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Browser Proofing II February 10, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.

shock   I spoke too soon. Not two hours after I rushed the last blog entry to publication, I received an e-mail from Student Services. A project I had been working on with them was almost ready to go live on the web. The manager of Student Services decided to try the web page in Netscape and it was an awful mess.

How had I missed it? I have been making web pages since we had to hard code them using Notepad and other simple word processors. The problem, it seems, was something I had been willing to overlook for a long time: ugly coding.

People had been telling me for ages that programs like FrontPage messed web pages up. I still think that is flat out wrong. What happens is that people who do not know how to check the HTML behind the pages allow FrontPage to make a mess of things. The cause of the mess is usually quite straightforward too, if you know where to look and if you realize that Microsoft’s crime is that it tries too hard to be helpful.

What happened in my case was that I had copied over my web pages, in a rush, from an earlier PowerPoint slide show. Squirreled away inside the nicely formed tables and well chosen fonts were strings of code. Microsoft designed these codes to work brilliantly inside other Microsoft products like Internet Explorer. What I thought was a simple table now had commands designed to interact with fonts, colors, alignment, and other stylistic elements.

Web pages are still just a fancy and creative work around inside a system never created to be particularly fancy. In the early days of HTML, you could create a table using some simple commands. These tables became clay at the hands of creative designers who sought to bend the pixels of the web pages they were creating. They could use tables to force images and text into places it was not naturally inclined. Even though FrontPage and DreamWeaver and the others are WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editors, they can perform elegantly simply because of how much they can hide under the surface and away from the eye.

That complexity burned up an evening in front of the laptop as I repaired my web site project. I reviewed it in at least three browsers and grumbled throughout the evening. But I had nobody to blame but myself for the problem. Of course, being a little short of time did not help much either.



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