Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Incredibly Creepy Mr. Incognito

Let's talk about browsers.

Firefox has kept me content for a very long time. A couple of years ago, when my husband starting working on Chrome OS, I felt a momentary pang of Googley loyalty and tried to switch to Chrome. Sad to say, Chrome gobbled memory on my Windows machine, in a repeatably horrifying way, and I hurried back to Firefox.

Now that I'm done with grad school, I rarely use Windows*--and I think Chrome's memory-monster problem has been solved, anyway. But I wasn't motivated to try switching again until a recent Firefox update killed Flash. While I was wrestling with plug-ins and package managers, my husband simply commented, "Chrome comes packaged with Flash."

Instant conversion!

So I made Chrome my default browser, and went under the hood to set my privacy preferences the way I like them--which is to say, all the way on. Almost nobody else ever uses my computer, so it's not that I want to hide my history from fellow humans (although that doesn't hurt). I just like my browser to be a blank slate**.

Firefox has this incredibly simple pulldown menu where you can tell it to never remember history:

Try as I might, I could find nothing equivalent in Chrome's settings. Finally I turned to the trusty forums, where I found out that this is a common complaint. The answer to "How do I get Chrome to never remember history?" is simply:

You can use Incognito mode. In Incognito mode your history doesn't get saved.

Okay. That seems like an overengineered solution to a question that Firefox answered with a pulldown menu, but fine. I added -incognito to the run command for Chrome.

And that works. And it is fine. Except. EXCEPT. This is what my browser window always looks like now:

Do you see the problem? Do you SEE the PROBLEM?

Yeah. Now there is a creepy dude hanging out in the upper left corner of my browser, 100% of the time.

Now, I understand that Mr. Incognito is supposed to represent me. I am meant to feel that I, the user, am effectively wearing shades and a trenchcoat and no one will ever know it was me. But you know what? That's not the message I get.

Creepy dude is not me. Creepy dude is looking at me. All the time.

In the immortal words of Allie Brosh,

* Weird, right? Thing is, in grad school, I spent a large proportion of my time dealing with Word and Excel. Excel has no good open-source equivalent, and while I think OpenOffice's word processor is just fine, none of my colleagues used it. We were constantly sending documents back and forth, and formatting goes wonky between MS and OO, so I played the Roman and stuck with Word.

** I know, this is also weird. A lot of people, including the aforementioned husband, really like being able to type the first letter or two of a web address and having the browser complete the rest. But I'm not a fan. If I want to remember a website, I can bookmark it, or subscribe to its RSS feed, but I like to be in charge of making the decision. I don't want the browser to automatically remember things for me.

Me: Let's go to the b--
Browser: Bookstore! You want to go to the bookstore!


  1. Yeah. Mr Incognito *is* really creepy.
    I don't think of him as me, either. Why would I? He's creepy.
    Actually, you've met me. So maybe don't answer that :-P

  2. Oh man. Yeah... I'm not loving Chrome. :-\

  3. Maybe your husband can compile a version of Chrome for you that uses a different icon instead of creepy-dude.
    Is OO Calc that much worse than Excel? It's been good enough for everything I needed for the past few years, and it seems to do pretty well at importing Excel files too.

  4. By the way, my current solution is to use *both* Firefox and Chrome. I use Chrome for Google webapps like Gmail, which I find run noticeably faster there. And I use Firefox for pages that have MathML, since last I checked Chrome doesn't support that. I just keep the two browsers open on different virtual desktops and switch to whichever I want to use at the time. You could try using Firefox for most everything and then switching to Chrome when you want Flash.

  5. First, let me say this is a great blog.
    Second, I'm going to link this on my blog.
    Third, I NEVER noticed the creepy dude in the upper left hand corner before...
    Thanks to you, I'm now aware of him and he's going to be there all the time, like Big Brother watching every move I make.
    As I live and breathe...

  6. It's probably been at least a year since I tried to use OO Calc, but the problems that I remember best were related to making graphs. And yes, even Excel is an idiot's graphing tool, but it works just fine for a lot of things. I found OO's graphing UI frustrating and not as versatile, though it may have improved since then. Also, graphs always got super-wonky when switching between OO and Excel.

  7. Maybe give Gnumeric a spin. I have tried and hatedd OO Calc, but Gnumeric has been pretty good to me with the exception of the lack of pivot tables. If I am sending something to someone that needs to be in .xls... well ...thats what I have a old version of MS Excel (and word) installed on my linux box using wine.

  8. Hey, Nowhere Man, thank you for the kind words! Sorry to turn your Chrome experience into 1984. =) And sorry I was so slow to respond. MT notifications are flaky!

  9. Ooh, Gnumeric does look promising! Thanks for the tip, I'll check it out the next time I need to spreadsheet it up.
    I have one box that runs windows in vmware, and one that's dual-boot . . . both have their frustrations. I might have to give wine a try one of these days, too.


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