Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Google Page Speed for Chrome and Online

Another of my favourite performance tools for reducing every millisecond from loading times is Google Page Speed.  Although it's a little fiddly to install (fiddly in the sense that it takes more than 30 seconds), it's still a brilliant extension to have for Chrome.

If you already have Chrome, take a look over at the Page Speed site for what it brings to the table.  The install notes and download links are available here.

Again, I recommend using this in addition to certain other tools so that absolutely everything is covered.  Other tools that you really should use are: -
Don't take everything that these tools say as gospel though.  There are some things that you might absolutely need to load first, i.e. your JQuery JavaScript for example.  And while I'm about JQuery, Page Speed also picked up errors in the code that aren't your fault and aren't easily correctable so you will get marked down for those.  Other things in there are quite easy to correct, such as where you've specified an image but missed out the image dimensions for example.  I managed to get my site up to 98/100 which I'm quite happy with.
Some of the recommendations that it will ask you to make include: -
  • Minify HTML and JavaScript;
  • Combine images into CSS sprites and avoid CSS @import;
  • Optimise images and specify dimensions;
  • Specify a character set;
  • Put CSS in your document head;
I found that it made a small difference, but if that difference is your user sticking with you and the user going elsewhere, it could well be worth a small amount of your time.  Oh and lastly, there is an online version of this available as well.  Head over to Page Speed Online and give your site a test.  It should also be noted that there is a version available for Firefox versions 4 and above.

YSlow now Available for Opera, Chrome in Beta

For those of you who have read some of my previous posts, you will know that I'm a big fan of the YSlow extension that until now has only been available for Firefox.

For those of you who don't know what YSlow is, it's basically a small tool that analyses every part of page performance.  Each aspect of your site is graded and improvements are suggested.  If you get a chance, have a read through my post on 'How to Speed up Your Website' where I use YSlow in combination with a number of other tools that really work.

Chrome users can have their cake as well, albeit a slightly smaller piece until it leaves the beta stage.  Version 3.0.6 is available from the Chrome Web Store right now.

YSlow really is one of the best tools out there for squeezing every drop of performance out of your pages.  Be aware for those people who want to use this who are using Firefox, you will need to have the Firebug extension installed.

If you want to get started, here is what you need to do.
  1. Using Opera for desktop, install the extension from the Opera extensions sites.
  2. Visit the website you'd like to measure the performance of.
  3. Click the YSlow icon in your toolbar, then click the "Run Test" button.
For more details about YSlow, take a look at the main YSlow site.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Beef up your Security with HTTPS Everywhere

EFF have released HTTPS Everywhere version 1.0 for Firefox as the project has recently come out of the beta testing stage.

The question is, why should you use it and what does it give you?

Well, in a nutshell it enables you to browse the web securely, even when you don't realise that you aren't browsing an HTTPS enabled website.  The problem with a lot of what you do is that a lot of your requests are sent over a vanilla HTTP connection, which is, err, insecure.  For example, your normal request to will be redirected to  Simples!

HTTPS Everywhere addresses this issue by rewriting all of your requests to HTTPS.  Full details of the product are available here, and the download is available from here.  It also boasts that it now supports over 1000 websites including all of the big names such as Google, Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook and PayPal to name a few.

If you use Firefox, then this is a must as 'it just works' to quote Apple without you even noticing.

If PHP Were British...

I've just come across this great article from AddedBytes which is quite frankly, brilliant!

It's a bit tongue in cheek but very funny if you read through the article.

Taken from the article:
When Rasmus Lerdorf first put PHP together, he - quite sensibly, despite his heritage - chose not to write it in Greenlandic or Danish. Good job too - that would have been rather unpleasant to work with. He opted instead, being in Canada at the time, for the local tongue. No, not French - that bastard dialect of the Queen's English commonly referred to as "US English".

PHP developers in Britain have been grumpy about this ever since. What was he thinking? And more importantly, how do we undo this travesty? How do we developers ensure the traditions of the British Empire continue to be upheld, even in the digital age?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Chrome 14 Beta Brings Native Code

In not so new news this week, Google has released Chrome 14 to the beta testing channel which brings with it Google's Native Client technology.  The download is available on their beta downloads pages.

So what does all this mean?  Well in short, quite a lot.  To read more about it, head over to Google's Native Client SDK pages which explains everything in much more detail.  To summarise quickly, it allows compiled C and C++ code to run within the browser which in theory means that anything you write will be able to run on any of the major platforms giving almost true application portability.  It also in theory could reduce security threats because Native Client utilises what Google calls a 'double sandbox' so that system security will be difficult to penetrate.  Performance should also be enhanced, as desktop applications will be able to run within the browser.

If Google get this right, it should allow for a much better browsing experience, and it ties directly in with their Chrome OS strategy with the browser being a key application to do most things on the OS.  And if they do get this right, it would allow web developers to utilise code libraries from multiple platforms.  Sounds great!

If you get a chance, download Chrome 14 and take a look at their Native Client demo here.

Firefox 6 Now Available

An update to the already brand new Firefox 5 is now available to download.  The update comes just two months after Firefox 5 was released.

Recently since Firefox 4, Mozilla appear to be on a quick release cycle which other browsers such as Google Chrome seem to be following.  The download is now available on the Mozilla site, and has now been pushed to the automatic update feature within Firefox as of this morning.

After updating yesterday, it seems that there is little or no difference in functionality.  Digging a little deeper, it appears that 5 brings performance increases of about 20%, which isn't too bad at all.  Visually, is it almost identical.  The only minor note is that the domain name is now bold in the URL bar at the top.

What has frustrated me about this release so far is that quite a few of my add-ons were incompatible with this new version which I use on a daily basis.  I think that Mozilla should have made more of an effort to support these better so that they work from day one, but that hasn't happened.  For that reason, I've gone back (even though I hate doing that) to version 5.0.1, which is available here on all platforms for those people who have the same problem.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Internet Explorer 9 Security: Top of the Tests

In what you could say is a surprising twist of reputation, NSS Labs have revealed what they think is the most secure of all browsers for malware and malicious websites, and yes you've guessed it by now, Internet Explorer.  One of the many articles can be found over at ZDNet.

Anybody who knows the previous chequered history of Internet Explorer will know that Microsoft have been highly criticised for its vulnerabilities and many patches that have given it such a poor reputation.  To be fair to Microsoft, they have been fighting back hard as of late.  Internet Explorer 9 is much more enjoyable to use, and it has a much cleaner and compact appearance.  I'm not a fan of any browser in particular being honest.  The main reason that I stick with IE is because that's where my users are.  Yes, I have to make sure that my code works properly in all browsers but first it needs to absolutely work here.

The article above goes on to mention that even with the built in application reputation technology disabled, IE9 still managed a URL blocking score of 89.5 percent and an overtime protection rating of 96 percent.  In the same NSS Labs tests, Firefox 4 and Safari 5 both scored 7.6 percent for filtering malware, with Chrome 12 faring slightly better at 13.2 percent.  The total blocking rate for IE9 is now at an impressive  99.2 percent.

I really hope that Microsoft carry on doing well with IE, not because I have any preference toward them, but because they really are making some excellent products at the moment.  The days of IE6 are almost well and truly behind them.

One last thing which is just a quick thanks to those who have been reading my blog as of late.  If anybody wouldn't mind clicking through on my sponsored links it would be really much appreciated.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Google Chrome Jumps to Second in the UK

Oh dear, it really hasn't been a good month or so for Mozilla.  Not only do they not have any niche anymore as I discussed recently, but now they have slipped into third place behind Chrome in the UK.

According to Statcounter, Google Chrome has now jumped to second place in the so called 'browser wars' in the UK (still second worldwide).  Google Chrome has only been with us now for a short while, 3 years in fact but already it has made good inroads into the market.  The statistics that Statcounter has shows the following in the UK:
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer (45%)
  • Google Chrome (22%)
  • Mozilla Firefox (just under 22%)
  • Apple Safari (9%)
Both the market share for IE and Firefox has been on the decline as of late, whilst Chrome and Safari have taken advantage of the enlightened user awareness of alternative browsers.  Google certainly have made the most of this with their recent dip into television advertising which highlights the benefits of Google and Chrome together.  A couple of things that Google has been shouting about is speed and security.  The other browsers historically have had problems with both of these areas, so it's all about taking advantage.  And to be fair to Google, Chrome is very, very fast.  When Apple ported Safari across to Windows, they made big statements about the browsing experience, with speed being one of these areas although they have been very quiet as of late, almost standing still watching the others slug it out.

Google really won't be giving up on this one.  Logically, Google has more to gain from any of the other three companies listed as Chrome is essentially a base product for all of their other products.  Firstly there is the new Chromebook which in my opinion really is a mile away from being a full consumer product.  I'll do a Google here and call the Chromebook a beta product, because essentially that is what it is.  It's not a spot on either a Windows 7 or an OSX laptop but that's another story for another day.  Next, it links in with Android, which again has made massive inroads in the smartphone market.  Then there is the biggest product, search.  This is where Google makes its money and it comes from advertising, sponsored links and affiliate links.

So really, it's all about the money, and Google are good at making money.

I'm still thinking though that Internet Explorer will be king for a while to come yet.  Not only have they released a good browser as of late, there are plans for Internet Explorer 10 which take on more of the HTML5 and CSS3 specifications. With this, I expect that they will stay static with their market share, or even gain some back.

So back to Firefox.  They really are taking a kicking at the moment.  Yes they are still second globally, but for how long?  They won't be losing third place to Apple, and they won't be getting first place either.  They need to do some work I think!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

SQL Server and Dynamic Memory

Since our move to Hyper-V and the addition of Service Pack 1 for Windows Server 2008r2, the addition of Dynamic memory has helped us vastly manage the resources within our virtual servers much better.  For those who don't know, Dynamic Memory is where the memory utilised in virtual environments can be changed dynamically while the virtual machine is running.  For this to work the OS needs to be aware and it is something that SP1 does nicely for us.

I came across something odd a few weeks ago after deploying a new virtual machine running SQL Server 2008 Standard Edition.  The server had plenty of resources as the OS was able to utilise much more memory as and when it was needed.  The problem was that the SQL Server would fall over without notice.  After reading through the logs, it soon became apparent that the SQL Server would continuously keep running out of memory.  The virtual machine has its settings set to a minimum of 512mb of memory, which will balloon when it is required.  The problem is that the standard edition of SQL Server uses a fixed amount of memory from the OS when it's running and it's not able to ask for more resources.  The only editions that can utilise Hot Memory are the Enterprise and Datacenter editions.

So the moral of the story is that the next time you install your SQL Server and you are running on the Hyper-V platform, it always almost certainly will benefit you to install the Enterprise edition so that you don't need to set your virtual machine to use a much higher fixed memory that the other virtual machines running within that pool can't use.