Netscape Web Browser: 1994-2008, R.I.P.

January 25, 2008

by Molly Morris, memDesigns 

..and don’t panic if you use Netscape – there are options  

In December, when AOL announced that it would cease supporting the Nestcape web browser and no longer provide updates for that program, I really wanted to breathe a sigh of relief because browser compatibility is an ever-present thorn in web designers’ sides. Why? Because every browser has its own interpretation (sometimes a complete translation) of your web page.

Take, for example, this page, which recently gave me a certain degree of apoplexy.

Here’s how it looked in Internet Explorer:

And here’s how Netscape read the very same page:

With some reconfiguration of the coding, we, of course, made the page look almost the same in all browsers.

This is not an atypical result. The worst case is when a site that looks fine in IE displays only a blank page in Netscape. Generally, of all the web browsers, IE is the most intuitive (or forgiving), usually displaying a page as the designer intended.

Until some standardization comes to bear on web browser engines, this is simply a phenomenon web designers are going to have to live with.

Alas, there is really no respite in site, because, wherever you read “Netscape” in this article, you can substitute “Firefox”., as it uses the same engine as Netscape. And although Netscape has experienced a rapid decline in users, Firefox seems to be on the rise.

Should you be worried if you’re a Netscape user?

There’s nothing to worry about. The browser won’t disappear and won’t become unusable. But AOL will no longer issue security patches or upgrades for Netscape – which means that in time you may become vulnerable to nasty technology, like viruses and spyware, from which your browser will not be protected. This is a good time to start looking at alternative browsers.

What’s the difference and does it matter which web browser you use?

No, it’s entirely a matter of preference – usually a preference for the look of the browser itself – toolbars, add-ons, etc. – rather than how the browser displays web pages. In a world of perfectly constructed web pages, everything will look the same to you.

Here’s a quick overview of some basic elements of the most popular browsers, based on the most current version of each., indicating that they’re really all much the same,

Browser Bookmark
Management
Auto-complete forms Search Engine Toolbar Tabbed Browsing Pop-up Blocking Page Zooming
I.E. ü ü ü ü ü ü
I.E. for Mac ü ü û û û û
Firefox ü ü ü ü ü û
Netscape ü ü ü ü ü û
Opera ü ü ü ü ü ü
Safari ü ü ü ü ü ü

If you’re a Microsoft user, you almost certainly have Internet Explorer (remember the anti-trust mess Microsoft got into over bundling IE with Windows?) All of the other browsers are freely available from the Internet, so you can try out as many as you want – or at least as many as your hard-drive space will permit.


You Don’t Need Glasses

December 13, 2007

by Molly Morris, memDesigns

Well, ok, I can’t really say that you don’t need new glasses – that’s between you and your optometrist. And chances are your monitor’s working just fine, although there’s always a better model out there. But if the reason you’re thinking of new glasses or a new monitor is because you’re having trouble reading web pages, then there may be an easier and cheaper solution for you.

Did you know that, in many cases, you can choose how text is displayed on your web-browser?

First things first. For a good web page on which to run this test, go to http://news.google.ca/. Now, if you’re using Internet Explorer, click on View in the toolbar, then Text Size and you should see this:

 Change Your Text Size

Netscape works in a similar way, but your choices are Increase, Decrease or Normal.

By selecting Largest, Larger, Medium, Smaller, or Smallest, (or Increase or Decrease) you are telling your web-browser how to display text. So, if you’re having trouble reading a web page, simply increase the text size.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work. If you’ve done this on a different web page, and the text size hasn’t changed, it’s because the author used absolute text sizes, rather than relative text sizes. Web designers can specify an actual font size on a web page (for example 10 pixels), or relative font sizes (a percentage of your browser’s default text size.) But an absolute pixel-specific font size will look quite different on screens with different resolutions.

Up until fairly recently it was pretty easy to know what screen resolution to target a web page for, making it a reasonable practice to specify absolute text sizes. In the early Windows ’95 days, most computers were using a resolution of 640 x 480 (pixels, that is). If you come across a web page now that was designed for that resolution, it will likely look huge to you, and you will definitely need to do a lot of scrolling to see the whole page. After the release of Windows XP, the most common screen resolution was 800 x 600, and web authors often fixed the font size to work best on that resolution. When larger screens became the standard, default screen resolution increased again to 1024 x 768. Today, however, screen sizes are all over the map – laptop monitors can be 3840 pixels wide and more, and palmtops can be as small as 100 pixels wide. And therein lies the problem. A font that is set at 10 pixels, takes up a much larger percentage of a screen that displays 800 x 600 pixels than it does on a screen that displays three times as many pixels, thus looking much larger in smaller resolutions than in larger resolutions.

So why do web authors still sometimes impose an absolute text size on a web page? Usually it’s because they are going for a very specific look and feel for their website, and having a fluid text size would compromise that look. They have probably analyzed web stats to determine the most commonly used browsers and resolutions being used to display their websites and designed a page that looks best in a specific resolution. But as the possibilities for screen resolutions are ever-increasing, it is less advisable to design a site that looks best in a specific resolution. Increasingly, we have to design sites that are simply more flexible and allow the user more control. And the way to do that is by using relative text sizes, and giving some control back to the user.

If you are embarking on your first website project, consider who will be viewing your website and on what equipment, and work with your designer to develop an approach to text size that will cater to your audience. If you have a website that’s in need of some updating anyway, this may be a good time to look at how user-friendly your text is and make some changes if you think it will improve the viewing experience on your website.


A Wiki What?

November 7, 2007

A Primer to The Wonderful World of Wiki 
by Molly Morris, memDesigns

Pop quiz from last month’s article: What is the easiest way for me to find the definition of wiki? Answer – type “define: wiki” in the Google search bar. Having done that, I now know that the word “wiki” comes from a Hawaiian word that means “quick”, and a wiki is a collaborative website that can be quickly edited by visitors.

Wikipedia is an online free-content encyclopedia written collaboratively by volunteers from around the world. You, too, can be an author. Because of its free-content and collaborative nature, you might wonder how accurate the articles in Wikipedia can be. After all, we all know people who like to think they are authorities on a subject, but how much stock would we put in their expertise?  In fact, the reliability of Wikipedia articles is better than you might think. In 2005, the British journal, Nature, conducted a peer-reviewed study of the accuracy of 42 comparable scientific articles from each of Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica, and found four errors in each source. What’s impressive is that because of the open-content and “wiki” nature of Wikipedia, the errors that were found in Wikipedia’s articles were immediately corrected upon identification.

In addition to the collaborative encyclopedia, there are several other open-content projects which deliver a cornucopia of information. Below is a list of Wiki-reference sites with short descriptions provided by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation (owner of these Wiki-sites).

Wikiquote: Can’t remember who said it? This is a free online compendium of quotations from notable people and creative works in every language, including sources (where known), translations of non-English quotes, and links to Wikipedia for further information! The English version of Wikiquote has 13,944 pages so far, with many thousands of quotations and proverbs.

Wikispecies: Is there a budding biologist in your life? Wikispecies is an open, free directory of species. It covers Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Bacteria, Archaea, Protista and all other forms of life. So far they have 113,150 articles.

Wikinews: This is a free news source, similar to Google News or any other online news source with the exception that the stories are not from mainstream news sources (although mainstream sources are often referenced.)

Wikibooks: Here is where you can find a free collection of open content textbooks that anyone can edit, including a Wikimedia Cookbook and WikiJunior (see below.) Since its founding, volunteers have written about 27,384 modules in a multitude of textbooks.

WikiJunior: The aim of this project is to produce age-appropriate, non-fiction books for children from birth to age 12. These books are richly illustrated with photographs, diagrams, sketches, and original drawings. WikiJunior books are produced by a worldwide community of writers, teachers, students and young people all working together. If the words “science fair” strike fear in your heart, you must check out Wikijunior’s Big Book of Fun Science Experiments.

Wikiversity: This is a community for the creation and use of free learning materials and activities.

Wiktionary: The lexical companion to Wikipedia, this collaborative project has produced a free, multilingual dictionary with definitions, etymologies, pronunciations, sample quotations, synonyms, antonyms and translations.

Wikisource: This online library of free content publications collected and maintained by the community can be searched by genre or subject matter, and includes some 200 audio files (including our family favourite, Jabberwocky, by Lewis Carroll.)

Commons: If you’re looking for free image, sound or video files, this database of over 2 million media files is a good place to start. Each piece of media comes with copyright and licensing information, but almost all of it is freely usable.

With all this information at your fingertips, you should be able to get the answer to just about any question. So, wiki-away!


Everything is Searchable

October 8, 2007

by Molly Morris, memDesigns 

I was recently asked – “Who owns the Internet?” It’s a good question with an interesting answer which I wanted to write about, but you’re going to have to wait until next month. In the process of doing some research on the history of the web, I got terribly distracted and spent too much time playing with some new Google search utilities I tripped over. Since many of these tools were new to me, I want to share them with you. So here is a list of Google search tools and interesting ways of doing searches that you may not have heard of before. Word of warning: Don’t get started down this road if you don’t have a little time to spare!

Calculations: Google has a built-in calculator function. Enter any mathematical calculation (2514*76+9) in the Google search box and your first result will be the answer. (Remember – ‘*’ is the multiplication symbol on the computer.)

Currency Conversion: Google also has a built-in currency converter. Enter the conversion you’re looking for in the search box (for instance ‘100 CAD in USD’ or ‘100 Canadian dollars in American dollars’) and voila – an answer we haven’t seen in over 30 years!

Definitions: To see a definition of a word, type the word ‘define’ followed by a colon and a space and then the word you want defined (for instance ‘define: entrepreneur’). Your results will show a list of definitions and their sources.

Weather: Just type in the word ‘weather’ followed by a space and the location for which you want weather information (for instance ‘weather Palm Beach’ – yes, I’m thinking about somewhere warm because winter is coming to Toronto). In most cases you’ll get a 4-day visual forecast, but for some locations you’ll simply get a link to the local weather information website.

Specialized Number Searches: Here’s where I really lost some time this morning. Not that I was searching for anything useful whatsoever, I was just amazed at the accuracy of this search tool. Google’s search engine recognizes certain sets of numbers as specific number types. You can currently search UPS tracking numbers, FedEx tracking numbers, Vehicle ID (VIN) numbers, UPC codes and telephone area codes simply by entering the numbers only (you don’t need to tell Google what kind of a number it is) into the search box. You can also search patent numbers, but for best results you should enter the word ‘patent’ and a space before the number (for instance ‘patent 20070128317’ – martini popsicles – why didn’t I think of that?) 

Google also has several specialized search engines, many of which you probably already use (like Images, Maps and News). There are some new ones though, either just out or in Beta version that are interesting new additions.

Google Blog Searchwww.google.com/blogsearch – searches for topics within blogs.

Google Scholarwww.google.com/scholar  – searches scholarly literature by author, topic or title. The results contain full bibliographic information.

Google Bookswww.google.com/books – searches the full text of books. If a book is in the public domain (no longer subject to copyright) you can page through the entire book, download it, save it, and print it to PDF.

Google Alertswww.google.com/alerts – provides email updates on the latest relevant Google search results based on your choice of topic (i.e. developing news stories, industry news, celebrities or sports teams).

Did you ever wonder what the I’m Feeling Lucky button next to the Google Search button is for? If you enter a search term and press I’m Feeling Lucky, you will be taken directly to the web page of the first search result.

If you know of any other neat search capabilities, please let me know and I will share them on this blog.


Who thinks you need a website?

August 21, 2007

by Molly Morris, memDesigns

Have you ever had a customer ask you “Do you have a website?” or “Can I go on your website to see samples of your work?” If you’ve answered “no” or “not yet”, did you do so with the sinking feeling that you may have just lost a customer?

If that has been an experience of yours, then you already know that, in fact, you believe you need a website.

Recent studies have indicated that the Internet is the preferred information source for 64% of Canadian consumers. A 2003 Canadian study showed that 79% of Internet users expect a business to have a website that will provide information on their product or service. Furthermore, 47% of Internet users say that they are more likely to purchase a product or service from a business that provides information on that product or service online, than they are likely to purchase from a business with no web presence. With respect to B2B sales, Statistics Canada reported that in 2003, 37% of companies made business purchases online, up from 32% in 2002 and more than double the number that did so in 2000.

So, it’s clear that your customers don’t just think you need a website but expect you to have one.

From 2001 to 2005, the number of small businesses owning a website increased 37%, more than triple the increase seen in medium and large businesses (Strategis – Key Small Business Statistics, January 2007). The main reason cited for owning a website is to increase business, which does not necessarily mean through direct e-commerce, but includes increasing a business’s visibility and bringing information to a business’s customers and clients.

Clearly, small business owners are increasingly seeing the need for a website.

The trend towards website interactivity has brought a new dynamic to websites of all sizes, an element once available only to large corporate sites involved in e-commerce. Now, even small businesses are increasingly adding mailing lists, RSS feeds and blogs to their websites, increasing their potential clients’ involvement with and time spent at their websites. No longer are websites for small businesses merely electronic brochures – they are now used as a means of interacting with clients and providing them with service even before they have made formal contact with the business.

So, who thinks you need a website? Everyone!


How to choose your domain name

July 26, 2007

by Molly Morris, memDesigns

Your domain name is like the front door to your website, and if people can’t see your door, they won’t be able to find you.

It seems like an obvious thing to say, but your domain name should be the name of your company. That way, anyone who knows your company, can easily find your website. If you’re just starting your business, and you expect to use your website as an integral part of doing business, you might want to check on the availability of a domain name before picking the name for your company.

You can check the availability of domain names at http://www.internic.net/whois.html for dot-com’s and http://www.cira.ca/en/re_whois.html for dot-ca’s.

If you already have an established business name, and are now adding a website as a new marketing tool, but your business name is not available as a domain name, you may wish to consider trying to buy the domain name from the existing owner. The ‘whois’ information retrieved from the sites above will give you contact information for the current owner of a particular domain.

Should you register a .COM or .CA domain name?

Think about who your customers are going to be and what you are promoting. If your site is specifically promoting Canadian content or a Canadian product, or only targeting Canadian customers, then go for a .CA domain. If you want to be found by Americans, you’d better opt for a .COM, because, face it, most Americans don’t even realize that .CA exists.

How long should your domain name be?

Think about typing in a web address when you are trying to get to a particular website. Is it tedious when the web address is too long? Have you had trouble remembering long web addresses? Give your customers a break, and make your domain name as easy to remember and quick to type as possible.

Hyphens are not a great idea in a domain name, because you’re making your customers remember too many things in order to get to your website. Is, or isn’t there a hyphen? Is it a hyphen or an underscore? Oh forget it – I’ll go to another site! You get the point.

If you need help getting a domain name registered, or working out what’s available or who owns the domain you really want, contact memDesigns and let us assist you.


memDesigns wants to help you create your website and attract new business!

July 26, 2007

by Molly Morris, memDesigns

memDesigns is a website design company specializing in small business/entrepreneur website development. I invite you to visit us at www.memdesigns.com and view our portfolio of recent websites.

memDesigns offers a full service website solution, including domain registration, web hosting and website development, and will provide you with maintenance and support as your website is launched and your business grows.  All of our design projects include search engine optimization and site submission to the major search engines to ensure your customers or clients can find you on the web, as well as monthly website stat reports emailed directly to you. Our new business website package provides all of the above, with a 2-page introductory website at a cost of $400.00. We also offer website design and consultation for larger websites, affordable monthly website maintenance plans and print design to complement your new website.

If you have questions about website development, or want to discuss general website issues with other small business professionals, this blog can be a forum for discussion and discovery.

I would be very happy to discuss your website needs with you. Please feel free to contact me by email at mollymorris@memdesigns.com.