The Web Design

	Group presents:

"This page optimized for ..."
- arguing with customers -


A real-world browser configuration

If you "optimize" your site for a particular Browser, this really means it is "optimized" for a particular Browser with a particular setup. In order to give you an idea of how diverse users and their setups are out there, I will describe some of my own browser configurations here. If you think you already know that this is a wide world, just skip it.

The configuration that many so-called "Web-Designers" assume is: Latest version Netscape on a 800x600 true-colour screen under Windows 95 with ShockWave, TrueAudio, Video for Windows and Quicktime VR installed, font size 12 for Times New Roman and 10 for Courier New, image loading enabled, accepting cookies, connected via a T1 line. What they usually say is "This site best viewed with Netscape and 800x600". Note that my first configuration fits this description.

My first configuration is: Netscape 2.02 on a Windows 3.1 system on a 256 colour 800x600 screen, with the browser window being about 400x600 pixels because I have it cover only half of the screen. Image loading is disabled, and most of the time, document foreground and background colours are overridden by my default (black on grey with blue links). Java and JavaScript are disabled because they are not secure in this browser. The font size is 16, both for fixed (Courier New) and proportional (Times New Roman) font. The browser accepts cookies. There are no plug-ins installed, and I won't install any. The computer is connected to the Internet via a LAN, which is connected via a laser line to a machine that is connected to the Internet. Thus, available bandwidth depends on the weather: With fog or a dove sitting at the wrong place, there might be no bandwidth at all. (I still can send E-mail, though.)

My second configuration is: Lynx 2.4.2 on an AIX rs/6000 system, connected via a vt220 emulation, black text on white background, vi keys enabled.

My third configuration is: Netscape 3.0 on a Sun Solaris system, connected via a low-memory X-terminal (will have to boot if things get too colour intensive), Java enabled, JavaScript disabled. I do not know the resolution, and the browser window covers the right half of the screen. Font size is 18, image loading is usually on.

I do not install browser software myself on any of those systems, so I simply can not "download a REAL browser [tm]". There are sites where I do load images and accept their colour settings, but I have seen sites where you'd better not do that (see examples section).

Several ways for users to make your optimizing pointless

Font size

Like me, many people customize their font sizes to fit their needs. Usually, the standard font sizes are just to small. Therefore, saying a page is "optimized for 800x600" is absolutely pointless if the page consists mostly of text or if image loading is disabled.

People either change their font size to be well readable in a fully maximized window, or they change it to be well readable in their normal window size, which is 400x600 for me. Your page can look totally different with different font sizes and different window sizes. Your information can become unreadable.

The customized font size will especially lead to problems if you uses frames or tables with absolute width or height: If these contain text, it will not be readable. There are sites that have frames with absolute dimensions that are not scrollable and contain text. Now, if my standard text size is bigger than assumed, I will not be able to read that text. This leads to the conclusion that you should at most specify one dimension in terms of pixels if the table or the frame contain text. Every frame that contains text should be scrollable. Even then, long words lead to problems.

Image loading disabled

Images take time to load. Most images on the WWW are not worth it. Therefore, many users disable image autoloading. (If they want to wait, they'll go to the bus stop, not to your site, because waiting for the bus does not cost them money.) Your wonderfully looking site may look like crap then. Or it may still look good. It depends on you, and there is no reason to stick with the crap. To start with, it is usually a bad idea to put text into images. "index page" are only a few bytes, but if you put it into an image, it's a few KB, and the IMG tag is a few bytes. If you choose to do it in spite of my advise, at least include an ALT attribute. It's easy, and maybe you make some of your potential customers happy by doing so.

If you provide no ALT attributes for images, you are not only hurting lynx users who can not display inline images. You are hurting yourself: Those who have image loading disabled will now need to load the image, because there is no ALT attribute. The time they spend waiting could be spent better looking at the information that you provide. This is OK if the image is part of that information. But if the image is only your logo or some text put into GIF, an ALT attribute would have made better use of customer time.

Additional to the ALT text, for users that have image loading disabled, you should also provide a background colour in your body tag that is close to the colour of your background image (if any).

Override document colours

Yes, there are users out there that stick to their own colours for viewing your page. And yes, they do have good reasons to do so: They might be using a B/W screen, or they might be frequently visiting sites that use blue colour for normal text (you don't, do you?), or they might be colour blind, e.g. they can not distinguish green from red, or they are tired of background images that make the text hard to read (like I am). They are still your visitors, your customers, and you should make your pages delightful for them, because you want their attention, their money, their feedback. This means:

Disabling Java/JavaScript

If your site relies on Java or JavaScript for essential purposes, you have to be aware that many users disable Java and JavaScript for security reasons. By now, there are no security risks known in the newest Java implementations, but many people use older browsers, don't trust their up-to-date browser or don't want to spend valuable processing time for scrolling tickers and animated advertising.

As an additional note, if you use JavaScript, make sure your code is hidden in comments and does not contain "--" or ">", so older browsers will not display the code. It is not a good idea to make your page unreadable for some users just so that other users can have a "cool" scrolling ticker in their status bar that they don't want. Most JavaScript that you find on the Web is not worth the time it takes to download.

Not accepting cookies

This is not a matter of display, but of functionality: There are not only browsers that don't support cookies, there are also users with browsers that support cookies who disable them. There are several ways to do so. One way is (for Netscape under UNIX) to link the cookies file to /dev/null. Users might also configure their Proxy server to strip all cookies. So if your shopping cart application depends on cookies, perhaps I should switch to your competitor who uses CGI with GET methods, validates his HTML according to the HTML 3.2 DTD and supports even lynx.

Previous | Next

Currently viewing page 2 of 4

Home, Questions, Members, WDG Award, Reference, Links

Web Design Group