It Used to Suck to be a Web Browser’s Search Function

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Yeah, the title is a dupe, but it’s been kind of a long day and I can’t think of anything more clever. I’ve just noticed the best Web browser seach functionality ever, though, so I have to post this, with or without clever bits.

So have you installed the latest release of Firefox? Have you then tried to search for content on a Web page using the new Firefox release? No? Well, that’s really too bad, because your browser’s search tool still sucks. My browser’s search, on the other hand, finally works right.

When you select “find” in the latest release of Firefox, you don’t get a stupid window appearing in the middle of your browser window and covering up whatever section of the page you happen to be interested in. Instead you get a sleek new bar at the bottom of the browser window with four elements in it: an input box, “find next” and “find previous” buttons, and a “highlight” button.

These simple elements allow you to search for a word or string, choose whether or not to highlight all occurrences in the window, and move backwards or forwards through the document to find the occurrence that you’re looking for. It finds (and highlights, if you so choose) matches as you type, and it also tells you immediately if the search term wasn’t found.

Why is this better? Fucking finally, somebody realized that searching the contents of a document shouldn’t take focus away from the document itself. In any case where you’re searching a document, that search is a tool — a way to interact with the information in the document, not an end in itself.

For all the hooplah regarding “integrating search into the desktop” and such buzzword-related, VC-friendly soundbites, this is the first time that I’ve seen plain old boring search made more useful on the desktop. Somebody got pissed off with having to constantly open, move, and close that damn window and created a search tool that fits better with the way people use a Web browser.

For all the focus on search right now…or perhaps because of the focus on search…there’s a bit of a tendancy to focus on Search with a capital S, forgetting that we’re focusing on search because it’s useful. Search is already there in most of the applications that we all use — all day, every day — and it probably isn’t done the best possible way in any of those applications.

It would make me happy if software companies would think hard about whether search is implemented well in the apps that I use constantly, and only then worry about giving me an ultrafast way to search my entire hard drive.