April 6, 2006

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Ayyy, jaQ’s right!
Some software should never be released
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

I think Cracker said it best: “What the world needs now / Is another word processor / Like I need a hole in my head.”

OK, they said “folk singer,” not “word processor,” but you get the picture.

I’m writing this column in a new Web-based word processor called ajaxWrite. And believe me, I’m earning my money this time. I usually phone this column in, basically picking a random tech product, spinning a wheel with “Hate” and “Love” as the only two options, and then riffing for a few hundred words. But I am down in the trenches on this one, and dear reader, you do not want to be here with me.

ajaxWrite is built using — you might want to sit down — the AJAX Web development technique. It stands for Asynchronous JavaScript And XML. It’s not a programming language in itself, just a technique for using a couple different languages and data exchange methods together. Google Maps is probably the best-known use of it.

The word processor was the first program released, a few weeks ago, through www.ajaxlaunch.com, which is unveiling a new AJAX-based application every Wednesday. They’re all free, and they all run right from your Firefox 1.5 browser, on Macintosh, Windows or whatever other communist operating system you might be running.

You don’t have Firefox? Poor soul. Visit www.getfirefox.com. Free yourself from Internet Explorer.
That ajaxWrite won’t run through Internet Explorer, actually, is one of the first things that charmed me about it. Stickin’ it to the man. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized: way to cut out 90 percent of your potential users, folks.

Now, the ajaxWrite developers aren’t trying to build a software empire. They just want to show what cool things can be done with AJAX, and if they happen to put out a Microsoft Word killer, all the better.

Only they haven’t. They haven’t even killed WordPad, the free word processor that comes with Windows.

Here’s a small sampling of what ajaxWrite lacks:

• Intuitive picture handling. So far, I’ve only been able to drag a picture from another Web site into this document. I can’t use a picture on my hard drive, and getting my text to line up with the picture the way I want seems to be impossible.
• Sufficient keyboard shortcuts. Ctrl+S lets you save not your document, but the browser page, and you have to use the toolbar buttons to make anything bold, italicized or underlined.
• Word count or spell check features. They say they’re working on the latter, but the former should be much simpler. To be fair, WordPad doesn’t have either of those things either.
• Accurate font dropdowns. The font name and size say Arial 8pt at startup, but you’re typing in Times New Roman 12pt.
• Consistent formatting of pre-existing Word and RTF documents. Open up last week’s column, say, and your paragraphs are three carriage returns apart. And light gray. Oh, and they now all say “Please, cut and paste me out of here!”

In short, I wouldn’t recommend ajaxWrite. There are plenty of free, full-featured word processors out there that this solution has very few problems to solve. Go ahead and try it if you want; it’s an amusing little toy for a few minutes, but like the Go-Bot your parents got you for Christmas instead of a genuine Transformer, you don’t even have to break it to ruin the holiday. It’s already broken.


Comments? Thoughts? Discuss these articles and more at hippoflea.com

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