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Are You Cross-Browser Compatible?
By Matt Benya

The question of cross browser compatibility is a common topic among Web developers. Should you or should you not make your website cross-browser accommodating? The answer is yes and especially if you are an e-business. As Ripley would say, "believe it or not" but at the time of this article slightly more than 20% of Internet users use a browser other than Internet Explorer. This information comes from W3Schools.com, which has been keeping tabs on browser usage since January 2002.

How Do You Shape Up?
Use of alternative browsers has only been going up, they are no longer a niche community made up of "techies" and anti-Microsoft advocates, they are your everyday user, your potential customers.

If you haven't done so already I would suggest that you look at your website in some of the other common browsers available. These include:

Mozilla: This is currently the top browser after IE6 and it is one of the most feature rich browsers available today. I would personally suggest looking into Firefox Mozilla's next generation browser as opposed to the entire Mozilla suite due to its end user friendliness and feature rich environment.

Opera: The Opera browser has been making its way up the competitive ladder of the browser arena since 2000 when Opera Software ASA released Opera 5. Though it is frŽe to download and use, if you want to access some of the browser's features you are required to pay a small registration fee.

Netscape: Since Netscape provided the code base for Mozilla in 1998 when they made the source code for their flag ship product Netscape Communicator open-source there is little difference between the two browsers. Still it doesn't hurt to see how things shape up between the two, and since they are ultimately two different browsers checking them both is not a bad idea.

Additionally there are programs available that can test your site for you in different browsers and screen resolutions and return their findings. One such program is Browser Photo from NetMechanic.

What Can You Do?
Okay so lets say that our site www.ihaveanerror.com comes up with a couple of errors that cause it to render incorrectly when we look at it in some of the alternative browsers. How are we going to fix the problem? Well the first thing we want to do is stay away from any propriety html tags a certain browser type might offer. These tags will only work properly in the browser they are designed for and may cause trouble for you in others. An example of a proprietary tag would be <marquee> in Internet Explorer.

Another thing you should make a habit of is to validate your pages through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C for short). Founded in 1994 the W3C has made it its obligatÔon to guide the development of the Web and create a common basis to build upon. One of the services that the W3C offers is syntax validation. This is a useful tool when you are trying to ensure that your visitors will get roughly the same experience when they visit your site. Validation is easy, select the language your site was designed in and use their frŽe validation tools to track down any errors that might occur. If there is an Žrror in your source code the validation system will highlight it and provide you with possible solutions for correcting it.

Why should you conform your site to the World Wide Web Consortium's guidelines? The answer is that it is these guidelines that browser developers use as a basis to display pages on the Web. While browsers like Mozilla conform strictly to the W3C's guidelines, Internet Explorer is more relaxed. In fact Internet Explorer will render just about anything you throw at it. You can leave out the tags, tags, or forget to close a tag all together and IE will 9 times out of 10 be able to work with what you give it.

Be leery of Microsoft's FrontPage. While Microsoft makes some of the world's most powerful and end-user friendly applications, in my opinion, FrontPage has a tendency to do things IE's way. What I mean when I say this is that FrontPage will overload a web page with a lot of overhead that is either out of place or incorrect. If you plan on using an editor of this type consider Adobe's GoLive, this application at least has the ability to built a page according to W3C standards and has a built in syntax checker that can help you ensure your site will meet their requirements.

The final word, most likely not...
Remember the saying "you can't please everyone"? The same holds true in the world of Internet browsers. It would be pretty much impossible to make your site render the same way on each and every browser available. This, however, is not the goal; the goal is to make your site useable by the most common browsers thus reaching the largest audience possible. If something fails horribly under certain browsers then it is a good time to rethink your design and find another way to approach the issue. If your site is known to only work under Internet Explorer and it is your desire to leave it this way, then it is good practice to let your visitors know this in advance. They will be much more likely to switch browsers (if possible) and come back to your site, if you let them know ahead of time rather than letting them walk into an unusable page or badly formatted site. Don't forget presentation is everything.


About The Author
Matt Benya is a co-owner of
Primate Studios an independent development house focusing on CGI illustration, Web design and multimedia. With 20+ years of art experience and a degree in Network administration Matt is well suited to translate your needs to the Web.

 

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