Tuesday 21 September 2010

TCRM and Compliant Web Design

Microsoft have just announced that Internet Explorer 9 beta is now available for download. Amongst other things it boasts integrated web search tools, HTML5 compliance and a shiny new slimline interface. That’s right, this means this brand spanking new product is offering what it’s competitors currently do, but the main event though is the collective sigh web developers around the world, and Bridgend Web Designers in particular, are making as they foresee more blood, sweat and tears to make their websites compatible with the software giant’s latest offering.

In the ideal world all browsers will follow the agreed upon standards to the letter and us developers can plan our websites to the standard even before the new browsers are written because they will all act as set out in the standard. In this world cheeseburgers are also free.

Reality is a grim dark world filled with quirks, workarounds and those little CSS bugs which turn a simple menu update into a eight hour slog, by the end of which you question your career choices. I had to deal with one such bug this week. PDF files created on the fly using PHP are a very powerful tool and a useful addition to any website. Even though the file itself is a PHP file, by specifying in the header that the content of the request response is a PDF file, the browser treats it as such. Well this is how it’s supposed to work, and does work like a dream in Firefox. IE doesn’t play by the rules. Rules are for whimps and IE is a big boy with long trousers and everything. IE just looks at the filename in the URL and goes from there. If it sees that the URL ends in .php, it interprets it as a PHP. You can see the problem here. The only working solution for our PDF writer is to create a temporary PDF file and redirect the browser to that. It’s just these little workarounds and fixes which can suck up the effort.

Because of these bugs developers have to react to new browsers coming out instead of planning for their release. Developers have to wait until they get their grubby little hands on the browsers before they can write websites for them as we need to see what quirks and how closely the standards have been adhered to.

Unfortunately, for web design companies like TCRM, it just is not possible for us to stop whatever we are doing and expend effort in getting every one of our sites up to date and debugged with the latest browser versions. If it’s not IE 8 it’s Firefox 4. Then Chrome etc etc (though Kevin isn’t the fan of Chrome I am). The most stable and cost efficient solution is to aim to be compliant in the last-but-one version of a browser. The knowledge base has grown so fixes are available for most major bugs and the industry as a whole tends to work in the same direction. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best solution for the mess out there.

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