Should You Support Classic Features or Should You Innovate?

A few months ago, the Internet Explorer team did a Q&A about IE9 via Reddit. While there were a few interesting items discussed, I almost did a spit-take when I saw this one:

Why doesn’t IE have a built-in spellchecker?

Are you kidding me? IE9 is going to ship without spellcheck? Ludicrous!

I immediately thought of all the typing I do in my browser every day, and how awful it would be to do it all sans spellcheck. I write my blog posts in WordPress. I comment on blogs. I consider proper spelling a necessity in my writing, and I simply can’t achieve it without a little help from my browser.

And it’s not just me.

Regular users are writing important emails, posting thoughts on Facebook, filling in online forms… How can anyone survive without spellcheck? What was the Internet Explorer team thinking?

I was really disappointed. Then I read the reply from the IE team:

Like any software project, developing IE is a trade off between features, quality and schedule. A built-in spellchecker would be a great feature that simply didn’t make the cut this time in favor of other things like <CANVAS>, <SVG> and other platform features.

Suddenly, I’m conflicted.

The SVG support coming in IE9 is a truly cutting-edge feature that really pushes what we can do inside a modern browser. And Canvas is no small feat either; people like me have scolded the IE team left and right for over a decade for not supporting open standards. These new features really are important to me both as a web developer, and as a browser-technology enthusiast.

So which is more important?

On the one hand, I really don’t think I can use a browser day-to-day that doesn’t have built-in spellcheck. On the other, I’m ecstatic that the Internet Explorer team is finally choosing to innovate and support new standards. I’m really not sure which side to take on this debate.

What do you think? Is it more important to support old, tried and truly-important features, or is it better to spend that time pushing the envelope and coming up with something new?

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4 Responses to “Should You Support Classic Features or Should You Innovate?”

  1. David Says:

    I’m pretty sure in this case that MS has enough old code knocking about that some enterprising engineer could have copy-pasted spell-checking into IE 9. Look, here’s one in 21 lines of Python: http://norvig.com/spell-correct.html

    New features are great, but there are a whole raft of basic things that users expect that need to be there first. “Oh, sorry. In order to get native HTML 5 video rendering we had to ditch the right-click menu”.

    Bah. Humbug.

  2. Sylvain Says:

    Add my voice to David’s one here. This is lame.

  3. dan Says:

    Spellcheck might be a trivial example, but if it really is that simple to add they can always patch it in later.

    Imagine if they’d done the reverse, and released yet-another standards-scoffing, years-behind-Opera version of Internet Explorer, promising to add HTML 5 video at a later date.

    That’s probably a bit extreme, but in general I think there’s something to be said for re-examining what we really need in a browser and trying out new ideas.

  4. John Says:

    I can’t say I’m as incensed as you are.

    Spellcheck has low visibility to me (ironic since my browser is flagging the word spellcheck) since I don’t lean on it as a crutch.

    I will go one step further and claim that in absence of spellcheck people pay more attention to what they are typing. I think this sort of thing is good.

    Now – as for the core issue of the post, my vote goes for innovate. But, not to sound like a broken record, it should not be difficult to include this feature. If their goal was to generate buzz, they succeeded.

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