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What's all this Javascript doing to us?

photoactive [PersonRank 10]

Friday, January 26, 2007
13 years ago8,819 views

So please remember that I'm NO EXPERT on HTML, Javascript etc. Much as I love all the excellently interactive Ajax-y web aps like Gmail and Google Calendar, I increasingly miss intuitive functionality like being able to right-click on a link and do something with it.

I know that Google, for instance, can't do much about this while their applications are bound inside a standard web browser.

Take Google Reader, for instance. You've got a subscription in the left hand list. You decide you don't want it anymore. Intuitively, you want to right-click on the link, and have a contextual menu that pops up to allow the option of deleting the subscription.

Obviously Firefox or Internet Explorer won't allow you this option because they interpret the thing only as a link.

To me (and I know it's clueless) it seems that the only way the functionality of new web aps can be fully realised is if Google, Yahoo etc (hey, why not Microsoft) develop their own web interfaces, or browsers, that take advantage of the flexibility of modern networked applications.

All the rumours about a Google Browser seems to have stopped. But the more Google et al do to make the web more useful, the more standard browsers get in the way.

Any thoughts? Is this stupid? What can we expect?

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

This is by far NOT stupid. It gets right to the point of things. While there is a way to bring context-menus to right-clicks, it's not really working well cross-browser (that is, depending on your browser or browser setting, it might be turned off to have web pages open context menus on right click), but let me digress...

HTML was never meant to do these things we're doing since several years (not just since the advent of AJAX!). So the whole accessibility bonus that once came with HTML, as intended by WWW inventor Tim Berners-Lee, breaks down in many to most web application circumstances of today – to have HTML as a kind of super-flexible document that renders fine in all kinds of devices, from printer to phone to text-to-speech to what-not. Instead of having these *cool* features (cross-media-HTML), today we end up having a somewhat *uncool* programming environment (web-apps-DHTML).

You *can* actually write accessible web apps, but it's not just done anymore, and admittedly, these accessible web apps will have much less "bells & whistles".

To know what I mean, just login to Gmail, scroll down, and click "basic HTML". You will now find yourself in a version of Gmail where you *can* right-click e.g. the "sent mail" link to choose "open in new window," something which the "full-featured" version won't allow you to do. In other words, web apps today come as a trade-off: they bring 10 new features while removing 10 old (or 9 old, if you're optmistic about the trade-off).

Right now, we can see web pages heading the same way operating systems were heading in the early 90s: towards more crashes due to more complexity. Just when Windows removed most blue screens, some apps will crash... stalling the browser instead of showing a blue screen (with less disastrous effects, mostly, because the data is saved far away on the server).

What we need is either everyone starting to make accessible web apps, based on existing and known World Wide Web consortium standards, which seems to be somewhat unlikely in this day and age, or we continue to abuse the existing HTML to create DHTML (which I love to do, by the way, when required), or we go for something completely new. The W3C's suggestion are so-called XForms... let's call it the Ivory Tower Complexity Super-cool-and-accessible-in-theory Fresh Web Apps Recommendation. *In theory*, the same (X)HTML form will now work on a phone – text to speech!! – as well as a desktop browser. You know, the desktop pizza order form will display a checkbox for "extra cheese", whereas an automated voice on the phone (generated from the same XForm, with no extra code!) will ask you: "do you want extra cheese with that?"

The alternative would be to just go ahead and do something new and interesting with browsers, as you say. Google might certainly be needed to make it take off (if they don't support it, it'll become an unused gadget) – and they may also be interested in these developments. They didn't snap up the Firefox developers without reason, I guess. When you control the web app AND the browser, you can start to have real fun. You could finally add all the interface elements Operating Systems 1.0 had for years to decades... and they could be implemented accessible (without the need for much, or any JavaScript). Less JavaScript would also improve the developer's life, and decrease security risks in web platforms.

Maybe one day...

Andrew Hitchcock [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

Don't hide functionality in right click menus! Some of us only have one mouse button :)

photoactive [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

Philipp: thank you, that's very instructive. I look forward to a brighter future...

Niraj Sanghvi [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

It's funny, I was just noticing yesterday how Google Docs managed to implement what appears to be a cross-browser working right-click when you're editing documents and I was wondering why we haven't seen such functionality more often.

It works because you can still right-click outside the document area to get your usual browser context menu, so they haven't removed any of the expected functionality by creating their own menu.

Ionut Alex. Chitu [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

Yeah, cross-browsing.

Google Docs doesn't work at all in Opera and to get that context-menu in Firefox you need to change the preferences (edit user.js or prefs.js and allow docs.google.com to have access to your clipboard). Maybe you see it in FF because you installed the latest toolbar that makes the changes without even asking you (the changes remain even after installing the toolbar).

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

Niraj, Yahoo Mail Beta has a context menu too. Only problem is with certain browsers and certain settings – I often turn off the "context menu" handling for JS, because it's annoying. E.g. I right-click an image to save and the page will tell me something stupid like "Don't steal our content!"

Niraj Sanghvi [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

Ionut, I haven't tried Opera with Google Docs, but obviously if it doesn't work there it's not completely cross-browser. However I have the menu working in Firefox with no Google Toolbar or other special extensions or other changes to make it work.

Philipp, I really hate when that content blocking shows up too.

Niraj Sanghvi [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

Just to add to this, it looks like both Microsoft's Live Maps (maps.live.com) and Ask City (city.ask.com) are using the right-click on maps to provide a menu of features allowing you to mark a particular point on a map or change the zoom level. Ask City is even using some transparency on the menu.

Are either of these fully cross-browser?

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