Reactions to Google’s Bike Maps

April 11, 2010

The “Autopia” blog at Wired has an article summarizing some feedback they have collected on the new “bike route” function in Google Maps.  Most of the reaction seems to be pretty consistent with my initial, quick check: on the whole, the system does a pretty good job of finding routes, but sometimes is tripped up by lack of specific local information.  For example, the article cites one Washington DC cyclist who was given a route through the security area between the White House and the Treasury Department.  In general, the system has better “knowledge” of bike trails and other specifically designated bike routes (e.g., bike lanes on streets) than it does of good or bad cycling conditions on roads in general.

The service is still in its early stages, so some problems like this are to be expected.  On the whole, the users interviewed seemed fairly satisfied.  Google does include a “Report a Problem” link on the map pages, and apparently is fairly responsive to suggestions for better routes:

The bottom line is Google Maps for bikes shows great promise. Yeah, it’s a bit rough and there are some bugs, but as Shad Holland of Minnesota noted, “What does ‘beta’ mean? Duh!”

Google sent Holland down a road he didn’t find particularly bike-friendly, so he let them know. The same went for John Kittell, who said he reported a problem and Google fixed it within a couple of days.

As I’ve said before, I am pleased to see Google offer this service. If you do try it, and find places where it needs improvement, please do take the time to help all of us by suggesting improvements.


New Crash Protection for Firefox

April 11, 2010

Those of you who have been using the Web since its early days back in the 1990s will remember that browser crashes used to be a fairly frequent “feature” of the whole experience.  Fortunately, the browser developers have made a great deal of progress in making their products more reliable, and it is rare these days that the basic browser itself crashes.  But crashes still do occur, mostly associated with browser plugins, like Adobe’s Flash or Apple”s QuickTime.  The use of these plugins to deliver rich content from Web sites has grown enormously, so what progress has given us with one hand it has taken away with the other.

The folks at Mozilla have announced the release of a beta version of the Firefox browser with a new feature, code named “Lorentz”, which is intended to prevent plugin problems from crashing the browser.   Essentially, it provides for certain plugins (Flash, QuickTime, and Microsoft’s Silverlight) to be run in a “sandbox”, a separate process that isolates them from the rest of the browser.  (This is an idea already implemented in Google’s Chrome browser, which runs each tab in a separate process.)  Although this does add some additional overhead for starting and stopping processes, it will make it possible for Firefox to recover from plugin crashes by reloading the guilty page.

Currently, the beta version with this feature is available for Windows and Linux, and can be downloaded here.   Further information is in the Release Notes.

This is beta software, so I do not recommend using it in production environments.  If you are able to test it, please help everyone out by reporting problems and issues via the Mozilla Feedback form, or by filing a bug in Bugzilla.


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