HTTP vs HTTPS

HTTPS has always been used to secure websites that contain sensitive information such as Credit Card numbers, but most web site owners tend not to give it much thought outside those requirements.

In 2014 Google announced it was starting to give a slight ranking advantage to HTTPS sites over their HTTP counterparts. This started out as being pretty much a tie-breaker scenario, where two sites were otherwise equal it would rank the HTTPS site first.

Last year Google also started actively looking for HTTPS content ahead of HTTP content. That means if your site supports both protocols Google will automatically look for the HTTPS version.

With the advent of HTTP/2 and it’s current requirement of HTTPS now is a good time to consider switching over to HTTPS. As well as giving your users a more secure experience you also have the added benefit of being in a good place to support HTTP/s if your host supports it.

HTTP/2… why you should care!

HTTP/2 (originally named HTTP/2.0) is the second major version of the HTTP network protocol used by the World Wide Web”

Now we have that out of the way, there are a few reasons to take notice of this and a few things you may want to do in order to take advantage of it.

What is wrong with normal HTTP?

HTTP is old… in terms of the Internet it is very very old indeed. It was standardised in 1997, when a lot of web developers were still learning learning to walk! It did the job, but as websites became bigger and more complex it was a constant struggle to get the site to display at a reasonable speed, even with modern high-speed connections.

The crux of the issue is the fact that sites are made up of lots of files and the HTTP protocol only allows a certain amount of transfers at the same time. This increased over time but there has always been the situation whereby files sat in a queue waiting to be downloaded by the browser.

What web developers started to do was use techniques such as merging multiple CSS files into a single one, using CSS sprites so icons were downloaded in a single file. All this to get around the queueing system. There was also the problem that if some files got “stuck” then everything else had to wait in line, causing very erratic behaviour at times.

How does HTTP/2 help?

HTTP/2 does away with the queuing system by using something called multiplexing. Without going into the finer details it basically means that browsers can download a lot more content at the same time (if the browser and server both use HTTP/2) and things should perform a lot faster.

Server pushing is also used in order to speed up the rendering experience. In the pre HTTP/2 world the browser downloads the full HTML page first, then starts grabbing the assets it needs such as CSS files and javascript. With HTTP/2 the server is able to send over files it knows the client needs into the cache, so by the time the HTML file is loaded the assets files have also started to arrive. Add in header compression and you have a much more streamlined method of loading pages

So what’s the catch?

While technically there is no requirement for encryption to use HTTP/2, several implementations have said they will only support HTTP/2 over a TLS encrypted connection. There are several reasons for this, which may or may not change over time, but for now you must use an HTTPS connection to take advantage of HTTP/2.

What this means to most users is they must have an SSL certificate for their domain, if not their users will get nasty messages about unsecured connections and/or mixed content.

Should I use HTTP/2?

Google have already stated they are starting to give sites using HTTPS a slight advantage in the ranking mechanism, so now is a good time to at least consider using HTTP/2 for your sites.

That said, HTTP/2 is very new and currently only supported by a hand full of hosts. For now if you convert your site to use HTTPS you will be in good shape to enable HTTP/2 as soon as it is supported on your host, and thus take advantage of a very real boost in performance!

The .TEL domain scam

I just received an email trying to sell me a .TEL domain. Just another second rate extension, I thought, but I clicked on it anyway. After reading up on it I find it is tied up with telnic.com.

If you register one of these domains you cannot host it yourself, you cannot control it and you cannot use it for email. Basically all you can do with it is provide an online business card!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7761395.stm

Reading the above article it is not even clear Mr Mahdavi knows how it will work. In a comparison to when this was done in the past Mr Mahdavi says “The flaw, he said, with Enum was that it demanded people be on the web. By contrast, .tel will work with many different devices such as smart phones”. Well if this system does not require the recipient of the information to be on the web, just how will their smart phone get the information?

He goes on to say “It will become their place on the cloud,”. Get a grip Mr Mahdavi, you can’t just spout the latest buzzwords and expect to have credibility. This domain is just sheer nonsense!

The worrying this about all this is ICANN, the overseers of the domain system can allow this sort of thing to go on. Why does one company (telnic) have the right to tie up an entire top level domain name? I am all for new domains coming out, but what next, .wifepics? It is concerning that ICANN have taken it upon themselves to move from simply regulating the distribution of top level domain names to wholeheartedly regulating the content too.

Surely this goes against everything the Internet was designed to be?!

EDIT: Seems others are not happy with this either : http://telscam.org/

South Africa – The dark horse of the Internet

With the World Cup coming up in 2010 South Africa has been getting quite a lot of press. Some people see South Africa as being behind the rest of the world in terms of infrastructure, technology, business etc. In some ways this is true, you only need to look at their roads to see there is much room for improvement. However, when it comes to business, in particular online business, my word does the rest of the world need to stand up and take note.

South Africa seems to have embraced the Internet culture and used it to great effect. You only need to follow South Africans on Twitter to see how excited people are about being a part of it all. There are constantly meet-ups (tweet-ups, as they are called) and dinner parties arranged for people who have formed a community from knowing each other online. This happens in other parts of the world too, but I am in the UK and I have not seen half as many over here.

If I look at products I use every day I find a lot are made in South Africa. I send SMS via the internet using BulkSMS… made in South Africa. My SearchStatus Firefox plugin which I have been using for years comes from Quirk eMarketing, a South African firm. There are a growing number of successful Internet sites that you may not know that come from South Africa. South Africa online presence seems to be growing faster than I can ever remember it doing so in the UK.

Almost every week people are tweeting that they are in seminars about media, marketing, the Internet in general. The shear number of these events just shown how positive they are about progress. South Africa has a TEDx function coming up. TEDx is a kind of miniature TED conference where very clever people speak about their specialised subject. These things are great and I really wish I could attend this one!

I have been following the changes online for a while now and all I can say is the enthusiasm is infectious! They have their own social network called Afrigator too. To look at it really is a polished production, but more than that if you look at 95% of all African blogs they have the Afrigator link stating “I am an African Blogger”. This is the crux of it to my mind, these people are PROUD to be a part of it all and they are excited for the future.

I can’t help feeling that certainly in the UK people feel the Internet has come as far as it can and has leveled out a bit. The excitement has died down and people have found other things to be enthusiastic about. If you can relate to that I implore you to start to follow a few South Africans on Twitter and see what they are up to. The enthusiasm displayed is something I just can’t help wanting to be involved with, and something that the UK for one could really learn from!

Companies with their head in the cloud

The concept of the cloud is one that has really grown over the past couple of years. To those in the know it is possibly one of the biggest things to hit the development world since the advent of mass home-broadband connections. To others it kind of lurks in the background and is simply the trendy buzz-word of the geek community.

What is the cloud?

The easiest way to explain this is to look to our old friend, Wikipedia:

“Cloud computing is a style of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources are provided as a service over the Internet”

One of the most popular and famous cloud providers is Amazon. To simplify it, they basically charge you for what you use in terms of data and in turn you get to back on to their infrastructure.

The benefits:

Their servers are super resilient
Their servers are very fast
The infrastructure is completely scalable
You never run out of space, you just pay for what you use
Bandwidth is immense, and wont be brought down by stumble/digg traffic

In real terms it means as a small development organisation (as an example) you do not need to worry about taking into account the server infrastructure behind your online application. Providing you have a business model that supports the usage of your app then you’re good to go.

What does it cost?

Cloud computing has a relatively low cost in normal use. You pay on a monthly basis for the space you use. You also pay for data transfer in and out, and for the number of requests and manipulation of the data. This all sound a bit complicated, but the figures are quite small. For example Amazon currently charge around $0.18 per Gb of data storage, and similar for transfer. When you look at the infrastructure behind it that cost is not too bad.

Who uses it?

You probably already use site that use cloud computing. If you post images on twitter you may use the twitpic image hosting service. Go to one of your images on there and view the properties of it, you will see it starts with http://s3.amazonaws.com/twitpic/photos/. The image is actually hosted in the cloud, on Amazon’s servers.

Lots of companies are taking on this model in order to rapidly deploy their environments. It is great for them because although their initial traffic is very low, it is completely scalable. In “the old days” you would have to invest up-front for huge servers in anticipation of the traffic you will get 18 months down the line!

The million dollar question!

One thing I have notices over recent years is lots of companies that seem to have a flawed business model. Companies such as Brightkite, an image hosting service combining traditional image hosting with geolocation services (a google map). This company does not charge for it’s services, it’s iPhone app is free. There are no adverts on the site either, so no obvious source of revenue either.

Perhaps Brightkite is looking to build a userbase and then sell out to one of the big boys, or perhaps they will introduce advertising or premium services at a later date, who knows? They are not alone in this though, lots of sites that have sprung up in recent times seem to be “free”. Although cloud computing is relatively low cost, it is not free, so one must wonder what their end-game plan is.

How are they going to turn their good idea into profit?

Freshbooks now uses Google Checkout

freshbooks2Yes, that’s right, my constant complaining and moaning about the only thing wrong with Freshbooks has finally paid off. Freshbooks have just announced they support integration with Google Checkout!

I have just logged into my control panel and enabled it (easy to do, they provide idiot-proof instructions) and that’s about it. From now on all invoices that go out will include the Google Checkout link alongside the Paypal (spit!) link.

I am impressed that I single handedly managed to get them to do this, with no help from anyone, they must think really highly of me! Just kidding, there has been a bit of a push on their forums for some time, and in the grand scheme of things it really didn’t take them that long to implement.

Great work guys, your work is really appreciated!

Freshbooks review – first thoughts

Well I finally did it. After a few weeks of messing around with the free account, I finally signed up for the basic paid package from Freshbooks. There are several reasons for this, which I will get to in a minute, but I wanted to write a concise review of this product, along with comparing it with it’s competitors, so here goes.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of the features I would like to let you know about the reasons I stood up and took notice of Freshbooks, aside from the very extensive feature set.

Excellent Pre-sales

When I first setup my free account I did a test. I integrated it into the 2Checkout account I have not used in a long time, since a lot of people prefer PayPal. I have since changed my domain name, and so updated my 2Checkout account to reflect this. The problem was, in order for the integration to work I had to provide the Freshbooks url instead, meaning that I couldn’t sell from my site as well. After going round in circles for ages with 2Checkout, eventually one of the Freshbooks team contacted them on my behalf and ironed the situation out! At this point I wasn’t even a paying Freshbooks customer. Now THAT’s service!

Later in the week I was experimenting a little more, and I found that the 2checkout page that takes payment wasn’t as neat as it could be. Mainly this is due to their interface not being the best. Anyway, I posted on the forums and within an hour or so one of the Freshbooks team asked me for a screenshot. I uploaded one and he went and asked the developers. He then came back to me and said they can and will do something to improve this. Again, great service considering I had yet to sign up!

Ok… enough of that, onto the review!

First Impressions

The initial impression of Freshbooks is just how polished it is. The interface is simple and intuitive enough to be called slick, and everything everything is exactly where I would expect it to be. At first it looks almost too simple, but after a bit of playing about you see it is actually very feature rich.

Look and feel

I took the time to customise the look and feel. This consisted of uploading a logo and giving it 3 colours for the menu (the bar, the active tab, and the other tabs). Once I had done this and saved it, the interface was transformed. Even the login screen embraced the new look!

The whole process took just a minute or two. This sounds like a small thing, but I have worked with several other systems that make this sort of thing either impossible or surprisingly difficult.

Ease of use

I can’t fault the system for ease of use. They have done a fine job of selecting the features people want, and implementing them in such a way they are a joy to use. From adding clients, to invoicing is seamless. One of the great selling points for me is being able to provide an estimate, and later take the estimate and turn it into an invoice.

Feature rich

I could go on about this all day, so rather than do that I will simply list some of the features I like most:

  • Recurring Invoices
  • Estimates
  • Automated payment reminders
  • Comprehensive reports
  • Outputting of data
  • Online Payment (PayPal, 2checkout, Authorise.net.. and more!)
  • Custom branding
  • They even deliver snail mail, if you like
  • Time tracking (they even have an OSX desktop widget!)

This product is really quite rich in features, and looking on the forums they are very focused on keeping the features people want and not filling it with crap that just a few people ask for. That said, there is one thing that is in the pipeline that I do very much like the idea of, and that is Google Checkout integration – some people don’t like PayPal, and Google checkout takes less % off the seller. This to me would be a great addition!

Cost

I was going to leave this til last, but it is quite important so I will talk about it now. The basic paid package is $14.95 and includes up to 25 clients and unlimited invoices. This is not bad, and for $10 more you can add another 250 clients… enough for most people, I’m sure you’ll agree. This price point is actually fairly similar to the competition, and of course the free account is great for deciding if you want to sign up for a paid account or not (the free one gives you up to 3 clients).

Comparison

The main competitor in my opinion is Blinksale. Blinksale is an invoicing system but not much else. On the face of it, it does exactly as it says on the tin, and it does it well. It has online payments (PayPal only) and email invoices.

Where the two differ mainly is Blinksale is invoice centric and Freshbooks is client centric. Allow me to explain.

If I am selling we hosting, for example. I will have a silver account. A customer signs up and in blinksale I open up the silver account and add the customer. This sets them on recurring billing and off they go. Simple!

Simple, that is until they come back the next month and say they want another account… ok, back into silver account, try to select the client… can’t… not there… WHAT? This is the crux of the problem for Blinksale, it completely misses my business model.

Freshbooks deals with it in a different way. I set up the products as items and for a new sign-up I select new recurring invoice… select the client, select the product, and away we go… same result, but a whole lot more flexible.

Where Blinksale is different though is they allow unlimited clients on the free account, but a limited number of invoices per month (3). In theory you could remain free longer on Blinksale, providing your billing is spread out throughout the year. That said, $14 is hardly breaking the bank.

Final thoughts

I don’t want this to sound like a party political broadcast for the Freshbooks party (maybe too late?) but my first impressions of this product are great. It is feature rich, easy to use, and has an enthusiastic, professional team working behind the scenes.

I will post in a month or two when it has bedded in. I’m sure there will be niggles along the way, no system is perfect, but for now I am happy.

Signup for a FREE account and try it for yourself

WordPress 2.7 – Two week delay

I just dug up the following about the delay to the 2.7 release of WordPress:

WordPress Development Team on delay of WordPress 2.7 release-

“Speaking of the final release, it will not be available on November 10th as originally scheduled.  We are two weeks behind schedule at the moment.  We need a little more time to finish the visual design, do a round of user testing against that finished design, and do a proper round of public beta testing. Our plan is to keep working as if Nov. 10 is still the release date.  However, instead of releasing the final 2.7 on the 10th, we will make a release candidate available instead.  The release candidate is intended to be a high-quality, almost-finished release that we are comfortable recommending for broad use.  After Nov. 10, the focus will be on fixing high impact bugs turned up by those of you testing the release candidate. I suspect 2.7 will be ready for final release by the end of November.  A specific date will be set as we progress through the public beta cycle and get a feel for how solid the release is.”

WordPress 2.7, where are you?

The buzz in the blogosphere (oh no, I can’t believe I just said “blogosphere”!) is that WordPress 2.7 is due out. This looks to be a really worthwhile update, and brings to the table some much sought after features such as threaded comments, sticky posts and a completely re-vamped menu system.

Word on the street (what street exactly, I don’t know!) is that 2.7 was due out November 10th 2008…. well that has come and gone (in the UK, at least) and no sign of it. I am not too bothered… I am sure it is coming soon, and I would rather have a stable release than a rushed one, but I feel like a kid at Christmas….!

I will be sure to do a full write-up when it finally arrives, but for now I am off to bed! I am going to leave a mince pie and a carrot by the fireplace tonight, in case the WordPress development team come’a’visitin!

😀

New Macbook Pro range

I have just seen the details of the new Macbook range and I must say I want one more than ever!

Last year, after a trip to New York with my Dad, and a visit to the Apple Store, I took the plunge and went for a 15″ Macbook Pro. I must say it’s the best (computer related) thing I have ever done. I love the OSX environment and love the way the machine boots in the same timescale it did when I first got it. It is light years ahead of Windows in my opinion.

The only regret I have is not spending that little bit extra (on top of the already high price) and going for the hi-resolution 17″ version. When I am doing my design work I find the 1440 x 900 screen on the 15″ (although very good quality) a bit restrictive.

It looks like the 17″ range this time round has standardised on the hi-resolution 1920 x 1200 screen. I saw this resolution in the Apple Store and I must say it is fantastic!

Once of the aspects I love about the Macbook Pro range is their durability. I am VERY hard on my laptops, you should see the state of my old Dell, or even worse take a look at my work PC. They are generally dead on their feet after 12 months! My Macbook has survived quite a lot of abuse over the past year and it still looks (and works) like new!

The cost has always been a prohibitive aspect with Apple products, especially the Macbooks, but for a product I use every day of my life I really feel I should treat myself.

So… Food…who needs that? Drink…nah, what’s wrong with water?… I have a Macbook Pro to save up for!

Links to new macbook pro’s:

MacBook Pro 15″ 2.53GHz/4GB/320GB/GeForce 9600M GT/SuperDrive

MacBook 13.3″ 2.0GHz/2GB/160GB/GeForce 9400M/SuperDrive

MacBook Pro 17-inch — 2.5GHz/4GB/320GB/GeForce 8600MGT/SuperDrive