or MSN accounts. User, password, and you're done. Now, how hard is it to implement this? Not to hard, I think.
A simple solution is to come up with a standard in which mail servers communicate their configuration to the mail client. Lets say I want to access the mail from My mail client should ask me for this: site (, account (, user (jorge) and password. The client then proceeds to contact the site ( for a specific resource, which will provide the configuration that is needed to connect to the mail server. A web service might work, but a little complicated for this case, I think. Maybe a plain text file with a descriptive name. The same there is robots.txt, there could be a mailserver.txt or mailserver.xml. Coming up with the standard is the hardest part, but the improvement would be considerable.
This might be the reason mail clients aren't all that popular. They are typically limited to business or educational environments, in which there's a computer team in charge of configuring the clients for everybody. They are a good tool, but it has all gone to waste because nobody sat down and thought of a friendly way of determining the connection to the server.
Somebody take a step forward and deal with this, please. Our job is to make people's life simpler.

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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Back in the game

I'm back now, after weeks of not having a computer I could call my own. All fellow geeks will acknowledge how painful that can be.
My new laptop constitutes one of the final steps into completely adapting myself to this new world I'll be living in for the next months, maybe years. I've just moved to the US, where I'll get my masters in CS. The past weeks have been... well, interesting. Filled with pretty much everything you can expect from a complete reconfiguration of one's life.
I've spent a ridiculously high amount of money, explained dozens of times where Costa Rica is, and discovered that the Computer Science department is actually a small branch of India. Not that I'm complaining. Those guys look very well-centered and focused on their objectives, and they have been really nice to me. We've all had to deal with the same process of settling in...
The food is what scares me the most. It's heaven and hell all in one. I could dedicate my life to eating junk food here, which I'm sure is the career path of many locals, LOL. I enjoy the occasional burger and coke, but I'm very worried about what I eat. It's really hard to find real food. I'm starting to get into crazy-go-to-gym-every-oportunity-I-have mode. Yeah, the old CGTGEOIH mode.
One way or the other, now I feel settled. It's been a long adaptation process, but now I'm taking classes, doing homework and slacking around. It's college alright.
What's in my laptop, you ask? Lets see... I've got Windows XP Professional, Fedora Core 4, OpenOffice, Firefox (obviously, but it's actually DP2), Thunderbird, Sunbird, Eclipse and McAfee virus scan, which is required by the university to be in all computers that want to use their network. It's a good policy, I think.
So, now that I'm back I'll try to blog a little more often, try to make this a real blog and satisfy all my eager readers... there's 2, I believe. I'm back. See ya soon.

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