To begin, I am nowhere nearly as adept at technical writing as say, Duane, but I'm gonna give it a try because my last few software upgrades have been well worth it.
I recently downloaded Firefox 2.0, and I am really thrilled.
It is rare for me that I think of an improvement I'd like and it gets implemented, but by gum, Mozilla's done it. Previously, I had concluded that tabs were about the greatest thing ever designed in the history of computing, and I more or less stand by this. They have, however, gone further and made them even better:
See that little red X? That is the secret to making me ecstatic. I can't really explain it, but right-clicking to close each tab one by one used to drive me crazy. Not to mention all the times I accidentally selected "Close All Tabs" instead of closing just the one I wanted. Now I can just zip through and close the tabs I've opened.
Also, clicked links are defaulted to open in new tabs rather than new windows, which keeps my Start menu bar thingie clean and prevents intense amounts of frustration when I have to hunt around for the windows I want to close. Much much easier to just scoot my little slug-mouse over a few centimeters than all the way across my screen.
Perhaps the single best feature, though, is in-page spell-checking. When I type words like "thingie" it underlines them in red. You can then right-click and get suggestions, just like in Word or similar programs. I can't help but hope this will dispel some of those "bloggers as barely-literate idiotic monkey" prejudices that have been going around the likes of Jared Leto and his ilk lately.
As I have a tendency to chronically misspell words like calendar, silhouette, propagate, and a host of others, this saves me a lot of time and neurotic trips to dictionary.com. More to the point, it catches the words that I thought I've been spelling correctly all this time. My browser is teaching me to look smarter! Yay!
Just before downloading it, I had read that the upcoming release of Firefox had made substantial progress in how it deals with CSS and came much closer to passing the Acid2 test. Supposedly Firefox 3 will fully pass, which is exciting, though I don't know nearly enough about CSS to even pretend I could design it yet, so maybe this is not a personal concern.
Another fun feature is search suggestions as you enter text in the tool bar.
Though mostly I've used it to amuse myself, it does seem like it could have its uses. Unfortunately, it seems based on word structure and not concept, so while I could find the proper spelling for an artist's name as I begin searching, I couldn't find, say, their husband's name as a suggestion. Since that isn't really a feature in any search engines that I know of, it would be unrealistic to expect it in a browser build, but one can always dream.
I am incredibly curious about the ordering - my guess would be it creates a hierarchy based on the popularity of search terms and then is vaguely alphabetical... but who knows. The only other problem I have is that I tend to type ridiculously fast, so I have to wait a while for the results to show (i.e. deliberately type letter by letter rather than type out the whole word before it appears on screen).
Lastly, if you close your Firefox session with pages open (for example if you had to close it to install a program or your computer crashed), it gives the option to resume your previous session after you've restarted or begin a new one. It's a small thing, but when you think of all the anxiety that accompanies a crash, it's sort of comforting to know you can start back right where you left off.
So, for Firefox 2.0, I'd say it's an excellent improvement. I wish the release notes described more of the real nuts and bolts functionality, or that I had enough knowledge about these things to even know what it all meant, but by and large, I'm very happy with the improvements.
The second upgrade I've made is to a newer version of Picasa, one of my very favorite programs. I haven't taken a lot of time to check out the new features, but the new look is nice and suggests it could be customizable.
Their web album feature seems interesting, though I'm not sure I could possibly make room in my heart for anything that isn't Flickr.
At first I thought I was imagining it, but this version of Picasa runs a lot faster than the last, which scores huge points with me, considering how much time I spend editing photos with it. I've taken to scanning slides through Picasa instead of PhotoShop because it works so much more smoothly with my scanning software (and mostly, I don't have to go through and save each file as I scan it - it imports them all into an album and auto-numbers with the same convenience as when you import from a memory card).
It seems more aggressive about finding images with the auto-scans I've set up in folders, and whereas I used to sometimes have to manually import recently saved images into the old version of Picasa, this one sniffs them out and loads them immediately. I can see this being a feature my mother would really like, as she got annoyed that the first version didn't catch all of her photo folders.
The Timeline feature is great fun - it's a 3D animated scan through folders on your computer by date - literally your life flashing before your eyes. I can see how useful this would be for finding folders or images, though I wish it didn't default to commandeering my screen.
I'll have to check into some of the other benefits, but for now, I'm happy. On Friday I spent a lot of time showing two professors a bunch of shortcuts for digital imaging and creating Power Point presentations (must admire the desire to go digital finally), and among them I included a tutorial of Picasa. They were both quite pleased at so much functionality in such a fast program.
The only downside is that it seems to use a lot more memory, which brings me to what will become the next major change in my computing life - adding a gig of RAM. By which I mean, Eric adding a gig of RAM that he's helped me pick out. I can admit to being basically clueless when it comes to my computer's innards, and he is a certifiable genius, so I am lucky to have his help.
It is my hope that by boosting the RAM and clearing a whole lot of stuff off my hard drive (since really, how many Paula Abdul songs does one truly need available for immediate access?), I can reclaim the former glory of the Greatest Laptop Ever and stop fantasizing about buying a nice, cheap little 4-pounder with 7 gigs of RAM.
To facilitate this end, Eric recently woot'ed a few external hard drives and enclosures, which he plans to use in setting up a nice storage network for us. I could be dreaming, but I sort of remember something about me being able to access said network wirelessly, which umm... well you'll have to excuse me while I wipe drool off my chin.
I have to say, it's pretty nice living with such a deliciously practical variety of nerd. When I think that he could use his powers to like, memorize minutiae of Star Wars films for use in future plausibility debates, I think I really got the good side of geekery in him.
Whew, so are we nerded up enough? Maybe I will write about knitting next.