I converted the opening of Wikipedias’ “Hard Disk Drives” article into Thing-Explainer logic

Thing-Explainer is a book being written by XKCD’s Randall Munroe which tries to explain complex concepts and objects – using only the 1000 most common words in English.

He released is writing tool “Simple Writer” today which makes sure he doesn’t use an “uncommon” word, and I *had* to try it. After being disappointed by “Little Red Riding Hood” using common language, I decided to turn up the heat a bit and re-write the Wikipedia entry on Hard Disk Drives

It’s actually really, really hard in spots.

A spinning drive, “hard drive”, hard plate drives or fixed plate is a information keeping thing used for storing and getting computer information using one or more hard fast spinning plates coated with special stuff that keeps information. The plates are paired with special heads put on a moving arm which goes up and down, which read and write information to the plate surfaces. Information is read in a from anywhere it finds it, meaning that single blocks of information can be stored or read in any order rather than one-by-one. Spinning Plates keep stored information even when powered off.

Made by World Business Machines  in 1956, Hard Plates became the most used runner-up information keeping thing for not-different computers by early 1960. Made better over time, Hard Plates have stuck with this position into todays big computers and personal computers. More than 200 companies have made Hard Plate things, though most of them are made by other companies. World wide spinning plate money gatherings were US $32000000000 in 2013, down 3% from 2012.

The main points of interest of plate drives are how much they can hold, and how fast it can read and write. How much it can keep is written in number-letters telling us how many 1000’s it can hold. In most cases, most of what it can hold is not for people because it is used by the map of things in the system and the thing that makes the computer do stuff, and sometimes built in mirrors of the stuff in case things go wrong and it has to be fixed. How fast they can go is kept by the time needed to move the heads reading stuff to a track or plate (usual look time) and the time it takes for the wanted part to move under the head (usual time until it gets where you want it, which is held back by how quick it can spin around each minute), and finally how quickly the stuff is pulled (read time).

The two most usual forms for todays spinning plates are 3.5 fingers wide for tall personal computers, and 2.5 fingers for small flat computers. Hard plates are joined to systems by information sharing lines such with different ways of sharing the information.

As of 2015, the main other way of keeping information is flash memory in the form of drives that do not spin, which are quicker at sharing information, less chance of breaking, and takes less time to find information, but spinning drives remain the main way for keeping stuff because it is less money to keep things on the drives. However, drives that do not spin are taking over spinning drives where being quick, eating power, and less problems are more important.

Fiber, X, Ad Blocking and Tracking

It’s been about a month since my last update? Maybe I should post something.

Fiber has been a bit slow moving, partly because I’ve just been slow and hitting other projects, but mostly from toying around with CEF. One prominent issue is the fact that the current crop of CEF examples and samples are using a mix of GTK and X. Many outdated questions and forums on the web bring up Qt and CEF, but with the relatively limited time I have to work on the project it has made things feel slightly more arduous than it needs to be when there’s no answer to the problem. Part of this is the fact that Qt has WebEngine/WebView, so CEF integration is a niche topic. It’s nothing insurmountable, but I might need to accept a temporary dependency on X. This annoys me, but the project needs to move forward and I can’t be stuck spinning my wheels. At the lowest level of the application I will need platform-specific code anyway, I simply wanted to see how long I could avoid it.

“Did you ever solve for X?”

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The Fiber Engine Poll, Updates, and Breeze

Some weeks ago I ran a poll to see what would be the preferred rendering engine for Fiber, and so I figure now is the time to post results. There was a surprising amount of misinformation/confusion running around about what each option potentially meant which I hope to clear up, but overall the results were so compelling I doubt stripping the misinformation and re-running the poll would return a different result.

Third Place: Port to CEF Later

“Porting to CEF later” was the lowest voted option at ~18% of the ballet, and in retrospect it makes sense since it’s just a poor solution. The only upside is that it gets an obsolete implementation out the door (if that’s an upside), but it makes things complicated during an important phase of the project by putting an engine change in motion while trying to flesh out deeply tied APIs. Not good.

Oddly some people wanted a WebEngine/CEF switch and took to this option as Fiber having such a switch. Considering CEF proper is based on Chromium/Blink (which is what WebEngine uses) it’s a bit like asking to take two paths to the same destination; there are differences in the road but in the end both ways lead to Blink. There will be no switch for Cef/WebEngine because adding one would bring down the API potential to the lowest common denominator while increasing complexity to the most advanced method.

Runner up: Use WebEngine

“Use WebEngine” was the runner-up at 24% of the vote. The main prospect behind this is that it would result in a shipping browser fastest, but it also works under the assumption that it may increase code compatibility between Qt-based browsers – but the architecture of Fiber I believe will be very alien compared to contemporary solutions. If there are chances to collaborate I will, but I don’t know how much of that will be possible.

There was also a segment that voted for WebEngine thinking CEFs was just a more complicated route to Chromium, being confused about the road to Servo.

Winner by a mile: Go Exclusively CEF

It’s no surprise that in the end “Use CEF” trounced the remainder of the poll at 59% of respondents voting in favour of it – more than both other options combined or any individual option doubled. From the comments around the internet one of the biggest reasons for the vote is Servo as a major differentiating factor between other browsers, and also because it would help mitigate the Webkit/Blink monopoly forming on non-mozilla browsers for Linux.

This excites me as a web developer, and I’m likely to try pushing Servo as the default engine as it will likely be plenty good by the time Fiber is released. Sadly, I believe there were a few votes placed thinking that Fiber would ultimately usher in a “QCef” or “KCef” framework; and I don’t think this will be the case.

On making a Frameworks 5 API I considered it as a super-interesting Frameworks addition, but after careful consideration I realised there just aren’t too many projects which would benefit from what would be a substantial amount of work. Another issue is that I think the QWebEngine is appropriate for most projects, and that anything more is needless complication. The Qt developers have done a good job picking the right APIs to expose which suits common needs, and I imagine the additional complexity would only hurt projects adopting such a library; it’s killing a mosquito with a cannon. Plus, QWebEngine will evolve in good time to fill any common needs that pop up.

What will Fiber do?

Fiber is going to go exclusively CEF. I’m in the process of fiddling CEF into the browser – but CEF is a bit of a beast and about 3/4 of my time is simply reading CEF documentation, examples, and reading the source code of open projects using the utility. My main concern is properly including CEF without requiring X11; it’s possible, but the Linux example code isn’t using Aura, and the implementation examples are GTK-based as well. Qt and KF5 have solutions, but I’m reseaching the best route to take.

In terms of what engine Fiber is using (Servo vs Blink) I’m going the generic route; you can drop in simple config files pointing to CEF-compatible executables, and when configuring profiles you can pick which engine you would like to use based on those files. This engine switch is already present on the command line and in the “Tuning” section of the profiles manager. This means you can have different profiles running different engines if you choose. There’s a second command-line option which will launch a new instance of Fiber with the engine of your choice running one-time for testing purposes. For the purposes of the default, I’ll probably push Servo.

CEF will not drive UI

Indirectly using CEF means QML may become the exclusive language of UI extensions, popups, and config dialogs. Mainly this is because of the additional abstraction and effort required to offer CEF in several contexts, but it also puts a much cleaner separation between browser and content and will likely make securing the system easier. Extensions will be required to offer pages in HTML.

If you’re using QML, your writing chrome. If you’re using HTML you’re writing a page.

This is also more in-line with the Plasma Mobile guidelines, and though I severely doubt you’ll see Fiber become a mobile browser any time soon this keeps the door open for the far future. In two years I’d rather not break a significant number of extensions for mobile inclusion; I’d rather just have things work, maybe with some minor layout tweaks.

There are real pros and cons to QML as the only way to extend the browser UI, and probably one of the largest I worry about is the fact that QML has a significantly smaller developer base than HTML. On the plus side QML is able adapt to platforms, meaning we might not need to divide extensions between desktop and mobile – that would simply boil down to layout tweaks. All this means is instead of having many extensions of questionable quality, we will aim to offer fewer but higher-quality extensions.

On Progress

Progress is steady. Probably an hour to two of work a night goes into the project, and extra time on weekends as freedom allows. It drives people nuts that I’m taking my dear sweet time on this, but when the groundwork is done there will be a solid base for others to help quickly build on.

I’ve introduced threading into some parts of Fibers management tools, and made significant improvements with how Fiber manages internal data caching for profile data. This all got started when I noticed a split-second of lag on a slider, and realised the long-term implications. Threading was introduced so when the database models are working they do not lag the main thread, and the layer which talks to the model now caches the data and only communicates with the model when one is out of sync. The next step will be to add some internal very coarse timers and event tools which will delay hard data saves until they can be batched efficiently or must be written, and possibly a check to prevent the saving of idenitcal data.

While this may not matter as much for the management tools I’ll be applying these techniques on an extension-wide bases; this will save power, keep Fiber highly responsive, make it CPU wake friendly, and avoid hard drives wakeups – even when bad extensions might behave in “thrashing” behaviours. Ironically this first performance exercise has made me confident that even with many “slow” javascript-driven features, Fiber may become a highly performant browser by virtue of having extremely fine-tuned APIs which give blanket improvements.

One of the most annoying but necessary changes was porting Fiber from QMake to CMake. Originally I had the intention to prototype using QMake, switching to CMake later for the “real” work. As things would have it the prototype had simply evolved and I realised it would just be easier to port it. As I’m not terribly familiar with CMake this started off painfully, but once I realised what CMake was trying to encourage I fell in love and things just clicked.

During the CMake port I also took the opportunity to strip out vestigial or prototypical code and do some housekeeping, which certainly cleaned things up as I not only removed files but also disposed of bits of code too. I also removed all traces of WebEngine which I had used during the earliest prototype phase; the next time Google pops up, it’ll be with CEF.

I’ve also started incorporating the first KF5 libraries into the project. The libraries are very well organised, and also well documented. Finally, I need to compliment Qt and state how amazing the toolkit is. Really. Some of the most notable changes were trivial by Qt making smart use of its internal structure, and even though I’m hardly a veteran developer Qt and it’s extremely good documentation has allowed me to make smart, informed decisions. Really guys, good job.

On other projects

Moving away from Fiber, right now we’re doing a lot of work on refining the Breeze theme for Plasma 5.5 in this thread, where we’re running down paper-cuts on the design and building the next iteration of the style. Ideally, we’d like to see a much more consistent and well-defined visual structure. Later on we will start to address things like alignment issues, and start targeted papercut topics which will address specific visual issues. If you’re interested, please read the entire thread as there is lots of design discussion and contribute your thoughts.

Remember, constructive feedback is the easiest contribution anyone can make to an open-source project!

Fiber Update; WebEngine vs CEF

Fiber has seen some active development, and over the course of a long 3-day weekend full of hacking I’m glad to say that exactly 0 progress has been made! Of course that would be a bit of a fib, I’ve spent the weekend re-factoring all of the profiles code and organising the codebase structure.

I also spent a good chunk of my time reading Qt and KDE coding guidelines and documentation on how files and classes should be structured, and then I applied that information to Fiber. The result now is well commented code, and consistent naming conventions in-line with other Qt/KDE projects.

But re-factoring code isn’t what I’m really interested in talking about…

WebEngine vs CEF

When I started Fiber I worked under the assumption that WebEngine would be the engine for this browser; it’s an official Qt extension, being actively developed, and isn’t going anywhere. After Fiber kind of came into the light I had a comments and emails pointing me to CEF, the “Chromium Embedded Framework” as an alternative to WebEngine.

After doing research it’s severely divided my thoughts on what to use.

What is it?

CEF started as a Chromium-based project meant to create a stable API relative to the rapidly changing engine, something non-qt applications could use as easily and reliably as Qt applications do with WebView . While it started off as just an implementation CEF has a defined stable enough API that it turned into a sort of pseudo-standard. Servo, Mozillas new wonder engine is actually building itself to be a native CEF implementation, meaning that future Firefox will actually be a CEF-based browser.

CEF, despite being not so well-known, is actually used by some very high-profile companies which lends credence to the longevity of the project. Adobe, Valve, Blizzard, Amazon, and other big names have thrown their chips behind CEF. Valve in-particular bases their Steam client on the thing.

Pros and Cons

Cons

Not everything is rosy and bright in the world of CEF; there are always downsides. The first and biggest downside is the fact that CEF doesn’t have a Qt library. The Qt guys didn’t decide on this arbitrarily as they have a different goal for the WebEngine API. At minimum CEF means more complicated work than using an established Qt API.

CEF and having multiple engine options also means that we may see two entirely different sets of bugs coming in, depending on whether or not a person is running Fiber-Chromium or Fiber-Servo in the future. This doesn’t even include potential future CEF implementations; who knows what might show up in 5 years.

I would also like Fiber to be extremely portable, which makes CEF more of a concern; WebEngine currently supports mobile, but CEF will only have Android support ‘in the future’. Since Plasma Mobile includes a more malleable stack I have less doubts that Fiber will run fine on that, but I would like to see Fiber eventually run on Android.

Finally, CEF will add a lot of weight to the browser as an external dependency, to the tune of at least 40MB at minimum. This is more due to WebEngine being part of Qt and already being on the system – but CEF isn’t, and so the rendering engine is a separate binary to distribute. If a distro ever eyes Fiber as a default browser it means there’s over 40 extra reasons to consider a slimmer browser which makes use of more common libraries. Granted, just about every major browser is packing pretty big binaries anyway – but it’s still wasted space.

Pros

One thing that’s kind-of well-known is that WebEngine doesn’t have a particularly deep API (yet). For most applications this is fine as the utility is just used to display some content and hook a few things in so the app can talk to the page in an efficient manner. Fine for the use-case that Qt envisions. For a full-on browser though WebEngine lacks a lot of important interaction points, and though I Initially doubt Fiber will be able to make use of deeper integration in a meaningful way, as time goes on it’s a serious advantage to lose, especially since I don’t know the roadmap for WebEngine and what they plan to add.

WebEngine and WebView also have bad security reputations – I don’t know the specific issues, I just know those issues are prominent enough to see Fedora choose not to ship it. CEF doesn’t seem to have this perception as far as I know. That being said I’m not a guru-level C++ programmer so I’m not disillusioned to the fact that I’ll inject my own security shortcomings; though I won’t have the worry of breaking downstream applications in the quest to fix those issues.

There’s concern in the web development community of a WebKit/Blink monoculture. Outside of Gecko, there’s no longer any rendering engine variety for the Linux community. While I doubt Blink will ever “slack off”, the fact is Blink has undue weight over the web because of its sheer dominance. With more variety it means Blink has to keep in-line with the wider browser community rather than driving it. Gecko, Trident, Edge, and Servo all push Webkit/Blink harder in the same way many desktop environments push KDE to be better.

But the absolute biggest advantage in my opinion is the fact that CEF will offer Servo in the future as well as Blink. It means that we will be highly portable in our choice of rendering engines, able to swap out quickly. If we tightly integrate with Webengine it means Fiber won’t have mobility in the future, but through CEF if one of the engines gains a significant technical lead we can change the engine easily.

The Poll

We have three options for Fibers engine of choice, and I’d like the people who may ultimately use the browser to decide, as I’m really truly torn!

  1. Stick with WebEngine. It’s simple, easy, fast, supported. Fiber already has WebEngine running.
  2. Start with WebEngine and just get the browser up-and-running, later make the transition to CEF. It would be fast at first, but it will complicate things later on as we make the transition, especially if there’s several extension APIs connected with WebEngine.
  3. Write Fiber to use CEF natively. This will probably result in a more performant browser, and will allow deep integration; though it would still be slower to develop than just using WebEngine.

[polldaddy poll=9012714]

(Don’t see the poll? Click here!)

Finally, if you have comments, please post them below and elaborate on what drove your decision.

KDE.org Redesign

KDE Frameworks, Plasma desktop, and our community have a rich history of nearly twenty years in creating great open-source software, making us a truly historic organisation of passionate developers; and along with that history some of our online infrastructure has begun to show its age. The KDE.org website and its various sections are the front door to the KDE ecosystem, it is how people new to KDE will judge us and it’s where our developers, translators, artists, and community members know their hard work will be presented to the world.

Recently there’s been a minor movement in the KDE community hive-mind stirring about our web network, and it’s increasing need for a significant update. Some of this has been separate, some in groups, some know about the others but not vice-versa. There was a BOF at Akademy which also focused on a new website and goals.

We’ve opened up a new community forum with the dedicated task of modernising our legacy infrastructure to create a unified effort. Everyone wanting to participate will have the goal of revitalising the KDE.org website for our 20th anniversary, giving us a strong infrastructure to celebrate a stronger foundation for the next 20 years of KDE, community, and open-source.

The WWW team, Promo Team, and VDG have all expressed desire to build a better KDE.org, and we’d all like to see the wider KDE community to contribute! You don’t need to be a web developer or server administrator to chip in; even if it’s a few minutes of feedback or a single idea, we would like to see you participate! We plan to build this website on a foundation of respect and openness – everybody and all constructive input will be welcomed.

There’s no specific goal to have the whole network completed; there’s a huge number of assets and each one is unique, but I believe it’s reasonable to have many of our most prominent pages and sections converted in time for our 20th anniversary – October of next year, roughly. Beyond that, we’ll work section-by-section page-by-page to ensure KDE.org is as amazing as it can be.

Click here to go to the forum

New artwork coming in 5.4 & the tale of a troublesome wallpaper

For the past month I’ve been slightly more active than usual, and I’m excited for this release and some of the art I’ve managed to throw into the pipe;

Icons, Icons!

I would like to make a special mention that not all of these icons have been greenlit, and several of them are pending approval and may be dropped/require changes. Some were literally finished minutes ago while others have already been integrated into projects. \o/

image10430After “harmlessly” throwing in a couple monochrome icons from my personal projects, I found myself reading a few of the icon requests and one thing lead to another… Now I’ve pushed in somewhere around 25 new icons, mostly towards apps with the goal of filling in gaps of common applications. These new icons will hopefully bring a much more cohesive launcher menu, with more core and popular applications having Breezy icons.

Some of these may be shunted to an extended repo; 3rd parties get antsy when they see their logos get “breezified”, so “branded” icons need to occasionally be separated from the main repository to avoid troubles and takedown requests.

Lastly but not least; Uri and Andreas have been nothing short of awesome in helping me get these out, thanks guys!

The tale of an annoying, terrible, awful wallpaper, and How I Made it.

I’d like to say that I’m less a man and more a force of nature – one able to sweep my hand and make art bloom at will… But this would be a lie, and occasionally getting art out there makes the only force I can muster feel like a fart in the wind. The new wallpaper for 5.4 just did not want to be made, and took days on and off trying to figure out what to do. I nearly just suggested we ship a backup wallpaper I had on the sidelines.

Eventually ideas got figured out, and after an unstructured failure (again, making me look at “the backup”) I started taking screenshots while using a more structured approach. I imagine I wanted all reading this to feel my pain. Either that or laugh. One of the two. Either way, the new wallpaper was one of the more involved processes used for a Plasma 5 wallpaper, and here are the steps for how it came together;

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Google Deep Dream ruins food forever.

Google Deep Dream is an interesting piece of AI software which looks for patterns in pictures, much like humans may look for patterns in clouds. Deep Dream has been trained to find a few things, like eyes, animals, arches, pagodas, and the most fascinating part is that Deep Dream can also spit out what it “saw”. Then Google opened Deep Dream to the public and people started loading tonnes of images into the system, and when you combine food with Deep Dream it turns into the stuff of nightmares.

RUN NOW OR FOREVER RUIN FOOD FOREVER! Here’s pictures of food turned to ghoulish nightmare-fuel courtesy of Deep Dream;

Nope. NOPE. Great start. Never eating takeout again. At least nothing bad can happen to the humble doughnut.

Duncan Nicoll, thank you. Via Ibitimes

Duncan Nicoll, thank you. Via Ibitimes

GREAT. FANTASTIC. I didn’t like doughnuts anyway. ARE THOSE LEGS?

Ibitimes also had this. Spaghetti & nightmares.

Ibitimes also had this. Spaghetti & nightmares.

I loved pasta. I did once. Then, this. Now never again.

Asian soup via Reddit. Dammit Reddit.

Asian soup via Reddit. Dammit Reddit.

Asian soup creeped me out anyway. BUT IT DOESN’T HELP WHEN THE SOUP LOOKS AT YOU WITH MANY, MANY PUPPY DOG EYES.

Via Vr-Lab

Via Vr-Lab

Hey, look, what a diverse menu of terror!

I’m never, ever eating Asian again. Why does so much of it look fishy?

Thanks, again, VR-Lab.

Thanks, again, VR-Lab.

I, too, would be in the foetal position if my soup was a WRITHING MASS.

VR-Lab.... Shtap. Please.

VR-Lab…. Shtap. Please.

NO. NOT PIZZA TOO. I’M OUT.

Fiber UI Experiments – Conclusion?

It’s been one heckuva road, but I think the dust is starting to settle on the UI design for Fiber, a new web browser which I’m developing for KDE. After some back-and fourth from previous revisions, there are some exciting new ideas in this iteration! Please note that this post is about design experiments – the development status of the browser is still very low-level and won’t reach the UI stage for some time. These experiments are being done now so I can better understand the structure of the browser as I program around a heavily extension-based UI, so when I do solidify the APIs it we have a rock-solid foundation.

Just as an aside before I get started; just about any time I mention “QML”, there is the possible chance that whatever is being driven could also alternatively use HTML. I’m looking into this, but make no guarantees.

As a recap to previous experiments, one of the biggest things that became very clear from feedback was that the address bar isn’t going away and I’m not going to hide it. I was a sad panda, but there are important things the address bar provides which I just couldn’t work around. Luckily, I found some ways to improve upon the existing address bar ideology via aggressive use of extensions, and slightly different usage compared to how contemporary browsers embed extensions into the input field – so lets take a look at the current designs;

tabsOnSide tabsOnBottom
By default, Fiber will have either “Tabs on Side” or “Tabs on Bottom”; this hasn’t been decided yet, but there will also have a “Tabs on Top” option (which I have decided will not be default for a few reasons). Gone is the search box as it was in previous attempts – replaced with a proper address bar which I’m calling “Multitool” – and here’s more about it why I’m a little excited;

Multitool

Fiber is going to be an extensions-based browser. Almost everything will be an extension, from basic navigational elements (back, forward), to the bookmarks system – and all will either disable-able or replaceable. This means every button, every option, every utility will be configurable. I’ve studied how other browsers embed extensions in the address bar, and none of them really integrate with it in a meaningful and clearly defined way. Multitool is instead getting a well-defined interface for extensions which make use of the bar;

Extensions which have searchable or traversable content will be candidates for extending into the Multitool, which includes URL entry, search, history, bookmarks, downloads, and other things. Since these are extensions with a well-defined API you will be able to ruthlessly configure what you want or don’t want to show up, and only the URL entry will be set in stone. Multitool extensions will have 3 modes which you can pick from: background, button, and separate.

Background extensions will simply provide additional results when typing into the address bar. By default, this will be the behaviours of things like current tabs, history, and shortcut-enabled search. Button extensions in mutitool will provide a clickable option which will take over the Multitool when clicked, offering a focused text input and an optional QML-based “home popout”. Lastly, “separateextensions will split the text input offering something similar to a separate text widget – only integrated into the address bar.

The modes and buttons will be easily configurable, and so you can choose to have extensions simply be active in the background, or you could turn on the buttons, or disable them entirely. Think of this as applying KRunner logic to a browser address bar, only with the additional ability to perform “focused searches”.bookmarkshome

Shown on the right side of the Multitool are the two extensions with dedicated buttons; bookmarks and search, which will be the default rollout. When you click on those embedded buttons they will take over the address bar and you may begin your search. These tools will also be able to specify an optional QML file for their “home” popout. For example the Bookmarks home popout could be a speed-dial UI, History could be a time-machine-esque scrollthrough. Seen above is a speed dial popout. With Bookmarks and Search being in button mode by default, just about everything else that performs local searches will be in “background mode”, except keyword-based searches which will be enabled – but will require configuration. Generally, the address portion of Multitool will NOT out-of-box beam what you type to a 3rd party, but the search extension will. I have not selected search providers.

We also get a two-for-one deal for fast filtering, since the user is already aware they have clicked on a text entry. Once you pick a selection from a focused search or cancel, the bar will snap back into address mode. If you hit “enter” while doing a focused search, it will simply open a tab with the results of that search.

Aside from buttons, all the protocol and security information relevant to the page (the highlighted areas on the left) will also be extension-driven. Ideally, this will let you highly customise what warnings you get, and will also let extensions tie any content-altering behaviour into proper warnings. For example, the ad-blocker may broadcast the number of zapped ads. When clicked the extensions will us QML-driven popouts.

Finally, the address itself (and any focused extension searches) will have extension-driven syntax highlighting. Right now I’m thinking of using a monospace font so we can drive things like bold fonts without offsetting text.

Tabs

Tab placement was a big deal to people; some loved the single-row approach, others wanted a more traditional layout. The solution to the commotion was the fact that there isn’t a single solution. Tabs will have previews and simple information (as seen in the previous round of designs), so by default tabs will be on the bottom or side so the previews don’t obstruct unnecessary amounts of UI.

tabsontop

Fiber will have 3 tabbing options; Tabs on top, tabs on bottom, and tabs on side. When tabs are “on side” it will reduce the UI to one toolbar and place the tabs on the same row as the Multitool, and should also trigger a “compressed” layout for Multitool as well.

There will be the usual “app tab” support of pinning tabs, but not shown here will be tab-extensions. Tab extensions will behave like either app tabs or traditional tabs, and will be QML-powered pages from extensions. These special tabs will also be home-screen or new-tab options, and that is, largely, their purpose; but clever developers may find a use in having extension-based pages.

Tabs can also embed simple toggle-buttons, as usual, powered by extensions. Main candidates for these will be mute buttons or reader-mode buttons. There won’t be much to these buttons, but they will be content-sensitive and extensions will be required to provide the logic for when these buttons should be shown. For example, “reader mode” won’t be shown on pages without articles, and “mute” won’t be shown on pages without sound.

Current Progress

The current focus in Fiber is Profiles, Manifest files, and startup. Profiles will be the same as Firefox profiles, where you can have separate profiles with separate configurations. When in an activities-enabled environment, Fiber Profiles will attempt to keep in sync with the current activity – otherwise they will fall back to having users open a profile tool.

The manifest files are a big deal, since they define how extensions will interact with the browser. Fiber manifest files were origionally based on a slimmed down Chrome manifest with more “Qt-ish” syntax (like CamelCase); but with the more extensive extension plans and placement options there’s more going on with interaction points. There’s a decent manifest class, and it provides a reliable interface to read from, including things like providing missing defaults and offering some debugging info which will be used in Fibers extension development tools.I’m using DBus for Fiber to check a few things on startup; Fiber will be a “kind of” single-instance application, but individual profiles will be separate processes. DBus is being used to speak with running instances to figure out what it should do. The idea behind this setup is to keep instances on separate activities from spiking eachother, but to still allow the easier communication between windows of a single instance – this should help things like tab dragging between windows immensely. It also gives the benefit that you could run “unstable” extensions in a separate instance, which will be good for development purposes.I wish I could say development is going quickly, but right now my time is a bit crunched; either way things are going smoothly, and I’d rather be slow and steady than fast and sloppy.Development builds will be released in the future (still a long ways away) which I’ll be calling “Copper” builds. Copper builds will mostly be a rough and dirty way for me to test UI, and will not be stable or robust browsers. Mostly, it’ll be for the purpose of identifying annoying UI patterns and nipping them before they get written into extensions.

Fiber UI Experiments

This week has been the lowest-level backbone things for the Fiber Browser. Mostly I’ve been designing the manifest class, which accepts a JSON file and produces a nice reliable API to interpret. Most of this browser will run on extensions, so the Manifest is one of the most important parts of this browser. It’s largely based on Chrome manifest files, however it differs in naming conventions (e.g. camelCase) and structural areas, the largest being “services” support. Services include things like “history” and  “bookmarks”. Services will have clearly defined APIs, and extensions using those services don’t need to know what extension is offering the service.

Earlier I put up a G+ post of one of my UI experiments for Fiber. I had created the following design based on the idea that the address bar is becoming obsolete, and needed feedback on my thought process. The idea is that the address bar is hidden inside the tabs, and when a tab is double-clicked it would expand to reveal the address behind the tab.

fiber-modesAside from some KDE integration, the original (nearly chrome-identical) design added nothing to the browser space.  I didn’t want to make a browser that was the same, but I don’t like changing things just for the sake of being unique.

uniqueforkMy G+ post was a fleshed-out version of my favourite pencil wireframe. The first thing I looked at was the wasted space in browsers; the current “space race” has lead to one generally accepted design with tabs on top and content controls on a second row. Sometimes a bookmarks bar. Lots of smart engineers at Google, Mozilla, Apple, Microsoft, and Opera have looked at UI controls in browsers, it’s not an accident that this is the current “best design”. The current browser layout offers immediate access to important controls, with the two expanding elements (tabs and address) being on two rows. but the address bar didn’t to anything the search bar couldn’t, aside from address a very specific URL.

So, after my design and some more thinking I took a look at browsers again, and I found only IE broke from the trend by putting everything on one row with approximately half the toolbar going to the address bar, and other half going to the tabs. The benefit was saving vertical space, but with the downside of limiting how many tabs a window could multi-task easily.

internet-explorer-11This was very close to my design with the sole exception being that the core functionality of the line input is an address bar – where mine was search. I was actually a little shocked at the back/forward buttons too, because mine looked similar. Granted, I was actually aping an older Firefox design, but that’s beside the point. 😛

So I took a more thorough look at more factors, and settled on my current design goal (pending YOUR feedback!); please note that the new tab page is a placeholder.

fiber-full-12The first thing going on is moving the search bar in a position to the IE address bar. After careful consideration, I realised the search bar was going to be much more heavily used, so it needed better placement closer to users’ muscle memory. Additionally, since websites tend to place navigational elements on the top or left, it made sense to have the search be nearer to where the mouse might be. The search bar will also search your bookmarks and history, so it should find regularly accessed URLs efficiently. Depending on the extension rollout, the capabilities of the search bar should be adjustable.

Bookmarks have been moved from a tab to a menu button. I don’t know what I was thinking putting bookmarks as a tab. Too bad I don’t do drugs, or I’d have an excuse. I also put in the ‘new tab’ button.

Next is the preview. There’s the thumbnail, the loading status bar, the highlighted domain, https status, and tab type.

fiber-full-12-markedNot seen would be the transient URL bar. The bar would be colour-coded, and extensions could augment it to add icons or snippets of text. For example, it would be neat to have a phishing extension warn users before they even click a dangerous link, display if the link will run a popup, etc.

One thing mentioned in the original G+ post was phishing and the address bar; with no address bar, how can you spot phishing? Simply put, I don’t want to rely on the address bar to warn users about phishing. I just think it’s a bad idea which shouldn’t be relied upon, as I don’t believe most users understand how URLs are composed – and while it may be simple to many of us, addresses have many moving parts. Additionally if a website looks convincing enough, users may not feel the need to double check the address bar.
Far, far later in development, possible a version or two after release, I plan to add safety extensions. I’m interested in the Google Safe Browsing API.
Otherwise, the only thing not shown in the new screenshots is the address bar which, like the first designs, would expand by double-clicking a tab. I may also look at putting in a toggleable button for the same purpose, as some persons have difficulty double-clicking, or may want faster access.Any C&C would be deeply appreciated, this is an evolving design and I’d like to have it well thought-out before I begin programming that aspect of the browser.