05 October, 2010

Thunderbird links wont open browser tab

My Thunderbird email client quit opening up links when I clicked them, regardless if they were in an email or from an RSS feed. Turns out the issue was with my web browser. I switched from Firefox as my default to Internet Explorer and it worked again. I then reset my default to Firefox, restarted Firefox, and it responded again, too.

No available system font when editing a PDF

I recently had to make a minor edit to an old PDF that I no longer had the source for. For large edits, there are PDF to DOC converters, but for minor edits I just use Acrobat. With this particular file I got an unexpected error message.
All or part of the selection has no available system font. You cannot add or delete text using the currently selected font.
Through a little searching I discovered that by selecting and then right-clicking the text, and entering the Properties dialog, I could change the font being used. In this particular case though, there were no system fonts embedded in the document and the only choices were from the original computer that created it -- a Mac. Since I was using Windows, this failed too.

Fortunately for me I have Adobe Illustrator. With Adobe Illustrator you can open individual pages of a PDF and using the text tool you can make changes.

If you don't have Acrobat or Illustrator and need to edit a PDF, PDFEscape -- a browser-based applet -- will let you "whiteout" existing text and insert new text. Not quite the same, but a good solution for free.

LastPass vs. RoboForm Password Managers

Updated Feb 18, 2011: I've received a few comments from people about the cost to upgrade from RoboForm version 6 to version 7. The issue is that apparently their original purchase was for a lifetime of upgrades. The RoboForm website indicated that any version 6 purchases made after Sep 1, 2010 are eligible for free upgrades to version 7. I don't have my original purchase receipt, so I can't verify the legitimacy of the claim myself. That being said, I cannot imagine a company surviving by charging a 1-time fee of $30. Regardless, the RoboForm product is one of the few products I would pay for again over using any of the current open source solutions available. (BTW: I'm still using version 6, as I have not ran into a situation that requires me to move to version 7.)

I've been a user of RoboForm for nearly 4 years, and its allowed me to have secure and unique passwords for all my websites, while only requiring me to remember one. In January 2007, I wrote a post on how easy it is to use RoboForm, and how much simpler it has made it to manage passwords.

As with any tool, we find their short-comings or flaws, so when something new comes along we try it to see if it works better. I installed LastPass last week, and disabled RoboForm, to see if LastPass could better meet my needs.

Let me give you a comparison of these two products, as they are quite similar in most cases. LastPass and RoboForm both work as a toolbars for Firefox, IE, and Chrome web browsers on Windows, while LastPass also works in Safari and on OS X/Macs and Linux. Both products also offer applets for popular Smart Phones. (While I didn't test LastPass on Safari or Chrome, nor on OS X/Macs and Linux, RoboForm is still new to Chrome and seems a bit buggy.)

They both have automatic form filling (by allowing you to store common used data) and secure notes features. RoboForm and LastPass also provide secure password generators. Both tools also let you organize your passwords through placing them in folders you define. While you'll pay $30 for RoboForm, LastPass is free, which is attractive for new users. RoboForm also charges $10 for each additional license, where again LastPass is free.

So we see both products' features are very similar, their implementations are quite different. For example, while RoboForm stores your passwords in individual encrypted files on your hard drive, LastPass stores all your passwords on their servers. Due to LastPass storing your password files on their computers, you can easily access all of them from any web browser. With RoboForm, you can either copy the individual files to another computer, or you can use their sync function. The sync function is GoodSync product specifically locked down to only work with RoboForm data.

Assuming that both products are secure (which I do), and they both work on your platform, then the most important criteria is usability. Does the product get in the way or enhance your productivity? (I realize I may be somewhat bias'd due to how long I've used RoboForm.)
  • Login to access passwords. The first time you try to access RoboForm, it prompts for your passwords before completing the command. With LastPass, you must click on the login button on the toolbar. If you're not online, you cannot access LastPass passwords.
    Advantage: RoboForm.
  • Password Organization. Because RoboForm is an installed application on your computer, you can drag-and-drop the password files to move them among folders. With LastPass you login to the LastPass site and open each password individually to change its storage location.
    Advantage: RoboForm.
  • Recognizing Password Forms. Both products are designed to work with standard forms and server dialog prompts. I had one instance where LastPass didn't recognize the form to capture/save or fill-out it out. This failure will keep me from adopting it, as I use the website nearly every day. This particular login form was embedded into the page with an iFrame -- RoboForm worked fine. Without this failure, I would likely rate their functionality as tied.
    Advantage: RoboForm.
  • Saving New Passwords. Whenever you login to a new website, RoboForm will prompt you to save the data for future use. If you don't want to save it, you need to click Cancel. LastPass adds a strip below the browser tabs with the ability to save the new data. It also offers the ability to never prompt you again for a given website.
    Advantage: LastPass.
  • Access/Use Passwords.
    • Open a new site and login. I use this function more than any other -- these are my bookmarks. (I bookmark very few other websites except those that require a login.) The default behavior for each product seem to work as advertised, though each are different. When selecting a RoboForm password from the toolbar, it opens and logs you in within the current browser tab. LastPass will open a new tab. I tried changing the default behavior with each (to work like the other), and neither worked as I expected.
      Advantage: Tie.
    • Login to a webpage you open. LastPass will pre-populate the login screen and you just need to click the login button. If there are multiple login credentials that can be used (for example if you have 2 Gmail accounts), a strip appears below the tabs with a button to select a different login. RoboForm does not pre-populate any form it recognizes, but the login button on the toolbar will allow you to select from multiple logins when needed. When selected, RoboForm will complete the form and submit.
      Advantage: Tie (they both require at least one button click).
    • UI. Both toolbars are very similar, though their behavior for long lists are different. If the list of passwords for LastPass exceeds the height of the screen, you must click the up or down arrow to scroll to a password. Roboform starts a new column, eliminating the need to scroll.
      Advantage: RoboForm.
  • Password Sync. This is the feature that got me to look at LastPass. The fact that all the LastPass passwords are stored on their central server means there's no syncing. No matter where you access LastPass, you will always have the same passwords. While the GoodSync product is quite good, the fact that you have to manage passwords across computers makes it inferior.
    Advantage: LastPass.
  • Access Anywhere. As stated previously, because of the central storage of passwords on the LastPass servers, you can access your passwords anywhere -- even without installing the toolbar. RoboForm requires an install, which last time also required a reboot, then followed by having to sync your passwords to the new computer. Your sync password by default is not the same as your login password, so therefore you also need to remember a second password. Additionally, you also need to have an available license to install RoboForm on a new computer.
    Advantage: LastPass.
If you're still with me, you can see each product has its strengths and weaknesses. As I stated previously, due to the fact that LastPass does not recognize the login form for a site I frequent (a business app), I will not switch away from RoboForm. If it weren't for that, I'd probably still be using LastPass to see if I can adapt to the differences and reap the benefit of having access to my passwords anywhere.

01 October, 2010

Your Writing Style Impacts Your Users Ability to Find What You Wrote

In my last post, "Our search sucks! Why can't it work just like Google?", I told you to also consider your content when improving your search. Poor titles and multiple articles on a single subject will impact success. I want to expand on content a bit more.

First, consider the search results again. If your search engine displays the first part of the content underneath the title, is the information helpful?

Next, when the user does click-through on a search result, can they quickly reassure themselves that the content presented is what they're looking for?

I believe if you follow the advice of Tim Ash in his article "Fix Your Writing or Suffer Lower Conversion Rates," you will be able to satisfy these two issues in regards to your content. Whether you're trying to convert a user to buy your product or you're trying to help a customer fix his problem with your product, the principles still apply.

Tim begins, "The vast majority of Internet users do not read a Web page word by word. They scan it and focus on individual words, phrases, or sentences." (Just like they scan your search results.) With this in mind, your writing needs to take this into consideration, which Tim covers for us. He breaks it down into 3 areas: Structure, Tone, and Format.

You should read "Fix Your Writing or Suffer Lower Conversion Rates," to get all the details, but here are a few highlights:
  • "The preferred structure for most Web writing is the inverted pyramid. It uses the principle of primacy (ordering) to control saliency (importance)." Sounds like you're writing a newspaper column, and your Editor may be chopping the end to make it fit in the allotted space.
  • "Get to the point and let them decide if your content is relevant enough for them to stick around."
  • "Save your visitors the aggravation and only tell them what they want to hear."
  • "Be careful about your exact choice of words. ... Do not use puns, metaphors, or colloquial expressions."
  • "Use clear, emphasized titles for page headings and important subheads. "
Tim Ash has put together a great guideline for your writing, be sure to read his enter post. And next time you write content for your website, consider the steps your intended audience will take to find what you've written -- and apply that to how you write the content.