One of the challenges of delivering desktop-quality software inside a browser is, well, the browser itself. Browsers have clearly come a long way in the last 14 years, but they still fall short of the system level services required to deploy a desktop application.
Fortunately, the Flash Player alleviates some of these shortcomings. For one thing, Flash allows visual experiences far beyond a browser’s native capabilities. The Flash Player also handles some system level chores. We chose the Flash platform over AJAX because it allowed us to get much closer to desktop functionality than native browser and html capabilities.
We work a lot of sleight-of-hand tricks to allow Buzzword to act like a desktop application even though it’s running inside a browser. However, some things are beyond the scope of what current-day browsers permit, due to their architecture, and what Flash permits due to its security model.
So here are a couple browser-related challenges we’re either living with or trying to work around.
Browsers’ clipboards are obviously oriented to HTML formats. However, word processing power users quickly go beyond simple HTML capabilities to include things like endnotes, comments, page breaks or centered images.
To complicate matters further, many browsers don’t allow clipboard commands to be executed from a menu. In Firefox or Safari for example, if you choose the Edit Copy menu command in Buzzword, you will get a message indicating that clipboard commands must be performed using shortcut keys (e.g. Ctrl-C). All browser based applications have this challenge.
So why bother even having those commands on the menu for browsers other than IE? Buzzword keeps the clipboard commands displayed on the menu because we think our users expect to see them there, so we use them as a reminder of which shortcut key combinations work with your browser.
We also use the browser’s keyboard shortcuts for clipboard commands. For example, Firefox on the Mac uses the Cmd (”Apple”) keys for it’s clipboard commands, so we use Cmd-C for copying to the clipboard.
But this leads to a dilemma… We’d like to follow convention and provide the typical Cmd-B shortcut to make text bold. However, Firefox on the Mac uses that combination to open your bookmarks in the sidebar, so we were forced to use Ctrl-B for making text bold.
Over time, we’ll add as many keyboard shortcuts as browsers will allow. We recognize that serious writers prefer to keep their fingers on the keyboard rather than fiddle with the mouse! In all cases, we’ll try to stay as faithful as possible to the shortcuts you expect in a word processor, but hope you’ll understand when we have to detour around the browser’s reserved keys.
Clipboard limitations and keyboard challenges are key factors why we look forward to the AIR release, on which platform Buzzword will be even more robust (i.e. a more functional clipboard) with fewer constraints (i.e. all shortcuts will be available and consistent). Our expectation is that Buzzword writers will increasingly do most of their writing in our AIR version on their primary computer, and move to our browser version only when necessary (e.g. when using a computer that doesn’t have AIR installed). For more on our perspective on the AIR platform, see our blog post on the subject.
In the meantime, our Help file provides information on current Buzzword shortcuts and other keyboard commands.