A reader named Lenny responded recently to aabout browser spell checkers to ask whether Internet Explorer 8 finally has a built-in spell checker. Unfortunately, the only way to get spell check and suggested corrections in IE 8 is by relying on the spell check built into the site you're visiting or by installing a third-party extension.
But even then, Firefox and Chrome out-spell-check IE in a landslide.
The earlier post compared Firefox's built-in spell-check feature with the spelling checker in the free IE7Pro extension for Internet Explorer. It seems IE7Pro is no longer being supported by its developer, but several other IE add-ons offer to check the text you enter into Web pages. Perhaps the most popular of these is ieSpell from Red Egg Software.
The place I need as-I-type spell checking the most is in Gmail. Unfortunately, ieSpell doesn't check your Gmail messages as you type the way Firefox and Google Chrome do, nor does it let you right-click a misspelling to see suggested substitutes. The ieSpell option the program adds to IE's right-click menu checks the entire document, starting at the top.
Not even the Bing Toolbar (formerly the MSN Toolbar) offers a spell-check option. The only way I found to check my e-mail messages as I typed in IE was to use Hotmail. And since I forward the messages sent to my Gmail account to Hotmail, that's not a problem. (Google provides instructions for forwarding mail to and from Gmail on the service's Help site.)
Google Toolbar's modest upgrade to the Firefox spell checker
To enable Firefox's spell-check option, click Tools, Options, Advanced and select "Check my spelling as I type" under Browsing. The Google Toolbar for Firefox adds three options, the first two of which are checked by default: ignore all caps, ignore words with numbers in them, and ignore unrecognized words that appear repeatedly.
Chrome extension adds more precise spelling and grammar checks
The spell checker in Google Chrome is on by default, and as far as I can tell, there's no easy way to disable it or adjust it. The new After the Deadline extension for Chrome not only highlights potential spelling and grammar errors, it also critiques your prose, hunting for passive voice, cliches, biased language, double negatives, jargon, and redundancies (I wonder if it also spots run-on sentences).
Multicolor lines appear under potential errors. Click the item to see suggested alternative spellings or the reason for the bad-grammar warning. The extension supports French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese in addition to English.
Sadly, After the Deadline doesn't work with Gmail. And while the AtD icon appears when composing a message in Hotmail, I wasn't able to run the spelling and grammar check in that webmail service, either. But when the extension works, it can be a shaky writer's best friend.
Two full-featured online spell checkers
Several sites offer to scan your text for spelling errors and suggest corrections on a paste-as-you-go basis. Two of the best of these are SpellChecker.net and Spelljax, although neither is as convenient as having your spelling checked on the fly.