If you're sick of reading about baseball and politics, you
can get an hour's reprieve at 2 p.m. ET today, when I host my Web chat on personal-tech
Er, except... well, actually, I've been known to delve into
both those topics as well. So there really is no escape, at least
not for this week. And probably not the next. (I'm not even
going to speculate on
the odds of another drawn-out election count like 2000, lest I
make myself ill.) Submit
a question or comment early if you can't stop
by during the chat.
As part of my
review of Google Desktop in yesterday's
column, I had to switch from my usual Web browser and e-mail client (Mozilla
Firefox and Mozilla Thunderbird) to Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Outlook 2003. I had to do
that because Google Desktop only searches the Web and mail
archives of Microsoft's Internet software -- although Google
says it's working to add support for other Web and mail
It was painful, but instructive, to make this switch for a
week. In this e-letter, I'll talk about my reintroduction to IE;
next week, I'll cover life in Outlook for a week. Part of my
dissatisfaction was aesthetic and subjective, but part of it was
reasonably objective -- such as tasks that required more
steps or took more time than in other programs, or which
simply could not be done.
The biggest thing I had to give up in IE was tabbed
browsing, in which a user can view multiple Web pages within
one window (here's an animation of how this works in one
browser). I keep hearing from readers and colleagues
who don't see how this is better than just opening multiple
browser windows. Now that I've had to switch back from
tabbed browsing to multiple-window browsing, I can better
explain the advantages of one over the other.
If you only ever view one Web page at a time, tabbed
browsing is useless. But if you routinely open multiple
browser windows, the difference is readily apparent. Without
tabs to organize multiple pages in one frame, I found myself
taking much longer to switch among different Web pages I'd
opened. Instead of clicking on one Windows taskbar button
for my browser, I had to scan multiple IE taskbar buttons, one
for each open page.
The IE buttons were scattered at random across the
taskbar and, thanks to all the other applications I had open,
identified by only the first two letters of each page title
("wa...", "My..", "Ms...", "Sla...", "The..."). (In Windows XP, this is
a little better, as that operating system groups one program's
multiple windows under a single taskbar button if the taskbar
is starting to crowd up.)
I could still Alt-Tab to switch among all the open IE
windows, but this wasn't as quick as looking over a row of
tabs. First, you can only see the name of one open window at
a time, while every tab in a browser window can be read at
once. Second, tabs include site icons such as ESPN.com's red
"E," while IE windows all appear as the same generic IE icon
when you Alt-Tab through them -- you have to read each
site's name, causing a further, if slight, delay.
Lastly, tabbed browsing allows you to open a group of
Web pages at once, with a single click. No such option is
available in IE.
All this combined to cause me to open fewer IE browser
windows and explore fewer interesting links.
A Web browser's job -- like that of most other programs -- is
not to discourage me from using it.
One other thing about IE really bugged me last week. In
most competing browsers, double-clicking on part of an
address selects just that segment -- the "www,"
"washingtonpost" or "com" in
"www.washingtonpost.com" -- while triple-clicking selects the
entire address. In IE, double-clicking selects the entire
address, and triple-clicking does nothing. Doesn't sound like
much of a difference, except that most of the time I'm going
from one "www.com" site to another, and I don't want to have
to retype the "www" and ".com" in each site, or wait a moment
for the browser to figure out that it should add them on its
own (as IE will).
The future of high-definition television cleared up slightly
last week. Intel, which had announced its
intention last winter to develop a semi-flat-screen technology
called LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon), said on Friday that it was sticking a
fork in that project.
That pretty much eliminates one once-promising
contender in the race to lower the costs of thinner-screen TVs
that would offer most of the slimness of LCD and plasma sets
without the high price (click here for an example of my own
reporting on this). On the upside, at least it's one less
thing we (probably) no longer have to
contemplate in future HDTV decisions.
Time for the Rob Pegoraro Overexposure Watch: I had a
couple of radio appearances last week, so if you'd like to
listen to me hold forth on various tech topics, you can listen
to me on Kojo Nnamdi's Tech Tuesday show on NPR
affiliate WAMU (88.5 FM), and a Web radio show called "The Mac Night
-- Rob Pegoraro (firstname.lastname@example.org)