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Apple vs. Mozilla (part 2)

by Rob Friesel

To pick up roughly where we left off, I’d like to touch a bit more deeply on the [tag]bookmark syncing[/tag] aspect of the [tag]Firefox[/tag] vs. [tag]Safari[/tag] portion of this pro/con festival. A couple days ago I summed it up as:

  [tag]Firefox[/tag] [tag]Safari[/tag]
Bookmark management Not a big fan of the bookmark management in Firefox. I don’t like the separate window – – feels too much like they want bookmark management to be a separate application, a process wholly separate from the rest of your browsing. And it seems tricky to sync bookmark collections between computers. Sure, it stores it as a flat XHTML but doesn’t play nice when you edit it manually. -1 I like how Safari handles bookmarks. It’s basically as simple as that. I like the UI. I like that you can sync the bookmarks plist between computers. +1

The separate bookmarks window is something I’m starting to get used to. I’m realizing I didn’t spend all that much time in Safari’s bookmarks UI in the first place despite the fact that I was pretty warm to it. This is not to say that I like the separate window – – rather that I see where they’re going with it as far as a bookmark management UI is concerned. It’s just that it needs to be in a tab not a separate window. (Is this perhaps a preference or extension I simply haven’t discovered yet? Time will tell.)

That said, while I could get used to Firefox’s bookmark manager, it’s the between-machines syncing that’s currently got me down. To keep my machines (KetelOne & Malkovich) for-the-most-part in sync, I’ve written an AppleScript that makes heavy use of rsync for mirroring specific files and directors in ~rob.

Since there are potentially gigs of files to check and/or sync each time I run this process (usually daily), I’ve structured this in what I like to think of as a “declarative inclusive” procedure. I will be syncing ~/Documents but only certain filetypes within … I will be syncing ~/Library/Application Support but only certain directories within … etc. One of these lines is to sync up ~/Library/Safari (which for some weird reason isn’t in “Application Support”). At first this was an experiment since KetelOne and Malkovich have different versions of Safari (10.3 w/ Safari and 10.4 w/ Safari RSS, respectively). It worked out well enough though when the machines are used serially, copying bookmark and history files back and forth, so I’ve opted to keep that in there. It was kind of a shocker, actually. That’s it? Really? Just copying one directory’s contents back and forth? Really? Yes, really.

As I noted before, this doesn’t seem to be the case with Firefox. On the surface, the file appears to be nothing more than a simple HTML file. Sure the DOCTYPE looks like <!DOCTYPE NETSCAPE-Bookmark-file-1> – – but so what right? It loads into a browser like any other HTML page. The bookmarks are just links, right? Looking at the source there’s certainly some weird stuff but as long as all you’re changing is the URLs in the a tags, you should be fine. Except that you’re not fine; if you manually edit this file Firefox tries to revert back to one of the back-ups. And it does this poorly because the bookmarks start to override each other and behave erratically. So copying is out.

And syncing is out, too because each Firefox installation creates its own unique location for the profile to be stored; e.g.: ~/Library/Application Support/Firefox/Profiles/ukjsjo58.default/

!?!?!? – – so much predictable rsyncing…

Convinced that there was a solution, I did a little digging and managed to come up with an article over at PainInTheTech.com about the Bookmarks Synchronizer extension. GREAT! All I need is access to an FTP account (check) or WebDAV access (even better!) and the this basically takes care of itself. There are even “check in/check out” settings. Problem comes in when we see that it doesn’t run under Firefox 1.5. Crap!

So almost there…

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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