Eric Anderson said to me, "Relax, Adam, Everything is Deeply Intertwingled." Good advice, I know I've heard that somewhere before.
It's hard to relax when you're living in a box. I'd estimate that I spend between 10% and 20% of my life in a browser, and half of that time is spent in a <TEXTAREA> like the one I'm typing in right at this moment to flesh out this post. The reason I cannot relax is that Web forms have not evolved in fifteen years -- there's still so few text editting features that I find myself manually searching and replacing sometimes. There aren't many activities more useless than eyeballing a <TEXTAREA> looking for text sequences when I know this is what computers were friggin' invented to do.
Worse, I find that sometimes I hit the wrong key and move off the browser page and all the typing I've done gets completely wiped out. <TEXTAREA>s have no automatic save feature -- even iTunes has that! Every time I get burned by this I tell myself to relax and to use a real text editor and then cut-and-paste into the Gmail form or the Typepad form or the Flickr form or the comment form on someone's blog or community or any of the next generation of weblications. But when you spend so much time living in a <TEXTAREA> like I do, that becomes tedious and inevitably I fall back to typing without a net and without editting and saving features in a <TEXTAREA>. Browsers need to improve, not just me. And I won't relax till that happens.
Are you listening Internet Explorer 7? Opera? Firefox? The Google calendar/browser/blogger/picasa (calbroblopic? :) team with one Adam to unite them all? Make it so life in a <TEXTAREA> isn't the sucky experience we've grown to expect. I guess Konqueror/Safari scores best so far, with Undo, Redo, Find, Replace, and Spell-Check, and when I hit the back button it (usually) saves the content of the forms -- but it still isn't a full-blown editor. HTML forms are some of the least friendly UI in applications today.
Firefox (finally) gave me undo in my <TEXTAREA>, which is tremendously useful. Please don't stop there. Let me save. Actually, save automatically for me. Let me search. Actually, let me search-and-replace. Let me spellcheck. But only when *I* want to spellcheck. Let me define shortcuts. Actually, let me define shortcuts and macros. And don't force WYSIWYG on me like Typepad seems to think I want. I don't want it, and it often creates more trouble than it's worth. (While I'm dinging Typepad, let me deduct 100 shares from their place in heaven for not escaping the title of a typepad post -- I practically crashed the application because I tried to put aerodynamic angle brackets around TEXTAREA in the title of this post.)
I'm not the first person to ask for this, and I won't be the last. The best articulation that comes to mind is Clay Shirky's rant, Why are browsers such terrible writing instruments?, and his top three feature requests are:
- Autosave on quit or crash. My browser, to a first approximation, is my workspace. Let me say "Restore all windows and contents to where they were before the quit." (ed.: Session saver saves tabs but not content.)
- Multiple undo for reload and tab closes. Oops, I didn’t mean to remove the window I had that post in — bring it back. (My memory of Windows, especially, was that this happened often, partly because the left hand hovers over the CTL key, and CTL-R re-loads.)
- Let me re-size or tear off the form field itself, and give me undo in it as well.
There’s tons more stuff here, of course — some WebDAV+RSS combo so I can make any folder a drafts or publish folder (blosxom style), or tie existing word processors to form fields, so that SubEthaEdit would auto-open when I wanted to post, but really, the browser has been around for a long time now; why should anyone even have to make an argument that autosave, undo, and re-sizing are good functions for an app to support?
But even more than this list, I want the people who write browsers to care that they are seriously and increasingly important writing environments, and that the current display bias leaves the average browser someplace between sucktastic and actually unusable on the sub-optimality-o-meter.
Cory Doctorow spends more time writing than I do, and he says, "I do *all* my composition in BBEdit -- it really saves my ass on numerous occassions. I want a local proxy that captures all my submitted forms and drops their content into lightly structured ASCII files." Amen, brother.
JP tells me to shut up and listen to Zwoddy's mantra, "Perhaps an ice cream sandwich would bolster my self-esteem." Well, I don't want an ice cream sandwich. I want a decent text editor in a web browser. And I won't relax till I get it.