Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Firefox 4 on PPC

One of the worries of finding an operating system you like and wanting to stick with it is that the great Browser Wars will leave your OS behind. Such as it is with OS X Tiger. Tiger is the last version to support Classic mode. It has all the vital modern technologies. It's not so hard on the GPU. In other words, it's Leopard/Snow Leopard without so much eye candy. And less ugly. And more efficient. And not as buggy. Okay, so you get why I want to stick with Tiger.

However, there was one catch. Over the course of the last year, all the major browsers announced they were ceasing support for Tiger. In fact, I can't think of any browsers that continue to support Tiger, unless you count Camino 2.0.6, which is powered by an old Gecko 1.9.0 engine. Even Camino's alpha 2.1 prerelease uses Gecko 1.9.2, which is the same as Firefox 3.6.x, the final Firefox version to support Tiger. So how long would it be before the current incarnations of Safari, Firefox, Camino, and Opera became hopelessly obsolete and surfing the web becomes what it must be like for iCab users of today, or for Netscape 1.0 users when frames became widely adopted? (If you don't get that last reference, stick your nose back in your touch screen. There's nothing to see here.)

Well, it looks like we'll never have to find out thanks to TenFourFox. It's a fork of Firefox 4, heretofore available only to Leopard/Snow Leopard Intel users, that runs on PPC Macs running Leopard and Tiger. There are some advanced features that won't work because they require Barftel processors, but the new rendering engine is there, as well as HTML 5 and CSS 3 support.

So how does it measure up? I took it for a spin and found it to have a similar feel as 3.6 as far as speed. It's more of a memory hog, but being in beta, that's to be expected. I read one report that repeatedly pressing the back button will cause a crash, and I can confirm that. It also seems to have trouble opening a bookmark when no window is previously open. But other than that, it's stable. There are some GUI changes that I suppose are a matter of taste, but I mostly liked what I saw.

This is a promising start, and maybe I can hold off a few years switching to Linux on my everyday desktop just to find a modern, supported browser.

Update: TenFourFox 4.0 Final is out. Javascript much improved over early betas. This is now my default browser.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Changing Gamma Settings on Your Mac (OS X and Debian)

One of the things about having an older Mac like an iBook or a Sawtooth running a pre-Snow Leopard system is that the default gamma values on the monitor are too bright. I've found this true under both OS X and Debian Linux. Long story short on the Apple side is the default setting of gamma 1.8 on systems before Snow Leopard was a relic from the black and white monitor days of early Macs, and they never bothered changing along with the rest of the computer world till Snow Leopard. As a result, colors on the web and in photos can look too washed out compared with being viewed on Windows computers, which they were likely calibrated from in the first place.

So to fix this and have photos and web pages display in Tiger and Leopard the way they were intended, simply go into System Preferences-->Displays and click the Color tab, then the Calibrate button. It will ask you to adjust a bunch of settings, and when you get to the "Select a target gamma" section, select "2.2 Television Gamma" and then continue through to the end and save. Afterward, you'll find that pictures look less washed out and have more depth, but you may also find that black text on a white background looks a little harder on the eyes. Try it out and see which setting you prefer.

On Debian, I also noticed the dafault gamma values seemed a little too aggressively bright, so--this being Linux--after extensive research I found you can tone it down a bit by editing your xorg.conf file (if you don't have a xorg.conf file by default and need to create one, learn how here). First you want to find the best setting to your eyes. You test this by using the xgamma application in the terminal. For example:

xgamma -gamma 0.9

will reset your gamma settings 1/10th of a point off the default of 1.0, and will slightly darken your screen's gamma output. You can play around with it, entering 1.1, 0.8, etc. until you settle on a setting you like best (I chose 0.9, slightly off the original too-bright default). Then you open your xorg.conf file and, under the section "Monitor," add the line:

Gamma 0.9 #or whatever value you settle on, and with a tab between Gamma and 0.9.

This will keep your settings on restart, and you can confirm it worked by running xgamma again with no arguments, and it will display the current gamma settings.

UPDATED for clarity.