I’ve installed the Mozilla Firefox browser on the machines here after a particularly vicious spyware trojan got installed on one via Internet Explorer. (Recovering that machine — which is the one I am using now — took three weeks of clock time, about twelve hours of effort, and the use of an uninfected machine to work over the boot hard disk.)
Microsoft has made sure that Internet Explorer has to be kept around, but I’m only pulling it up if I cannot view a page under FireFox, so the opportunity for it to open the door to the bad guys is extremely limited.
There was a feature in IE that I missed, though: single-file web page archiving via the MHT file type. This is essentially a single file that MIME-encodes the page of interest and the graphical elements, suitable for use as an email attachment, or for archival purposes.
The out-of-the-box Firefox menu options under “File | Save Page As” are “Web page, complete”, “Web Page, HTML only”, and “Text files”. The first saves the page and its graphical elements via an HTML file and accompanying directory for local storage of graphics. This keeps a record of the page as it appeared, but it isn’t terribly convenient as a means of archiving or sharing that page. The other two options don’t save any of the graphics.
So I went Googling for “firefox mht”. There were several techy discussion boards that ranked high in the results. At least two of them airily dismissed calls for an MHT option in Firefox, saying that MHT was a Microsoft pseudo-standard and that Firefox already did have the “Web Page, Complete” option, and if you wanted a single file you could print to PDF. Sorry, guys, but just because Microsoft implemented the MHT file type does not automatically mean it was useless. Nor do the alternatives have it all over MHT. Complete web pages require handling an HTML file, a related directory, and all its contents. The drawbacks to this for archival purposes should be clear. Archiving argues for a single file to hold everything related to a single resource. Which leads to the other alternative, printing to a PDF file. Some time back, I was using the FreePDF utility. Not everyone can afford Adobe Acrobat Distiller, and the price was right. I was printing to PDF left and right. Then I discovered that not all the pages were showing up properly; some of my archived files were truncated on the right hand side. In order to be sure to get all the text, I had to set “Landscape” orientation each time I saved a page. And I didn’t get working hyperlinks. Maybe Adobe Acrobat Distiller fixes all that, but I likely will never know because of the price. So, while MHT under IE had its own issues, it at least offered the opportunity to save to a single file without run-time configuration and it retained the hyperlinks just fine.
Then I found a discussion that touched upon a Firefox extension to provide for saving a page to a single-file format, “Mozilla Archive Format” (MAF). Even better, the Firefox extension to do this also provided MHT compatibilty. The MAF format does things better than MHT, though. While you can save a single page to MHT, the format is capable enough to also save multiple pages to the same file. Bring up multiple pages in tabs in Firefox, then go to “Save Page As”, and there is the option to save multiple pages in the archive. The writers plan to add more features, like the ability to merge MAFs and edit MAFs. The technology underneath MAF files is XML via RDF, which is a big step up from the MIME plus index approach in MHT archives. It also allows them to note the original URL and date / time of saving the page to the archive file. That’s a very welcome development for keeping track of “Last accessed data” and source when one wishes to cite an online resource.
See the MAF extension home page for all the details and the download. The install was smooth, though it did require taking down Firefox and bringing it up again.
Having been pleasantly surprised by the MAF extension, I started looking for other Firefox extensions. I went through the list on this page and loaded extension after extension. Though I have turned off several of them, I now have a bunch of extra toolbars available to go to work when I want them. These include replacements for the IE Google and Yahoo toolbars, a bible lookup toolbar, a biological database lookup toolbar, and a web developer toolbar. I also got ChromeEdit for the user tweakable side of Firefox, the Newsfox aggregator, a Firefox calculator, CopyURLPlus which makes it a snap to put both the URL and a selection on the clipboard, ready for blogging, and the Greasemonkey extension for user scripts. There are a lot of new projects starting up that should be very interesting this summer.
If you are using Internet Explorer, you could do a lot worse than to switch over to Firefox. The features being programmed for Firefox are very attractive.