Modern Web Browsers and Extension Suggestions

Firefox LogoAs web marketers and developers we sometimes get too involved in all things web, and it’s a great idea to occasionally step back and view the technologies we are so used to interacting with from a new or different perspective.

Recently, a client was reviewing her newly developed website while using the outdated and no longer supported web browser Internet Explorer 6 (IE6).  Modern web development often uses advanced techniques that will not display correctly in IE6; instead of a nice orderly layout, the header might be completely missing, and among many other problems, the content columns are often found haphazardly placed on the page.  We were happy to quickly resolve the discrepancies of her broken browsing experience by suggesting a browser change to Firefox, and an upgrade for Internet Explorer.

Because modern browsers make it possible for the web to be a more advanced and feature rich place, it’s a good idea to evaluate your web browsing tools and options and make sure your preferred browser is up to snuff and up to date!

Here are the browsers that will provide an optimal browsing experience on today’s web:

  • Mozilla Firefox – with an active non-profit development team focused on innovation, as well as a wide variety of useful add-ons, Firefox is a powerful browser.
  • Google Chrome – Google’s official browser.  Chrome is fast, free, and has a growing base of add-ons (extensions).
  • Internet Explorer 8 or 9 – if you’re a Windows user and you aren’t comfortable installing a 3rd party browser, it’s best to make sure your Internet Explorer is updated to the latest version.
  • Safari – if you’re a Mac user and you aren’t comfortable installing a 3rd party browser, it’s best to make sure your Safari browser is updated to the latest version.

If you’re using Firefox and you’d like to take advantage of the ability to install add-ons, below are a few of the extensions we recommend and use every day:

  • Update Scanner – regularly scans web pages and alerts the user if changes have been made.
  • Rapportive – provides in-depth details about your Gmail contacts inside your inbox.
  • Pearl Crescent Page Saver – one of many screen capture extensions, Pearl Crescent covers the basics and works well to capture an entire page as well as just the visible portion.
  • PageRank Client – With Google Toolbar no longer supported past Firefox version 4, PageRank Client replaces one of  Google Toolbar’s functions by providing you with a web page’s Google PageRank.
  • GBookmarks – similar to the PageRank extension above, GBookmarks replaces a function previously found on the Google Toolbar: access to your Google Bookmarks in the browser menu bar.
  • MeasureIt – an invaluable web development tool, MeasureIt allows you to draw a pixel ruler overlay on a web page to determine the width or height of elements on the page.
  • Firebug – another invaluable web development tool, FireBug is an incredibly full-featured web development debugging tool which is used in all aspects of web development.
  • Copy Pure Text – adds the handy ability to strip formatting off of copied text.

Chrome’s web store also provides MeasureIt and Firebug (Lite version), as well as equally awesome extensions for most of the functions found in the list above.

What are your tips and tricks for a more powerful web browsing experience? What browser extensions could you not live without?  Please let us know your suggestions and favorite browser extensions and tools in the comments section below!

The Importance of Updates, Backups, & Security Hardening

It is all too easy to put a website online, get caught up in the day to day running of the website, and forget about maintenance. Unfortunately, when running a self-hosted website, your maintenance job never really ends. If you ignore software updates and other security and maintenance tasks, you may find your site compromised; you could be unwittingly hosting thousands of spam pages, infecting your visitors with malicious software, be flagged with a warning in Google, or find your entire site deleted.

In order to prevent security breaches, website hijacking, and spamming, it is very important that you or your website manager maintains an attitude of preventative security; while some security hardening should be done during a site’s initial setup, it is very important to stay regularly and continuously vigilant and aware of what is happening on your website & server.

Your regular security routine should include (but not be limited to):

  • Off-server backups of your website files and databases (weekly, monthly, or quarterly, depending on how static your content is)
  • Installing software updates in packages running on your website (it’s best to do this at least monthly, immediately after a backup)
  • Checking your SERPs for unknown or suspicious looking URLs (you may find hidden spam content)
  • Checking your website file system for unknown directories or files
  • Checking your website’s source code for unknown or hidden content
  • Changing your FTP and web hosting administrator passwords at least every 6 months
  • Checking your website’s status in webmaster tools through Google, Yahoo, and Bing

Security Hardening

In addition to a good security routine, it is also important to have a few bases covered ahead of time; I recommend everyone read Dr. Neal Krawetz’s “Better Than Nothing Security” blog post series, found on his Hacker Factor Blog. In this blog series, Neal provides very practical and easy to implement security ideas for all webmasters. Neal is a local Fort Collins computer security expert, and his blog is a great resource.

A few additional tips for good security:

  • Whenever possible, use trusted networks when connecting to your web server or logging in to manage your website – coffee shop wi-fi is off limits!
  • If not on a trusted network (or even if you are), use SFTP to connect to your web server, and make sure you are using an encrypted (https) connection when logging in to any type of website control panel (hosting, WordPress, etc).

By performing some initial security hardening, sticking to a regular security routine, and using good website management security practices, you can rest easy knowing that your website is very unlikely to be hacked or hijacked, and in the event that it is, you have a recent backup ready to restore.

Do you have additional security tips and resources for webmasters? Please let us know about them in the comments!

How Websites Work

A website is a collection of web pages, documents and multi-media files that are hosted (stored) on a server (computer) on the Internet. The server can be in your own town, in another part of the country or in another part of the world.

All of the public Internet servers throughout the world are interconnected. When a person goes online with their personal computer, they connect to the Internet and are then able to access all publicly available documents and files stored on the World Wide Web.

The location of a website and its files on the Internet is usually identified by a domain name.

When you type the domain name for a website (website address) into a browser address field, or click on a link to the website via a  search engine results page, you are requesting to view that page and the related files stored on the server at that location (the domain).

Your request is sent from your computer to the server of your Internet service provider, which then passes on your request. The request is passed through a series of interconnected servers until it gets to the ‘host’ server where the website files are stored.

The host server responds to your request by sending the content back to you along a similar path of Internet servers. You are then able to view the web page and related files via your web browser, e.g. FireFox or Internet Explorer.

website-diagram

Since these terms are somewhat abstract some people confuse their website ‘domain name’ with their website ‘hosting’. In my next post I will go into a bit more detail about what a domain name is, and how it relates to your website and hosting.

The World Wide Web (WWW)

The World Wide Web (WWW)Many people think that the  Web and the Internet are the same, but they are not. The Internet is the foundation the Web is built upon.

The Internet is a global network of interconnected computers. These interconnected computers are able to share data (information), however not all the data on the Internet is available via the Web. When you get online with your computer, you become part of the Internet, i.e. your computer becomes one of the interconnected computers on the Internet.

The World Wide Web is a system of interconnected servers (computers) that support specially formatted documents (web pages) that contain HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language), and hyperlinks. The key elements here are the markup of the documents and the linking within the text and graphics. When clicked upon, these links (hyperlinks) give a user immediate access to additional web pages and multi-media items such as image, video and audio files.

Software applications called ‘browsers’ enable us to access the information on the Web. Two of the most popular browsers are Internet Explorer (Microsoft), and FireFox (Mozilla). Other browsers commonly used are Safari (Apple), Opera and most recently, Chrome (Google).

It is the specially formatted documents, the linking within them, and the related files, all accessible via a browser, that make up the World Wide Web.

In a nutshell, without the Web the Internet would still exist, without the Internet the Web could not exist.

Stay tuned for our next post where I will talk about websites and how they work.