People prefer the pre-installed web browser

Yesterday something unusual happened on this blog. I posted a piece about reading books to my daughter on my iPod Touch and it was picked up by the Mac news site Macsurfer. Now usually the number of visitors on this site bounces along at around 40-50 unique visitors each day (I love you all) and most come from search. That’s ok since this site is really just a place to find me and some of my work on the web. But yesterday, December 1st 2008, over 1000 visitors arrived, delivering many thousands of hits and page views in just a few hours, almost all of them from Macsurfer. Since I have the stats for December 1st, and since almost all the traffic for that day came from a single Mac-related source, we can speculate wildly draw some interesting conclusions about the browsing habits of Mac users. Firstly, here are the stats for December 1st (if it’s too small to read go ahead and click on the image to make it bigger, but I’ll be mentioning the relevant numbers below):

The first thing to think about is the proportion of operating systems, with Macintosh at 69.9% and Windows at 22.9%. This is almost exactly the reverse of what I normally see, with Linux a little lower than usual at 0.6%. What’s more interesting though is when you look at that in the context of the browsers. 60% of visitors were using Safari, the browser that comes with every Mac, and this is almost exactly the same percentage of people using Internet Explorer, the browser that ships with every Windows PC, on a normal day. The proportion using Firefox is the same as usual at around 20% and Internet Explorer, at 12% occupies the position usually held by Safari.

What interests me about this is that Mac users have usually chosen to use a Mac and are therefore used to making computing choices. Most Windows users take what they are given at work and may be inclined to use the same thing at home. Some will be actively choosing Windows of course, but active choice is not necessarily the default position for Windows users as it is for Mac users. Yet when it comes to browsers Mac users seem just as reluctant as Windows users to try something they have to download. It could be of course that Safari is just the best browser on the Mac (I disagree), but if so then the same must be true of Internet Explorer on Windows. One additional point is that even on this single day the list of browsers is as long as it usually is at the end of a month, suggesting that the more esoteric end of the market is not dependent on particular interests. It’s a shame my AmigaOS visitor didn’t show up yesterday.

So there you have it, some evidence that pre-installed browsers are the ones people use even when they have a choice. Mozilla and Google should take note and get Firefox and Chrome pre-installed on as many PCs as possible.

Accidentally Great: Apple's Answer to the Kindle

On Sunday mornings my daughter and I like to read together for an hour or so. She’s still small enough to sit on my knee while I read to her, but as she grows it gets more difficult to juggle book, child and coffee cup in ways that make the experience relaxing. Enter the iPod Touch which, since the arrival of the app store in the summer, has turned into my go anywhere, do anything device. It handles everything from email, calendaring and project management, to music whenever and wherever, web browsing, games, audio books, instant messaging, and now reading. I am just staggered at how useful this gadget has become, even in its more limited, non-phone incarnation. I hardly ever put it down. So far I have read two novels on my own this way, but I didn’t expect it to work so well for reading out loud. Still, daughter and I read Grimm’s fairytales this Sunday using the free Stanza app and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I’ll be loading it up with other children’s books and they’ll be there for our regular reading sessions and for whenever there are a few minutes when she needs to be kept entertained.

By coincidence Karen Templer at Readerville has been having a similar experience of reading on her iPhone and has written an excellent overview of how to go about doing it and what makes it so good. As she points out, Apple CEO Steve Jobs isn’t interested in making a reading device because he thinks there is no market for them. It’s odd then that his company turns out to have made such a great one:

I’ve been of two minds about the notion of electronic books. Like any hard-core booklover, I love the physical object. (See Most Coveted Covers for evidence.) It’s hard to imagine curling up with a hard little plastic or metal doohickey instead of ink and paper. On the other hand, the idea of carrying an entire library around in your pocket—the ability to switch between books or buy a new one at any instant—has obvious appeal. Which is a big part of why devices like the Sony Reader hold no appeal for me. Not being a gadget person, the last thing I want is an extra one. The Kindle has the benefit of direct, wireless downloads and some level of web access, which makes it a bit more appealing than those that require you to be at your computer to buy and transfer a new book. But a device of that size, heft and limited function means having to choose to carry it along (or not) each time one leaves the house. I never leave the house without my phone, however, so when it became clear that the sexy, multi-talented, reasonably priced, second-generation iPhone was going to be open to third-party applications (“apps”), and that among them would be reading software, I mapped a course. …

Well worth a read. Here’s the link again.

My Day with Ubuntu 8.10

Last week my daughter had to take a day off school because she was unwell and it fell to me to babysit during the day. She slept a lot of the time and behaved well for the rest so although it wasn’t quite the most productive day of the week, I don’t think my output suffered too much. This is one of the great benefits of working from home. With a bit of understanding on both sides, minor changes of plan like this can be worked around. But even so, with a sick child propped up on the sofa, normal shedworking activities had to relocate to the house and that meant using the family PC, which runs Ubuntu Linux.

My usual shed-based computer arrangement involves a Macbook with external keyboard and mouse and a second screen. I use a notebook computer so that I don’t have to leave valuable equipment in the shed and I love the two-screen setup which, as many people seem to agree, boosts productivity no end. Having said that though, most of the computing around here is set up to maximise working cross-platform and I find a combination of Mac OS X and Linux, with Windows relegated to a virtual machine for occasional website testing in IE7, is the best combination.

I am not new to Linux. I first began using it to get work done in 2002 after a series of grim experiences with Windows ME while working in Berkeley, California. That sounds more glamorous than it was. While my wife researched her book at the Bancroft Library I carried on with an editing job I started back home. By about half way through the trip Windows ME was locking up on me roughly every hour so in order to keep from losing work I was saving everything and rebooting the laptop every 50 minutes. Back home in Lancashire that autumn I installed a paid-for version of SUSE Linux. I had never used Linux before and it didn’t go entirely without a hitch, but six months later I was using Linux full-time.

Back in 2003, to be fair, I didn’t make great demands on my computers. I used email, a web browser, and a word processor, so even on a laptop, once I’d persuaded Linux to connect to the (dial-up) Internet I had everything I needed and it never crashed. Not crashing was a benefit for which I was prepared to go without proper suspend and sleep capability, though neither of those worked reliably with Windows anyway, and for which I was prepared to buy a separate Hayes modem. I later bought a wireless networking card that was more expensive than it might have been had I been able to pick the cheapest Windows-only model on the shelf.

By the time that old HP laptop began to show its age, in 2004, there was no way I was going back to Windows and no way I was paying for a copy of Windows XP that I would never use. Since I had to have a laptop, that meant buying a Mac, which I did in 2005. The home PC though, which is mostly used for kids’ games in Childsplay and GCompris, watching DVDs, managing photos, and listening to music and podcasts, runs Linux.

And that brings me to my day last week with Ubuntu 8.10. You know what? There’s nothing much to say about it; it just let me get on with what I wanted to do with no drama and no trouble. I worked on an article I’ve been writing for a forthcoming Blackwell anthology, I wrote a blog post or two and tweaked a little css, I made some plans for future articles and replied to a whole bunch of emails. And when I needed to scan and edit an image I just stuck it in the networked HP all-in-one, opened Gimp and captured the image. I could then print the edited image back to the same device. All of this, I should add, just installed right from the disk the week before and worked straight away.

In essence of course, what I have is a computer pre-installed with Ubuntu. It happens that I pre-installed it myself, but it is set up so I could sit down in front of it and go to work. But in fact the amount of setup was minimal and required no command line work at all. Linux has certainly come a long way since 2002. What I found most pleasing is just how usable and straightforward Ubuntu is. Everything is in a logical place and the workflows–scan image, edit image, print/upload image for example–are clear and simple. There’s no doubt in my mind that Ubuntu offers a credible alternative to Windows and Mac OS X and is more than capable of co-existing with both of them.