June 19, 2006

Firefox Gets It Right

Over the weekend I finally got around to listening to Inside the Net #24, where Leo Laporte and Amber MacArthur interview “The Two Mikes from Firefox,” Mike Shaver and Mike Beltzner. The talk mostly centered around the fact that they’re hard at work on Firefox 2.0, the newest version of everyone’s favorite web browser, and the final release should be here by September. Of course they have to go through the whole cycle of Beta releases, and release candidates, and they’re not quite there yet. But there is a Alpha 3 milestone release that you can grab and install just to play around with. I did it today, and installed it on the beta copy of Windows Vista I’ve got in the corner of my office. In fact, that’s what I’m using to write this post (I’m also using the beta of Outlook 2007 for e-mail here. I guess you can call this the “bleeding edge” machine).

Firefox 2.0, or “Bon Echo” as they’re calling it while it’s under development, isn’t as much of an advance as you’d think given the “2.0” name. Pretty much it’s the same browser, with the same features. The only real obvious difference is that each tab has its own close button, rather than one global button on the right-hand side. Aside from that it looks identical to Firefox 1.5.

But there is one thing that makes Firefox 2.0 a must-have for everyone and everybody out there in the world today. Because finally, after a decade and a half of the web, and of browser makers ignoring this one simple need, Firefox has done the right thing. They have put a spell checker into <textarea>s. So now, when you’re writing a blog post, or a comment, or working on your web mail, or doing anything else where you have to use a text field on a web page, there is a spell checker right there. And it’s not a plug-in, it’s not an extension, it’s not an AJAX module that has to be loaded on the page; it is built into the browser and turned on by default. Finally somebody got it right.

I know that this will be a huge help, just in my own household. My wife always is calling me over when she’s writing on her blog, to help her spell a word. She used to use Blogger, and they don’t have a spell check. Now she uses WordPress, and that doesn’t have a spell check either. I’ve looked for WP plug-ins that would add spell checking capabilities, and I’ve looked at AJAX spell checkers that were kind of clumsy to use, and I’ve known that there were Firefox extensions out there that would check your spelling, but nothing ever seemed to be right. They all had ugly interfaces, and incomplete dictionaries, and they weren’t easy to use or they were flaky and wouldn’t always work. And all along, I just kept saying to myself, “this should be built into the browser.” And now it is. And now it is!!!!

I don’t know why this is so exciting, but sometimes when developers are trying to add in all these cool new features and stunning graphics and cutting-edge functionality, they keep overlooking the simple things. Spell check definitely is a simple thing, even though it can be hard to do it right, and everyone has overlooked it for far too long. It’s good to see Firefox paying attention.

Now, if only Vista could have a built-in system-wide spell check, that would be the next step. But I guess Microsoft hasn’t learned how to look at the simple things yet.

And one word that isn’t in the default Firefox dictionary? Firefox.

Filed under The Computer Vet Weblog