Sunday, January 29, 2006

Get Sage!

Some of the e-mail messages I received in response to my Get Firefox! article asked one of these two questions:

  1. How do I install extensions?
  2. How do I subscribe to your news feed (and others)?

Sage is an extension for Firefox that makes it easy and convenient to subscribe to news feeds. I'll describe how to install it and that will answer both questions.

This is a long article, but don't let that discourage you. The process is pretty simple, especially when someone walks you through each of the steps. It takes a lot of words to describe even simple steps.

Installation Basics

Please read this section and the Install Sage section before you attempt an installation. Some of the steps are not necessary in every case and if you read all the directions first you'll know how to skip one of the more tedious steps.

These are the basic steps to install any extension:

  1. Open Firefox.
  2. Find the download link for the extension.
  3. Click the link to download and install.
  4. Restart (close and re-open) Firefox.
  5. Configure the extension. (Optional)
  6. Use the extension.

In my experience, finding the extension is half the battle. There are a lot of extensions available, and many of them do similar things. For example, I use IE View to open pages in Internet Explorer from Firefox. There's a similar extension named IE Tab which does the same thing in a different way. Some people prefer the IE Tab approach. Having options is a good thing, so what's the problem?

If there are a few extensions that all do basically the same thing, how do you choose? There's no easy answer, but here's what I do. I read the description carefully. Does the extension actually do what I want? Is the description well-written? If not, I move on. If the feature I want is not the primary function of a particular extension, and it comes with a lot of other features, I typically opt for one of the other choices.

I always review the user comments and ratings. Well-implemented extensions will have few, if any, low ratings.

Install Sage

There is nothing unusual about installing Sage. It does require a little configuration after you install it; you have to subscribe to one or more news feeds.

In this case, we already have a link to the download page for the extension so we can skip that pesky "find the extension" step.

  1. Right-click on the download page link. Choose "Open Link in New Tab".
    Opening a new tab keeps this article handy in the original tab.
  2. Click on the new tab (it's near the top of the window). The name will start with "Mozilla Update :: Extensions".
    Clicking on the tab will make that tab's content visible.
  3. Scroll down to the Install Now link that is in a rounded-corner rectangle next to a graphic of an arrow pointing into a box, and click it.
    Clicking the link will start the automatic installation process. The Software Installation dialog will open.
  4. Review the information in the Software Installation dialog window. Click the [Install Now] button to install the extension.
    The Extensions window will open. The new extension will appear in the list, and a progress bar will show the download progress.
  5. When the installation is complete, the progress bar will disappear.
    For Sage, and most extensions, a status message beneath the name of the extension will tell you that "Sage will be installed when Firefox is restarted." The software is copied to your PC, but the install process isn't complete until you restart Firefox.
  6. Close all Firefox windows and then reopen Firefox.

The previous instructions have been pretty general except for the link to the Sage download page. The remaining instructions are specific to Sage.

  1. Click the Sage command in the Tools menu.
    A sidebar will open. A sidebar is a user interface panel on the left-hand side of your browser window.
  2. At the top of the sidebar there are two icons and an Options pull-down menu.
  3. The left-most icon, two arrows pointing at each other in a circular fashion, is a refresh button that checks all your subscribed news feeds for new content.
  4. The magnifying glass icon is a Discover Feeds button that helps you find news feeds on the web pages you visit.
    We'll use that button after we explain the other user interface elements in the Sage sidebar.
  5. The Options menu contains a set of commands that can be used to customize Sage.
    Explaining those commands is beyond the scope of this article. You'll have to learn those options on your own. For the time being, you don't need to change any options.
  6. The top-half of the side-bar has a list of news feeds.
    Each news feed is a collection of articles published by a single source. If the news feed is shown in bold text, there are unread articles in that collection.
  7. The bottom-half of the side-bar has a list of articles from the currently-selected feed in the news feed list.
    Bold entries are unread.
  8. At the top of the articles list are four icons.
    Move your cursor over the icons to reveal a tooltip. The tooltip explains the function of the icons.
  9. Sage includes a few pre-subscribed news feeds. Click on the "BBC News | News Front Page | World Edition" feed or one of the others.
    The browser window changes to show content from the articles in the news feed. In many cases, only a brief summary is shown. In others, the entire content is included. You can browse to the web page for the article by clicking the title of the article.

At this point, Sage is installed and working and you should be familiar with the basic operation of the extension. Now let's add a news feed.

News feeds are a simple concept that can be surprisingly difficult to grasp. Essentially, a news feed is a list of articles from a particular publisher. Many news organizations publish news feeds. In addition, web logs (usually called blogs) are often published via news feeds.

The computer file that contains the news feed must conform to one of the accepted news feed formats. Collectively, those formats are often called "RSS". Describing those formats is beyond the scope of this article. In general, you don't have to worry about that. Sage, and most other news readers understand all the common formats. The only thing you need to know is, when you see the letters RSS, the site you are visiting publishes one or more news feeds.

Most sites use a distinctive icon to indicate that a news feed is available. When you see one of those icons, you can click the magnifying glass icon in the Sage sidebar to list the available news feeds.

Let's try that now. My blog has a news feed. Click the Sage magnifying glass icon. When the DIscover Feeds window opens, select "Rack and ePinion" and then click the [Add Feed] button. You've just subscribed to a news feed.

You should see "Rack and ePinion" in the news feed list. It will work the same as the news feeds that came with Sage.

Done!

That's it. You've installed a Firefox extension, and you can now subscribe to a few of the thousands of news feeds available via the Internet.

Here's a short list to get you started.

News Feed Notes
FOXNews.com(Red!)
CNN.com(Blue!)
Eastman's Online Genealogy NewsletterGet the news letter via a news feed reader rather than e-mail.
SecondSite-LMailing lists on RootsWeb can be read via a news reader. This is just one example. Go to the "browse the archives" page for the list and click the "discover feeds" icon.
RssGenealogy.comA news site for genealogy that has it's own news feed, links to other news feeds, and links to pages that should be news feeds but aren't!
DearMyrtle"Practical, down-to-earth advice for family historians."

I hope you found this useful. News feeds are an efficient way to monitor some of the stream of information that pours out of the web.

1 comment:

JohnR said...

Could you please stop giving all these leads? I have just wasted a whole evening browsing when I could have been adding boring old names to the family tree