Web and CSS

This section is part of something like a blog. To contact me or comment on this, see my email page.

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Uses and abuses of frames: daily news

I believe there are very few occasions where using frames is appropriate. One is for a reference manual or dictionary, where having a table of contents in a side bar can be useful. You can almost do the same with CSS now, but frames are still more useable in most browsers (unless you do something really dumb, such as making a long text list unresizeable).

Another is where you want to display many documents alongside each other. Every day, I check the same web sites for news. I tried having a "Daily Sites" folder in my bookmarks and using iceweasel's "Open in Tabs" feature, but that only works if I'm using my own browser and anyway: browser tabs suck because they put user interface controls in no-man's-land, half way down the window, and the titles quickly get too small to read.

So, I posted this page of news site frames which will probably stress-test your browser and network too. I use it with images and scripts switched off. I strongly suggest that you maximise your browser window first. To start with, in approximate order of display, the grid contained tv listings for Slovenia, England, France and Germany; football news; blogs from indymedia, debian and alug; software news, slashdot, newsnow, dilbert and sinfest. Happy reading. If you post your news mix, I'd be interested to see it. Email me.


Interesting times in CSS

We've barely got CSS 2 support in many browsers and we're on the road to CSS 3.

The W3C have released a Selectors paper, which describes ways of addressing parts of xhtml available in CSS 1 and 2, as well as those suggested for 3.

There's also a first public working draft of CSS 3's Advanced Layout Module, which will add a grid layout model to the current absolute and flow models and proposed cascade and multi-column ones. Also in the cool features proposed is the ability to specify % and size combinations.

For more, see the W3C CSS Homepage.


Comments elsewhere

  1. By me:
  2. By others:

Flash! Aaah-aaah! He'll destroy every one of us!

Apologies for the lame misquote of the Queen song, but I just couldn't resist it... (Steve commented: "Great film, and great song! I'm going to go find my soundtrack album now!" and Luis Villa added: "Anyone who likes that particular Queen owes it to themselves to check out the Kleptones Night at the Hip-Hopera, which I think I'm now going to run off and play myself." )

Flash is a bit of a problem for me in two ways:

  1. Free software players don't handle very much of it;
  2. Most Flash file authors make inaccessible rubbish;

It's not really surprising that free software players don't handle much of it, because Macromedia/Adobe have dragged their feet about open support for the format. That makes it a frustrating and difficult reverse-engineering task and most people who are good at reverse-engineering seem to concentrate on hardware drivers so far, which is A Good Thing in my opinion.

On 7 November, Alex Hudson reported that Adobe make Flash scripting Free Software with Mozilla Foundation [FSFE Discussion via GMANE] - will this improve things?

Ross Burton commented:

"The Adobe donation to Mozilla is just an EcmaScript 4 VM, which is a common language used by JavaScript, VBScript and whatever the Flash scripting language is called."


Reduce Your Loading Times and Sell More

One of the benefits of following the various web standards and guidelines is that most browsers will show something on the screen before the page has finished loading. Avoiding unnecessary rubbish in your html and optimising graphic files can make it look like your site loads faster.

This may be getting more important as networks get busier and more sites place more demands on computers. Web users may be finally getting fed up. Today's news reports: "Shoppers are likely to abandon a website if it takes longer than four seconds to load, a survey suggests" (from Websites face four-second cut-off [BBC], Akamai/Jupiter Research full report).


Accessibility

Web 2.0 vs Accessibility?

Is Web 2.0 going to be a big problem for accessibility? At the moment, it looks like it. A lot of the web 2.0 stuff seems to be AJAX and the J stands for Javascript. Javascript is inherently insecure on many levels, so there are a lot of browsers with it disabled and yet more that do not even support it at all.

In the past, I've called O'Reilly's attitude to Web 2.0 as more snake oil from "open source" fanatics. Free software is based on solid pragmatism: the freedom to fix what you use (or hire someone to fix it, in a free market) to do what you need. That's the freedom that we need on the web too, but O'Reilly isn't involved: it's being left to a suprising alliance of the W3C, free culture groups and independent commercial vendors. Academies, civil society and companies: will it end in tears or will it work?

Ajax is devolution [vitavonni] is a good argument based on the pain of writing Javascript and the drawbacks of running complex Javascript on most browsers, but says nothing about the accessibility problems.

Bad Accessibility Loses Sales

Argos are a total pain. Their web site is unnecessarily complicated. If you want to do the basic action of buying something then you need to have a browser with all the trimmings and relaxed security, but even then, you might not be able to find what you want where you want to buy it. When will people wake up to the fact that Sometimes amateurish websites just put you off entirely... [Digital-Scurf Ramblings]

Odeon seem to have finally got its act together - I don't agree with their priorities, as the extra investment in the web site seems to have been balanced by reducing newspaper advertising, but I can finally find film information with any browser I've tried so far. Does that leave Argos as Britain's Biggest Bad Online Retailer?

The Poor Standing of Web Accessibility

A University of Southampton study might say that 60% of UK Government sites contain errors (from BBC News, looks like possible reporter confusion between WCAG and HTML). The British Standards Institute published PAS 78 for institutions with public-facing web sites to help make them properly accessible (from BBC News) and it costs GBP 30. Usability Exchange tests web sites with real disabled users for GBP 199-599 (from BBC News). It seems like accessibility, which should be everywhere, is suddenly being seen as a premium service by some developers. What will be the impact of this?

'Most websites' failing disabled [BBC NEWS] reports that a survey found that an amazing 97% of websites are inaccessible, 78% used colours with poor contrast (a frequent complaint of mine because my eyesight isn't normal) and 73% relied on JavaScript for important functionality (among other things). What is really depressing is that the survey was commissioned for the International Day of Disabled People and the page linked for the IDDP itself uses colours with poor contrast (if you've not noticed, try setting your browser to white text on black by default) and relies on JavaScript for navigation: ARGH!

Someone please fetch the pitchfork - I want to correct that webmaster with it. For now, I've sent an email instead.


Uses and abuses of cookies

If you design your website so that it requires cookies, you ought to be punched [...] If you implement redirect chains [...] you ought to be kicked and battered, especially if those are implemented with meta refresh instead of HTTP redirect.

- Madduck's pet peeves

I agree entirely. If you want to save data to my computer, ask me beforehand, else it will be refused. Particularly annoying are people using off-the-shelf applications which do the right thing and don't require cookies (OSCommerce, for example), but their idiot web developers have hacked it into requiring cookies by not thinking through the possibilities and ignoring library routines.

Paul asked:

"Are cookies really that bad? Why are there loads of "cookie policies"? Whatever the cookie stores can usually be stored by the server anyway if the website owners are that desperate or the use of sessions phpid not cookies."

Cookies are that bad - if the developer stores data on the server, they have to do their own housekeeping or suffer the consequences. It's their problem. If the developer craps into my browser's cookie jar, it's my problem. You should have seen some of the rubbish in there before I changed my settings.

Comments are moderated (damn spammers) but almost anything sensible gets approved (albeit eventually). If you give a web address, I'll link it. I won't publish your email address unless you ask me to, but I'll email you a link when the comment is posted, or the reason why it's not posted.

This is copyright 2006 MJ Ray. See fuller notice on front page.