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Posts Tagged #Software

Posted on by Arnon Erba in General

(Editor’s note: Tails is way past version 0.13, so this post is useless for practical purpose. Another one for posterity.)

I stumbled across Tails a few weeks ago while searching for stuff for getting around network blocks. Long story short, I found the Tor project website and noticed a link for “Tails – A Live CD/USB distribution configured to use Tor safely.” I liked the sound of that, so when I got the chance I clicked on the link and began to read through the documentation. It turned out that Tails was still in version 0.13 and that the documentation looked pretty complicated. Also, to burn Tails to a thumb drive like I wanted to do, you had to have a version of Tails already burned and booted because the official thumb drive installer program is part of Tails. I was bummed over this as I didn’t want to burn a CD, so I checked around and realized that Lili (Linux Live) USB Creator, a program that I already had, can burn a live version of Tails to a thumb drive. The only catch was that it didn’t allow for persistence files, but that didn’t matter for the way I wanted to use Tails.

Anyway, I got thumb drive set up and booted from it. Tails loaded to the login screen (see images) at an acceptable rate of speed, which was when I noticed some reasons that Tails isn’t version 1.0 yet.

Tails seemed to work okay; the custom browser Iceweasel opened when I logged on and said that I was using the Tor network. Oddly enough, however, the clock wouldn’t synchronize. Though a pop-up said that Tails was setting the time, the clock displayed completely incorrect times on multiple boots on various computers.

One cool feature that Tails provides is Windows XP Camouflage mode (see image). This is under “Advanced Options” at the login screen and loads a custom desktop/window manager that changes the wallpaper, windows, and toolbar to Windows XP style. The effect is fairly convincing though the Start button and fonts don’t look completely right upon close inspection, and from a few feet back someone not extremely familiar with XP would probably mistake Tails for the 2001 version of Windows.

The drawback with this feature is that, well, it’s Windows XP. The reason you would need the camouflage feature would be to fool people around you into thinking that you’re using the computer’s original operating system. However, many computer nowadays run Windows 7 – and now Windows 8 – so an XP camouflage isn’t all that useful.

In the end, it’s clear that Tails is still under development. However, I think it has the potential to become a very powerful tool. This touches on my vision that someday everyone will carry around small, portable, bootable drives that have their own operating system and security systems.

If Tails gains a Windows 7 camouflage mode and undergoes some more refinements, I think it just might hit the spot. In any case, I’ll be watching for new versions.

Posted on by Arnon Erba in General

(Editor’s note: I brought back this post, one of my originals, for posterity.)

Yes! Now we can search from the address bar! Oh, wait, they ruined the tab layout.

Let’s start with the new, improved address bar. I don’t know if you have ever used Safari 5.1.7, but in that browser the address bar did not double as a search bar. The last browser that I noticed this lack-of-a-feature in was Internet Explorer 7. Happily, this has been corrected in Safari 6.0.2.

One feature that’s been added to Safari 6.0.2 is a new tab bar. I guess that there must be some people who like these new, amorphous, size-changing tabs (the feature got added to the latest version of Safari, after all) but for me it’s a disaster. Besides the size-changing, the tabs are below the address bar so locating them quickly with the mouse is difficult.

The tabs (if you could find the option to show them) were all the same size until they exceeded the space available in the tab bar, like a normal browser. However, they were located below the address bar. For me, this is pretty much a deal-breaker: I usually have between 2-10 tabs open at a time, and with Google Chrome (yes, I am a Chrome user) all I have to do is shoot my cursor up to the top of the screen and move it horizontally to locate a tab. This works on maximized Windows browsers and full screen Mac browsers. Not to single out Chrome; both Firefox and Opera are also like this.

With Safari 5.1.7, I had to orient my cursor on both the horizontal and vertical axis to locate a tab. When I’m trying to work quickly, this is a noticeable difficulty as the tabs are also the same color as the tab bar and don’t stand out well. Safari’s tabs also don’t show the site’s favicon, which makes identifying tabs at a glance difficult.

This tab bar is different, but not better, in Safari 6.0.2. Now, the tabs change sizes to fill up the entire tab bar at any given time. That means that the first tab you open takes up the entire bar, then the second one splits it 50/50, then the third one divides the space by three, and so on. This means that when dealing with many tabs at one time, the tabs confusingly change size and position. Isn’t this why Internet Explorer 8’s tab setup was bad? (On that browser, the first tab was big until you opened another tab, then all the tabs would jump to a smaller, albeit uniform, size.)

Another problem with 6.0.2 that was also around in 5.1.7 – and all previous versions as far as I know – is that it’s difficult to clear browser data. In Chrome, Firefox, and even Opera and Internet Explorer the Clear Browser Data options open up in one view with options to clear download history, empty the cache, delete cookies and other site and plug-in data, and clear saved passwords at the minimum. In Safari, there are different menus for clearing browsing history, cache, and download history, and I’m not sure how to clear saved passwords except through CCleaner, a third-party utility. Also, when I chose to clear history and top sites, the top sites page just reset itself to a bunch of websites I have never or hardly ever visited.

Also, with the release of Safari 6.0.2, it looks like Safari for Windows is over. (Ed: …and the five active users were heartbroken.)

In conclusion: the above article turned out as a pretty scathing review. I’m not trying to say that Safari is a terrible browser, and it has lots of neat and innovative features (such as the 2 finger swipe to move back and forward between pages that literally throws the page to the right or left – I love that feature) and excellent HTML5 support. Unfortunately, the toolbar interface and layout of menus makes it not the right browser for me.