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Browsing Browsers January 21, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.

iemoznetsffopera  It used to be the case that I could not use the word “browser? because I would immediately have to explain that I meant Internet Explorer or Netscape. Now I am fairly confident that when I talk about browsers people understand what I mean. Recently there have been a few misunderstandings about the nature of browsers and what the policies of the Instructional Technology Facility are in their regard.

We are an institution that is primarily PC based and, for the most part, we run the Windows XP operating system. We also allow Windows 98 because it is a decent and stable platform but we only allow it to run on old machines. We studiously avoid supporting Windows ME and make faces when we encounter Windows 2000.

One fact about the Windows operating system that many people do not realize is that Internet Explorer (IE) is NOT optional software.  You cannot remove it. One fact about IE is that is does not always display websites properly. Last week, our College e-News newsletter  was released. On clicking to the newsletter I was started to see that it was significantly wider than usual. I opened Netscape and saw the same odd widening. It appeared that several photos were forcing the page to overextend.

I opened the same page in Mozilla, the engine behind Netscape, and saw the same thing. I tried one other browser, FireFox, also from Mozilla, and it worked brilliantly displaying the page as it was intended to be seen.

A flurry of e-mail messages later, the editor of the e-newsletter had the site quickly repaired. There was a lesson in that interaction that we should always preview our websites in a variety of browsers. Several years ago there was a service that would e-mail you screen shots of your websites as displayed in dozens of different browsers and versions of browsers. For the most part browsers are becoming more understanding and forgiving of sloppy web page construction. The real issues come when you try using third party applications, such as Adobe Acrobat, to read forms or enter information into them. Many people do not realize that the two are separate entities. The browser from one company is displaying and using the tool from another company.

The bottom line is that it is always helpful to have another browser on your computer as a backup. We generally prefer the second browser to be Mozilla as it is a stable format, small in size, and not obtrusive in its use of multiple add-on software tools. Mozilla has evolved recently to become FireFox but most people in our building still have Mozilla on their machines. Its cousin, Netscape, has so many add-ons that I do not recommend it unless you know how to do a customized installation. Try Firefox if you want an alternate browser for your machine or, if you really want to stand out, try Opera.



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