Firefox and RSS feeds in Google Reader

Update: Google Reader will be closed down at July 2013 so this article is quite obsolete - read the newer article "Why RSS Feeds and alternatives to Google Reader".

However, here is the old story:

Lately I explained RSS feeds to someone and wondered why Firefox is not behaving the same way as on my machine when subscribing to RSS feeds. I did not remember what I exactly did on my machine to get it to work because it is so long ago that I created my profile for new that I first started searching the internet. Interestingly I could not get it to work so - back home - I investigated my own settings. Interestingly they do not match what I found on the net so I think it could be worth writing this article.

Preamble: Google Reader is an online RSS news reader that is also available for Android phones which is very fine when you (as I do) use your phone a lot to read news (for example while on the bus or waiting for it). What you read on your phone is synchronized with what you see when you are back on your laptop or PC. What I show here is how to get subscriptions with Firefox:

  1. Newer Firefox versions do not show the RSS feed symbol by default any more. - Right click next to your tabs or somewhere between your toolbars and choose "Customize...". Look for the "Subscribe..." button and drag it onto your toolbar (I have it next to the refresh and abort button).
  2. Type "about:config" into your url location bar and search for "feeds".
  3. Change "browser.feeds.handler" to "reader"
  4. Change "browser.feeds.handler.default" to "web"
  5. Change "browser.feeds.handlers.webservice" to "http://fusion.google.com/add?feedurl=%s"
  6. You might also need to change "browser.contentHandlers.auto.application/vnd.mozilla.maybe.feed" to "http://fusion.google.com/add?feedurl=%s"
  7. You might also need to change "browser.contentHandlers.types.0.title" to "Google"
  8. You might also need to change "browser.contentHandlers.types.0.type" to "application/vnd.mozilla.maybe.feed"
  9. You might also need to change "browser.contentHandlers.types.0.uri" to "http://fusion.google.com/add?feedurl=%s"
Now when you are on a site that offers RSS feeds the "Subscribe" button should be active (sometimes, when there are many different RSS feeds available on a site they are available through separate links on the site while the main RSS subscribe button is inactive so you might need to dig a little for the RSS  subscription link) - however in both cases you should get the option to put the RSS feed onto your iGoogle page or subscribe with Google Reader then.

Related post: Efficiently following web news with RSS, Why RSS Feeds and alternatives to Google Reader.


The truth about software

To summarize the software-troubles:
  • Too many bugs
  • Too difficult to use
  • Too much administration and maintenance work
As you might already know, as it seems obvious for you - or maybe, if you are listening to your inner voice, you only hear it from somewhere burried deep down in your mind: software is full of bugs. There is no bugfree software.

Since I started programming, I could see the IT world complexity growing and growing. In the beginning there was one processor and one process running at a time - no other software to integrate with. Everything was easier. When I think back to times of Commodore C-64 or when I was using the MS DOS Borland Turbo Pascal or C compilers - they were all extremely robust and when there was something not working as desired, I could be to 99 % sure that it's my fault. So at least the core system and the development platform were rock-solid and stable. That did not always apply to my programs... ;-)

Nowadays, operating systems and their core services as well as development environments - and in addition to that a bunch of third-party libraries all have their issues. So the software developer doesn't even start on a rock-solid base as it happened to be back in the early eightees (at least according to my experience - YMMV). In addition to that: If you want to produce cars, toys or whatever other physical stuff, in most cases you need a factory and a lot of money before you can start. For producing software, all you need is a computer and download some tutorial from the net and even a fool can get started - and unfortunately a lot of fools do...

But the low entrance barrier is only one reason for the lot of issues around. In my opinion the complexity is the worst thing here. Even with the honest strong desire to get everything right, you can't - apart from the fact that IT world has grown far too big to be completely covered by a single person.

But the growing IT world did not bring only troubles - we do have far more possibilities since computers were invented. Software development is far easier than in the beginning of computers. We can build software with far more features in much shorter time now. The problem: The software can often do far more than the users can handle.

And last but not least: I remember times when the "installation" of a program was just copying it to the machine and run it. Today it requires dependency checks and sometimes complex installation procedures. Although still possible - only a very few programs that run fine when you just copy them. Nowadays many software products have a bunch of required preconditions and a lot of integration options that need configuration. Highly integrated software means more maintenance work regarding updates (of any of the involved components). Another reason for increased maintenance work are the customization options that most software comes with.

A normal user nowadays is working with a lot of different software products and often there are some software products that are used very seldom only. I have seen users dealing with software they need to touch only once a month. From one month to the other they need to re-find all needed menu items again because from one month to the other they always forgot.

The challenge these days is:
  • To reduce complexity (of the problem and feature set) as far as possible (while maintaining flexibility).
  • To make using the software easier - software must be intuitive to use (only a very few people do read documentation or help file text).
  • And to make configuration obvious and simple.
Related posts: IT fallout and buddhism, New user experience, Proof of concept, IT Dependencies.