Friday, 20 February 2009

Testing the Firefox Scribefire Plugin

What's Firefox and what's a plugin?
For all you unlucky people who've only ever used Internet Explorer for browsing the web, let me pass on a priceless piece of information. Internet Explorer is... well, putting it politely, it's not very good.

OK, the latest version does have some useful additions, but it's still streets behind in the browser wars. Google have recently brought out a slimmed down program - Google Chrome - which in my experience is fast to start and fast to load pages, and what more can you want from a browser?

Well, actually, there is more that you can want from a browser. If Chrome is the whizzy sports car of browsers, then Internet Explorer is the clunky family saloon. But what about a nice big four-by-four which carries a lot and can go places the others can't? If that's what you want then look no further than Mozilla Firefox.

Firefox is the power browser of the Internet. Like a powerful four-by-four it can do things the others can't. Because it's written in open source code anyone can write extra stuff to attach to it — stuff which when activated makes it fly, swim and shoot off into space!

Hundreds of pieces of this extra software — known as Add-ons or plugins — have been written for Firefox by all sorts of individuals and companies. Indeed some companes focus solely on writing Add-ons for Firefox. In its basic form Mozilla seems much the same as Internet Explorer, but once you start to explore and download the Add-ons you'll be hooked for life!

For instance, one of the Add-ons I use is a download manager which can download to your hard disk all the images and videos on a page in a single operation. Then when you have time you can go and look through them and keep the ones you want and discard the rest... useful for those wonderful fine-art photography pages, for instance.

But what I really want to talk about here is the Scribefire plugin. This is a great piece of kit which I've only just discovered which makes it easy to create and post nice looking pages onto your blog. I'm using it right now to write this.

As far as blogs go I've only used the Blogger site so far. It seems pretty good and I'm reasonably happy with it, even though its page creation facilities are rather limited. (Recently improved a lot - Dec 2010.)

What really slows things up, however, is having to publish a page before you can see how it's going to look. (Blogger now has a 'preview' button but it's not always very accurate.) Also when you flip between Rich Text editing mode (which is like writing an email) and the HTML, or source code, editor the code actually changes, which is a right pain in the posterior!

That's where Scribefire really comes into its own. Firstly I'm seeing it as a tab within Firefox, so I can flip between it and webpages, which is great for doing research while writing.

But the main advantage is that within Scribefire I can flip instantaneously between the rich text editor, the HTML editor, and what's called Live Preview. In live preview you see the page as if will look when it's been published. That means that you can make large or small changes and then go and look at them straight away — which is a huge advantage over doing it in the Blogger editor.

OK, so that's enough by way of an introduction. Now to test out exactly what Scribefire can do...

Let's put her through her paces!

Testing the text formatting:

This is some text... this is some text... this is some text... this is some text... this is some text... this is some text... this is some text... this is some text...

Well that worked well. Now I'll separate this from the next section with a 'post splitter'...

Cool! Now let's test the YouTube video insertion widget.

The widget brings up a simple dialogue box in which you can add a keyword to search on... so I'll look for 'bananas' and see what I get.

Wow... lots of banana-video thumbnails, and when you click on one it shows you the video so that you can decide if you want to use it. That's pretty cool. Here's the one I chose:

Daylight come and me wanna go home!

Brilliant! I love that song.

OK, what else can one do with the Scribefire buttons? I know... let's add a quote:
Never, never, never give up!
(Winston Churchill)
Great advice Mr Churchill !

And now for something even more amuzing. Let's add an image, to be left aligned:

This image is aligned to be left of the text.

Hehe... don't you love Mr Bean when he was a baby!

(Lalala... I'm just filling in to get the text down below the pic.

Dum de dum de dum de dum de dum de dum de dum de dum de dum.)

And now I'll add an image, right aligned:

That funny picture was supposed to be right aligned to the text, but it's too big and takes up the whole column so there's no room for the text to sit next to it. Let's see if I can make it smaller by tweaking the source code.

That's better. It was easy peasy to copy the image code and just change the max-width setting.

(Lalala - dum de dum - lalala - dum de dum - lalala - dum de dum - lalala - dum de dum - lalala - dum de dum - lalala - dum de dum.)

Wow... I DO like the way you can swap so easily between the Rich Text editor, the HTML editor, and the Live Preview mode. It's like the difference between walking to work and cycling, or going by motorbike. And what's more the source code this software produces is simple, compared to the complicated code Blogger comes up with.

Amazing, I'm REALLY impressed!

What shall we do now? I know... I'll add a few enlarged special characters from the special character list:  ® § ©

And then let's have a numbered list:
  1. This is line number one
  2. This is line number two
  3. This is line number three
Followed by a bulleted list...

Things to do today:
  • Go shopping for wine (I'm always running out! hic)
  • Call to stop them cutting off my gas supply (slurp)
  • Hide... here comes the balif! (slurp slurp, crash, snoore)

Oh great... and it even added a non breaking space for me before the special characters. Let's see if it will add some more — useful for creating an indented paragraph — just hit the space bar several times in Rich Text editor mode like so:
          Yes, it worked! Lots of extra non-volatile spaces (usually deleted automatically by the Blogger editor). But it remains to be seen whether or not Blogger will automatically delete them when I publish this.
          Later: They weren't deleted, so that's very very useful!

What next? OK, I'll insert a bulleted link using the Add a Link button:

And now... humm... lets find a picture of a delightful lady using the clever 'Flikr' search gadget:

Oooo err!  She's lovely!

Dam! I can tell you, I'd rather be there than here... next to the sea in the sunshine. (Yea, I know what you're thinking!) But, honestly, I do feel trapped in this cold (well, lukewarm) miserable British winter weather... boo hoo hoo!

And that's about it. Not much else one can do with the Firefox Scribefire plugin (at the time of writing). But what is does do it tremendous... and to think, I only installed it on a whim!
Many a whim makes a wham!  (lol)
OK, let's publish this and see how it comes out on the actual Blogger site.

Not bad... not bad at all.

OK, there were just a few small bugs. When I published, some of the text which had looked OK in Live Preview was incorrectly formatted. Going into the HTML editor I saw that some of the formatting tags hadn't been switched off, so I had to do it manually. I also had to do a few other minor HTML edits and re-publish a couple of times before it came out right on the night... but that might be due more to my inexperience than major faults in the software.

Considering how much easier and quicker it was to create and format the page in the first place, a few wee tidying up jobs at the end is really no bother.

So... well done Scribefire! You get my vote!