speed

I probably should start out by letting everyone know that I am biased – I’ve been using FireFox for a number of years now and am pretty certain that I will be using it for many years to come.  And for those that know me, you may not be surprised at all that I’m currently using the latest beta version (as of this writing, Firefox 4.0 Beta 7, you can visit their beta site here) of the browser to enter this post.  To see a review by Matthew (on behalf of Lockernome), check out the video here.

I’m a huge fan because Firefox is extremely configurable.  I’m thinking the new features will win over many folks, and they are looking at what other browsers use (like Synch) as well as what users have developed or really want and are updating as appropriate!  I love it that FireFox is still standards-based and will support HTML 5.

But this post is not all about FireFox, I mentioned in an earlier post that Microsoft is currently in beta testing for Internet Explorer 9.  As of this writing they are also in beta release 7 (you can see their beta site here).  While (in this writer’s opinion) IE has not been accused of being standards based for many versions, they have made an effort to move more towards standards compliance, and that is a welcome move.

From the various tests and information on the site, IE will also have a decent overhaul.  Quicker, supporting more graphic options, and looking towards HTML 5 are also in their offerings, along with security enhancements.  It looks to be a nice update!

Google’s Chrome browser is in version 9 beta testing (you can find their beta site here).  While this may seem strange (since version 8 was just released in stable version to the public), it is important to keep in mind that browsers are applications.  As such, they are always in a state of development and refinement based on changes to standards, user needs and updating technology (think smart phones, pad / tablet technologies as well as updating web development / presentation applications, etc.).  Chrome has been another strong browser that you may want to install and give a try – it is a very capable application.

Opera … believe it or not, is also in beta for version 11 (you can see their beta site here).  I love the play off of Spinal Tap in their site (and if you have no idea what I’m talking about, you either haven’t seen This Is Spinal Tap or you don’t remember it … and shame on you if you fit in the latter category, go watch it again).  Again, loads of promising features!

All the browsers are promising better performance (touted as speed).  They also look to have better features for us, the user community.  So the question becomes – when will you update?  Some people adopt quick, others – not so much.  If your computer can handle the software, I would encourage you to update to take advantage of the new features as well as increased performance.

If you don’t adopt and upgrade, at some point you will not be as pleased as you can be with your surfing experience.  And for developers of web sites out there – you need to test in multiple browsers to ensure your content is showing up as you intended across these different applications.

Thanks for reading, I’m looking forward to FireFox having a stable release of version 4 early in 2011.  What are you looking to update to?  Feel free to leave a comment or thought – unless you’re going to comment on why I didn’t include Safari (hey, they are at version 5, and let me know where their beta URL is and I’d be happy to – why does Steve J. make it hard?).


 

We perform routine maintenance on our homes so that items that could break and cause problems last longer and perform at their peak levels.  We do the same with our cars, change out vacuum cleaner bags (so we can continue to collect and remove dirt from our homes), oil the chain on our bicycles, and clean gunk out of our pipes so water flows out of the sink in a hasty fashion.  So – what are we doing to help our computers?

That is where this article comes in.  We know we should perform some kind of maintenance, but sometimes we are not sure what maintenance is needed or even how to perform what folks say is necessary.  I would venture a guess that defragmentation of your hard drive is one of the areas most folks do not perform on any regular basis.

What is defragmentation?

If you want something in depth, there are loads of articles out there to learn about what it is (like Wikipedia among many others).  In a nut shell, every time you use your computer to access files, surf on the web, do e-mail, play games, and a host of other things – you scatter files on your hard drive.  That is what defragmenting is – files that are not contiguous and must be accessed multiple times by the computer’s hard drive (keep in mind this is just a mechanical device in your machine used to store data for retrieval) before the file is put together and assembled for viewing on your computer.

The illustration I use is a filing cabinet.  When you initially get your filing cabinet and filing system set up, things are clean and orderly.  Then, as business picks up (or just continues on), things can get a bit more confusing or messy.  Let’s say you have the Smith’s file in a single folder.  Then, they have a need you can meet, but you take out the folder and leave parts of the contents on your desk and return the folder to the cabinet.  Then, later in the day you put part of the found files back in the folder but take the sales for the day (including the Smith’s sale) and place that in a daily sales folder.  As the Smith family expands (they had twins!) you create new folders for each family member.  Interaction with them now is more dispersed, so you start a communication folder which contains correspondence to the Smith’s.

As all of this goes on, what happens if you want a holistic view of the Smith’s records?  At the end of the cycle, you would need to pull together many files from various folders and lay them out to see an overview of what is going on.  This is what happens with your information on your hard drive.  However, think of this in terms of one document, say a Microsoft Word document.  Once created, it could write to multiple areas on your hard drive (looking for available free space on the drive, it writes where it is found).  So that 100Kb document could easily be in 8 different sectors of a hard drive disk.  And, to retrieve that file, your computer will need to access each of those areas and piece the file back together again before you can view or edit it – and that takes time.

Why should you defragment?

To speed up access time!  Some files you access frequently (say, your recipe file that you have been working on to store all the family secret sauces), and others much more infrequently (like your Christmas mailing address list that you update once a year).  Many defragment products on the market can take file access into account as they put files together on your hard drive, so frequently accessed files are given priority space on the disk so they are contiguous and as close as possible to a fast access area.  Ones that are less frequently accessed are placed in another area of the hard drive since they don’t get touched as often.

The fact is, if you don’t defragment your machine will seems to get slower over time as more and more files are left in more places on the disk for later retrieval.  And at that point, it will take some time to defragment your files to reclaim wasted space and expedite your access to data.

Pros & Cons

This argument is similar to the one all the techies have had over the years about powering computers up and leaving them on all the time (reduces wear and tear, keeps temperatures and operation of the unit at a constant, etc.) verse powering them down (energy savings, saving life of components by less use, etc.).  The hard drive is a mechanical device, so defragmenting does work the drive ‘harder’ because you are taking files and moving them around all over the disk to gain access time (performance) to the files.  Some will argue this reduces the life of the hard drive.  Others say if you take so much time to access the files you stop using the machine!

From a practical standpoint, I want the best of all possible worlds.  Hard drives are mechanical devices and they do fail, but they have come a long way from the early days of computing – they can certainly handle defragmentation without a sweat.  And performance is something I demand from my computer – so defragmentation is not just an option, it is a must!

What do you recommend?

Defragment!  Personally, I do this weekly on my home computer because I use it often (on my work laptop, this is done daily and takes no more than 2 minutes).  Using a Windows operating system, your machine comes with a built in defragment tool (commonly found under the “System Tools” option in Windows-based PC environments).

But there are other options.  One of the free ones I like is Defraggler by Priform.  But there are bigger players that have trial versions you can try before you buy (like Diskeeper 2009 Pro or Perfectdisk 2008 Pro).

Finally, if you are like many users, you may just need to set up what you have to do the job.  Microsoft has a step by step instruction set for your Operating System!  Since XP is the one many folks are using, see their Schedule a weekly defragmentation article to set this up.

I hope this article helps explain what defragmenting is and how you can defragment your machine to get the best possible performance from it.  Drop a comment if you have other tips or tricks you want to share on this subject, and thanks for reading!


 

WebDunnRight recently relocated (read that, our family moved).  Having to move brings on a whole new set of needs and opportunities.  I am very familiar with the ins and outs of our former home, could tell you where I had the best connectivity (wireless, that is – wired was pretty much decent everywhere), and could show you nuances that most would not notice.  All that has changed since the move.

Get the professionals out!

The first thing I did right was to contact my ISP and review my options for the upcoming move.  One of the services they offered was to send out a technician to check the lines at our new place of residence and ensure everything received the best possible signal.  We quickly learned it was money well spent.  We were in splitter city, which brings on signal loss, and our technician was on top of it.  After tracing down where lines entered the residence, he installed a signal amplifier and we’re golden throughout the home.  I’d highly recommend this to anyone moving, but your ISP can also provide this service to you if you don’t plan on a move anytime soon.

Checking my speed

After setting up just a portion of my gear (I’ve got to be connected), I went over to Speedtest.net to see what kind of speeds I’m getting.  Mind you, I’m typing this on my laptop working wireless over a Belkin IEEE 802.11g compliant router.  Going from here to a server in Washington, D.C. I turned a speed of 14252 kb/s for downloads and 2808 kb/s for uploads – not shabby in the least!

Why is this important?

All this talk about speed has real implications for your online experience.  Your connectivity is a deciding factor when we look at issues such as choppy audio and/or video, the way various web sites load in your browser, and a host of other issues (banking, interactivity with shopping or support sites, etc.) that have a real impact to the experience we have and the impressions we take away.

Imagine attempts to create and manipulate various web sites.  While I do this on my computer and experience little or no lag time (after all, I’m working off my computer’s hard drive only) while making and testing my creations, it is a totally different experience once the site is on the web.  That is when you get to experience it!  But what if I have a hard time writing files up to the server (my connection is slow)?  Will I be a happy camper?  Probably not, and you wouldn’t notice one bit (since this is all about me and my ISP, I can either get what I pay for in speed or I settle for what I hooked up to if I chose not to get the professionals out to the home).

Perhaps more practical is the connectivity to sites like YouTube or news sites where watching video or listening to audio (streaming, of course!) means lag times or choppy ‘reception’ of the media.  One of my customers has asked me to fix a video that was perceived as choppy, but the video was fine – it was all about the bandwidth and connectivity of my customer.  And that can be disappointing!  Remember, computing has moved forward quite a bit.  I’m old enough to recall my first 300 baud modem (yes, I was alive way back then) and logging on to my first Wildcat BBS.  When I bumped up my old Amiga modem to 2400 baud, I thought my computer was the cat’s meow.

Times have changed…

With this change comes newer hardware, newer software, and new capabilities.  We now have so many choices!  You can still connect via a dial-up connection, just realize your speeds will be limited by the capabilities offered in that arena (56 kb/s will be tops, and that is utopia – expect speeds of 52 kb/s or less).  Or getting a broadband connection which is what many folks are doing or have done as this rides on their existing cable connection.  Others are opting for FiOS connections, and it’s hard to tell where the future may take us as compitition for speed heats up.

What’s it mean for a web designer?

As I have written before (in my Images and the web article) we should still design for the ‘lowest common denominator’ standards.  Don’t forget that not all your customers will be visiting you on some high speed access, there are still plenty of people coming to our sites using dial-up.  So do the right thing with your images (properly size them and use thumbnails as needed) and media files (make them streaming).  Remember, it’s not about you and your capabilities – it is always about the person on the other side of the computer screen – the customer.

Interested in your speed?

Below are links to some speed tools.  Have fun!

If you have other tidbits you’d like to share with me, feel free to comment.  Thanks for reading!