Mozilla

Vertical Text, part 2

"Hello, World!" displayed vertically in a browser window

A few steps forward: the tab titles, menus, etc. are no longer vertical, though the address bar still is, and the glyphs are centered on a vertical “base” line. For Japanese that doesn’t make much difference, but Latin script as in this example looks much better than in the previous version, where the glyphs were all left-aligned.

I need to find out a lot more about typographical conventions in vertical text. What happens about underlining, for example?

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Vertical Text part 1

A browser window showing vertical Japanese text

This is my first lash-up prototype of a browser displaying data:text/html,油こほりともし火細き寝覚哉 as vertical text. Click on the thumbnail or here to see the full-size image.

When I say lash-up, I mean lash-up: you will notice that everything is vertical, including the tab titles and the address bar, where you can see the first couple of letters of the content before it disappears into the abyss.

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Dogfooding Fennec

First impressions of a nightly build of Fennec on a Samsung Galaxy S II:

  • Things that work:
  • Things that don’t work (some of these may be issues with the sites, some are certainly bugs in the program):
    • RTL messages in gmail are aligned left (but not in the “standard HTML” view)
    • Ynet is unusable because of insufficient zooming
    • הארץ is unusable because of over-zooming

    updated:

  • RTL UI nits and warts: (need to open bugs!)
    • Since the same area of the screen is used for URI and title, forced LTR as in desktop browser is not appropriate
    • Right aligned input fields seem to get clipped

General
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Well, it’s about time

Ever since support for bidirectional languages was implemented in Mozilla by me and my colleagues at IBM. and through all the improvements and bug-fixes that have been made since, one thing that we never got quite right was text with diacritics, aka nikkud, aka harakat, especially in justified text. This was a real obstacle in the way of my recommending Mozilla or Firefox to my friends, many of whom heavily use sites like Mechon Mamre that feature vocalized Hebrew.

I am happy to say that this is now fixed in trunk builds and the beta of Firefox 3 that will appear RSN. Here are some screenshots of a chapter from Mechon Mamre. Since they are in Hebrew, the “before” shots are on the right, and the “after” shots on the left. Click on the images to see full-size versions.

Linux

חבקוק חיחבקוק חי

OSX

חבקוק חיחבקוק חי

Windows

חבקוק חיחבקוק חי

Hebrew language and literature
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Overheard…

… in a drama mini-series on Israel’s commercial TV channel:

What browser are you using? Why don’t you use Firefox? I can download it for you in a second.

I can’t imagine hearing a reference like that on prime-time television even a year ago. I’m not sure exactly when Firefox became part of the mainstream, but I noticed it first in the reviews of Firefox 2 last autumn. The point of view of most of the articles was a comparison between IE7 and FF2 on a level playing field, and I felt that this was our real achievement. It doesn’t really matter which one got the higher rating in any particular review, or what percentage of users Firefox has reached, but some time in the last twelve months we achieved a shift in perception and stopped being a niche browser.

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תעלא דינורא

I was saying yesterday that it’s a pity that there’s no localisation of Firefox into Aramaic. I wasn’t very serious, because I didn’t think there would be many people who would use it, but it turns out there’s at least one potential client: Monica Bellucci.

Monica … can speak Italian, French, English and Aramaic fluently.

Who knew?

(Hat tip: Jim Davila)

Aramaic
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Some news stories

July 15th, 2003:

America Online on Tuesday said it has laid off 50 employees involved in Web browser development at its Netscape Communications subsidiary amid a reorganization of its Mozilla open-source browser team …

The layoffs come as the loose Mozilla.org group, which had overseen the open-source development efforts of the Mozilla browser, transforms itself into a nonprofit foundation.

November 9th, 2004:

The Mozilla Foundation has released version 1.0 of its Firefox browser, an open-source product that has generated lofty expectations that it will offer real competition to Microsoft’s ubiquitous Internet Explorer.

A preview release of the Firefox browser available since last month has been downloaded over eight million times, the Mozilla Foundation says in a press release this week.

Firefox 1.0 is available in 12 languages for Microsoft’s Windows, Apple Computer’s Mac OS X, and Linux. The product can be obtained through Mozilla’s Web site as a free download or in CD format with a user’s manual for $14.95.

The result of an open-source project, Firefox became a reality “thanks to the tireless efforts of hundreds of community volunteers and developers around the world,” the Mozilla Foundation says.

November 9th, 2004:

AOL revealed on Monday that it has begun a widespread restructuring into four distinct operating units, each with its own budget. In the wake of this reorganization, the company also has announced the departure of three high-level executives.

Psalm 7, 16

בּוֹר כָּרָה וַיַּחְפְּרֵהוּ וַיִּפֹּל בְּשַׁחַת יִפְעָל ׃

יָשׁוּב עֲמָלוֹ בְרֹאשׁוֹ וְעַל קָדְקֳדוֹ חֲמָסוֹ יֵרֵד ׃

אוֹדֶה יְהוָה כְּצִדְקוֹ וַאֲזַמְּרָה שֵׁם־יְהוָה עֶלְיוֹן ׃

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I can’t believe I did this

Well, it should at least increase my geek credibility

Mozilla shows 'Text language: Klingon' on a Klingon page

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Firefox 1.0

Reading some of the controversy surrounding recent feature-set decisions by the Firefox team, I can’t help wondering whether they are falling into the 80/20 fallacy.

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Resopmoc Allizom

It’s definitely good news that the standalone version of Mozilla Composer will have configurable toolbars, as seen on this screenshot.

It removes at a stroke all the excuses previously used by iso-8859-1-centric fanatics for not fixing the bug that there is no toolbar button to set the paragraph direction.

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Flattery will get you most places

I spent most of today debugging an issue that I knew nothing about this time yesterday, and now know a bit more about. I seem to have come up with an empirical solution, at least

Note to bug reporters: saying things like “a lot of effort regarding arabic support in mozilla especially the arabic/bidi
support which I can say THANK YOU.” is an excellent way to get your bugs prioritized.

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Ritual Mocking

Joel Spolsky has been reading Peter Trudelle and Matthew Thomas, and draws the conclusion that distributed open-source development doesn’t have the bandwidth to achieve results — a conclusion which Matthew himself doesn’t agree with.

I have noticed another characteristic of a project like Mozilla as opposed to a conventional development project within a company. To get a job in a company, you need to go through some kind of screening and interview process. Everybody uses this system because nobody has thought of a better one, but it has serious problems. Entry-level applicants face a classic Catch 22: they can’t get through the hiring process without experience, and they can’t get experience until somebody hires them. The system also favours people who know how to package themselves but aren’t actually very good, or aren’t particularly productive once they get hired.

In an open source project, on the other hand, the hiring process is replaced by a kind of ordeal by combat combined with ritual mocking. You get into the clique (and in my experience OSS is the most cliquey environment on the planet) by submitting patches and solving problems. If you can’t deliver the goods you just aren’t going to get in. Even if you can deliver the goods you had better be ready to be treated like an idiot before you become accepted as one of the guys.

The applicant with the glossy packaging doesn’t stand much chance here, which is one up for trial by combat, but where this model falls down and the interview process scores is that the interview process gives employers more chance to select people that they will be able to stand working with. Getting through an interview requires basic social skills. This makes open source projects the natural home of the folks who write really cool code but also happen to be total dorks.

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I love praise as much as anyone else, but I have to confess that
this
is a little bit over the top. Anyway, I hope it attracts a lot of new users to the Hebrew Mozilla site.

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I am having an ambivalent reaction to fixing a bug that has been resisting me for the last nine months.

Of course it’s immensely satisfying to have a result from the many hours that I’ve spent in the debugger chasing it down. Debugging is like a scientific research product (not that I’ve ever done one of those). As you acquire more data, a picture slowly emerges. Hypotheses suggest themselves, and are tested and rejected, or accepted and become the basis of another layer of hypotheses. The process that your bug is a small part of, which may be completely obscure and unfamiliar when you begin working, becomes intimately familiar to you. In extreme cases, you may even dream about it.

By the way, I have never had a Kekulé-like experience and fixed a bug in a dream, but more than once I have found a fix by taking a smoke break. During the debugging process, with my face deep in the details, I often fail to think things through and make deeper connections, but when I stop debugging, get out into the fresh air and think about something else for a few minutes, a solution will often just pop into my mind, seemingly out of nowhere.

You may be in doubt about the value of the possible solutions that you experiment with early in this process, but once you are totally “in the zone” and living and breathing the code, you have no doubts. If your fix is hacky, you feel low, even unclean (though you may accept it out of frustration), but if you discover the One True Fix ™, it will shine out of the screen at you like the Holy Grail. My wife says that she can tell when I have fixed a bug just from the tone of my voice when I pick up the phone, or by seeing the way I walk out of the office.

However, the fact is that last night I felt a bit let-down. Maybe it’s the lack of anything substantial produced by all this effort. In the amount of time invested in fixing this bug, I could probably have written a book, designed a cathedral, or produced a play. Instead of that, I have produced one line of code, and no special new or cool functionality that I can point to in the program. It just does what it should have done all along.

And maybe on some level I’m sorry to say goodbye to the bug that I’ve come to know so well. It’s like splitting up with a partner — even if you know that the relationship was wrong for you and you are better off apart, there is always some sensation of regret.

Or maybe there’s some significance to the nine months that this bug has existed. Could I be suffering from post-natal depression?

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