Firefox 3: Still Cool, Problems Persist and Btw, It Ain’t Exactly Non-profit!

Firefox 3 has been released recently with a lot of fanfare as usual — Record breaking downloads , data about increasing market share , the admiration and praise for the open source movement, among other things.

I have been an active user of Firefox ever since its launch. IE 6.0 was great but IE 7.0 was awful. Thus my preference for Firefox has been further strengthened over the years. So when Firefox 3.0 was released I promptly downloaded it and started to use it. Here are a few of my observations.

Memory problem is still very much there

I was hoping that in this release the memory issue will be addressed. Though I have read claims about the fix, I didn’t see it working first hand on Windows XP. I find that Firefox 3 hogs memory (as you add tabs) and then suddenly freezes. Once this occurs, “killing” the browser window is quite a struggle. Firefox 2 is more stable and reliable in this regard. This is easily the biggest Firefox 3.0 weakness in my opinion. It happened to me too frequently to be ignored despite the fact that I usually open no more than 4-5 tabs.

Saving Login/Password does not work, sometimes

I noticed this problem on the Meebo site. Despite checking the box that says remember me, you have to enter your password every single time. This works just fine in Firefox 2.0. (This maybe a problem with Meebo rather than the browser?)

Saving the tabs is very useful

If you accidentally delete a tab, the History menu maintains the recently deleted tabs, making it so much easier to recover deleted tabs. In Firefox 2 you had to install a plugin to do this for you.

Cool Address Bar

As always there are cool features to excite the technically inclined. The coolest of these being the address bar. If you visit a site frequently you can just enter the site name instead of the entire URL. The browser maintains this information. In short, its cool and saves you some typing.

Look and Feel of IE

Firefox fans are not going to like this. Firefox 3.0 has an IE 7.0 feel to it. By this I don’t mean specific UI features. I mean the overall feel. There is a certain “lightness” to it which reminds one of IE 7.0. It will be interesting to see Microsoft return with IE 8.0 later this year.

You can read a full list of new Firefox 3.0 features here . There is no question that Firefox 3.0 is easily far ahead of IE 7.0 in its usability.

Finally, Some Serious food for thought

Here is a snippet from a recent article in the Mercury News.

The code for the latest version of the browser received contributions from about 800 folks, only a fraction of whom are employed by Mozilla. And thousands more people download daily updates to the beta versions to test and critique them.

Mozilla funds all this primarily through money it gets from a revenue-share agreement with Google for searches conducted through the browser. The balance comes from contributions from its community and foundations. In the most recent year of financial data available, Mozilla had revenue of $66,840,850 in 2006 compared with expenses of $19,776,193. It paid 90 people in some fashion that year to work on Firefox.

Statements like the above just spread the myth that Firefox is all non-profit and we are living in this great new world where an army of strangers come together for the common good of computer users around the globe. While there might be some element of truth to it, the reality though is that there is the Mozilla Corporation (which is for-profit) while the Mozilla Foundation is non-profit. The for-profit organization rakes in the moolah and pays its CEO (500K+ in annual salary) and other executives big bucks. 90-odd people who work on the project are hopefully well-paid as well while the 800-odd out there get little or nothing in return (besides some recognition, possibly some web presence and maybe a couple of T-shirts).

Most of Mozilla’s revenues come from its advertising arrangement with Google. The Firefox browser with a growing market share is a direct challenge to Microsoft’s IE. Under these circumstances, it is hard to argue against claims that Mozilla is no more than a front for Google’s in its battle against Microsoft. Frankly, it is surprising that Microsoft is not doing more to dispel this myth about Mozilla.

A cash rich organization like Mozilla would do well to monetarily recognize those 800-odd (starving?) developers around the world. Next, the media should stop spreading this myth about Mozilla’s non-profit status.

Last but not the least, the Mozilla should be forced to explicitly outline the distinction between its for-profit and non-profit entities instead of high falutin’ statements on its website like “We’re a public benefit organization dedicated not to making money but to improving the way people everywhere experience the Internet” and “In the end, the Mozilla community, organization and technology is all focused on a single goal: making the Internet better for everyone.”

The Mozilla website in its current form helps further this myth that sections of the media seem to be spreading already. This is wrong, unfair, and blatantly misleading, though I still love the Firefox browser.

Movie Review: Dasavatharam – A Ten-fold Disaster


Title : Dasavatharam (Meaning: Ten Avatars)

Starring : Kamalahasan, Asin

Direction : K. S. Ravikumar

The thought of a movie where a single actor plays ten different roles does raise some basic questions about how it might even be possible to weave a sensible story (unless of course it is a comedy like Naya Din Nai Raat). Watching the film just confirms the worst of these fears. Dasavatharam is a poorly concocted, meaningless film, with Kamalahasan playing ten roles in addition to being responsible for the story, the screenplay and the dialogues.

There is no real story as such. It begins with a twelfth century clash between Shiva and Vishnu devotees resulting in Kamalahasan’s first character being tied to the Vishnu deity and drowned to death. The visuals for these scenes are impressive. Fast forward a few centuries and Kamalahasan is an Indian scientist in the US and an American CIA agent. The scientist is busy chasing a computer chip that contains some biological weapon. The CIA agent is hired by the goons and wants the weapon too. What follows is a weather-beaten cat and mouse game between the CIA agent and the scientist where every other scene has Kamalahasan in a new look. Along the way the scientist picks up Asin for company. The love story of the film is almost forgotten and concludes in a lame and predictable manner at the end. The story comes to an end with a Tsunami and the deity from the 12th century being swept ashore. Perhaps the movie makers could not think of a better way to end the film. The Tsunami scenes are extremely well shot and comparable to some of the real shots you find on Youtube. There are references to the existence of God at various points in the film but such intellectual topics of discussion in the midst of intense “masala” seems obviously out of place and completely lacking in depth.

Kamalahasan plays George Bush, a Terminator look-alike (supposedly a CIA agent, when a stunt man would have been a more appropriate characterization), an old woman, a scientist, a priest, a villager, a singer (Daler Mehndi type), inspector Naidu, a Japanese martial arts expert, and an Afghani. Every time a new character appeared on the screen I found myself busy trying to figure out if it was Kamalahasan in a new make up! Of all the roles in this film, the role of Inspector Naidu was by far the best for the simple reason that the makeup was still believable and Kamalahasan was playing his age. The scenes and dialogues featuring Inspector Naidu were easily the most enjoyable part of the film.

State of the art makeup techniques have made it possible for near complete facial transformation. However, the more dramatic the transformation the less interesting it gets after the momentary “wow” factor. In fact, it is a lot like wearing a Halloween mask! This destroys the seriousness of the film and takes away the focus from the main story, if there was ever one.

It is not in the least bit surprising that this film ran into trouble with religious Hindus. For most part of the film a Hindu deity is tossed around under the pretext of having a dangerous chip inside it. Unfortunately for the censors if those parts of the film were curtailed the movie makers would have had to return to the drawing board. In hindsight, that might have not been a bad thing after all.

Asin does a decent job as the conventional big mouth brahmin girl. The rest are all mere passengers with little to do. One of them looked like yesteryear comedian, Nagesh while another looked like KR Vijaya, (another an old timer) or maybe they were Kamlalahasan himself with makeup. Mallika Sherwat tries her best to provide her personal brand of sizzle. Himesh Reshammaiyya’s music is nothing to write home about. Kamalahasan should have handled the music too (I think he sang one of the songs in the film). He might have done as well if not better than Himmesh.

It is sad to see Kamalahasan trying so hard to impress when it is an accepted fact that he is one of India’s top actors. It is no secret that big stars insist on dominating every frame in their films. But Kamalahasan takes this obsession to a whole new level. There are several scenes involving two or three characters all played by Kamalahasan and with no other actor in sight. If you had any doubts that Kamalahasan’s megalomania and eternal self-obsession, then this movie should put those doubts to rest. It should not come as a surprise if Kamalahasan were to make a movie where he plays every single role in the film.

Overall Dasavatharam is a huge dissapppointment. Even the biggest Kamalahasan fans are going to have a hard time defending this disaster.

Challenger School: Myths, Pros and Cons

I was scouting the web for thoughts from other parents about the Challenger school system and I was surprised not to find any posts whatsoever on this topic. Schools are discussed so often in social circles so I was expecting to find at least one parent who would take the time to share their experiences. (Ok, for now, let us blame it on Google’s poor search technology).

I have had the opportunity to get familiar with the Challenger school system for a few years now. So here goes…

First, let me dispel two common myths about Challenger.

Myth #1: Challenger is too academic. The kids have to slog it out starting from pre-school and kindergarten.

This is completely untrue. There is no question that the kids learn a lot. But the slog days are long gone. The kids don’t have to stay up at night learning facts and figures by rote. The academic pressure appears to have eased up dramatically over the years. Kids get a lot more time to pursue extra curricular activities. I had heard the same horror stories before, but they are certainly not reflective of present-day Challenger curriculum.

Myth #2: Admission is next to impossible. You have to queue up overnight to get your child admitted.

Again, completely untrue. There was a time at the height of the dotcom days when this was true. The system has changed. It is now a lottery system. Besides, since the dotcom bust the number of applicants has significantly reduced. It’s a different story that that the school will act like its “full”, would want to conduct tests etc. before they admit your child. But the reality is that admission to Challenger is not as hard as it was a few years back. This does not in anyway imply that they are starved of kids. The general student teacher ratio is about 25 to 1 though it is a lot better in the pre-school and the kindergarten level (more like 1 to15).

Having addressed the two common myths, here are a few pros and cons. First, the pros.

The Teachers: The big question always on parents minds, “How are the teachers?” The reality is that the teachers at Challenger are like those at most other schools (I hear that pay scales are equally poor in both private and public schools) — there are some exceptionally good teachers and some mediocre teachers. Thankfully, the Challenger school curriculum is excellent. So if your child is lucky and lands a good teacher, the combination with the curriculum makes it terrific. On the other hand if the teacher is mediocre, the curriculum is the only saving grace (don’t expect the management to be of any help!). Note that you will also find the occasional teacher (a computer teacher in elementary school, for instance) who chooses to go his/her own way (define their own rules) and surprises parents with their own unpredictable ways.

The Parents and The Kids: This is probably the best part about Challenger. There are plenty of like-minded parents from identical social backgrounds whose kids go to Challenger. They face similar challenges and share the same values, resulting in lasting friendships and camaraderie between families.

Now the cons.

The Administration/Management: This is easily Challenger’s weakest link. The Administration operates a lot like the Bush Administration. In other words, they chose to do as they please. They never bother to look at any issue objectively. When faced with any parent complaints or issues, they simply stone-wall. You can kick and scream all you like, go up the ladder, all the way up to Ms. Barbara B. Baker , but objectivity is a non-existent commodity in the Administrative circles at Challenger. If you ever bring up an issue, it is promptly shot down with generic responses like “Its the teacher’s prerogative”, “It is only because your child is affected”, “hysterical Mom/Dad” etc. One of principals’ favorite responses to any issue (no matter how unrelated) almost always begins with “when my son was in Challenger…” Many parents who have taken their kids out of Challenger have done so because of their frustrations with the Management. (In fact, some good teachers have left the school because of their inability to deal with the management). But the general philosophy of the Management seems to be one of “If you don’t like it, you are welcome to take your child some place else”

Update Nov’ 08: Since posting this article, there have been changes in personnel at the Challenger school that I am familiar with.  I must say that my interaction with the new personnel has been far more positive .

Adoption of Technology: Considering that the Challenger schools in the bay area serves kids whose parents largely work in the high tech community, you would expect a greater degree of technological savvy at school. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Email as a means of communication is hardly ever used by the school. The website is just a bunch of static pages. The school as a whole does not seem to have embraced technology. The parents on the other hand leverage technology to remain in contact, socialize, communicate and share ideas about issues their kids face etc.

The Ethnic Mix: The kids in the Challenger schools in the bay area are predominantly of Asian Indian and Chinese descent. This is true of the teachers and also the Administrative staff. Without a doubt, Indians form the majority. The lack of a strong ethnic mix is a definite minus , but its no different than the student mix at UC Berkeley or for that matter at some of the leading high tech firms in the bay area (Cisco, Intel, Google, Yahoo etc.)

The Big Question: Should you send your kids to Challenger?

I hate to sound like a lawyer. But my answer in this case is “It depends”. The thought of developing a checklist followed by an automated “Challenger Readiness Score” did cross my mind. But I’ll stop here and let you make up your own mind based on the above. I welcome comments and thoughts from others, especially other parents.

Dhoni Strengthens Hold Over Team Selection

DhoniDinesh Karthik’s exit from the ODI was on the cards. The big three Rahul Dravid, Ganguly and VVS Laxman are unlikely to play ODI again for India. Sachin is injured and Harbhajan is serving his sentence. The injured Sreesanth has just been replaced by the impressive Goni. With this, India’s team for the Kitply Cup extends Dhoni’s virtually complete control over the team selection. He initiated the changes he desired on the Australian tour and refined it further on this tour. If Dhoni can continue to show results like he has done so far, the transition to a strong established ODI and T20 leadership will soon be complete.

Rahul Dravid once lamented that he did not get the team he wanted. Dhoni has done well to achieve precisely that in a very short time. Hats off to the young man! In a country where there is so much of “push and pull” it is commendable that a small town player who was barely known a few years back, and hardly ever captained a side has had such a meteoric rise not just to prominence but to one of power. What is interesting is that despite his relative lack of experience he can’t seem to do any wrong! His recent T20 leadership in the IPL league was commendable as was his performance Down Under. Without a doubt, Dhoni has led from the front, made bold decisions (like dumping the seniors) and extracted the best from the youngsters.

The only remaining relative old timer is Virender Sehwag and based on the talent available these days (Uthappa, Gambhir, Yusuf, Asnodhkar), he could be the next one to be axed. After the infamous slap-gate its hard to imagine everything being hunky-dory between India’s two hot heads — Bhajji and Sreesanth. In all likelihood, one of them is likely to be phased out and all hands point to Sreesanth given the competition he is faced with and Dhoni’s recent comments on the issue which appear to lean Harbhajan’s way.

While Bangladesh continues to disappoint, India-Pakistan matches should still be of interest. India would do well to rely on form and this means picking Yusuf Pathan, Goni and Suresh Raina in the playing eleven. The team for the match against Pakistan will be as follows (likely):

Yusuf Pathan, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Piyush Chawla, Praveen Kumar, Goni, Ishant Sharma.