I started this site at the end of 1999 following a suggestion that I should post an account of my VW412 conversion project. So I took advantage of the free homepages provided by my ISP and started to learn how to code pages from first principles with Notepad. I added some personal details later and I am now slowly expanding that area of the site.
When I first started, I placed my images between paragraphs of text which worked fine on the 640 x 480 monitor I had at home at the time. However, when I checked the page on my computer at work which had an 800 x 600 screen, I was dismayed to find how different things looked on a larger screen. What looked nice and tidy on my small screen had ended up all over the place on the larger screen. My pages on the 412 project have always been based on pictures and descriptions and it was essential that the text stayed alongside each picture. I found the solution with tables, they make it easy to control the layout and to keep the pictures with the appropriate text whatever the screen resolution.
One potential problem with using tables is that it can delay the appearance of the first images and text on opening a page. This is because most browsers need to receive all the material for the whole table before they can show anything, unlike regular text and images which are displayed incrementally as soon as they arrive. My solution was to provide a table for each image with its accompanying text, so the browser will display the first image and description whilst the following tables with their images and text are loaded in the background. It also gives me total flexibility with varying image widths and positioning.
Notepad is a very limited editor and I soon found a better, tabbed editor – NotesPad, freeware from Bremer Corp. I used if for many years with my Win95 and 98 systems but it never responded to the scroll wheel on my mouse after upgrading to Windows XP and the program seems to have disappeared from the web. I am now using Notepad++ from Source Forge which is well supported, is regularly updated, has context colour for key words, and so on. I tried using various other “clever editors” but they just seemed to make a mess of things, especially with the formatting of tables. I use a lot of tables on this site!
As the project progressed, I found I needed a better way of navigating around, so I discovered frames. I use these only for the 412 project pages.
I acquired my domain name in the mid-1990s but had left it parked whilst using the name for e-mail forwarding. In the summer of 2001 I decided to activate it after experiencing trouble with my ISP who had, until then, hosted my web pages on their free homepages area. My experience with them was uneventful most of the time but they had been giving occasional trouble from time to time. Then they actually disappeared totally for about 12 hours one day and their technical helpdesk took weeks to reply to my complaint about the bad service. And then they only sent a standard response saying that I shouldn’t have any problems and giving me a whole list of settings to check at my end!
In my humble opinion, a help desk that doesn’t listen to the problem is worse than useless. Yes, I know many of them have to put up with some pretty dumb people, but they should be able to recognise when someone rightfully complains about lack of service.
I suffered a lot of trouble when Explorer 6 was first realeased and quickly reverted to version 5.5 which seemed more predictable. Whilst struggling to get it all sorted out, I tried using the Opera browser. I used version 6.05 which I liked very much and it was my default browser for a long time. It was faster than Explorer and I liked the way it handled multiple windows in tabs, a feature now universally adopted by all other browsers. It also had a built-in facility to block those annoying pop-up windows which actually worked, long before Microsoft got round to adding that feature. It had a couple of very nifty features useful for developers, you can switch graphics on and off at will to see what the page will look like for anyone who doesn’t accept them and you can do the same with frames to check how your site will survive if anyone out there is still running a browser that doesn’t support them. I am now using Firefox as my default browser which has similar tools.
When I bought my present system new in March 2004 it came with Windows XP and Explorer 6 as standard. My previous system was stable enough on Windows 98 and I had studiously avoided upgrading to ME. Imagine my disappointment to find that Microsoft hadn’t sorted the problems that drove me revert to 5.5 in the first place. For example, when a page was displayed in a frame, the browser “forgot” to allow for the width of the vertical scroll bar which means the text disappeared off the screen and you have to scroll horizontally to read it, even though an absolute width had not been specified. In my view, that can only be described as a full-blown “bug”. I found this problem on a number of commercial sites as well as personal ones which suggested that the website authors didn’t check their work – how stupid can you get! I found two work-arounds, one was to introduce margins which meant that I had to code two sets of instructions as Microsoft and Netscape handled those instructions differently, the other was to set the table width to 95% or a lesser value, but that didn’t work within a frame. This problem was finally sorted out after 2½ years with the release of Explorer 7 in October 2006.
I have tried to make these pages work equally well on all browsers and always check each new significant update in Explorer, Firefox and Safari. I have used no features that are proprietary to any particular browser and have followed the W3C recommendations as well as I can. However, both Microsoft and Netscape have presented me with a few problems and Apple’s Safari exposes errors that the others overlook – an annoying but useful feature! So if you have any trouble or find any quirks, please let me know.
Getting back to my love of frames and tables for layout, yes, I know that these are deprecated by many in favour of the positioning tools now available with cascading style sheets. I have found and read several helpful tutorials on page layout available on the web and I have had some success in recreating the layouts I already have. I got my homepage layout to work perfectly in Safari and Firefox only to find that Explorer gave me a completely different interpretation (a polite way of saying it messed it up!). Since a significant number of you use Explorer, that’s a problem that I cannot ignore! My view is that the CSS positioning code is not yet mature enough to make it worth my while struggling and I shall continue with my frames and tables for the time being. There’s an old engineering proverb: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! However, I recently read an update on that: If it ain’t broke, it doesn’t have enough features. Perhaps the CSS positioning code proves the point!
Published statistics on the types of browser people are using normally include all commercial and industrial users, many of whom follow the expected safe corporate norms. The statistics for people reading my site are somewhat different. Including all users gives Internet Explorer a majority at 29.5%, even though this has been declining for several years now. I guess I am receiving fewer viewers from commercial or industrial environments and the clear majority of you are using Mozilla/Firefox (43% of all viewers last month). Chrome viewers account for 7.0%, Safari users are down to 3.4%, iPad users are around 1.9%, Opera at 1.2%, and iPhone users just under 1%. Those using small-format devices must be struggling with the high pictorial content on many pages!
I have discovered a little program designed to search out and validate links on a given web site and now use this once a month or so to check that none of my external links have disappeared. It verifies my internal links too!
I’ll add more information as it occurs to me. Thank you for visiting my site, I hope you enjoy your time here.
This page last updated 13 December 2013 © J S Rastall
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