WPDFD Issue #26 - May 01, 2000
Although there are a number of other browser programs available, Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape dominate the market Making sure that your design works satisfactorily in all the current versions of these browsers is the very least you can do! With all the browser software producers trying to outdo one another in terms of features and functionality, it is not surprising that deviations from the 'standard' HTML, if indeed such a thing exists, are rife.
In the last month, two new browsers have appeared - three, if you count the Windows and Mac versions of Netscape 6. The other one, of course, is Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 for Mac. The introduction of these browsers is very significant as far as designers are concerned. It's as if somebody had pulled the rug out from under your feet. Let me explain ... Sitting in a back room somewhere is a group of people called the W3C - World Wide Web Consortium.
As you probably know, font sizes on Macs and PCs are different. With the new versions of Explorer and Netscape, the same font spec on a Web page will make the type appear approximately the same size on both platforms in both browsers. If you ignore the concept of `point sizes' - which is different on Macs and PCs and only confuses the matter - it is good that they are now standardised. In the short term though, it is going to cause even more of a headache because you can no longer be certain that type on a Mac is going to be one size and on a PC, another - not that you ever could!
Another problem with these new browsers is that they can be less forgiving of errors or ambiguities in source code. In an attempt to make them work faster and keep the application file size down to sensible levels, something has to be left out and one of those things is the ability to handle buggy old HTML code. Version 4 browsers may not accept all the HTML that you throw at them, but at least they usually let you down gently.
The syntax checking Web sites reviewed here can all be pointed to any Web page that have a HTTP address, so they must have been uploded to the server already. Although they all carry out what is essentially the same task, they do it in slightly different ways and have useful additional features. I'm not going to even try to score them, as I usually do in product reviews, they are too different for such direct comparison.
The World Wide Web Consortium sets the standards for mark-up languages like HTML, so their validation site can be considered to be the ultimate authority when it comes to syntactical correctness. It will check HTML right up to the latest version, and XHTML too. It will also check your Cascading Style Sheets for correctness, but from another starting page . You have various options if you want to use them - to show the source code of your page, an outline of your document and the parse tree - the detailed, logical structure of the code.
This site takes a completely different approach. It is examining your page for accessibility by people with disabilities (such as total or partial blindness), as well as browser compatibility. 'Bobby', in case you don't know, is a term for an English policeman and this site uses a bobby's helmet as an icon superimposed on a reproduction of your page everywhere that it finds something to complain about.
Oh no, not another police reference! Never mind, Dr. Watson checks your HTML against, lax, normal and strict criteria and allows you to include Netscape 4 and Explorer 4 specifics - or at least, lets you find out what will not work in a particular browser so that you can avoid it. It also goes a couple of steps further in verifying your links, both for external HREFs and images. It will generate a word count, spell check non-HTML text and give you an estimate of download times.