Minh’s Notes

Human-readable chicken scratch

Minh Nguyễn
July 5th, 2008


AVIM for Firefox

Vietnamese computing is a very fragmented experience. Not only are there several character encodings for Vietnamese, but Vietnamese computer users must also choose between several popular input methods. As you’ll recall from November, an input method is a procedure for typing in a complex, often non-alphabetic writing system. An input method editor (IME) is software that intercepts your keystrokes and translates them into more complex characters, such as Chinese characters, on the fly. Today’s major operating systems provide IME for most complex writing systems, notably Chinese and Japanese.

Vietnamese is alphabetic, unlike Chinese, but because of its large set of letter–diacritical mark combinations, it’s impractical to simply assign each key to a letter or accented letter, as with French or Spanish. Making matters worse, operating systems have historically provided poor support for Vietnamese input. Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X (until 10.5 Leopard) don’t include an IME for Vietnamese, so each Vietnamese-language website is expected to embed one using JavaScript. Webpages, ordinarily the least powerful of computing technologies, thus end up implementing one of the operating system’s core responsibilities: text input. Predictably, there are at least a dozen such IMEs, and each site uses a different one.

It’s a situation no one likes, but it’s not easy to convince operating system vendors to ship good support for Vietnamese, since the market for it is still relatively small. As a stop-gap solution, three of these IME’s authors have released Firefox extensions that provide Vietnamese typing support on any webpage within the browser. Since the Web browser is pretty much the application that users keep open all day, it’s not an entirely bad solution.

Back in November, I released a keyboard layout for Vietnamese, to improve the Vietnamese typing situation on the Mac. Although the keyboard layout provided support for every application on the system, it was far from ideal, because very few Vietnamese speakers use Mac OS X. Now I finally have a way to show non-Mac users some input method love too.

In 2006, I made a number of modifications to one of the IME extensions, Hiếu Đặng’s AVIM extension. However, because the original extension was a kludge and I didn’t yet consider my version to be of release quality, I hung onto the modifications for nearly two years. Recently, I briefly encountered a curious phenomenon known as free time and began shaping AVIM into a much more presentable extension.

AVIM for Firefox

Since it was introduced to the Vietnamese Wikipedia in 2005, AVIM has turned a very poor editing experience into a pleasant one. My productivity at the site increased dramatically, as I could begin to write and edit articles from directly within the site, rather than copy-pasting my composed text from another program. I hope that this extension will give you the same dramatic increase in productivity, no matter what site you frequent.


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  1. AVIM, my Firefox extension, is now compatible with Thunderbird as well. Plus: Help wanted.

  2. AVIM, phần mở rộng Firefox do tôi viết, hiện cũng tương tích với Thunderbird. Hơn nữa: Đang kiếm người giúp đỡ.

  3. Updated: A keyboard layout for typing fully-accented Vietnamese into any Mac application: you strike multiple keys, one letter comes out. Not the best way to avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but you just try talking to someone without any...

  4. A well-read op-ed in this week’s Wikipedia Signpost lists off a number of well-known Wikipedia hoaxes over the years. One of these, about a supposed mayor of China, persisted on the site for years and became fodder for a Harvard...

  5. The author of several Firefox add-ons has turned some of them into spyware designed to steal passwords from unsuspecting users.


  1. Congratulations! for having realized the mission of Microsoft: To enable people and businesses (read: Vietnamese typers) throughout the world to realize their full potential.

  2. Hi Minh,

    Thru Googling http://google.com/search?num=100&q=what+program+application+translate+all+my+google+search+pages+into+vietnamese , I hope you can help me and here it is:

    Sum1 willed me this computer and as that Google search link above can clue you in that I'm trying to figure out what I have to do so my Google searches don't get translated...so do u have any idea what might be installed on said computer???

    I thought it was VPSKEYS 4.1a but turned out not to be the case...so I have no more lead cuz I don't see anymore "foreign" progs in Add/Remove

    Thanks either way!

    P.S. I tried to look for a contact link for u but couldn't see it so that's why I'm "commenting" instead...hope u r not "too" pissed (but please just post your help/answer/comment here and I'll recheck back...THANKS!!)

  3. Hi Minh,

    Just wanted to drop by and tell you I like your blog =). Keep it up.

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