Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I found it useful. You could too! - Firebug

Today's useful thing is the Firebug extension for Firefox.

If you're a web developer Firebug's an absolute must have. It's like a mechanic's pit for web pages. It lets you get right underneath and have a good tinker with all the elements that make up the page.

Any one of its features would make a great tool in its own right. Like being able to edit the html code of a page in the browser and see immediately what effect the changes are going to have without even refreshing the page. But it's does so much more than that. You can edit, monitor and debug all the html, css and javascript that makes up any page - including data returned by Ajax calls. Take a look at Jesse Newland's Firebug 1.0 screencast.

If it's not already in your developer's toolkit, add it.

One little hiccup: Firebug 1.0 has recently been released but a lot of users are experiencing a bug which prevents the styles from being displayed and can only be fixed by uninstalling Firefox and reinstalling it in a new directory. There's a discussion about this on the Firebug blog.

I haven't done this yet as I'm hoping a better fix will be found and released soon and I don't fancy reinstalling Firefox.

Screenshot showing a bug in Firebug 1.0

Above: Screenshot showing Firebug 1.0's styles bug in the right hand pane.

Despite this, I'd still recommend upgrading if you're still using version 0.4.

Previous post in this series: Enlarge TextArea

Monday, January 29, 2007

Collaboration with Google Docs

Following a recent heuristic evaluation, Yandle and myself put Google Docs collaboration capabilities to the test to write the report.

Photo of Danny in front of his computer while editing a Google Docs documment

Photo of Ben in front of his computer while editing a Google Docs documment

Above: Collaborating with silly faces.

We were working in the same room on separate workstations so we could easily communicate and in the beginning we were being really careful about making sure that we weren't working on the same part of the document at the same time in case one of us accidentally wiped out something that the other was working on.

However we quickly found that we didn't need to worry about this at all because the document was being autosaved so frequently. Every time it was saved the changes made by the other writer would be merged in seamlessly with our own changes. So in fact it was very rare for there to be any conflicts in what we were doing which gave us more time to shut up and get on with the task itself.

Even when there was a rare conflict and the most recent changes were lost, the amount of changes that had been made between autosaves were so few that it was very easy to recover from.

Additionally, if there had been a more serious loss of work, it would also probably have been easy to recover from as Google keeps multiple revisions of a document allowing you to go back and compare documents over time.

Possibly the most difficult part of working with Google Docs was learning to trust the system and remembering not to press Control-S to save the document every ten seconds in case the application crashed.

When one of the computers did crash there was no panic and we felt safe in the knowledge that, being an online application, the document wouldn't be lost even if the computer was dead forever.

I'd definitely recommend using Google Docs as a collaboration tool and even as a plain old non-collaborative word processor (although I'd like to test it out with a few more simultaneous collaborators in different rooms to see whether it would deserve such a glowing report under those conditions).

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I found it useful. You could too!. (Pilot)

This is a pilot for a series of posts I'm calling "I found it useful. You could too!". The ratings will decide its future. Or if there's no ratings I'll decide cos I rule.

Today's useful thing was introduced to me by Yandle. It's a simple bookmarklet that just increases the height of all the text area fields in a form on a web page. As most text areas in web forms are way too short for what you want to put in them, I found it useful. You could too! (now do you see where the title comes from?)

To use it, just drag the link below into your bookmarks toolbar:

Enlarge textarea

Now find a page with text areas in a form, click on the bookmarklet and hey presto!

Jump on the snowwagon

Snow today in Brighton sent most of us into some kind of mental weather frenzy, including me. Use your eyes on these pics.

Photo of the view from my balcony on a snowy day

Photo of stairs covered in snow

Monday, January 22, 2007

Postage to the BBC

If you don't have your own blog (or even if you do) and you feel like airing an opinion or just chewing the fat with a chance of it being read out to millions of listeners worldwide, go and post an entry on the BBC Five Live radio's First Post site.

Yeah, it might just be a very cheap way for the BBC to get fresh content onto their site and keep it up in the search rankings but this is the BBC. It's not likely to be short of visitors, is it?