Out with the old, in with the new

Right, before we go any further, let me warn you that the first part of this post will be mostly a rant, so if you’re not in the mood for reading about today’s frustrations feel free to skip down to something a little more positive.

Now, on with the rant.  I have spent the last few days preparing the Diocese of Chelmsford web site for its switch to the new design layout I have been working on.  Everything was set and ready to go, and this morning I hit the appropriate keys and sent the marvellous new design into the big global playground called the WWW.  And then I was told it wasn’t working.

The design itself isn’t anything particularly complicated, and is more of a variation on the theme we had before, just tweaked and improved in several areas.  The most drastic change was in the front page, which had been given a complete overhaul to take into account various changes I had wanted to implement, some for better accessibility, some for more effectiveness, and others just to make it look pretty.  Gone are the tables (horray!), and a more useful ordering of information on the page, including a large space right in the middle for a “feature”, which at the moment would be the Bishop’s Lent Appeal.  This central space even includes a neat bit of Javascript which takes an unordered list of images and fades smoothly from one to the next – on every browser!  Very clever.

However, it soon became apparent that IE6 wasn’t going to accept this lightly, and produced some rather inexplicable results.  Despite my having tested the new design on every browser I could lay my hands on, I had not been able to test it on IE6 (due to the complex nature of trying to run IE6 and IE7 together on the same machine).  I ended up having someone trying to describe down the phone what they were seeing on their computer, all of which befuzzled me no end.  Most of the page was displaying fine, but the top header of each page was appearing without the background image.  The strange thing is, other similar elements on the page that used backgrounds were working fine.  I even got them to try accessing the background image directly, and that worked fine, so it wasn’t IE6 complaining at me using PNG images either.

Incidentally, I’m using a cunning bit of Javascript that corrects many of the bugs in IE6 and below, which includes the handling of alpha-enabled PNG images.  By default IE6 interprets “transparency” as “a shade of grey”, so images that are supposed to show the background through them actually cover the background up with a shade of grey instead, which is not exactly useful.  However, the “IE7” Javascript code takes control of such images and displays them properly, which is very handy.  In this case though it has obviously failed to do quite the complete job of bringing IE6 into the 21st century.

Grrr.  My web site doesn’t work.

The most beneficial solution would be to force everyone to use a better browser.  Firefox has long been at the forefront here; in fact pretty much every other browser available seems to have better support for web pages than IE6.  IE7 is better than IE6, but there are still many rendering issues that highlight Microsoft’s lazy and cack-handed approach to handling web pages.  Most worrying is the number of people still using IE6 – given that IE7 is supposed to be installed automatically as part of the regular Automatic Updates that Microsoft offers, the lack of IE7 means a considerable number of machines where Automatic Updates are not being received!  This means that not only are computers using old and obsolete versions of the web browser, but also that their computers haven’t been patched up against viruses.  So this is my advice to you if you are using IE6 – don’t.

On a more positive note, my friend Phill was round here last night for pancakes, and happened to show me a web page sporting a rather nifty menu system.  It’s all done in Javascript, and shows a smoothly animated OS X dock – on a web page!  If you don’t know what I mean by that it’s probably best if you just go and look at the demonstration (click the FishEye demo link at the bottom of the page).  Very neat.  Not sure if I’d ever use it, but it’s nice to know it exists, just in case.

2 thoughts on “Out with the old, in with the new

  1. I have to say, I am not a web designer and the number of bugs / quirks I’ve found in IE7 *already* is quite scary. I just can’t believe why people would use it – it’s total rubbish!

    Is there any way you could do some server-side User-Agent sniffing and redirect people to the previous page if they’re using IE6 page? It’s not ideal I know but it would be a shame for all that work (and general cool image scrolly type thing) to be wasted.

    I did see a blog once where someone made a ‘Internet Explorer Not Supported’ popup bar, I wouldn’t advise it but it was quite satisfying!

  2. Unfortunately I don’t think that would be possible in our case, because it’s all done with templates. It would involve a complicated process of determining the template for each page every time it was requested, which would slow things down a lot because none of the pages would be cached. I’ll figure it out eventually, it’s just a case of trying to find a computer with IE6 installed so that I can source the problem and put it right.

    -M-

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