Surfulater, Under the Hood and Down the Road

I’ve been asked to write about my vision for Surfulater and decided a Blog post would be a good place for this. I’m afraid it is a bit long winded as I want to lay down some background material so readers will know where I am coming from. I’m told vision statements contain lots of motherhood gobbledygook. Excuse me for excluding such fluff and for not being as visionary as some may like.

I’ve been designing, developing and publishing software for over 20 years. For a number of years I worked with a team of programmers on vertical market applications, in a company of which I was a director. For the past 15 years I’ve worked predominantly on my own, on a product named ED for Windows which is a full featured programmer’s editor. ED is a very large and complex application, with a large and diverse user base who place many demands on it. It is a highly configurable application and can be extended via a built-in scripting language. It also supports some 35+ programming languages. Bottom line – a big, complex, powerful application that most people will never fully utilize.

For quite some time I’d been keen to develop other products and I finally made a small start in late 2003. I spend a lot of time on the Internet researching all manner of things. A lot of the time it is to do with programming, but also business, travel and other personal interests. I was very frustrated by the poor tools available to collect and save information that I found while surfing, and needless to say Bookmarks and Favorites just don’t cut it. So the idea for Surfulater was born. Continue reading “Surfulater, Under the Hood and Down the Road”

Surfulater web site updated – Your Help needed

I’ve just spent some time updating the Surfulater web site, due largely to some prodding by Stephane Grenier. At Stephane’s suggestion I’ve added a new page Success Stories and Testimonials which contains some great stories from our customers and a range of testimonials from users and reviewers.

We continually hear from people how impressed they are with Surfulater and how much it is helping them, which is absolutely fantastic, however it is quite difficult to get detailed success stories. They take a lot of effort on your part and everyone is so stretched for time these days. I’d like to give a special thanks to Anthony Yeats, Cambridge Earth Sciences Limited for his great story.

I’m very keen to get more of these stories for two reasons. The first and obvious one is to put them on the Web site, but more importantly I want to get a better picture of what kinds of projects or tasks Surfulater is being used for. I do know that Surfulater is being used by lots of people for lots of different purposes, but if I can get more detailed information I can apply that towards the future development and direction that Surfulater takes. So I’d like to issue this small plea for your assistance – help!!

Moving right along. I’ve also added a Site Guide page that will be of particular interest to our first time visitors. The Site Guide includes links to each page, along with a brief description of the topic of the associated page.

Other than that I did a few little tweaks here and there.

I’ve been asked on another forum:

Could you share your product “vision” with us? From its name and description it seems clearly web-content targetted, however its feature set –and the development planned- sound more ambitious.

This was definitely pause for thought and I’ve already put pen to paper. I’m not into motherhood statements, so it might not be your normal “vision” statement, but hopefully I’ll convey what I think has been asked of me. Expect to see something quite soon.

Surfulater Content Style Issues

A few people have mentioned that sometimes content they capture from Web pages into Surfulater doesn’t display using the same styles used on the originating Web page. I want to explain why this occurs.

First let me say that if you capture complete web pages, this isn’t an issue. It only occurs with content displayed in the Surfulater content window, and that’s the key.

All content in Surfulater uses HTML. HTML has default styles which can be overridden by Cascading Style Sheets or CSS as commonly referred to. By styles I’m referring to things such as font size, color, bold, italic etc.

As an example lets look at how a paragraph style works. Text inside a paragraph tag <p> will either use a default style dictated by your Web browser, a style embedded in the web page or and style in an external style sheet. The last two cases override the browsers default style and cause all paragraph text to be displayed in some other style, a larger bold font for example.

Surfulater enables you to view all of the articles in a folder at once, which is a great feature that many people want and one that sets Surfulater apart from the competition. What this means however is that you are most likely viewing HTML captured from a whole range of Web sites, each with its own Cascading Style Sheet. So paragraph’s on one Web site may well be displayed with quite different styles to its next door neighbour .

This mix of styles (CSS) from different Web sites basically makes it very difficult, if not impossible for us to use the same styles as the original site, simply because they will all conflict with each other. For this reason we don’t even bother bringing across external CSS information when we capture selected content.

The story is quit different when we save complete Web pages though. In that case we are only ever dealing with a single web site and only ever display a single page from the one site at a time. We capture all embedded and external CSS when we capture the web page and use that in turn when we display the page again.

Surfulater does use its own Cascading Style Sheets, so we can offer a good degree of control over the styles used in the content window. At present we have two CSS’s. One is used when E-Mailing content from Surfulater (surfulater.css) and the other is used for the Content window and is embedded inside Surfulater. I plan to pull this out and make it an external file in a future release. This will enable styles to be set for headings, paragraphs etc. In fact my example above which used paragraph’s, wasn’t a very good one as heading tags are the ones that show up worst.

So the bottom line is we can improve on the current situation and will, however it is unlikely we’ll see the exact same styles as on the original web page, unless of course you save and attach the entire page!

Update 26 Nov 2005 Putting ones thoughts in writing often helps you to see things that were hidden away before. And such is the case here. I can now see a way clear to get the styles to match up correctly. I just need to write the code and see if I’m right.

Surfulater V1.92, B0.0 released

I wrote last week that Surfulater V1.92, B0.0 would be released this week and it has. It is great to see another new release hit the streets, especially one with new features you’ve been eager to get hold of. These include Printing, Print Preview and Page Setup, along with the ability to sort articles and folders, plus a few other bits and pieces. It is also great to be back coding again and to watch Surfulater take a few more important steps in its evolution.

As always please do tell us how we are going with Surfulater and what capabilities you’d like to see added to make it ever more useful to you.

If your software was on a date…

Monday mornings can be a hard slog, especially when you’ve worked a bit on the weekend and it is hard to know where the working week starts and ends, sometimes. That said I’ve had quite a good morning this Monday morning and am that much closer to the next Surfulater release.

I did hit a small roadblock though, stopped for a Coffee and hit the Blogs and my day has well and truly been made by a post by Kathy Sierra over at Creating passionate users titled If your software was on a date….

Kathy asks

“How would your software (or product, service, book, cause, etc.) behave on a date?” 

and goes on to list her “Dating Rules For Software” which include:

  • Look your best
  • Be fun. Don’t be negative. Be the one others want to be around.
  • Be trustworthy and consistent.
  • Don’t be fake.
  • Be polite, be helpful.
  • Be forgiving.
  • Be sensitive, be a good listener.
  • Don’t assume I’m an expert.
  • Be fun.
  • Don’t assume there’s no competition.
  • Check your ego with the valet parking attendant.
  • Married people really DO have more sex.

I loved reading this, the rules are down-to-earth, simple and sensible,yet so many software products would score poorly when judged against them. The explanations for each rule are a delight to read. It reminded me of “ABOUT FACE, THE ESSENTIALS OF USER INTERFACE DESIGN” by Alan Cooper which is a must read for all software developers. My approach to the design and implementation of the user interface for Surfulater was certainly influenced by Alan’s book.

I’d like to think Surfulater scores reasonably well against Kathy’s dating rules, but it is up to our users to pass judgment not me. I’d love to hear what you think.

Time to get back to working on my dating skills.

New Surfulater Firefox Extension available

Unfortunately the Firefox Extension we wrote for Surfulater stopped working in Firefox V1.5. After a bit of digging around and head scratching it seems that the Firefox developers have changed some code in Firefox which broke our extension, and I imagine others as well.

I happened to mention this to Stephane Grenier and he replied about similar problems he’s had:

That’s actually one of the issues we’ve encountered too with LandlordMax with open source software, they have a tendency to make more drastic changes in their code base with less attention given to who may be using it.

I tend to steer away from using open source software for a range of reasons, and this will be just another one. Backwards compatibility is extremely important in software development, it is a burden we simply have to carry.

The good news is that I’ve been able to update the code to use alternate methods and now have a new release of the extension which works with the latest Firefox 1.5 RC1 release as well as earlier releases. I’ve also updated the Surfulater images the extension uses, to the latest ones.

To install the new Surfulater Firefox Extension go to the Download page and install the extension as per the instructions there. This will replace your current extension with the new one. Remember to restart Firefox after installing. The new Surfulater Extension is V1.5. You can check this using Tools|Extensions in Firefox.

Hopefully the extension will continue to work as future releases of Firefox come out.

New Surfulater release imminent

Folks reading this blog will know we’ve recently returned from a great trip to Europe. Jet lag hit me worse than I can recall, but things are well and truly back in full swing now.

The good news is that I’ve implemented some of your most requested items of the past few months, namely Printing and Article Sorting.

I’ve been a bit surprised at the number of requests for printing so I’m sure those concerned will be anxiously awaiting the new release. As well as printing there is the usual Print Preview and Page Setup capabilities along with some other updates and additions.

If all goes to plan you will see a release next week, that being the week starting 7 Nov 2005.

If you haven’t visited the blog in a while you will see that I’m back into posting again, after a bit of a lull while we were away. I hope you find something of interest while browsing around.

As always comments most welcome, whether they be about Surfulater, the Blog, PKM or whatever takes your interest.

I just did a spell check before publishing this for the world to see and thought I share this with you:
imminent: hanging threateningly over one’s head. I certainly hope that’s not the case.