Web browsers: test, test, and test again...

  Taran 14:17 06 Feb 2005

I recoded one of my own sites recently, using XHTML 1.0 Transitional and CSS - mainly CSS1 but with a few tweaks using CSS2 specification hacks.

The URL is irrelevant to this discussion.

All pages and code were successfully validated at the first attempt and suffice to say that I tested my pages in Firefox, NetScape, Opera and Internet Explorer 6 on Windows XP Professional, Explorer 5.1, Mozilla 1.6, NetScape 7, Safari 1.2 and Opera 6 on the Apple Mac and all was well, so I almost stopped.

A nagging doubt about one of the image float techniques I had used in the CSS file made me check the site on one of my Linux machines.

Konqueror 3.0.5 on both Red Hat and SuSE Linux displays everything beautifully, apart from that suspect image float. The image ends up scuttling off the to right of the screen up against the edge of the browser scrollbar and completely kills the overall layout I was chasing.

Just for laughs I ran the site through NetScape 4.78 and nearly threw a fit. I know NetScape 4x is absolutely lousy at CSS interpretation, but I didn't expect to see my page elements displayed as though a child had been let loose with some scissors and glue and had reassembled my site in jigsaw puzzle fashion, getting all the bits mixed up in the process.

Now, as some of you will have realised, I've done one or two sites in the past, but this does go to demonstrate the importance of cross browser testing.

On some other sites I have seen the browser is so confused by convoluted code that all hell breaks loose and the site is, quite simply, not worth looking at. Some people also fall into the screen resolution trap. I had to repair a site I inherited from another designer recently where they had put a fixed width image over the top of each page for the banner. No real issues, apart from the fact that it was fixed at over 1200 pixels wide. Obviously the designer was working on a very large monitor and had forgotten to take this into account. Mistakes can happen, but try to go for damage limitation from the outset.

Mine was a minor problem and was easily fixed. Had I taken less care I could have ended up with something that looked lovely in IE on Windows but that fell to bits on almost anything else.

The numbers of alternative browser/platform users are growing steadily. Alienating them means potentially lost sales if your site represents goods or services.

It's worth taking the time to be thorough on this and while I realise that some may not even have heard of the alternatives to IE they do exist and their users are growing at a ferocious rate.

I ran some experiments recently for one of the college courses I was teaching and found that in many cases the best accessibility layouts I could achieve were by using very careful HTML 4.01 combined with CSS1 and some CSS2. Browser support for XHTML is nowhere near as good as it is for HTML 4.01 and CSS2 is also some way behind CSS1 as far as most browsers go. Severe testing on all platforms produced some interesting results - the HTML 4.01/CSS pages were all far more dependable in display terms on all platforms and browsers than the XHTML layouts were.

This strikes me as very similar to the computer hardware conundrum - if you stay a few steps behind the very latest technology you usually get a more mature and better supported platform. The same can be said for web authoring.

Just keep in mind that the simplest looking site could fall apart in another browser or on another computer platform than the one you happen to be developing it on.

Installing multiple browsers is fairly easy and taking the time to use them could save you from making some embarrassing (at best) mistakes or financially costly (at worst) errors.

Getting things right is far harder sometimes than getting them wrong. You have been warned...


  Taran 15:04 06 Feb 2005

Yes, the NetScape 4.7 trip was just to see what would happen. I really didn't think things would be quite as bad as they turned out, but I expected pretty awful from the outset and I wasn't disappointed ;o)

This all came to light recently when I inherited a few sites with glaring issues. Abuse of the capabilities of various WYSIWYG editors to produce something visually impressive in IE had resulted in something that looked shocking in some other browsers.

I realise that IE has the majority market share, but it seems ludicrous to deliberately ostracise other browser users when in most cases it is not necessary to do so.

If anyone wants a humbling experince, try running your shiny new site through NetScape 4x and see what happens.

Be afraid.

Be very, very afraid.

And then be thankful that pretty much nobody uses it any more.

  PurplePenny 20:20 06 Feb 2005

When I did the library ILL pages there were still a lot of people still using Netscape 4.7 in our university library system; even on XP machines! Some were still stuck with the old Win 95 PCs that it had been on all along, some said that it was what they were used to, some had no idea that there was anything else.

Oh ... and you are quite right - the pages looked horrendous in Netscape 4 :-(

fourm member - I like the B&W TV analogy. I shall try to remember it.

(I've just realised that some of the staff who now refuse to be parted from NS 4.7 were probably amongst those who didn't want to give up Mosaic in favour of the upstart Netscape in the first place!)

  Taran 02:09 08 Feb 2005

I recently had occasion to visit a very large manufacturing company. Imagine well over 5000 employees at one plant and you should get the idea of the scale I'm talking about.

I was working on their mainframe at the time, but all client PCs on their network with the exception of about twenty systems in one wing were running Windows 95 and a mix of Internet Explorer 4x and NetScape 4.7 on a 10mbps network.

I nearly had a fit.

In the few weeks since that visit they have upgraded to new Dell machines featuring Windows XP Pro and IE6 on 100mbps LAN, and most of the staff are balking at the 'new fangled' interface, apart from those who run an up to date home computer.

Change can be very painful for some people and often all rationality goes flying out of the window when new software is suggested.

Having seen more web sites die a horrible death in NetScape 4x I am utterly amazed that anyone would deliberately choose to use it.

Oddly, the company I mention above had serious issues where staff using NetScape 4.7 could only access certain parts of their intranet. God help us all...

The world is indeed a very strange place, often full of very strange people with an even stranger rationale behind browser choice.

  Taran 10:52 10 Feb 2005

Ticking resolved, just to keep things tidy.

  Talented Monkey 14:42 10 Feb 2005

AS an after thought,for when you do not have several pcs with differnt o/s and broswers at hand to test compatability browser cam click here is pretty neat. Although tad expensive for some, such as hobbyist, it is a useful tool for more serious folks.

  PurplePenny 20:01 11 Feb 2005

Sorry fourm member - you've lost me there. I've just had a look at several W3C pages in Firefox, Opera and IE and I'm struck by the fact that they are almost identical.

There is a small difference on the home page: IE doesn't put a border around the side columns and Opera and Firefox do.

By "all the links are underlined" do you mean the additional underline under the abbreviations? It's there in Opera too but (IIRC) it is as a dotted line which you can't see when it is part of a link underline. It's supposed to be there. As it is an accessibilty feature the W3C could hardly dispense with it just to make the page display the same in all browsers.

  PurplePenny 00:23 12 Feb 2005

I'm seeing all the links underlined in IE too.

If you hover over the abbreviations and acronyms in the list IE shows tooltips for some but not others don't whereas in Opera in and Firefox they all show tooltips. I've just checked the source code and the ones that don't show are <abbr> tags (the ones that do show are <acronym> tags) so I assume that IE doesn't support the abbr tag as yet. I don't know why it doesn't inderline them. I suppose that it is just a different interpretation of the rules. Maybe the underline isn't specified in the standard.

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