Cambridge University Design / UX group

Running Firefox 2 and 3 simultaneously

If we are developing websites and applications, we test them in different browsers, and on different platforms, right? So you might have a couple of machines in another room where you work, and you’ve agreed with your IT guys that you want to leave Internet Explorer 6 and Firefox 1.5 or 2 running on them, so that you can test your creations.

Just for example.

But then, someone helpful upgrades to the latest versions, and your ad hoc testing envrionment is no more. Yes, there are better ways to set things up  –  I could run Parallels on my Mac, install Windows, and then have whatever dodgy old web browsers I want on there. But for various reasons, I don’t.

Anyway, it came to pass that I wanted to run Firefox 2 and 3 simultaneously on my Mac. I was already running  Firefox 3, and I knew that if I simply downloaded the installer for v.2, I would overwrite what is there already. Hmmm. So now what?

Answer 1: create a new Firefox profile, install both versions of Firefox, and use the command line (from Terminal [Mac] or Run… [Windows]) to control which version of Firefox you open

Answer 2: create a new Profile, and install the MultiFirefox app [Mac OS X only] to control it all.

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Simple data visualisation with CSS – improve user experience

For the main project I work on, my boss, a Prof in the Dept of Earth Sciences, writes an article, or ‘Topic’, about the subject he is interested in, and this Topic is added to one or more Categories. The whole lot, plus all the relationships, is stored in a database, and those data are used to generate content for a website. This is exactly the same concept as me writing a post on this blog, and then adding it to the ‘Tips’ category.data_viz_screengrab

I’ve been playing around with simple graphical representations of the data, initially just using CSS techniques. I thought that some of you might find it handy so see how it is done.

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Some great Firefox add-ons

Firefox logoFor general web stuff, I exclusively use the Firefox web browser. It’s reliable, much more secure than the most popular browser, and thanks to its add-ons, is a pleasure to use. Just because I was chatting to a couple of friends about it recently, I thought I’d share some recent finds.

There are already lots of sites and blogs out there, with lists of “10 best Firefox add-ons”, but it kind of depends what you’re doing. Since I am a web designer, I have lots of geeky add-ons: essential things like the Web Developer’s Toolbar and Firebug.

Some more that I have really been enjoying recently are Style Sheet Chooser Plus and GridFox, and the not-strictly-web-design-related Show Parent Folder.

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Microformatting WordPress posts

Microformats allow you to add more semantic meaning to your page content. Using exiting HTML elements in standardised ways, you can “microformat” things like contact details and event summaries, giving them extra “value”. Microformats are still a young technology, but last year, both Google and Yahoo configured their search engines to look for microformatted content. Get noticed!

There are a range of Microformat-related plugins available, but one that I liked the look of is Micro Anywhere, which gives you a WYSIWYG way to add hCard or hEvent formatting and data.

However, with blogs hosted (for free) on, you’re not able to install any plugins. Sensibly enough, this is for security reasons, since we’re all sharing a big server here.

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