Web Page Razzmatazz

by Joe Gillespie — May 1, 2000

Get Netscape

Get MsIE

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.

Both Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape have unique features that are not supported by the other one. Even different version numbers of the same browser or the same version on different platforms - PC, Mac , UNIX - will render a page differently.

The risk for the designer is the folly of creating web pages for one particular browser, dismissing the others with the wave of a hand, or even designing for a specific version of that browser.

A true professional will make sure that the pages he, or she, designs work in a wide variety of browsers, computer types and monitor colour depths and resolutions. It may even be necessary to create separate versions and use a JavaScript 'browser detect' routine to take the surfer to an appropriate page.

You will sometimes see 'Best viewed with NetScape' or 'Free Download Microsoft Internet Explorer' buttons on Web sites. This is usually because the designer can't be bothered, or doesn't know how, to make the page viewable on all browsers and, along with visible 'hit' counters, is a sure sign of amateurism.

Browser versions across platforms are often out of step with one another, which is another constant source of frustration for designers.

If you are working in a controlled 'intranet' environment, you can do more or less what you like - you can safely predict what your readers are going to see. On the general internet, you have little idea of what hardware and software is being used. Depending on your expected audience, you can either try to satisfy the majority of readers by keeping up with Web usage statistics such as published monthly at thecounter.com, or you can dumb-down your pages and go for the lowest common denominator.

I haven't met very many clients who are prepared to restrict their site's readership, and potential customer base, for the sake of using the lastest browser gimmick.

Forget the fancy footwork, go for the knockout punch!

Walkie-talkies are a great means of communication provided that there is one at each end!

Macromedia's Flash is the most popular of all plug-ins and providing vector animation and streaming audio.

Real Audio Button

RealAudio streams digital audio over the Net in real time. Use it for listening to Net-based radio stations

Get Shockwave

There are versions of ShockWave from Macromedia to browse files created with FreeHand, AuthorWare, Director and Flash.

QuickTime Button

QuickTime is becoming the cross-platform standard for digital video, virtual reality and video conferencing.

Java Button

Sun's Java is destined to become the programming environment of choice for web-centric applications

I said a little about browser plug-ins earlier. Plug-ins extend the functionality of a web browser to provide increased functionality and the display of proprietary file formats.

Popular ones include Flash and ShockWave from MacroMedia, QuickTime from Apple and Real Audio which gives a low-bandwidth, real-time facility for playing sound files.

If the user has the right browser software, a suitable machine and a good throughput from their modem, these plug-in can become useful and enjoyable adjuncts to web browsing.

The decision to introduce browser specific or plug-in dependant elements into your web pages should not be taken lightly. You should have a clear objective and target audience in mind. It is a shame if you lose readers because you have included some frivolous 'eye candy' that requires a plug-in that they don't have and are not prepared to download it.

If, having considered the implications of restricting your audience and deciding that it is appropriate for your particular message, you should then warn readers in advance and provide them with an alternative low bandwidth version. (Of course, this takes more time and costs more money.)

They can then make the decision to keep clear, download the appropriate version of the browser or plug-in, or proceed because they already have it.

This is just plain, good manners and will help minimise frustration, wasting time, bandwidth and maybe a teensy bit of our planet's resources.

DON'T MAKE ANY ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT YOUR READERS' BROWSERS NO MATTER WHAT ANYBODY MIGHT TELL YOU!

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