How to Design for Different Browsers | 3 | WebReference

How to Design for Different Browsers | 3

How to Design for Different Browsers

Web Developer Extension for Firefox

Web developers are raving about the Web Developer extension for Firefox created by Chris Pederick. The extension adds a toolbar to the browser with tools that enable you to analyze and manipulate any page in the window. For example, you can edit the style sheet for the page you are viewing or apply your own. You can get information about the HTML and graphics on the page. It also allows you to validate the CSS, HTML, and accessibility of a web page.

Download the Web Developer extension at chrispederick.com/work/firefox/webdeveloper/.

For a complete list of Firefox extensions, including others for web developers, go to https://addons.update.mozilla.org/extensions/?application=firefox/.

Opera is a lean and mean browser created by Opera Software in Oslo, Norway. Opera is respected for its exact compliance with HTML and CSS standards, extremely quick download times, and a small minimum disk requirement. It is free if you don't mind ad banners as part of the interface. To register the browser and get rid of the ads, the price is $29. The general public is not likely to flock to Opera, and it never so much as blips in the browser statistic charts; however, many developers continue to test their sites in Opera to make sure their code is clean. The Opera browser is also an important player in the handheld device market.

For more information about Opera, see www.opera.com.

Safari is the browser that comes with Mac OS X. It uses the KHTML rendering engine originally developed for the Konqueror desktop environment. It is very fast and offers fairly solid support of standards, although it does have its own bugs.

For more information and downloads, go to www.apple.com/safari/.

Beginning with Windows AOL 3.0 (32 bit), the AOL client does not have a browser embedded, but instead uses the Internet Explorer browser users already have installed in their systems. Therefore, browser compatibility is mostly independent of a user's specific AOL version. The scant 1 to 2% of AOL subscribers with Macintoshes use an AOL browser that is built on Gecko.

As of this writing, approximately 97% of AOL users view the Web on Windows machines using Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher. Unfortunately, Internet Explorer's functionality is limited somewhat when used in conjunction with the AOL client. This is due to the way the specific AOL clients interact with the browser and AOL's reliance on proxy servers and image compression techniques.

AOL publishes a site specifically for web developers who want their sites to be accessible and attractive to AOL users. AOL's web developer site can be found at webmaster.info.aol.com.

Lynx is the best-known text-only browser. It has been around since the beginning of the Web and has been updated to include support for tables, forms, and even JavaScript. Lynx is useful to developers for testing a site's basic functionality in a non-graphical environment. This is important to ensure accessibility for visitors with disabilities who may be using Lynx with a speech or Braille device.

Lynx is not kept current for all platforms, so you may find only a beta or out-of-date version. Another alternative is to view your page in a Lynx emulator online at www.delorie.com/web/lynxview.html.

The Extremely Lynx page (www.subir.com/lynx.html) is a good starting point for finding developer information for Lynx.

Tip

An excellent resource for tracking browser releases and history is Browser News (www.upsdell.com/browsernews/).

Web developers pay attention to the breakdown of browser usage, for the Web at large and more relevantly for their specific sites, because it directly affects the way they create their pages. There are several methods for tracking browser usage: free general statistics listings, log analysis tools that you run on your own server, and professional statistics services.

If you are interested in a general breakdown of overall browser usage, there are a number of web sites that provide listings for free. They also offer usage statistics on other useful criteria such as screen resolution and various web technologies.

The Counter (www.thecounter.com/stats) bases its global statistics on millions of visitors using thousands of web sites registered with their service. This is an easy (and free) way to get a good general overview of browser usage.

Another useful resource for browser information, as well as for tutorials on a number of web topics, is the W3 Schools site (www.w3schools.com/browsers). Their statistics seem skewed toward the development and technically savvy community, as evidenced by the fact that the Firefox browser makes up nearly 20% of all usage, compared with only 8% at the more general Counter.com as of this writing (September 2005).

The most meaningful statistics are those culled from your own site's usage. There are software tools designed just for this purpose, all of which work basically the same way.

When a browser accesses files from a server, it leaves a record of that transaction on the server, including a little data about itself: specifically, its version and the platform it is running on. This information is known as the user agent string , and it is used by analysis software to generate statistics about the browser usage for a site. A typical user agent string might look like this:

Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.5; Windows 98)

There are dozens of log analysis tools available at a wide variety of costs. Many hosting companies include some level of server statistics as part of their hosting packages. You may also install special statistics software for better reporting. A web search for "web statistics analysis" will turn up many companies offering statistics analysis.

Another option is to sign up with a service such as The Counter (mentioned earlier) that puts a counter on your web page and provides usage stats in exchange for ad placement on your page.

The Mozilla Legacy

Today, we know Mozilla as the foundation that guides the development of the open source Mozilla software. So it may be confusing to see Mozilla at the beginning of a user agent string for Internet Explorer, as shown in the earlier example.

The Mozilla identifier at the beginning of a typical user agent string is an interesting artifact from the earliest days of the Browser Wars . Netscape first released its browser under the codename Mozilla (a shorthand combination of Mosaic killer and Godzilla). Mozilla, for its time, was a fairly turbo-powered browser, so webmasters began targeting their content to it specifically.

When competing browsers (most significantly, Microsoft Internet Explorer) began featuring similar capabilities, they didn't want to be left out of the targeting action, so they put the word "Mozilla" in their user agent identification as well. Eventually, everyone was doing it, so the only way to truly identify the browser version was to include it in parentheses (such as MSIE 5.5 in the previous example).

The name Mozilla stuck with the Netscape browser through its glory days and continued to its release as open source software. For more information on the Mozilla Foundation, see www.mozilla.org.

If you want fairly accurate browser usage statistics, but your own site isn't up and running yet, you may hire the services of a user trends consultant to analyze usage on similar sites or within a specific business sector. A place to start is the Web Analytics Association (www.webanalyticsassociation.org), which offers a listing of members who provide usage trend reports.

 

Created: March 27, 2003
Revised: April 17, 2006

URL: http://webreference.com/programming/wdn/1