Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 25/02/07

No Style

In case you think I've faded off into the sunset, I'm still here.

In June this year, this website will be four years old. I thought that it was time for a revamp, because (one or two minor aspects apart) the design has not been changed in all that time.

This time, I thought, I'll do it right. So, the navigation bar will be visible wherever you are on the main pages, I'll stop being so dependent on tables (you're not supposed to lay out your content that way, unless it's actually tabular data, of course); I'll learn how to do Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to make changing the way the site looks a lot easier, and I'll make the site as compliant with recognised standards as possible.

So a couple of weekends ago, I spent virtually the whole time learning the rudiments of CSS. The prospect of not having to piddle about designing whole pages from scratch was very appealing. I duly set up my first style sheet and viewed the result.

My default browser is SeaMonkey. I tried Opera for a few months, but it has too many little niggles for me to stay with it at the moment, so I switched back.

So, I looked at my redesigned front page with style sheet in SeaMonkey. Looked good, although I had to make a few little adjustments (nothing ever goes 100% right with these things first time).

Recognising that most of the world is still using various versions of Internet Explorer, I then viewed it with IE...

...Oh dear...

All over the bloody place.

Further research in the the following days led me to discover what I should really have guessed already; when it comes to implementing basic standards of compliance, Microsoft have always tended to take one of three actions:

  1. ignore them altogether, hoping that they'll go away
  2. implement just enough of them to avoid serious comeback from users and web designers, or
  3. take note of what the standards are, and then put them in place with added non-standard proprietary bells and whistles which will either break the page, your browser, or both. It certainly won't help your page or site get the widest cross-browser compatiblilty.

This third point is the main reason why no-one who is serious about web design should ever use MS' very own FrontPage™, as its use is the root source of much of the problem. Having abandoned it for the very useful (but cranky) NVu, I've decided that as the main design work of the site will be taken care of by CSS, I'll code all the pages on the redesigned site by hand. If I don't know how to do the HTML for a certain feature, I can always crib it from the existing pages: I feel a learning curve coming up.

(Oh, and while we're on that particular cliché, it's not a steep learning curve: extreme curves aren't steep, they're sharp. Gradients are steep, but I don't suppose we'll hear the phrase 'steep learning gradient' any time soon, even from management consultants.

But the IE/CSS issues left me in something of a quandary: do I just carry on regardless coding for viewing in standards-compliant browsers, and let 89% of the audience go chase my Aunt Myfanwy round the Gasworks? Do I fall in with the sheep and code for viewing in IE, misbegotten abortion that it is? Or do I try to please everyone?

For the time being, I've decided on that third option. This involves writing two sets of style sheets; one for IE and one for the rest of us.

It's a good job there are still nearly four months to go before I want the new design to 'go live'. I might just make it...