about:brief and about:scribeFire

Don’t know when I started… Somewhere during the last week. I looked at Firefox’s featured add-ons list while updating my plugins (yes, I manually update
them for compatibility’s sake), I noticed Brief and ScribeFire (with nice logos :P), they are all free and are featured, which implies they are good for something. Why don’t give them a spin?

Brief

Yes. I use Windows. Don't laugh!

This plugin lets you read feeds and that’s it! It has a nice interface with fold in and out effects (possibly some jQuery hidden behind); it now works with NoScript (they said so in the change log). Its advantages over Firefox’s live bookmark are:

  • You get to see the content of the post from the feed.
  • You can rate, mark read and deletes items.
  • Set individual update rate for each feed, or for all feeds.
  • Nice and customizable interface. (If you know CSS)

To me, at first it looked like a nice alternative to Microsoft Outlook’s feed functionality and I like its customizable interface. I have a feed with oversize pictures inside, it makes me scroll to see the content, all I have to do is go to the customization interface, and type some simple CSS

.article-content {
    width: 80% !important;
    overflow: hidden;
    font-size: 12pt !important;
}

font {
    font-size: 12pt !important;
}

Basically, the above CSS set the width of the content element to roughly 80% of the full window width, tell Firefox to trim off anything that come further than the edge, force all text size to 12 points to readability; and that’s it! The text content is wrapped nicely inside the window’s width, oversized pictures are trimmed off, should I want to view then, and “View Image” will come in handy.

To see brief’s elements on the page, go to Brief’s page description. Yes you can use some web development tools but trust me, all you got inspecting the page is a bunch of JavaScript insert :P.

<body>
    
<a class="article-title-link"/> <!-- Shown only in full articles: -->
</div>
</div> </div> </body>

But because it inherited from Firefox’s Live bookmark, it also share LB’s limitations like you can’t read the full post inline (if the publisher have chosen to publish it short), this can be frustrating reading feeds with lots of item. You want to read it? New tab! Shouldn’t a feed reader simplify the reading process? And looks like it’s compatible only with feeds which the Live Bookmark feature in Firefox is capable of reading.

And as a plugin, it has problems of its own, like it can rarely update the feeds on itself. At first I thought this was BetterCache’s fault, but even after disabling BetterCache, it still won’t update my feeds even if I clicked on each of them and choose “Update feed”. To have the feeds refreshed I have to go to the bookmark sidebar and update the like bookmarks there. Only then would the new items appear

So, if you want a news reader and like to pray that the updates work (possibly it just doesn’t like me), and always wanted to change the way how your news look, then Brief is right; but if you are looking for something that will satisfy all your reading need, there’s still a long way to go.

ScribeFire

A lightweight blogging plugin (about 500K). It lets you conveniently blog about stuff you like (a site, an image, you tube video etc.) straight from Firefox with a mouse click (or F8).

Yes, it implements many popular blogging services like WordPress, Blogger, Xanga, and custom blogs that implement the MetaWebLog API. For the basic part, it allows you to create / edit posts in a WordPad-like interface.

It is capable of

  • Drafting (called notes)
  • HTML Editing
  • Preview (it will temporarily publish the post to your blog and let you view it inside the editing pane, not live preview like WLW)
  • Post management (Add / Edit / Remove)
  • Differentiate between pages and post (WordPress’ page options not implemented, make sense because this is a general blogging software)
  • Category management (but not hierarchical, again, this is only WordPress specific)
  • Technorati tags
  • Timestamp edit

In short, it lets you perform all the basic function all the blogging platform allows you in common. It’s quite good, I tried several posts and it does its job really fast, comparable to Word’s; there’s also some “extra” function like:

  • Insert a Flickr Image: You can search for Flickr images which match a keyword and insert it to your post, albeit the process is slow. I would prefer a Flickr-code text box, insert the image page URL and get the picture inside that page inserted (Flickr scatter a transparent 1×1 GIF over its images you can’t just save image as…)
  • Insert a You tube video: Same as Flickr.
  • Blogging toolbar: when you visit a blog of yours that you have registered with ScribeFire, you can quickly edit your posts and page by clicking their titles, nice feature that WordPress lacks, but can be fixed with a simple template tag (but that’s another story).

    Blogging toolbar

  • Managed ads: Haven’t tried this feature. Looks like it lets you insert and track ads easier, but I don’t like this one. I know that the plugin maker has the right to make some dough from this but it makes me suspicious if this plugin’s authenticity. To this point I trust it solely because it’s Mozilla-featured, and I’m still dubious. Furthermore, the space it takes to the left of the page looks clumsy; I just want to remove it off sight!

And as all my suspicions went, it’s right to some point. Since I began writing this post, I haven’t opened ScribeFire’s home page, I turned off all Firefox’s updates and only open some posts from my server (which is like thousands of miles away from ScribeFire’s), look at the traffic to and from my computer and see I’ve got:

See that nice IP? 8.10.72.201, let’s find out where is it

Surprise!

I could find out what it is trying to send back home, but doesn’t like to. I’m not going to use this for long anyway. Yes, it does its primary function quite good, but I doesn’t like that interface. Would you prefer the editor you see several paragraph above or this:

Blogging with Word

I know that Word doesn’t have the full functionality set, but I feel more inspired blogging with Word than ScribeFire. UI over functionality, how superficial I am :P. But that’s not the only drawback of this plugin.

  • Every time you insert an image, you will have to wait for it to upload if it’s from your computer, in contrast with Word which uploads the image after you have published the post. ScribeFire’s approach makes the user wait, even if the delay is relatively short on broadband, it’s still a delay and the user (me) isn’t comfortable with it. It does have the advantage of easier control on which image has been uploaded and which have not (Word always upload all images every time you publish a post), but again, Word does not make the user wait: money can’t buy time but it can buy server space :P.
  • No find function in the code view (while the near-WYSIWYG editor has). You have like 1000 lines of HTML for your post? Forget your custom classes!
  • You can open multiple instances of it, ScribeFire will slow you browser down for a while but it will let you. This may easily confuse you and have you edit in the wrong window, especially when you are busy. And that lead to post conflict…

Both of the plugins are new, they have the potential to become better but for the moment, I’m done testing.

Notes on blogging with Microsoft Word 2007

Word 2007… Interesting piece of software, even enough to provoke a full-scale debate on ISO’s decision to have two standards at a time (isn’t standards are intended to unite people in the first place? :))) but that’s not in the scope of what I want to write right now. And no, I’m not going to tell you where to click in Word to start writing. You can read the good-but-is-the-only-blogging-article at Microsoft Office online for that.

Word is not perfect for blogging. For example the category management is just ill-designed. You’ll have to click a button, select the category and then insert it. The on-page category has a drop down box but the only item inside is “none” (what the…?) and yes, I am using the latest service pack. Possibly someone will eventually tell this to Microsoft to be fixed in future release, but hey, Word is not the only thing Microsoft released for the blogger community! There is Windows Live Writer (which is part of Microsoft new “live.com”-ing-everything strategy) too, which appears better suited for the purpose (the demonstration has pictures, categories and stuff listed in a nice view). Unfortunately it’s a 125MB download, and that’s not financially feasible for me to download (and blog about it here). You can download, try, and tell me instead 😛 [edit: a review about WLW can be found here, it cover most of what WLW have to offer, though it has given WLW quite a bias ;)]

UPDATE: WLW is actually only 5MB 🙂

Back to Word… good for text for not so good for blogs, you may as well encounter some problem blogging:

  • No HTML editing
  • Limited picture upload & management
  • Clumsy interface
  • etc.

I tried and solved some stuff ^^

Picture uploads

Word is a Microsoft software, Live spaces is a Microsoft blogging platform. The irony? Live spaces is the only service that doesn’t provide Atom or XML-RPC so Word has to e-mail blog to Spaces, and because blogging is that hard, even if you read and followed the direction on Live Spaces help, Word will just pop an error up when you tried to blog with pictures. Also, wordpress.com won’t allow you to upload pictures either (self-hosted WordPress installations like mine do); and possibly some other service on Word’s “supported” list won’t either… The solution is uploading the pictures to a separate host. If you ever tried to click on”Picture Options” you’d see some choices

  1. My blog provider: Doesn’t work because you are reading this 😛
  2. Don’t upload picture: Awn, not helpful at all
  3. My own server: Make 2 fields appear: upload URL and source URL

What is upload URL and source URL? Word help won’t tell you, Microsoft Office online won’t tell you either! It turned out after a couple of queries that, upload URL is something around an FTP address and source URL is the http address at which the picture should appear after being uploaded. The question turned to “what to fill in?” The links provided in the dialog box is just as helpless as the help 😛 You’ll have to find your own provider, which apparently must support the following

  1. FTP uploads
  2. HTTP direct link

Some image hosts support this, photobucket does have a plan with FTP access but that’s not quite cheap :P. IMO, it’s best to use a web host as you could use it for more advanced purposes later ^^. In this example, I’ll demonstrate with freehyperspace5.com, a free hosting service which anyone can register. You could choose your own host but try to avoid:

  1. Byet hosts: they have a high likelihood of deleting file storage only accounts even if their TOS doesn’t say so.
  2. Any other host that specified in their TOS that they are against picture hosting

Register an account at your host, remember [your username], [your password], [ftp host] and [homepage address], then go to word and type

  1. ftp://[your username]:[your password]@[ftp host] in the upload URL in Word, replace the square brackets with your own information. This looks something like ftp://wind:password@wind.freehost.com
  2. http://[homepage address] for source URL

Done! Press OK twice and now you are ready for picture (and smart art ^^) blogging with Word! No more manually uploading pictures and copy-paste the lengthy URL; just insert and publish! (For a demonstration, have a look at my previous posts, most of them are done with Word!)

Faster blogging

One proof that Word 2007 is designed in such a hurry: Every time you want to blog, you’ll have to click the big red button (the office button :P), choose new, wait for the dialog to appear, choose blog post, OK, wait for the blogging interface to appear… Sick, isn’t it? To start Word exclusively for blogging, you can follow these steps

  1. Browse to the word executable, usually it’s in C:Program FilesMicrosoft OfficeOffice 12winword.exe
  2. Right-click and choose Create shortcut
  3. Right-click the newly created shortcut and choose Properties, switch to the Shortcut tab
  4. In the Target field, add /t “C:Program FilesMicrosoft OfficeTemplates1033Blog.dotx” /q, replace “C:Program FilesMicrosoft Office” with your path if necessary
  5. The /t tells Word which template to use at start, the /q (supposedly) suppress the splash screen

  6. Press OK
  7. Move the shortcut to where you want it to be: desktop, quick launch, or even start up if you want to blog every time you turn your machine on 😛

When I have some time available I’ll try to solve some more problems. (rest assured there are more, just wandering around you’ll see that Word’s blogging function is beta quality software and there hasn’t been any news from it from the word team since 2006)

PS: After some more looking, it turns out that Blogger has its own plugin for Word long ago (download it here), it worked on Word 2000 and above but the interface is not that interesting and it still does not allow you to post pictures – according to this podcast. To me the plug-in appears unupdated for a while…