You may also like… (aka the competition!)

Grin

ask.com and snap.com both offer preview images of some websites in their search results. Unlike SearchMash, these are pre-rendered thumbnails, so you can’t click on them, they only have them for the most popular sites, and they may be out of date.

Google Preview is a free Firefox plugin that provides similar functionality to ask and snap’s thumbnails, but pulling the images from thumbshots.com and alexa rather than a proprietary database.

Browster is an ad supported browser plugin, and the only other one that does give you a live preview of web pages. As a browser plugin, it does require an install, doesn’t do any search term checking, and is only available for the PC. The upside is that as a plugin, the integration is tighter than SearchMash.

For more mashups, ProgrammableWeb has a great directory, and recently gave SearchMash four stars.

SearchMash FAQ

Faq

What is SearchMash for?

SearchMash makes searching faster and more reliable by weeding out dead or stale results.

Why do I get a security warning?

SearchMash uses a securely signed Java applet to process and display the web pages. Because signed applets have these powerful functions, the browser wants to make sure you trust one before it’s run.
You should trust SearchMash because it’s fully open-source, highly secure, and certified by Verisign. It’s source code is open to scrutiny on Sourceforge, and its full security model is described on this blog.

Why do some pages show up incorrectly in the preview?

There are some bugs with the preview page loading that cause some images and CSS style sheets to fail to load. I made some fixes recently, but there are still some remaining issues. I will be addressing these as soon as possible.

How do I report a bug?

The easiest way is to just email me at searchbrowser@gmail.com. Any details you can give me about the operating system, browser and Java versions you used would be very helpful. If you’re comfortable using Sourceforge’s bug tracker, you can also go here to enter one directly.

Where can I get more information?

This blog has regular updates on the latest SearchMash news.
The Squidoo lens has articles on how to use SearchMash.
For the technically minded, the SourceForge project page gives you access to all the source code, as well as a list of current bugs and feature requests.

Preview polished

Eye
I’ve been talking with Philipp Lenssen from the excellent Google Blogoscoped, and he had some great feedback. In particular he called out the problems with some things not showing up correctly in the preview window.

This is something I noticed too, and have a bug filed in sourceforge’s bug tracker on, but it hadn’t made it to the top of my list.

I spent a bit of time on it this morning, and managed to greatly improve it. First off, I was changing the HTML to all lower case as part of my security measures, which messed up any case-sensitive resource paths. I’m doing all my search and replace case insensitively now, so I was able to remove that.

I also discovered that the BASE tag I was adding to resolve relative resources should actually point to the full URL of the page. I was trying to be too clever, and setting it to the URL up until the last /, assuming it had to be a folder name. Just setting it to the full URL made a lot more pages show up correctly.

There’s still some pages that have problems so I’m leaving the bug open, but these two changes seem to have fixed most of the issue.

Philipp also asked why I don’t just set the URL of the frame, rather than writing in the HTML into a local one. That’s a good question, since the current functionality would still work. I’m planning on adding something to help find search terms in the page in the future though, highlighting and scrolling to the right words, and that wouldn’t be possible just setting the location. I like to make life difficult for myself!

Prettification

Lipstick
I’ve made some cosmetic changes to SearchMash, so that you don’t just see a blank screen while it’s loading. You now see “Loading…” in the results frame, and a quick primer on how to use SearchMash in the preview. The primer is there because I had a lot of feedback that the initial screen was confusing to first-time users, since it’s just the google start page in a frame. Hopefully the extra information should make it easier to get started.

I also worked on the problem with the preview window sometimes causing script errors in IE, filed as Preview window can stop working after changing pages and Previewing missing sites on IE stops window in Sourceforge’s bug tracker. I added a try/catch around the access to the preview frame’s document, and tried to reset security by setting it back to the original local ‘src’ if there was an exception. I still see the exception occuring (I’m using MS’s very handy script debugger, which I’ll cover soon), but I haven’t been able to reproduce the problem with the window getting stuck, I hope my changes will unwedge it if it’s in that state.

Browser Compatibility

Error
One of the design goals of SearchMash was to work in a lot of different browsers, which is why I tried to avoid using browser-specific technology.

Both the LiveConnect technology that allows Java and JavaScript to call each other, and the Javascript document object model (DOM) that I use to edit HTML in a page, are well supported by the major browsers. The biggest hurdle is having a recent version of Java installed. I’ve seen figures of around 80-90% of desktops having some version of Java, but I haven’t seen a break-down by version, I suspect many of those are 1.1, which is why I hope to back-port MashProxy to that version. It’s a respectable deployment, but not as high as Flash (I’ve seen 98% figures for some version of that).

My main development platform is OS X, so Safari and Firefox get the most testing, and SearchMash works without problems on both. I’ve also tried some of the other Mac browsers, such as Opera or IE 5.1, but these are not widely used, so I haven’t spent the time to ensure SearchMash works on them. I did hit some quirks in Safari’s LiveConnect implementation, since Java strings don’t seem to be converted to JavaScript ones when they’re passed back to the script, but stay as wrapped Java objects. This means you can call Java string functions on them from the script, but JavaScript functions don’t work. Since there’s some overlap in JavaScript and Java’s string functions, it took me a while to figure out what was happening, but once I did, I was able to force a conversion by creating a new JavaScript string variable from the one that was passed back.

Since most of the world uses a PC, making sure that SearchMash works on Firefox and Internet Explorer was a priority. I only have one machine with Windows XP available, but I’ve been able to make sure it runs on IE 6 and 7, and on Firefox 1.5.

I’ve found IE’s Java to JavaScript connection to be a bit more picky than the other browsers. I’ve just found a bug that can cause the applet to crash when I change pages in IE for example, it looks like using an out-of-date JavaScript DOM object can cause a security exception.

I’ve done no Linux testing, because I don’t have a system set up to run it. I didn’t hit any big differences between Firefox on the Mac and Windows, so I’m hopeful it will just work on Linux/Firefox too.

Supported Browsers

  • Internet Explorer 6.0 (Windows)
  • Internet Explorer 7.0 (Windows)
  • Safari 2.0 (OS X)
  • Firefox 1.5 (Windows and OS X)

Untested

  • Internet Explorer 5.0 (Windows)
  • Opera (Windows)
  • Netscape
  • No Linux testing has been done

Tested, but not working

  • Internet Explorer 5.1 (OS X)
  • Opera (OS X)