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More on using WebSlices in IE8.

WebSlices have a number of options in IE8 and by default WebSlices are treated in the same way as RSS feeds even down to the way they are displayed should you navigate to the slice URL directly

  (click for full image)


Once a subscription detects an update its button on the favorites bar will glow and turn bold. The slice will check for updates based on a given schedule - by default once a day. This can be altered to suit your own preference or reduce the traffic used by the slice. The slice can even have a specific "Time To Live" value set to advise subscribed clients how often they should look for refreshed data


The Time To Live value is determined in the WebSlice code by an item with the class "TTL", for example:


The time must be specified in minutes so in my example 720 = 12 hours.

The WebSlice specification states that feed discovery in IE8 is determined by a tag in the head of a page, just as is currently done in IE7 with RSS feeds; the link type must be specified as "application/x-hatom", e.g.

/#slice />

IE8, however, currently appears to find slices without the need for the link tag but this may change in later builds. As previously mentioned, hovering over a WebSlice in IE8 will show the purple slice icon - this behaviour can be disabled on any given page using a meta tag in the page header:

In this instance you would need to give readers another way to subscribe to the slice which can be done by referencing the AddToFavoritesBar API with javascript:', 'Featured posts.', 'slice')">Add Slice

It will be interesting to see how WebSlice behaviour grows or alters in future builds and if developers require more functionality. Will Microsoft answer?

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The Randomelements "Featured Posts" WebSlice is now live.
It's not much but it's an indication that the technology works: the Featured Posts WebSlice is now live on the left hand pane. It's surprisingly simple to create a WebSlice - you only need to include three class properties in the contents.

When hovering over the slice content the WebSlice icon appears which you can click to subscribe to the slice. You can also subscribe to the slice via the feeds icon drop-down
Once subscribed, the slice sits in your Favorites Bar and will indicate when the contents have been updated by making the title text bold.
As mentioned, the code required to create a slice comes in three parts. Firstly, the slice container must be defined with the class "hslice" in order to identify it to IE8. The slice title is defined by the class "entry-title" and the main contents by the class "entry-content":

WebSlice Title

        Stick your slice content here!
The slice can contain multiple instances of the entry-content class and there's nothing else to it. Unfortunately, it appears that the formatting options are limited as the background image applied to the slice contents do not show in the fly-out on the favorites bar. Images can be included in the contents just not as a background.
Can WebSlices be used to keep us up to date with comments?
WebSlice IconThe whole point of a WebSlice is that is lets a reader subscribe to a specific portion of a page so can they be used to keep us up to date with comments on a particular blog post? I don't see why not.
All you would have to do is surround your comments section with a WebSlice (with a dynamic ID perhaps) and let users subscribe to the slice for a post of their choice. Any time a new comment is added the WebSlice will notify the reader that is has been updated allowing them to keep up to date with response to your post.
I shall have to give this a try over the next couple of days.
UPDATE: I had a quick test last night and the quick answer is yes, however, you are limited in what you can do. A WebSlice fly-out will only show a certain amount of data. If your slice is bigger than that you cannot scroll so are forced to open the target page.
You could get round this a bit by sorting your comments with the most recent on top but this obviously causes issues with following the conversation.
In conclusion
I don't think it's the best way to do this but could be used in the absence of any other means.
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Randomelements "Featured Posts" WebSlice coming soon.
I will be fully embracing the IE8 beta here on the blog and will have a "Featured Posts" WebSlice available should you wish to add it to your Favorites Bar and keep up to date with the top posts (I will be changing them based on popularity and time)
 Featured Posts WebSlice
I will need to enhance the formatting and ensure that everything works correctly before it goes live but, once it does, please test it and let me know if you have any problems.
I hope to launch the WebSlice tonight so watch this space.
UPDATE: it's nearly ready. It looks as though you are limited with the formatting that will be applied to the actual fly-out. I have tested a background image on the slice section but this does not get displayed.
UPDATE 2: the slice is ready, see this post.
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Uninstalling IE8 beta 1.

Should you want (or need) to uninstall Beta 1 of Internet Explorer 8 from Windows Vista remember that it is listed as an updated and not a program


IE8 beta 1 available - a first look.

After being presented at MIX08 the first beta of IE8 is available for all to download and put through its paces (makes you wonder why there was a need to sign up to the beta on Connect) - true to form I have it installed and will run you through the first impressions.


The installation of IE8 was surprisingly quick and painless, it included the obligatory restart and update messages on Vista. Post install you get to choose your options from either the defaults or custom settings - in the interests of completeness I chose custom to see where it would take me (click on all thumbnails to see the full picture)


You get to choose the search providers, activity providers and whether to turn on the Safety Filter (recommended)


You do not get the option to add your providers straight away, instead once you complete the wizard IE8 will open with the default homepage (yes it is the welcome page as discussed previously) and further tabs for each set of options you chose to customise



So, with IE all configured it's time to start noticing the differences. You instantly notice the difference with the toolbars especially the Favorites Bar as it takes up more room at the top of the window - you can choose to hide it if you want which moves the Favorites buttons back on to the left hand side of the Tabs list


The next thing you'll instantly notice is some of the enhanced phishing protection. The address bar makes the actual domain portion of the URL bold so you can easily tell the exact site you are visiting; this will help with detecting phishing sites and is completely independent of the new Safety Filter, i.e. it still happens even if the Safety Filter is turned off - great stuff


The IE7 emulation button is indeed present (note: you cannot remove it from the toolbar) and acts as a toggle, selecting it requires you to restart IE in order to switch modes



As mentioned before, one of the main new features of IE8 is WebSlices: a small portion of your site to which users can subscribe and be notified of changes rather than a whole RSS feed. Now that the beta is live the whitepaper has been published so that budding developers can start working on their own slices. Let's look at an example slice and the options that come with it.

Once you find a Slice you can choose to subscribe to it which adds it as an item on the Favorites bar


automatic updates are disabled by default so you have to enable them


there are also a number of settings associated with WebSlices and the update schedules you can have with them



The other big change in IE8 is the activities which essentially take two forms: push and pull. You can "push" data to another service such as Windows Live Spaces or "pull" related information from a service such as a search service. A number of default activity providers are available at all times


For developers

This being a beta intended for web developers we have a number of development tools to assist with debugging pages and examining the differences from IE7



First impressions

For a first beta IE8 is very good, I've not had any problems with it so far and not noticed any differences in rendering from the sites that I have visited - this is obviously a big concern for everyone. I must admit that I'm not entirely convinced about the usability offered by the Favorites bar but time will tell once sites start offering more Slices.

So far it's congratulations to Microsoft and the IE Team.

UPDATE: found my first rendering issues on and so have had to switch to IE7 emulation mode to use the two sites properly. 

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New features announced for IE8.
IE8 BetaAs well as the new standards compliance, Microsoft have released a list of new features to come in IE8 and so far things look pretty interesting. The list can be seen at the Internet Explorer 8 Readiness Toolkit website and includes:
  • Activities
  • WebSlices
  • Favorites Bar
  • Automatic Crash Recovery
  • Improved Phishing Filter

Activities in IE8 gives the ability to add contextual service access from any page such as "Blog with Windows Live Spaces", "Share on Facebook" or "Define with". The example given is someone looking at restaurant details and wants to know where it is - queue the contextual activity of looking it up on Live Maps.

 IE8 Activities

Activities can be installed directly from a website that advertises them as being available or from the Internet Explorer 8 Service Guide which lists providers in different categories - presumably this will grow over time as sites create their own hooks for it (I presume that this is what this placeholder URL at MSDN will refer to).

The current Activity categories are: Blog, Define, Find, Lookup, Map, Send, Share and Translate.

WebSlices will behave like RSS feeds and will allow users to subscribe to content directly within a webpage - a specific portion of the page rather than a whole site feed. These slices can be added to the Favorites bar (see below) from which you can preview the updated slice and then open the host webpage should you want to.

WebSlices sound like a good idea but I wonder if they will take off. Will users want dozens of slices sitting on their Favorites bar? We shall have to wait and see.

Favorites Bar
The new Favorites Bar replaces the old Links bar in previous versions of IE and combines it with the buttons to add items to favorites etc. which are no longer tucked away on the left hand side of the Tabs list.

 Favorites Bar

As well as adding links to sites you will be able to add WebSlices (as noted above) along with RSS feeds and even Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. Things could get crowded!

Automatic Crash Recovery
Taking a leaf out of Mozilla's book, IE8 provides new Crash Recovery features such as restoring the tabs you had open should IE crash.

 Crash Recovery

A whitepaper will be available for more information on this feature but has not been published yet.

Improved Phishing Filter
IE8 improves on the existing phishing filter in IE7 with a new comprehensive "Safety Filter" which works faster than before to block known phishnig sites and those sites known to contain malicious code. New Group Policy options will be released for administrators to manage this.

The first beta of IE8 is due to be launched today at MIX08 so will hopefully also be made available to testers.

UPDATE: via LiveSide

An IE8 welcome page (presumably the default page IE8 will navigate to after you install it) is also available to view.

This gives us a link to a WebSlices whitepaper (again not published yet) and an indication that IE8 will include a Emulate IE7 (Emulate IE7) button on the toolbar for easy access to a mode that let's you render pages as IE7 would have done - definite confirmation that IE8 will be using standards mode wherever it can.

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IE8 now to be standards compliant by default.

After being criticised for not setting IE8 to be in "standards mode" by default the IE Team have announced on their blog that Internet Explorer 8 will, in fact, now operate in standards mode without the need to tell it so.

Why the change?

These paragraphs from the IE Team Blog give us the details:

"Microsoft recently published a set of Interoperability Principles. Thinking about IE8’s behavior with these principles in mind, interpreting web content in the most standards compliant way possible is a better thing to do.

We think that acting in accordance with principles is important, and IE8’s default is a demonstration of the interoperability principles in action. While we do not believe any current legal requirements would dictate which rendering mode a browser must use, this step clearly removes this question as a potential legal and regulatory issue. As stated above, we think it’s the better choice."

Is this the better way forward? What will happen to those sites that are not standards compliant? This decision may force owners of existing sites to update them in order for them to be rendered as intended - a bit of a hassle especially where the sites are older and there is no webmaster for them. The decision will go down well, however, and many will wonder what took Microsoft so long to come to it.

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Google sites - another perpetual beta?
Google released the beta of Google sites (boy does it feel like it) and the debate has already started as to whether the service can be a SharePoint killer.
Google sites is based on the JotSpot wiki which Google acquired around 18 months ago.
Why the delay?
I think it is understandable that Google did not relaunch too quickly, it has taken a while for to get up to speed and for people to gain confidence in cloud computing - launching Google Sites too quickly would have been counter-productive and I feel that it could well have become lost among the other startups coming online.
Now that Google sites is here will it live up to its billing as a SharePoint killer? Not if the current state of affairs is any indication.
I'm afraid that Google Sites still looks like a clumsy wiki site and I'd say that very little effort has been put in to adding that "Google" touch to differentiate it from the competition.
An example JotSpot wiki:
Example JotSpot wiki
My Google Site in the making:
Google Site
Google Sites is designed as a collaborative resource for business or schools (you are asked to "Sign up with your school or work email address") so, as you would expect, there is initially an emphasis on interoperability with other as seen on the Insert menu
Google Sites Insert Menu
If Google Sites wishes to be taken seriously as a collaborative tool, however, I think they should have a rethink and tidy up the other gadgets available
Google Sites Gadgets
Most are not very usable and, in the context of a serious collaboration tool, totally inappropriate. There are also bugs with some of the gadgets available - take the RSS Feed gadget for example. This instance inserted into a page when I was just playing with the service is supposed to be a 500x220 list of the 10 most recent posts from this blog but, as you can see, we just get a gadget title and a small green bar
Gadget issues
I don't know if these gadgets were inherited from JotSpot or made available from other areas of the Google universe but this is not a good start.
Okay, so Google have a track record of releasing web applications as betas and they remain betas throughout their life span but they are usually better realised than Google Sites - perhaps this is because they are conceived and developed in house rather than as acquisitions.
In conclusion
On the evidence of the initial release Google have a long way to go to make this service usable, reliable and attractive. In my opinion they are trying to cash in on the growing reputation of Google Docs and increase their footprint even further. Google do, however, tend to crank out updates to their applications on a very regular basis so I would expect things to change quite quickly.
Eagerly awaiting the IE8 beta.

The first beta of Internet Explorer 8 is imminent and much has been said about it by many already even without seeing it in action.

We've all heard that internal builds have passed the Acid2 test which should be applauded but instead many have commented that the IE team are going to create havoc on the web by requiring web developers to specify whether IE should operate in its "Standards Mode".

Why the fuss?

With IE8 it is the goal of the team to "support the right set of standards with excellent implementations and do so without breaking the existing web" - a very worthy goal indeed. Changes in IE7 were designed to increase standards support and appease those crying foul on IE6's implementation of CSS. Unfortunately, and not necessarily due to Microsoft's actions, these changes caused sites designed for IE6 to not display correctly so there is a desire to not repeat this scenario.

IE8 will therefore have different rendering modes but these modes are causing concern. What is interesting, however, is that IE has had different modes since the DOCTYPE switch was introduced in IE6. So, what is the difference with having to specify the mode of operation in IE8?

Those who have an issue with IE8 as it stands say that it should operate in "standards mode" by default rather than having to explicitly specify the need to use this mode of operation. I disagree. Having IE operate in standards mode by default would cause those pages that have not specified the required mode to break straight away - many of these may well be pages that are no longer updated. Surely, it is easier for new pages - or those that are being redesigned - to specify the required mode instead.

Why Live Search can't compete with Google.
I came across FriendFeed on Louis Gray's blog and thought it looked like a cool idea to try out so headed straight for the search engines.
 FriendFeed logo
As I was on the Tablet at the time, and have not set things up yet after the reinstall of Vista, the default search engine is set up as Live Search; in went friendfeed and I had to scroll to the bottom of the page to find the actual link to FriendFeed itself - in a lowly 9th place in a search specifically for it.
 friendfeed live search
No such problems with Google search - FriendFeed came out, as should be, as the first result
 friendfeed google search
A simple illustration why Live Search cannot yet compete with Google; relevance. Regardless of what referrals you have and how popular those referring pages are a search for X should always return X.
Thoughts on Mahalo.
Dave Winer has posted to clarify matters from last summer surrounding events between himself and Jason Calacanis of Mahalo with regards to dave's review of the product. That incident passed me by at the time and it is not my place to comment but I must agree that the premise of Mahalo is not as laid out in its description as per the website and commented to this effect on Dave's blog (although Jason describes it as 1/3rd Wikipedia, 1/3rd search, and 1/3rd other).
As I always say, the web 2.0 explosion passed me by but I thought I needed to get involved or get left behind so started checking out the various startups to see what was going on - Mahalo included. The initial idea behind Mahalo sounded good but once I started reading exactly what it was I figured that it was essentially a selection of the staff's favourite links on any given subject as long as that subject fell within the web's "top searches" and not a "web search" as the button indicates. You are searching a database rather than the live web and the results you get are arbitrarily decided in accordance with the Mahalo guidelines, as noble as they are.
Personally I would rather wade through a normal search engine to find the little gems and nuggets from small sites that may not have been around long than be spoon fed a list of the big sites (or so it seems after doing a few searches and seeing what comes up).