Categories
Reviews

Clearing the decks

If you happen to have been paying attention to my “quick reviews” sidebar, you will have noticed that I’ve been running with a severe backlog of material for some time now. At the moment I have 25 books and films unreviewed, many of which are from the very start of the year. I keep meaning to do them, but…I’ve finally admitted to myself that I probably won’t. I’m reading new books and watching new films all the time, but I constantly feel dragged down by the weight of those outstanding items.

(When I started doing the quick reviews, the idea was that I’d write a sentence or two about my general impression of the item, and give it a star rating, primarily so that I could keep a record of what I’d read and watched. But gradually the sentence or two stretched into a paragraph or two, or three, and I stopped feeling happy with anything less. This is what has led to the backlog: the thought that I’m not doing an item justice if I just knock one out in a couple of minutes, and the brain freeze that comes if I can’t think of what I want to say about it immediately. And if I don’t do them straight away, they sit around and linger….)

So anyway, I’ve decided to just set all of the outstanding items from “draft” to “published”, and get them out of the way. If something sparks off a particularly vivid recollection, I might add a sentence or two–but no more. I’m leaving them all with their original dates, so they’ll show up in roughly the positions that I saw or read the films or books in question. This also means they won’t show up on the list of most recent reviews, but if you’re interested in the ratings, here they are:

Films

Books

Categories
Books Reviews SF Writing

An interview with Neal Asher

GridlinkedFor all the time and money I spend on Amazon.co.uk, it’s actually quite rare for me to take the advice of one of their “recommendations”. But after finishing Charlie Stross’s Singularity Sky, I was in the mood for some more punchy SF, something with a good bit of action and a hard-edged futuristic bite to it. And apparently, customers who bought books by Charles Stross also bought books by Neal Asher.

I’d seen the name before. I’d picked up his books in bookshops, and been intrigued by the fabulous covers (on the UK editions, at least). I’d seen his name regularly mentioned in the same breath as Richard Morgan, whose books I like really quite a lot. So I clicked through, and bought Gridlinked.

The Line Of PolityI find there’s a great pleasure in coming across an author I like when they are already several volumes into a series, because then I can go out and gobble up all the episodes so far in a single reading binge. Such was the case with Neal Asher. After a few pages of Gridlinked, I was thoroughly hooked, and I ordered The Line Of Polity and Brass Man, the second and third books in the Ian Cormac series straight away.

As far-future thrillers these books are second to none. Although Gridlinked was only published in 2001, Asher has been writing for twenty years, working his way up through the small presses, and continuously developing the Human Polity universe in which the stories are set. Consequently, they positively brim over with vivid detail and richly characterised planetary societies.

Brass ManThe Skinner and Cowl are both stand-alone novels. The Skinner is set in the same Polity universe, but several hundred years earlier. It’s a novel of grisly exploration as much as a thriller, as it leads you through the terrifying world of Spatterjay, where immortality is for the taking–at a price–and where even the smallest seashore whelk has a bite that will take your hand off. Cowl is an inventive time travel thriller set in a completely different universe, but with the same characteristics of Asher’s other books: fast action, tight plots, horrific enemies, and danger at every corner. You want science fiction excitement? Come and get some.

Like many SF authors these days, Neal Asher has an active presence on the internet, running two sites: the official one, nealasher.com, and an alternative view at his older personal site. When I posted my quick review of Gridlinked, he dropped by to leave a kind thank-you comment in response. Unwilling to let a good deed go unpunished, I asked him if he would do a short email interview for this blog, and he graciously agreed. I hope you enjoy it.


Neal Asher--photo (c) Jerry Bauer, reproduced with permissionMartin Sutherland: From the reviews I’ve seen, Brass Man is getting a great reception. How big is the difference between the attention you’re getting now, and when Gridlinked was published in 2001? How do you find yourself reacting to all this praise?

Neal Asher: Strangely, I’ve seen fewer reviews of Brass Man (thus far) than I saw of Gridlinked and The Skinner when they came out. I think, in the reviewing world, there’s an attraction to the sparkly new thing, which I was then to the larger publishing world, but which I am not so much now. Now I’m part of the establishment. How do I react to the praise? I revel in it, but I’m much more reserved in my attitude to the reviews because, having had so many, I can pick up any one now and find another that flatly contradicts it. The same rules apply to people’s attitudes to my books. Initially The Skinner seemed to be everyone’s favourite, now I’m finding that each one of them is someone’s favourite. Luckily I get very few saying how much they really hate this or that. But what affects me most of all now is the increasing amount of fan response I’m receiving (both by email and on message boards). When someone writes to thank me, saying they picked up one of my books, didn’t put it down until 3.00 AM and are now going to go and get the rest, I feel pretty good. This is the effect some books had and still do have on me, and is precisely what I’m aiming for.

MS: I know you pay attention to mentions of your books on the internet, because that’s how you came across my tiny wee review of Gridlinked. Do you go out of your way to seek out reviews in newspapers and magazines? Do you have any particular favourite, or least favourite reviews? And have you counted how often the word “explosive” turns up whenever someone talks about your books?

NA: I don’t go too much out of my way to find the reviews. When a book is released I flick through a few magazines and if I find something, buy the magazine, cut out the review, and add it to my scrap books. Internet reviews are easy to find with an ego-search on google. Whenever I find them I feel beholden (if possible) to reply, for that is the least I should do if someone has made the effort.

Very often the words explosive, action-packed, violent, weird etc appear in reviews, and that’s great. I’ve always said I come from the Arnold Schwartzenegger school of SF. My aim, firstly and most importantly, has been to tell an entertaining story, not stun literati minorities with my brilliance.

My favourite review has to be the one of The Skinner that appeared in the New York Times. To begin with it was very good, but it what a venue!

MS: In an earlier interview you had said that you had originally intended to write four Ian Cormac books, one for each Dragon sphere, but that seems to have gone out the window now. At what point did you feel that you needed more space to tell all of these stories?

“I’ve always said I come from the Arnold Schwartzenegger school of SF.”

NA: That had been my intention, and it seemed obvious to many, from what happened in the first two books, that this was they way the rest were going to go. I tend to find in my writing that when I know myself what is going to happen I get bored, and it becomes more difficult for me to write. I got bored with that idea and new ones began to occur. A lot of people commented about how they really like Mr Crane … and a whole book came out of that. I also introduced Jain technology… As things have continued I’ve realised I need more than four books to tie up the loose ends, firmly nail down certain ideas and give a clearer description of the Polity. In the end, when you are describing a future history, the job can be never ending. Books about Cormac will reach a conclusion, but I suspect I’ll be writing about the Polity for a long time yet.

MS: Your novels so far have alternated between stand-alones, and volumes of the Ian Cormac series. What do you find are the main differences between writing the two types of book?

NA:The stand-alones are easier to write and I can allow my imagination a freer rein. The series is constrained by everything I’ve written before. Writing the series is more difficult because I have to keep going back to the old books to check my facts and iron out continuity errors.

MS: You’re now doing a book every nine months, rather than the more usual one per year. Is this pressure from your publisher to get hot product onto the shelves, or are you just writing faster than they can keep up with?

NA: The latter case. I’ve always delivered my books many months before I’ve needed to, and the gap has been growing ever wider. It has now reached the stage where I’m about a year ahead of my publisher. They’ve decided to play catch-up and adjust the publishing schedule to suit me more. Of course it helps that my books sell.

MS: Hubris is a big theme in your work. Not only is it the name of the main attack ship in Gridlinked, but it is also a motivating force for your
villains: Arian Pelter and Skellor are both arrogant enough to think that they are uniquely capable of controlling a dangerous thing that is quite obviously greater than themselves. It’s a classic theme, and also a very British one: we don’t like people getting too big for their boots. Do you feel that there are any other aspects of your work that are specifically British? And more generally, to what extent do you feel that your environment and current events shape your writing?

“I want to see the white hats win and the black hats dangling from the end of a rope.”

NA: A villain’s hubris bringing about his downfall is a quite commonly used plot-device. It’s especially useful when the villain is very powerful—a form of krypyonite really. I have to say though that I don’t think it a particularly British idea since it’s rooted into the mythologies of the entire human race. In fact I rather dislike the idea of being diagnosed as infected with that very British disease which is plain envy, not just a dislike of “people getting too big for their boots”. But I guess by Britishness comes out in my writing in many ways. How can it not? The great thing about SF writing is that everything feeds the mill: current events, some article in Focus or Scientific American, a fragment of conversation in a pub or something you saw crawling out from under a rock.

MS: The complementary theme is, of course, justice. The Gridlinked books follow the adventures of ECS agent Ian Cormac, and The Skinner and Cowl both feature characters chasing down mass murderers. You also seem to relish in making sure that bad guys get their righteous comeuppance. What do you think draws you to this kind of story, and this kind of character?

NA: Contrary to what is often seen in British writing—that dystopic vision of everyone screwing up, including the main character, and it all turning to shit in the end—I want to see the white hats win and the black hats dangling from the end of a rope. I can do this because I am telling a story, not trying to make serious predictions about the future, or come out with some deeply intellectual social commentary. As a writer you write what you like to read, and that’s what I’m doing.

MS: Your aggressive wildlife is as much of a trademark of your books as your fast-paced action plots. How much do you find yourself tailoring the flora and fauna of your settings to fit your stories, and vice versa?

NA: Usually the flora and fauna begin as world-building—the canvas on which the story is painted—but such is my interest in biology and the weird life forms I create, they often end up playing more of a central role: canvas plus quite a lot of the paint. Take The Skinner: without the ecology of Spatterjay there would be no story. It is all based on that viral immortality and what it does to people. Elsewhere it remains window dressing, but the focus of my attention as a writer is evident when people come away from a novel like The Line of Polity talking more about gabbleducks and hooders than the main characters and plot.

MS: Another technique you seem to be an expert at is rounding up all your characters into a single location for a huge show-down finale. You have said elsewhere that you try not to plan your novels ahead too much, though. Does this tying together of plot strands come naturally, then, or do you have to work hard at it?

NA: A bit of both really. Creating all the plot strands I find very easy, but satisfactorily tying them all off at the end comes a bit harder. My emphasis there is on the ‘satisfactorily’. It is easy to tie off plot threads say by killing all the main characters (the cop-out used in Blake’s 7) or by introducing that old SF standby the deus ex machina—something used by many authors who have backed themselves into a corner and found no other way out. But to bring about an ending that seems to arise naturally from everything that has already occurred and doesn’t leave the reader feeling cheated is a finely balanced thing. Yes, I do find this hard work, but also enjoyable, and years of writing experience oils the bearings. I sometimes fear that this time I’ll not be able to pull it off. Maybe without that fear I wouldn’t be able to?

MS: After Ian Cormac, I think John Stanton is my favourite character. Are we likely to see any more of him?

NA: John Stanton needs a rest and I think deserves to live happily ever after. Don’t you?

MS: Since reading Gridlinked, every time I see someone with a behind-the-ear bluetooth headpiece for their mobile phone, I can help thinking “aug“. Do you like techie gadgets like phones, PDAs, iPods? How do you see these devices influencing our culture? Do you think there is a danger of them dehumanizing our interactions with other people, in the way that had happened to Ian Cormac at the start of Gridlinked?

“I do find this hard work, but also enjoyable, and years of writing experience oils the bearings.”

NA: I recently did an audio interview with Dragon Page which was going to first go out as a ‘podcast’. I didn’t know that that was. I don’t own a mobile phone since I’ve never seen the need. However, this computer is a wonderful writing, research and advertising tool. I do love technology for its own sake, but not enough to go out buying the latest gadget on the market. I will use whatever technologies best serve my own purposes.

I’ve always been optimistic about all technology. Yes, some of them have the capacity to dehumanize our interactions with other people, for example the text messages : You’re fired, or You’re dumped. But on the whole they tend to enhance communication. We’ve many different ways now of chatting with anyone anywhere. The old and/or the crippled confined to their houses can now have that option. We tend to talk and interact more now, not less. This interview is an example.

MS: The inevitable movie question. At a talk Richard Morgan gave a couple of years ago (after he’d optioned the rights to Altered Carbon), I remember him saying that one of the keys to attracting Hollywood’s attention is a fast-moving plot, plenty of violence, and a strong headline protagonist to carry it all. It sounds like the Gridlinked series would fit the bill. Have you had any interest from Movieland? Which of your books (if any) would you most like to see turned into a film?

NA: There was a brief bit of interest from a production company called Blue Train (I think that’s the name) who along with another company called DreamWorks (!) were involved in the Jackie Chan movie The Tuxedo. But nothing came of it. I still live in hope, however.

With the CGI we have now I’d love to first see The Skinner turned into a film, then my second choice would be Cowl. The Cormac series I reckon would be much better serialized for television, though of course I wouldn’t be averse to them being turned into films (Heh!)

MS: Leather jacket with the collar up, white shirt casually unbuttoned at the top, and a casual frown that says, “I know 27 ways to kill you with my bare hands.” So what do you think of your author photograph?

NA: Hah! That was an interesting experience. Met a photographer, employed for the task by Macmillan, called Jerry Bauer. He’d photographed all sorts like Julie Christie and James Dean. He talked about Robert Silverberg and when I repeated the name he asked, “Do you know Bob?” Well yeah, me and x-million other SF readers. He took myself and my wife off from Temple underground station and had me posing in various litter-choked alleys while he took his snaps. My wife, Caroline, found much amusement watching the reactions of passers-by.
I don’t know 27 ways to kill someone with my bare hands, just variations on about five or six—as does anyone who has done a bit of karate. However I probably do know about 27 different ways to run away. That picture is now getting on for six years old. I’m a bit greyer now and baggier under the eyes. A bit wiser too, I like to think.


Brass Man is Neal Asher’s latest book, out now in hardback and trade paperback, published by Tor Books UK.

Gridlinked

The Line Of Polity

Brass Man

Cowl

The Skinner


Copyright © 2005 Neal Asher and Martin Sutherland

Categories
Films Reviews

ScreenSelect first impressions

I signed up for ScreenSelect.co.uk on Tuesday evening. I added sixty-odd films to my queue that first evening. On Wednesday, their web site showed that the first three had been posted, and on Thursday morning they all arrived. That’s quick!

The ScreenSelect web site is, at first glance, pretty good. It’s light-weight, and fast-loading, and the process of adding DVDs to your queue is one-click simple. What it lacks, though, is a better way of finding interesting DVDs to watch.

The main way to find a film is by its name, of course. Alternatively, you can look up an actor or director and see a list of all their work that is available. But one of the joys of a service like ScreenSelect is the process of snuffling around to find hidden gems, films of which you say, “I’ve always wanted to watch that!” and adding them to your ever-growing queue. You can browse by genre/category, but the sorting and filtering options are poor, and so far I always find myself with a selection that is too small or too big.

Alternatively, you can browse their “featured collections”, such as their “Top Picks”, “Recent Releases”, or “100 Top Thrillers”. The problem with these collections is their quality, or lack of it. “100 Top Thrillers”, for example, contains such gems as Nightstalker and Jaws 2 on the first page of results. Ummm. Could they really not find two better thrillers to pad out their top 100? In their desire to have the UK’s largest collection of DVDs to rent by post, they seem to have forgotten that the vast majority of films on release are actually rubbish.

It would be nice if the service could help me get past that junk, and help me select films I might like, but wouldn’t know to find on my own. Fortunately they do seem to have some kind of ratings and recommendations engine, but with only two films watched and rated so far, it’s too early to tell if this works.

The service allows you to submit little (up to 500 words) reviews of films you’ve seen, but their copyright terms are brutal: “Please note that all submitted reviews become the property of ScreenSelect Ltd., which reserves the right to edit or delete any submissions.” I’m happy to submit my ratings, but I can’t see myself contributing to their reviews database.

It would also be nice if reviews were indexed and hyperlinked by reviewer. That way, if you that someone liked a film, you could look up and see what else they liked. Likewise, it would be cool if you could link to other people’s film queues, or expose your own to the public. No go on on both of these ideas (yet), though.

(However, there are Movable Type plugins for screen-scraping and exposing a Netflix movie queue, so it shouldn’t be hard to knock together a similar thing for ScreenSelect. Except that I’ve given up Perl. Nngggnng….)

Overall, though, these are just niggles. It has been very easy to put together a queue of over 100 films in just a few days, and that ought to see me through well into 2005. Their delivery service seems to be fast and efficient, and £14.99 a month is an excellent price–especially when you consider that you don’t pay any postage charges. So would I recommend ScreenSelect? Based on these first impressions, definitely yes.

Categories
Games Reviews

Jak II: Renegade

Jak II: RenegadeI finally finished playing through Jak II: Renegade yesterday evening (well, kinda early this morning, actually). It’s an excellent game, but in places it’s fiendishly hard and frustrating.

Tough boss battles I can handle. At climactic moments in a game, it’s fair to throw some heat at the player. You push and push, you spend time learning the boss’s moves and attack patterns, and you gain great satisfaction from overcoming your adversary. Jak II has some pretty good boss battles. But there are also a handful of missions in there that are even harder, and they pull the game’s progress curve off balance. There were occasions where I spent hours trying and retrying a mission dozens and dozens of times, only to finish it and see a measly 1% added to my tally.

These missions, and the incessant back-and-forthing across the city (because no mission ever ends any closer to the beginning of the next than two or three minutes cruising through trigger-happy-guard-infested streets) are intensely annoying in their own right. However, what’s even more annoying is that the game has a good story, and very engaging characters that made me want to know what was going to happen next. So no matter how much I swore at the screen and the game designers, I couldn’t just throw the controller away in disgust and bite chunks out of the disc. I had to keep coming back for more punishment.

I suppose that’s the sign of a “great” game, but I’m still not convinced that it was. In too many of those really tough missions I felt like I was battling against flawed design rather than pitting my wits and skills against the in-game baddies. For most of the second half of the game, the missions were something to be suffered between cut-scenes that advanced the plot. For a game that ought to have a wide appeal, I imagine that only a relatively small proportion of people will actually play it all the way through to the end. Which is a shame, because the final pay-off is worthwhile, and despite all the frustrations I did enjoy it. A lot.

Categories
Music Reviews

Matchbox Twenty Concert, Glasgow SECC, 4 Sep 2003

Scott and I went to see Matchbox Twenty at the Glasgow SECC yesterday evening. The Scotsman critic gave them a panning:

“Well, the 40-somethings who politely took their seats in the half-full venue bopped along obediently, but for non-devotees it was hard to distinguish between pop music and the lame sound of watered-down 1970s-inspired rock disappearing into its own bloated guitar solo. “

Uh, did she go to a different gig? It wasn’t sold out, true, but from where we were sitting, I could only see tiny patches of free seats, and the bulk of the audience seemed to be made up of late-teenage girls and twentysomethings. I can see her point about the crowd “bopping along obediently,” though. Rob Thomas did a practised job of persuading us that we were a good audience, but to the crowd did feel lukewarm and flat.

The sound was indistinct and lacking in separation. I noticed it especially with Paul Doucette’s (funky clear perspex) drums. The bass was deep and loud, resonating in my chest. His two snares were crisp and tight, but the cymbals were dull and vague. I could barely hear his ride unless the rest of the band was going through a quiet patch–and Doucette is quite an energetic hitter.

Nevertheless, I had a great time. Unlike the Scotsman, I like Matchbox Twenty, and they played a set to satisfy any fan. Most of the material was from their latest album, More Than You Think You Are (they played all but one of the songs from the album), but they also played a selection of earlier material, and even a very pretty cover version of Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time. They mixed up the pace a lot; there wasn’t any section that was consistently up-tempo or downbeat. Because they never built the show up to a proper climax, this may have contributed to the lack of fizz in the audience. But that’s the nature of the band. They’re equally comfortable with energetic rock as they are with slow, moody and melancholy tunes.

And besides, I just get a kick out of watching live music at all.

Set list:

  1. Feel
  2. Real World
  3. All I need
  4. Soul
  5. Disease
  6. Could I Be You
  7. Cold
  8. 3 A.M.
  9. Hand Me Down
  10. If You’re Gone
  11. Bright Lights
  12. Bent
  13. Hang
  14. Unwell
  15. Back 2 Good
  16. Downfall
  17. You’re So Real
  18. encore: Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper)
  19. The Difference, part 2
  20. Long Day
  21. Push
Categories
Reviews Techie The Web

Mozilla Firebird

I’ve been using the Opera web browser since version 5.11. Until now, it has been simply the best web browser available for Windows. It is lightweight, fast, and highly functional. When I wrote a review of it back in 2001, these were the five reasons I preferred it over Internet Explorer:

  • Tabbed browsing
  • Mouse gestures (in particular, the right click/left click “rocker” combination that equates to pressing the browser’s “back” button)
  • Open all bookmarks in a folder
  • Toggle images on/off
  • Open a new page in the background

Since then, I’ve found two more favourite features:

  • Fast searching in the address bar. Instead of going to Google and typing a search in the text field there, in Opera I can just type the letter “g” in the address bar, followed by my search query, and when I press <enter>, and go straight to the results page of this query. Likewise, I can use “a” to use the AllTheWeb search engine, or “z” to search Amazon.com. These searches and their shortcut letters are also very easily customizable.
  • HTML validation. The right-click context menu in Opera includes an option to submit the page you’re viewing to the W3C HTML validator for checking. This is great for doing web development: validation checking is just a mouse-click away.

When the Mozilla project started releasing final versions (1.0 and above) of its browser (May/June 2002-ish?) I started playing about with it, but I found it slow and unresponsive. It had some great technology behind it, primarily XUL, but as an actual web browser it was in no position to threaten Internet Explorer’s dominant market position. Actually, it sucked.

A lot has changed since then. Realizing that the Mozilla application suite (which included the browser, and email app, a HTML editor, and various kitchen sinks) was a dog with too many masters and no legs, the project team issued a new roadmap for development. The browser would be split off into a stand-alone component: Firebird. The email program would also be isolated: Thunderbird. These products would still use all the cool underlying Mozilla technology, but no longer would they try to be all things to all people, all at once. Now they were cooking!

I had a look at Firebird when it was still called Phoenix (versions 0.4 and 0.5, I think). It was okay, but still a bit flaky. The current version is 0.6.1, and it has become my default browser.

That’s right, it’s better than Opera.

First of all, it had to be as good as Opera, and that involves the list of favourite features I noted above:

  • Tabbed browsing: check!
  • Open all bookmarks in a folder: check!
  • Open a new page in the background: check!

But wait… that’s not everything I wanted.

Well, it turns out that two of the other features are available as extensions:

And unlike many other programs that allow plugins, Firebird extensions are very simple to install (just go to Tools -> Options -> Extensions). There are lots of them already, and many are being added all the time.

That still leaves two things: toggling images on/off, and quick one-letter search shortcuts in the address bar. Well, now that we have broadband, the ability to load pages without images has become a lot less important. You can still set the whole application not to load images at all, and doing this in Firebird is still easier than in Internet Explorer, but there doesn’t seem to be the one-button option to switch them back on for a single page that you get in Opera.

And as for the one-letter search shortcuts in the address bar, this feature is actually there by default–and has been there since the early days of Mozilla–but it’s not very well advertised. Eric Meyer has whole article explaining how to use it, but here’s the short version:

  1. If you have a default installation of Firebird, you should have a bookmarks folder called “Quick searches” with a bookmark called “Google Quicksearch” inside it. If you don’t have this bookmark, go to Google, and create a new bookmark for it.
  2. Right-click on this bookmark, and select “Properties” from the context menu.
  3. On the “Info” tab of the properties page, set the location to “http://www.google.com/search?&q=%s”, and set the keyword to be “g”
  4. Click OK.

You can now type “g” followed by a search term in your address bar, and you will jump straight to the Google results page.

You can use this technique to create any number of your own custom one-letter address bar searches. They key to doing it is knowing how the search engine formulates its search query. For example, Google’s home page is http://www.google.com/. But to actually display a list of search results, Google needs to know what it’s searching for. If you type some search terms into Google’s search box (say, “cow tipping”) and press the “Google Search” button, you’ll notice that the URL displayed in the address bar changes to something like http://www.google.com/search?q=cow+tipping.

Depending on the search engine you use, the URL won’t look exactly like that, but it will most likely have your search query sitting in it somewhere. Sometimes the spaces between your search terms will have been replaced with “%20”, and sometimes they will have been replaced with a “+” sign. Don’t worry about that.

Copy and paste this whole URL, including your search phrase, into the “Location” field in the properties of your newly created bookmark. Then, select the search phrase, and replace it with “%s”. When you do your one-letter search, this “%s” in the location will be replaced with whatever text you’ve typed after the search letter.

If you can’t be bothered building these search queries for yourself, here are a few I prepared earlier. All you have to do is create a new bookmark for each of them, and then change their properties. Give them a one-letter keyword, and copy-and-paste the URL below:

Search Engine Search URL
Google Groups (Usenet) http://groups.google.com/groups?q=%s
AllTheWeb http://www.alltheweb.com/search?q=%s
Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/external-search?keyword=%s
Amazon.co.uk http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/external-search?keyword=%s
IMDb http://us.imdb.com/Find?for=%s

So far I’ve covered why Firebird is as good as Opera (for me, at least). Why is it better? Two reasons:

  • Opera is still very lightweight and fast. But it has been gathering more and more features recently. It hasn’t been slowing down under their combined weight, though, which is a great testament for them. But Firebird feels smaller and more nimble.
  • It’s those darned extensions. Firebird seems to have a very flexible extensability architecture, and it’s all completely open. It has kept the core features to a minimum, while allowing developers to produce their own widgets. Ordinary users reap the benefits: you pick and choose the ones you want, and ignore the rest. That’s just so nice.

So it’s not a huge advantage that Firebird has over Opera…but it’s enough of an edge to make me switch.

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