I’ll be honest, this post isn’t about Mozilla or even really anything Mozilla related (beyond the fact that it is about a poor web application). However I know that lots of people in the Mozilla community use Dreamhost as their webhost and I figure some of them might want to know to watch out for this and avoid getting into the same mess that I did so I’ll include it in planet feed anyway.
The problem is with Dreamhost’s Web Panel, the service that customers use to administer their web hosting packages. It turns out that certain parts of this panel can’t cope with the idea of you accessing it from multiple tabs or windows at the same time. If you try opening the web hosting settings for more than one domain in different tabs, only the last one you opened will actually work as you expect. Yep, they are remembering, server side, which domain you are editing the settings for.
This wouldn’t normally be the end of the world. I could accept it if there was some error message or it just failed to save the settings for one of the domains it wasn’t expecting. Sadly the panel is not that clever. Instead, no matter which domain’s settings you try to save it always overwrites the domain that was last opened. The panel does subsequently tell you the real domain that it saved the settings for (with a nice green tick to emphasise that everything is fine!) if you are careful enough to read the full message but of course by then the domain’s old settings are gone.
I discovered this when trying to make a change to one of my domains blew away the settings for my secure server, including the ssl keys. Thankfully they were recovered but this sort of thing really shouldn’t happen at all. It seems pretty absurd to me that a modern web application can exist that doesn’t seem to take tabs into account at all.
It’s a shame really because for the most part Dreamhost are the best webhosts I’ve ever used and their panel is very easy to use. Dreamhost’s support team have told me that this is a limitation of the web panel and it should only be used in one window, though there don’t seem to be any warnings about this anywhere. I hate to make sweeping statements like “Surely it would be easy to…” because it bugs me whenever anyone says the same about Firefox, but happily overwriting your settings (and calling it a success) seems like something that should be avoided at all costs.
For a long time now there have been web applications mirroring pretty much all the applications I use locally, email, calendar, spreadsheets, etc. I keep looking at these and feeling like I should jump on the bandwagon, after all lots of the people I work with use them and rave about them so they must be great right? The problem is I can’t figure out what I am actually missing, and most of the time I can spot immediately things I would miss by moving to them.
Obviously one clear benefit is that they are available anywhere in the world, you just need access to any computer with a modern web-browser. But you know what? Wherever I go in the world I take my laptop, or if I don’t it is because I really want to relax and be offline completely. About the only critical thing that I might need to get updates on is my mail, which I do have a webmail access to anyway.
The online services seem to fall down for me in a bunch of ways:
- I like to be able to run applications separately from my browser. I’ll grant you that tools like Prism make this sort of thing possible so that failure is going away slowly.
- No matter how good browsers become I don’t believe HTML will ever create as good a UI as a real application can. For the most part they are restricted to a single window interface, with pseudo windows hovering above looking nothing like platform native.
- They need you to be online (let’s ignore gears and stuff for the moment, I haven’t found the technology to be quite there enough yet). As I said I take my laptop everywhere. I can look at all my mail and calendar without needing to pay for an internet connection in some random hotspot.
- They simply don’t have the features that my local apps do. I expect this to change over the years but many of the online offerings are basic at best.
- How do I back up my data? Seriously, if I want to back up my gmail or google calendar what do I do? If I want to back up my local mail and calendar I just plug in a hard disk and let OSX deal with it. Obviously the opposite to this is that if my machine goes down then the online service will still be there and I’ll only have a potentially stale backup, but my backup is never more than a week old, and I can tell you I’ve lost more data over the years due to online systems going down than local machines breaking.
So here I am, wondering (again) what to do about task management. I keep feeling drawn to things like Remember The Milk because they are all online and Web2.0ish, but I’m not sure quite why. I’m sure I must be missing something critical about using the online apps, but I just can’t figure out what it is.