Web Site Design and Browser Compatibility Policy

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Contents

Introduction

It is a design aim of this site to make it accessible to as many people as possible. You will therefore find it does not contain many of the gimmicks which fill so many pages on the web today. It is the purpose of this page to explain my policy on this in a little detail, in the hope that others may do likewise. There is a web site devoted to Campaign for a Non-Browser Specific WWW, where you can find even more reasons for this approach.

It is common on web sites today to find a statement along the lines of "Best viewed with..." followed by a button to click in order to download the latest offering from Microsoft. It has become even more common to find sites which are designed on the assumption that you are using the latest version of Microsoft browser, and don't even mention that the site doesn't work properly with alternatives. The reason is that the web site designer has made quite unnecessary use of non-standard extensions to HTML (the coding used to set up web pages), which are supported by the browser he recommends or assumes. This is an approach which excludes many users from the site, possibly including some of the very people it was set up to attract.

If you have trouble viewing any page on this site please let me know, and tell me what browser (name and version), what operating system you are using and what specific problems you experience (including which page or pages of this site cause the problem), so I can try to do something about it. Thanks.

Old Browsers

There are many people browsing the net with old browsers, such as early versions of Netscape Navigator, Mosaic, Lycos, etc. which will recognise only version 2 of the HTML standard, if that. The messages mentioned above are no doubt aimed specifically at them, but ignore the fact that such users are the most likely to be running old hardware, not only incapable of running the latest browser but also unable to manage the operating system needed by that browser. I have yet to see such a site also offer the facility of the free download of a new high-powered computer and operating system to go with the new browser! There are many people out there still using a 486, 386 or even 286 machine, and there are even 8088 PCs still in use.

Hardware

Some people have hardware (such as large business computers using non-Microsoft operating systems) incapable of running the standard browsers. There would be no point in their down-loading what is offered, because it would not work. Normally web-browsing is a very peripheral activity for the machine, so there is no chance of it being changed for that purpose. Because the market for browsers in these cases is small compared with PCs and Macintoshes, little development effort is available to keep them up with the latest Internet Explorer ideas. For those wishing to attract the business user, excluding such people is definitely self-defeating.

Download Speed

One of the most frustrating aspects of the WWW is the time that can be wasted waiting for a web page to download. There are many factors which affect this, including (if he doesn't have broadband access) the user's modem speed, the quality of his/her phone line connection, and in any case the load on the intermediate lines and servers through which the data passes on its journey from host to browser, and the combination of load and speed of the host itself.

Many of these are completely outside the control of both web page designer and user. The user may in theory have control over the speed of modem he uses, but in practice there may be nothing he can do about it, through budgetary limitations, the quality of phone line available or the fact that he is using someone else's equipment. The download time is, however, directly proportional to the total size in bytes of the page to be downloaded, including all the graphics, and this is totally under the control of the web page designer. It should therefore be the aim of every designer to minimise the total size of each page without compromising the quality of the real, meaningful content. One way of doing this is to keep to a mimimum the number and size of image files used and to avoid cluttering the HTML code with unnecessary tags.

Many users, in order to speed up the download time, deliberately switch off the downloading of all images. Good design, therefore, ensures that no meaning is lost if the images are omitted from the page (obviously the scope for this is limited on pages which exist in order to display images). Standard HTML provides for alternative text to be displayed in place of images, and this should always be used effectively. Large images should always be offered as a clickable link rather than being incorporated directly in ther page for this same reason - a small thumbnail image forms an ideal link. This is also one of two reasons for avoiding entirely the use of background images.

Disabled Users

Some users, because of physical disabilities, have to use special hardware and software in order to use the web, or any aspect of computing, at all. Facilities are available to enable blind persons to surf the web, the special browser converting all text on a page to audible speech. Such browsers have some quite definite limitations, which web page designers should keep in mind.

One example is the common replacement of normal text by small graphic representations of it. A blind surfer will be completely unaware of its presence on the page, unless the same text is included as the alternative, as mentioned above. Another, perhaps less obvious, problem, is that such browsers are incapable of recognising frames, and become totally confused by them. They should therefore always be avoided, or a non-frames alternative provided.

Some people with particular vision problems or some forms of dyslexia find background images and even background colours make the text unreadable, so they should always be avoided.

Functions Avoided on This Site

Except on a few pages designed specifially to show photos, where graphics are used, they are included merely to decorate, or to illustrate points also explained in words, so as not to exclude those users who cannot, or for reasons of download speed choose not, to see images. You will also find little use of Javascript, no Java applets, no Flash animations, no background music, very few tables and no frames. This should mean that even totally blind users with the right specialist equipment can access these pages without missing anything vital. I hope nevertheless that you find your visit to this site both enjoyable and informative.

As an aid to easy navigation within this site you will find a standard set of links to the main pages at the bottom of each page, and a list of page contents, linked to each item, near the top.

Final Note

I have received occasional messages in the past from helpful visitors to the site who have read my previous, shorter, note on this topic and kindly recommended various on-line facilities for checking web pages for browser compatibility. I thank them for their helpfulness, but assure you that I am now aware of these facilities.


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