Banning Opera, part II

Filed under:Browsers,Web development — posted by Svein Kåre on 26 June 2005 @ 20:18

After my previous article about banning Opera from sites, I have been thinking more, and have got a bit more information from the man behind the protest site, Kenneth Barbalace. First of all, what is the problem that has made him take the step of banning Opera?

The problem

The problem isn’t that Opera shows ads in itself, but the targeted ads. These works by letting Google read the visited pages, analyse them, and serve ads that are relevant for the content the user is viewing.

For a commercial site, these relevant ads may very well be a direct competitor. Whether this is a small or big problem, or maybe even not a problem at all, may not be the point. The fact that there is a potential problem, in that potential customers can visit a competitors site by clicking an ad when viewing your own site, is the point. While you don’t want to prevent potential customers to visit your competitors, you don’t want to advertise for them, either – but if your content is used to serve ads for competitors, this is basically what you do.

If you use Google Adsense, the ads served by Opera may be in direct competition and even identical to the ones on your pages. Unlike Google Adsense however, you don’t have the option to not showing competitors’ ads.

That’s the problem. If it is big, small or non-existent now isn’t important, the principle is. It’s a case of not wanting to “give the devil the little finger” out of concern for what the future will bring if you do.

A solution?

Since it’s the targeting that is the problem, a solution could be to opt out of the targeting by way of a meta-tag or something like that. Initially it looks like a good idea. Maybe it is, maybe not. Technically, both Google and Opera could do this. Opera could implement it for the browser, Google could do it for everyone who use targeted ads just the same way.

Google however has a contract with Opera, and can’t just change the product they’re serving, so the ball is with the Opera guys. From their point of view, is it a wise move to allow opt out from targeted ads?

Two reasons why Google ads are popular: First, they’re unobtrusive, and don’t annoy with flashy graphics, sound, pop-ups and all that stuff that makes ad blockers a good idea. Secondly, they’re targeted. What would happen if site owners could opt out of the targeting?

Probably not much. But then again – what if this is another “give the devil the little finger” – what if everyone opted out of it? The consequences of that would be – well, who knows. Bit this isn’t just about Opera – targeted ads are being served visitors outside of content writers’ control in several ways. In browsers, browser shells and extensions, desktop applications, mail programs…

If targeted ads were replaced by generic, random ones, I’m sure they would lose popularity with users, and it wouldn’t be as popular scheme with the advertisers either. That’s my guess. Could it be raising trouble for oneself? But I’m just speculating.

Gridlocked

As it is now, there seems to be a gridlock, or a trench warfare. It’s possible to ban Opera by checking the UA string, by checking for unique features in Opera by Javascript, it’s even possible to block Opera users if they come back with a changed UA string (or even a different browser…) On the other side Opera users can try editing the UA.ini-file, adding one line to pose as a different browser on that one site, they can use userjs to hide the unique features of Opera, use Proxomitron…

The question is of course who would try the different things to get access to a site that ban them? People who use Proxomitron are normal people who use a nice tool to get access to sites with sloppy coding. Roughly speaking. adding a line to get past a ban is no different than adding a line to get past sloppy coding. Editing the UA.ini-file is no different. As for getting a script that hides unique features in Opera, so that the browser can’t be identified through them – such a script already exists, and has done for a long time.

Bottom line is, users who want to gain access to sites that ban them will manage, so it’s no use to put in too much work in the banning. Most users will probably just not care. Maybe they’ll be a bit annoyed, maybe they take time to choose the “report a site problem” option in the help menu, maybe they just go on to a different site. But as for making a statement, to make people and Opera aware of it, I believe it’s enough already.

Is it really a problem?

I understand the concern Ken is voicing, I really do, and I even can understand doing something like this in frustration of being ignored by the people at Opera. I don’t agree with him, though.

First of all, I’m not convinced there really is a problem. True – something outside of my pages may show a link to a competitor based on my content – but then again, maybe the competitor shows an ad for me the same way. If I have an ad with Google, that is.

And is the use of my content to show relevant ads a problem? I’m not convinced of that either. I believe the content on the pages, including the ads, is what gets priority from the reader. If it doesn’t, the problem may very well be with my content.

Secondly, is banning Opera users a good move? True, it does make a strong statement, but it also stir up a lot of feelings, and not only with Opera users. And a reputation can be torn down ten times faster than it is to build up. Luckily, I’m not the one to take that decision, and to consider if it’s worth it.

One thing I do know though, is the no matter how much you disagree with a person, don’t get rude with him. That way he just get his shields up instead of trying to see your point of view, and no one’s the wiser.

Anyway, I think what Ken wants now most of all, is some words from Opera about what they think about it all. 😉

Banning Opera?

Filed under:Browsers,Web development — posted by Svein Kåre on 24 June 2005 @ 17:10

A mere hour ago I discovered a new site – or new for me, at least – Stop Targeted Opera RADs. I was directed to this site, or more specifically this page, when I tried to visit Environmental Chemistry, because I used Opera. Apparently, the owners of the site really doesn’t like targeted Google ads. (From when I hear, they don’t like Adblock in Firefox either…)

Since I heard they blocked access for Firefox users with Adblock, I first assumed they were just scared of competing ads. The first thing I read on the “banning” page shows this, too: Site owners being afraid of visitors seeing ads for their competitors, and that they can’t prevent it as it’s outside of their website and control. They may call it unacceptable misuse of their content, but – is it?

There are other services that does what these site owners are afraid of much better than the Google ads in Opera: There are sites that gather information from many competing sites, compare the products and prices, and give users many alternatives, without even showing ads from any of the sites in question. Scary thought, eh? Especially for those who are afraid of users comparing them with competitors…

I also thought a bit further. When visiting the sites with the Google ad banner in place, Google read the pages to see the content and serve related ads (unless it belongs to the exceptions defined in Opera). If the page isn’t in Google’s index, Google want to add it. Therein lies another problem: What if the site doesn’t want the pages indexed?

I must admit I can’t understand why someone don’t want publicly available pages that they want people to visit not to be indexed by Google. That however isn’t something I should speculate over, and it’s not really a point touched upon. It should be interesting enough to read what is written on the site I was redirected to, right? And the menu contains hints that I can find some answers and useful information there.

Someones brain must have been short-circuited. I was sent to the site because I use Opera, right? But – as an Opera user I’m prevented from seeing other pages than the one I was redirected to. Why? Afraid of showing Opera users the arguments? (The ones I read on the single page didn’t convince me of their view.)

Conclusion

All in all, all of this leave me with one impression: It’s better to ban Opera users and have them definitely visit competitors, then to allow them in and risk that they may be tempted by a competitors ad that may be shown in their browser.

If they’re afraid of being compared to their competitors – maybe their products aren’t worth the asking price in the first place anyway?

Who knows? Not Opera users…

Hooked on Sudoku

Filed under:Games — posted by Svein Kåre on 23 June 2005 @ 01:43

A Sudoku puzzle
I noticed them first in the newspaper, these nice little number puzzles. Then I found them mentioned on the web, and best of all, I found a place to play online – one new puzzle each day. I am of course talking about Sudoku.

The rules are simple enough – each number must occur only once in a line, a row, and a block. So, it’s just to put in the missing numbers in the puzzle, which has only one solution. Easy, right? Well – while they can be solved by thinking logically and thus requires no guesswork, you still need to keep the tongue straight in your mouth. The difficulty of the puzzles varies with how many numbers are removed from it, roughly speaking. (Well – the hardest ones may require guesswork to lesser or greater degree…)

The article about Sudoku in Wikipedia is great, with many links to pages and tools about the game. If you just want to dive in and start playing online, try these links:

For more links – check the Wikipedia article.

Have fun.

Opera – limited version?

Filed under:Browsers — posted by Svein Kåre on 21 June 2005 @ 17:43

I’ve started to see this in various blogs now, that Opera is not free, and that you have to pay to remove the banner ad and unlock some more features. Huh? Where does that notion come from?

I won’t bother arguing if Opera is free or not if it shows a banner ad, but where does the idea come from that the ad-supported version of Opera is not the full version? Which features are supposed to be unlocked when you register? No one says – logically enough, as the truth has eluded them.

The fact is: The ad supported version of Opera is the full version! It just has the ad at the top. That’s the plain truth.

Opera 8.01 – I’m even more spoilt

Filed under:Browsers — posted by Svein Kåre on 19 June 2005 @ 01:52

Since last, I’ve updated to Opera 8.01, and I’ve been more spoilt as a result. Inn addition to bug fixes and security fixes, a new feaure has been added to the browser: Browser javascript. Very similar to user javascript, but these are scripts that are added by Opera.com, updated automatically once a week. The purpose? To “fix” badly coded websites, so that they work.

It is an experimental feature, which you have to activate by editing the opera6.ini-file in your profile directory, adding the line Browser JavaScript=1 below [User Prefs].

There is one site, atomfilms.com, that I used to visit now and then earlier – but as it didn’t work with Opera I lost interest in it. Now, with the browser js in place, I can enjoy the site once again. Maybe I’m changing habits again? I’ve added the feed from their blog now, so it may happen.

In other words: Great work, Opera. You continue to make my experience better and better.

I’m a spoilt brat

Filed under:Browsers — posted by Svein Kåre on 16 June 2005 @ 16:45

Well – maybe not a brat, but I’m spoilt. I was thinking about what it is about Opera that I enjoy so much; it has many features, it is responsive and fast, it is standards compliant and renders pages as they should (mostly – as all other browsers it has some bugs) can be installed on a USB pen, and it is developed constantly. It’s not alone though – I’ve used Firefox exclusively, too, and it shares much of the same good points. It doesn’t have the same features as standards, but it has plug-ins which gives the same. There is the whole Mozilla Suite too, Netscape 8 combines both Firefox and IE with both rendering engines – and still I prefer Opera.

So what is it about this browser that makes me prefer it? Am I able to explain it in other words than the three “I just do”? Well – I’m going to give it a try, at least.

Let me start by writing off Internet Explorer. It may be quick to start up – unsurprisingly when thinking about the integration with Windows – but that’s about it. It can be extended with toolbars, even shells (or whatever you want to call them) to give tabbed browsing and such – but underneath is IE with its weaknesses. The strength of IE is the installed userbase, and that many pages are built to make IE look good because of all its users.

That fact is by some thought of as the weakness of other browsers, which support the standards as they are defined, as opposed to how IE does it at the time. More and more however designers who know their trade are beginning to make web pages and solutions by the standards (and thus all the browsers that support them) and then a hack – if necessary – to make things work in IE. Not necessarily to work just as good, though; sometimes IE users are getting an inferior experience.

So to give me the best experience, a modern browser is needed.

Modern browsers mean browsers like the Mozilla Suite, Firefox and Opera. I never did enjoy Mozilla that much, but both Firefox and Opera are nice acquaintances. The latest Netscape I haven’t tried at all, but I’m not tempted by its double rendering engine, even if it means problem free use of problematic web sites. The real fight is between Firefox and Opera, when it comes to my use.

By itself Firefox isn’t much – it needs to be extended by various extensions. This is needed because I’ve come to expect additional features to make the time spent better and more useful. Excluding time spent to find the right extensions, how is the experience? It’s… Nice. Too often though, there are things in which way the extensions work – or doesn’t work – that can be a bit annoying. On the plus side, there are some really great extensions, though.

Opera can’t be extended in the same way as Firefox, but makes up for it by including many really nice features as standard. It includes these in a way that doesn’t make it feel bloated – instead, the total experience can be described be the word “smooth”. It really is a smooth experience, and the reason some extensions that gives Firefox the same functionality can be annoying, is that Opera does it all without a hiccup. For the features that both offer, Opera gives me personally the best experience – Opera just does it better!

Oh, and Opera is fast. A lean, mean, browsing machine. It’s just a pleasure to use when surfing. Troublesome web pages? Fewer and fewer – and with user javascript, much can be rectified. And the experience can be heightened, too. Firefox is close, but not quite there, in my experience.

So Opera has the overall edge. It’s not perfect, but it’s the one browser that comes closest – and it serves it all fast and with grace. Therefore, I’m spoilt.

MP3 blogs

Filed under:Music/MP3 — posted by Svein Kåre on 14 June 2005 @ 22:22

Girl listening to musicI like music, and have bought quite a bit up through the years. I have also bought music I had no idea what it sounded like, or if I would like it. In those latter cases it has been relatively cheap CDs, but it still cost me, so I didn’t try out as much new and unknown music as I might have wanted. And I haven’t just picked random CDs in the shops to listen to either, just in case I enjoyed it. Better to stay with the safe and well-known.

Things have changed now, when it’s possible to download music and listen to it via Internet. Since it’s possible to do this for free, it’s also easier to try new music and artists. There are also many ways to discover and try new artists. One way is to pay attention to MP3 blogs.

MP3 blogs are written by music lovers, sometimes by artists themselves, where they tell about different artists. Often you can also find a taste of the music, too, in the form of music files to download or stream. Sometimes even videos. You may of course wonder where to find these MP3 blogs, but I’ll help you a bit on the way by offering some links to blogs I follow:

The only problem left is: What if you find some great music on the net – but are unable to find any place that sells it? Here’s where the record companies could do something good…

How much is your time worth?

Filed under:Browsers — posted by Svein Kåre on 10 June 2005 @ 02:05

Silly introduction: Opera is bloated because it have so many features, and is therefore bad, while Firefox is a great browser because through the use of extensions you an add features to make it even more bloated than Opera.

OK, with that over with, it’s the features I’d like to write a bit about here. It’s true that Opera does include many features, and maybe you don’t need many of them.But on the positive note, they don’t take up much space of the already small download, and won’t show up in the menu and make a clutter out of it if you want to avoid them completely.

Firefox on the other hand chose a different path; it is a featureless browser (well, not quite) that you can add the features you want to through extensions. This way, you can add features that you don’t (currently) find in Opera – and of course refrain from adding features you don’t want, so that you don’t clutter up the interface 😉

But what has any of this to do with time, which the title of this post implies plays a major part of the topic? Obviously, you need some time to actually learn to use the features you like. That’s the same no matter which browser you use, but there’s more!

In Opera you may spend some time to customise the interface to your tastes, if it’s not already so, but in all honesty that doesn’t take too much time. Second, you’re guaranteed that no matter which features you use and enable in Opera, they all works smooth together.

In Firefox the situation is a bit different, as you need to find the extensions that does what you want them to do. True, you do have some centralised pages which have collecti0ns of plugins or links to them. Alas, the job of finding which extension suits you, and which extensions are incompatible with each other, is mostly up to you. It may not be a straight forward task; there are several extensions that does the same thing, in slightly different ways. Which suits you best? Some extensions doesn’t work with other extensions, so there may be a trade off there. How smooth does the extensions work? Do some of them – or a combination of them – make the browser unstable? What about security? And what if one extension is updated – will it still work as expected, or will some incompatibilities have popped up? These are real problems Firefox users have experienced.

So you see, you may potentially spend a lot of time to get it right – that’s the negative side of the situation. The positive side is that there actually are some really great extensions out there.

Opera can’t be extended in the same way, but is it really that far behind? Ad blockers exist, useful side panels, a developer toolbar – or rather developer menu – exists. Truth to be told, you can edit the menus and add entries and features by editing ini-files. You can save the different setups and load specific ones depending on what you want to do. Opera users share the setups they’ve made, many through my.opera.com and some centralised web sites. Just like Firefox users, Opera users have to find the setup they like best – unless they edit the ini-files needed themselves. It may be easier than writing an extension. Unlike Firefox though, you don’t add external code that can make the browser unstable, the different setups aren’t really incompatible with each other, but can’t be used at the same time. You can however edit and combine the different ini-files to achieve that effect, though.

Now, it may seem like no matter which browser you choose, you have to spend time to get the browser like you want it. But of course: That depends. If you want features that neither browser offer by default you have to spend some time to achieve the desired result. How much time depends on which features it is and which browser it is.

However, the situations I hear most of, is when Firefox users is searching for extensions that achieve just the same as Opera offer by default, plus the Adblock. And the problem I hear most of, is that these extensions doesn’t offer quite the same quality and options as Opera, and that some popular extensions weren’t compatible with each other – the combination made Firefox unstable and even crash. It could be solved by using particular versions of the extensions, or alternative extensions, but it took more time than expected.

So the question I’m left with now is the one in the title: If you want the features that Opera offer, without the ad and without paying for it – how much is your time worth?

How to get Opera 8 for free

Filed under:Browsers — posted by Svein Kåre on 2 June 2005 @ 15:50

You may have seen in various reviews of Opera 8 that it is a great browser, but that it has a price tag attached. Here’s how to get the browser and use it – completely legal – for free:

First go to opera.com and download Opera 8, then install it. When you set it up, chose to show the relevant text ads (google ads) instead of the generic banner ads. If you don’t like how the interface looks, now it’s also a great time to change it: Just right click on any toolbar and choose “customize…” Remove buttons you don’t like, add the ones you want, place them on the toolbar you want, change the position of the different toolbars. Change the appearance by downloading a different skin. The text ads will be on the top toolbar, but ignore them for now.

OK, you’ve got the browser to look like you want it. Now, some features are still hidden, such as mail and RSS feeds. If you set up a mail (and/or a chat) account, you’ll get another menu option – unsurprisingly called “Mail”. If you subscribe to an RSS/Atom feed, a menu option called “Feeds” appear. But if you don’t care for these extra bits in Opera, Opera won’t bother you with them.

Right, you’re ready for the next step. Start using Opera 8 exclusively for a week (or more.) Don’t worry about the text ads for now, just actively use Opera for everything. Try the different options you have in Opera; the notes, the download manager, maybe you’ll find the user javascripts useful. Just really explore Opera, and try Opera.

Now, at the end of the week (or longer) the ads will still be there, but ask yourself the following two questions: 1) Have the ads really bothered you? and 2) Have you paid anything for Opera, or did you get it for free, with all options available?

I know the answer to the last question is, that you’ve got Opera for free. As for the first question only you know the answer, but if you are one of the few that not only notice the ads but are bothered by them, you can choose to pay the price (half price for students) to remove that feature. If you think the browser’s worth it.

No matter how we choose, however, it can’t change the fact that Opera is free!



image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace