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Archive for the 'browsers' Category

Two browser trends for 2009

NickDawe10 March 2010

Quick post. These trends are both predictable enough, but it’s sometimes nice when statistics confirm your own presuppositions.

IE6 usage of the UCL site in the last year*

Use of iPhones/iPods on the UCL site in the last year*

*based on UCL sites using the UCL Google Analytics tracking code

UCL Web Services highlights 2009

NickDawe9 December 2009

Now that it’s coming to the end of the year, we thought we’d take a brief look at what we think are some of 2009’s highlights.

New layouts

We’ve worked with UCL Illustration to produce an assortment of new layouts that fit into our ‘Silva’ Content Management System, including the following…

Web Services layouts 2009

(From left to right, UCL Italian (www.ucl.ac.uk/italian); UCL Natural Sciences (www.ucl.ac.uk/natural-sciences); School of Public Policy (www.ucl.ac.uk/spp) – design by Stephen Thomson, SPP;  UCL Student Counselling (www.ucl.ac.uk/studentcounselling); UCL Registry (www.ucl.ac.uk/registry); UCL New Students (www.ucl.ac.uk/new-students); UCL Medical Physics and Bioengineering (www.ucl.ac.uk/medphys); ISD (www.ucl.ac.uk/isd)

Many of these are based on a new ‘default’ Silva layout, which can be altered by simply changing the Silva publication’s ‘local-styles.css’ object. This in turn makes layout production a lot faster, as well as being a far more efficient way of handling multiple layouts. We’re still working to finalise some of this layout’s working, so we’ll mention more on that in the next few weeks.

iTunes U Development

Earlier in the year, we were joined by Ralph Bartholmew, who among other things, took on the role of organising UCL iTunes U’s site. Due to the scale of usage from the site (not only in podcast downloads, but also in numbers of new podcasts going online), this had become a little overwhelming. Ralph is now involved in helping make this process more efficient, as well as restructuring the store and updating the ‘look and feel’ of all of this.

Silva upgrade

Although not exactly a ‘highlight of 2009’, we’ve put a lot of work into Silva’s upgrade to the latest version, and should be ready to go ahead in early 2010. The upgrade will increase Silva’s stability, fix a number of bugs, and also introduce a number of new features. More on that in 2010 though…

Soon to come…

We’ve also been busy with a number of projects that will hopefully be ready in very early 2010, including

  • A new events calendaring system, which will be integrated with Silva code sources
  • Improved security in Silva
  • Mobile stylesheet implementation on a number of Silva layouts

Other bits and pieces

… And finally not forgetting the new UCL home page, increased Silva performance, and plenty of other small projects as usual..!

Save IE6!

NickDawe11 November 2009

A favourite discussion of ours, and probably of numerous other web development teams, is forecasting how long we’ll continue to have to develop websites for IE6. For various reasons, around a third of UCL home page visitors still use IE6, so it’s looking likely that the browser will remain on the horizon. However, SaveIE6.com has shown us that there are indeed many good reasons to keep using the browser. If you’re a mildly frustrated website editor/developer who can’t handle the ever increasing range of browsers, you may enjoy this site.

Fun with IE8

NickDawe25 March 2009

While a new, standards-friendly, version of Internet Explorer must be greeted, I can’t help feeling the usual tired anxiety that comes with any new browser release. Yes, it’s true that IE8 comes with many bug-fixes, CSS rendering improvements, and debugging tools for the developer, but this is still going to be accompanied by numerous headaches.

The first reason for this is quite simply that IE8 is now the 3rd version of IE that web programmers are currently expected to develop for.  While there are occasional stories of IE6 disappearing this year, it does seem that web developers will be having to build sites for IE6, IE7, IE8, Firefox 3, and Safari 3 (and soon Safari 4) for at least the next couple of years. I’m a little skeptical that IE6 will completely go away: according to Microsoft, Windows Mobile will, and will continue to use the IE6 engine for its ‘Internet Explorer Mobile 6’ web browser. And while Windows Mobile web browsers aren’t the most important units that access our web pages, their popularity is only set to grow.

But rather than just whinge, let’s take a quick look at some of IE8’s new features that developers might find worth noting:

Developer tools

IE8 Developer tools screenshot

IE8’s developer tools are a vast improvement on the older developer toolbar add-on, and has a lot of the functionality that developers are used to in Firebug. While CSS and HTML developer features are always going to be useful, its JavaScript debugging interface could be a fantastic tool for dealing with JavaScript errors. As we previously blogged, if you have a JavaScript problem in IE, it’s incredibly difficult to fix as there have been no helpful error/debugging consoles. However, it may be possible to use the Javascript debugger in this tool to fix problems that occur in all versions of IE, not just IE8 (as it’s likely that the same errors will be occuring in all versions).

Accelerators and slices

Two new features that could be of use to site visitors and developers alike are worth investigating. An ‘accelerator’ is a service that can be accessed by simply selecting items on a webpage. After selecting, the user can choose from a series of services, such as emailing the selection, translating it, mapping it, etc.

Screenshot of accelerators in IE8

Web slices are sections of a webpage that a user can subscribe to. Developers can add microformat code, which will tell the browser what information needs to be in the slice. Users can then subscribe to these page slices through their bookmarks toolbar, giving them updated text or images from the page. I could be quite wrong, but the concept seems to be similar to Safari’s ‘clips’ feature, in which you can take a section of your page and show it in the Mac OS X dashboard. The clips, however, don’t require extra coding from developers, and are also exact representations of the page that the slice has come from… which seems like a better idea. Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see how slices are going to be used by the web community.


There’s been a lot of interest and debate over how IE8 will render pages, but the final upshot is that it’ll render web standards far better than any other previous version. Theoretically this is great news, but what about all those sites that have been developed to work in earlier, non-standards based, versions?

IE8 has provided a few ‘solutions’ to this problem. Firstly, if developers add the following code into the header of a page…

<meta http-equiv=”X-UA-Compatible” content=”IE=7″ />

… then IE8 will render the page using ‘IE7 standards mode’.

Alternatively, the browser’s default rendering mode (‘standards mode’) is used for all sites that have a valid, up to date, DOCTYPE header. This standards mode is a massive improvement on earlier versions, particularly in its rendering of CSS, and its elimination of the ‘hasLayout’ property. There are plenty of new features in CSS in all recent browsers that developers are getting excited about, and we’ll probably blog about them at a later date.

Finally, if there is no doctype header, IE will render in quirks mode (in IE5’s rendering style).

IE8 has also introduced a ‘compatibility view’ which, as far as I understand, allows users to switch between viewing a site in IE8 and IE7 standards modes. Theoretically, if a site seems to look odd, a user might be encouraged to click the compatibility view icon, and they’d be able to see it working properly, because the site had been designed for an older version of the browser.

Two initial worries…

Firstly, developers will have to re-evaluate all previously designed sites, and either edit the sites’ code to work in both versions, or to add the ‘IE7’ meta tag. Updating code for IE8 will almost certainly be time consuming, but adding an IE7 meta tag will surely cause problems for any future updates of the browser.

Secondly, the average user of Internet Explorer is unlikely to know (or care) about the concepts of the compatibility view switch. By default, its icon is prominent in the IE8 task bar, which probably means that users are quite likely to click it out of curiosity, and thus change the way the browser renders pages. So even if a developer makes a page suitable for IE8, it isn’t guaranteed to work as expected when a user views it.

Currently, we already have the problem that even within one browser, there are many ways that a user may view a page (e.g. different text viewing sizes, different accessibility settings etc.)… And now there are even more.

Overall however, IE8 is probably an improvement in browser technology, and may help push new standards of CSS and HTML programming… but we’ll just have to wait and see how use of the software does develop.

Checking your site against multiple versions of IE – some help

4 March 2009

A campaign has started in Norway to end the usage of Internet Explorer 6 – a brave effort to inform users that they are using an out of date browser that will not give them the best experience when surfing the modern web. Unfortunately despite being 8 years old, IE6 will not go quietly. Indeed our statistics suggest that IE6 is still heavily used at UCL.

But what about us poor web developers? (sniff, sniff); not only do we have to deal with multiple browsers (Firefox, Safari, etc) but there are now three versions of IE being used – versions 6, 7 and the beta version of 8. Each version shows variation on how they handle CSS layouts (IE6 is a nightmare, although IE8  is looking very good in terms of standards) and to make life even more difficult you can only install one version of Internet Explorer on your machine – which means a lot of dashing around between computers.

Xenocode screenshot

Well help is at hand with  Xenocode Browser Sandbox. This software allows you to run any number of Windows browsers (including the three versions of IE) by downloading a Web Application that runs the browser directly off the web. This makes life so much easier. Hopefully a Mac version is in the pipeline.

Google's shiny new browser

5 September 2008

Chrome screen shot

A new battle began in the browser wars this week with the arrival of Google Chrome. It is an attempt by Google to rest some of the browser market away from Microsoft, whose latest browser – Internet Explorer 8 will be released very soon.

Although a beta version (Windows only, alas!), Chrome works really well. It has a simplified interface and has been built to function more efficiently with multiple open tabs. It lacks the features and extensibility of Firefox, but I believe that it is in line with the Google  user-friendly “Less is More” approach. An excellent review is available from the Geeks are Sexy website.

I think the first response to the news in Web Services was “Aargh – not another browser!”. We now have to check our web pages against IE 6 and 7, Firefox 2 and 3, Safari and Opera. Google Chrome certainly cannot be ignored due to Google’s ubiquity in the search engine field, its vast ability to promote itself, and the potential for integration of the browser with Google’s popular online services such as Google Documents.

Chrome does seem to follow web standards as one would expect. We’ve not yet come across any quirks with CSS implementation, although there may be some round the corner. One headache for us is that the Kupu WYSIWYG editor in the Silva CMS will not work in Google Chrome. Like Safari,  Chrome has been built using Apple’s WebKit open source rendering engine which is incompatible with the way Kupu works. This would become a real worry for us if the use of Chrome took off.

So what does the future hold for Chrome? Internet Explorer will continue to have the advantage of being built into the Windows OS, which explains its market dominance. I fear therefore that the first casualty in this new Browser War may be Firefox. Firefox is a fantastic browser with a loyal following, but perhaps has too many features and plug-ins for those who want a simple alternative to Internet Explorer.  Coupled with its integration with other Google services it presents itself as an excellent choice.

One thing is for certain, Chrome is not going to go away and Web Services will not be ignoring it!