Spell-Check: Autocorrecting Diarrhea

Spell-checking has been around since the early days of computing. I can’t say that it has improved much in recent years. Sure, any software can flag misspelled words, but it is the suggested words that are in dire need of help. When I’m typing a word that I don’t exactly know how to spell, I make my best attempt at it and let the computer correct me. The suggested list of possible words often perplexes me. Sometimes I cannot imagine how it arrived at those words.

Before I launch into my rant, I’ll say that Google is the best at figuring out pretty much any word spelling combination. If I can’t find the spelling anywhere else, a simple Google search yields accurate results every time. I’m excluding Google from this rant because that is an Internet search, which I think is a little different than composing text in an application.

I’ll begin with some positive praise. Microsoft Word has the best spell checking and suggestion engine out there. In my experience, no other program comes close. That’s one of the many reasons why I am using Word to write this post, which you are reading now. It doesn’t always give me the precise word I’m looking for, but it still beats the competition.

The Firefox browser added built-in spell checking many versions ago, and it is one of the worst examples of this behavior. Long ago, I gave up composing blog posts in a browser window for this very reason. The Firefox spell checker is just terrible. Sure, it knows when a word isn’t in the dictionary, but determining what that word should be is something it fails at more often than not.

Apple’s iOS operating system is not great at suggesting spellings for misspelled words either. I am often baffled at the words it suggests. Sometimes I think the dictionary engine is powered by nothing more than a random word generator. All too often when I tap a misspelled word, I get two or more completely off the wall suggestions, or even worse, the message that “No replacements found.”

All of this brings me to one tricky word to spell: diarrhea. For some reason I can never spell it right on the first try. I always want to spell it “diaherria” (which is obviously incorrect.) My misspelling is close to the actual word, so it should be a snap for the computer to correct it for me. Not so! Not a single program that I’ve tested this on can get it right.

MS Word thinks it is “diathermia.” Firefox throws up its hands and doesn’t offer any suggestions at all. The Chrome browser thinks it is “diehard.” The Mac OS X dictionary also thinks the word is “diehard.” The suggestion from iOS, however, is by far the worst. That same misspelled word in iOS 6 is autocorrected to “fisheries.” Yes, fisheries! Completely absurd! I could maybe understand that if it had grown accustomed to me typing that word several times in the past, but I’ve never typed that word to my knowledge.

I’m left to think that there must be a deliberate effort to suppress the word diarrhea from being on a suggested words list.

I only used the word diarrhea as a single example. There are many others. I struggle with autocorrect every day, and I’m sure other users do as well. I don’t see why it is so hard to figure out what I am trying to spell.

If anything good has come from writing this post, it’s that I’ve typed the word diarrhea so many times that I’ll probably never forget how to spell it right the first time.

Xmarks is Shutting Down

Back in 2006, a free extension for Firefox named Foxmarks made its debut. The service exploded in popularity and was later re-branded as Xmarks. Today they have a version of Xmarks for all of the major web browsers. I’ve been using it for years to keep the bookmarks on my desktop computer in sync with those on my laptop. It is always the first extension I add when installing a new browser.

To my disappointment, Xmarks notified all of its users last week that they are shutting down the service in January 2011. The company said they are out of money and cannot continue operations. They are directing users to the built-in sync features in Chrome and in the upcoming Firefox 4. Firefox 3.x users today can download the Firefox Sync add-on from Mozilla. I’m pleased that bookmark syncing is starting to be included as a standard browser feature, but that doesn’t address syncing across multiple browser types which Xmarks currently provides.

So long, Xmarks. Thank you for providing such an awesome service for free for all of these years. It’s been a good ride.

Browser HTML5 Testing

HTML5 is still being developed as the next major revision of the HTML markup language. You can test your web browser how well it already supports HTML5. Visit html5test.com and put your browser to the test. There are 160 elements that are tested on the site. I put all of my Mac browsers to the test: Firefox, Safari, and Chrome. Chrome scored the highest by far.

In addition to my Mac, I also tested Internet Explorer 8 on Windows XP. Its score was absolutely abysmal. If I were a Windows user, I’d never use Internet Explorer, regardless of the version installed.

I’ve listed my results below.

  • Mozilla Firefox 3.6.3 – Score 101
  • Apple Safari 4.0.5 – Score 113
  • Google Chrome 5.0 – Score 142
  • Internet Explorer 8.0 – Score 19

Opera Mini For iPhone

To my shock and amazement, Apple actually approved the Opera Mini web browser for the iPhone. It was such an event, I had to download it and give it a try. Let me begin by saying that I have never been a fan of Opera on any operating system. I’ve practically never heard of anyone who actually uses it. Opera’s market share is near zero. How they manage to continue development is somewhat baffling.

Opera Mini is touting faster speeds and more features over the built-in Safari browser for the iPhone. That said, I don’t see any speed improvement in my experience. As for the extra features (such as tabbed browsing), they all serve to make the Opera interface look too cluttered. There are simply too many buttons, options, bells and whistles. It looks as if they tried to cram all of the features of a desktop application into an iPhone app. For me, that strategy just doesn’t work for a mobile device. The screen real estate for the actual web page is cut in half by all of Opera’s interface clutter.

I applaud Apple for relaxing their tight grip on third-party web browsers. If you’re interested in Opera Mini, then by all means, give it a try. As for me, I’m going to stick with the ease and simplicity of Safari. Any speed increase for Opera is negated by the fact that I hardly ever use a web browser on my iPhone to begin with. On the whole, I honestly don’t see use in Opera taking off for any platform. I doubt Apple does either, which is probably why they accepted the app in the first place.

Flash Blocking Browser Tools

In the past, I’ve often used an ad blocker in Firefox. I’ve recently come to find that I don’t need to block all of the ads to speed up the loading of pages. The payoff comes in blocking Flash. I’ve started using a Flash blocker in Firefox and Safari, and the outcome has been a faster, more controlled browsing experience. Once Flash content is blocked, a single click on a Flash container within a page will enable it to run.

You’ll soon realize how much Flash is overused on many sites. After I started blocking Flash, the static ad images that appear on sites don’t bother me enough to continue running my ad blocker. Try it yourself.

Safari 4.0 Mac is Incredibly Fast

Yesterday, Apple unleashed the latest release of their Safari browser, version 4.0. I immediately downloaded it for my Mac. If you’re using Windows, I can’t say how secure or efficient the latest Safari will be for you. Personally, I have always preferred Firefox on Windows.

I have been a diehard Firefox user for years, on all platforms. I have even been using the latest beta release of Firefox 3.5 for a few weeks now. Despite my loyalty to Firefox, I am won over by the new Mac Safari 4. It is draw-dropping fast. Even on my aging Mac Mini, Safari blazes at lightning speed. Pages pop on my screen with such lightning speed and elegance, it has to be seen to be believed. Safari 4 is hands down the fastest web browser I have ever used. That is no exaggeration.

In addition to increased speed and efficiency, Safari 4 has other new features. Most notably is the new Top Sites view. Using this view, I can see (on a single page), a beautifully arranged collection of live thumbnails of my top dozen most visited places. Top Sites is very elegantly designed, complete with a 180-degree curved screen view, even sporting reflections and shadows. I don’t know how often I’ll actually resort to this new view, but it is downright gorgeous, I have to say.

Firefox, with its giant library of browser extensions, is nearly impossible for me to neglect. I use several Firefox extensions that have become invaluable to me over the years. Despite that major obstacle to my complete adoption of Safari, I can’t help but be lured by the extreme speed and polish that Safari 4 now has to offer. Wow!