I just ran across a new Google product (new to me at least). Google Notebook is a tool that allows you to store notes and snippets on a web page for later use. The Notebook can have multiple notebooks in it for different topics, and section headers within a notebook allowing you to group your notes in a way that makes sense to you. Google of course are masters of Web UI and so they have things like drag-and-drop sorting of note entries. Double-click on a note and the editing mode magically appears before your eyes, making using the web application very simple. And of course they are all searchable.
Of course you can do similar things with other services. Backpack for example is a very interesting site. It’s free for a basic subscription. You can create things like To-do lists, image galleries and notes, all of which are drag-and-drop sortable in true Web 2.0 fashion. The pay version seems to also have a number of interesting add-on features like Calendaring. I do like Backpack quite a bit. In comparison, the Google Notebook does not offer a lot of functionality. On it’s own it doesn’t sound that interesting does it? So why am I writing about it?
What makes it interesting is that they have created a Firefox plugin that integrates with the site. You can right-click on any page and add a “Note” to your notebook. When you do that, it saves the link in your notebook. But where it gets really interesting is you can select some HTML in your browser and save the snippet in your notebook. The plugin also adds a small status bar icon that lets you easily access your notes and also open the full Google Notebook page.
The browser integration lets you very easily save snippets of information in such a way that it doesn’t break your flow, it doesn’t interrupt your thought process. You don’t have to switch to a different web page or a different application. I think this simplicity and efficiency make it very compelling.
I thought I would give Firefox some props for some of the user-centric features that it’s added with this release.
Search Plugin Improvements
A subtle, but incredibly useful change is the improvement of many of the search plugins. They have added suggestions as you type. So as you type, you will see suggestions pop up. This means less typing and less misspelling. Anticipating users needs just makes the application that much more compelling.
Inline Spell Checking
Ok, so maybe it’s just me, but I misspell things all the time. I like the addition of the search suggestions for this reason. But the bigger win for me, and something that should be appreciated by all the bloggers out there, is inline spell checking for web forms. So as I type this blog post, if I misspeell something it will show up with little red dots underneath it. If I then ctrl-click or right-click on the word, I’ll get spelling suggestions. Spell checking on the web, where have you been all your life? (I remember back in 1999 working for an internet startup that this was an often requested feature for our web application. Implementing it took quite a bit of time and effort even with a 3rd party package. Better late than never I say.)
There have been some small tweaks that have improved the browser as well. Changes to the tabs to include a close button on each tab are welcome by me.
They’ve also extended the standards support to include Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) and new web standards for client-side persistence. While these are generally developer centric features, I think that the these will be used by rich web applications in ways that could greatly improve the user experience.
A Wag of The Finger
Firefox still does not correctly render the Acid 2 test which I find unfortunate. I would like to see them catch up with Safari and Opera in terms of the standards compliance of their CSS implementation. Oh well, maybe next time.
All of this together points to a really great release for Firefox 2. I look forward to the final release.