Web Design

There was a time Netscape Navigator (Netscape) and Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) were the two dominant web browsers. There were alternate sets of web pages customised to each browser’s specific features and rendering, with a script on the home page to detect the web browser being used and re–direct the user to the browser–specific set of pages.

These big two web browsers added support for features such as frames and tables at different times during their development, and even common features such as table–backgrounds rendered differently in each web browser.  Then there were features such as marquees and ActiveX controls that were specific to IE on Windows.

I used to design two sets of web pages so as to display correctly in at least the Netscape and Microsoft web browsers.

I remember designing for IE initially, because ActiveX had many samples to cut and paste, and the results looked fabulous at that time. I had a single root page at my web site which displayed IE–specific content. I later realised that most of my traffic at that time was from Netscape browsers. I modified the root page using “faulty” HTML code, such that Netscape couldn’t interpret the frames and displayed the no frames version with Java applets, but IE interpreted the frames and displayed IE–specific content with ActiveX controls, table enhancements etc. Then along came the IE 4.0 beta release, at which point the bugs in my pages became apparent — IE4 failed to interpret the frames and I had to modify my “faulty” HTML code which had done the trick all along. With the modified HTML, the frames version came up in both web browsers.

That led me to create alternate web pages implementing IE–specific enhancements. Visitors then had to explicitly click on the link to the IE 3.0/4.0 enhanced page from the page that came up initially. This default page displayed properly in both web browsers since it used only Java applets that were common to both web browsers. I chose to make this web page the default, rather than the IE–enhanced page, for obvious reasons.

I then started losing faith in ActiveX. In retrospect I was right. I joined in the ranks of believers in Java. Microsoft had a proprietary JScript as against JavaScript and its VBScript and Visual Basic are Windows–specific. This cross–platform thing hit me as an afterthought, after all the development efforts with ActiveX — but its worth it because VBScript took away my fear of scripting, and implementing ActiveX controls paved the way for Java applets.

Further, what I keep thinking is that given my attitude, if ever I had to develop in parallel for two browsers, I would have given more attention to one browser over the other based on personal preference, to the extent of developing a lesser web page for the one I did not support. Which is true, I did ignore Netscape/Java totally until I saw which of the two sets of pages recorded more hits.

Developing for IE paid off in the form of alternate pages which were in no way less attractive than the default Netscape pages, and that had me thrilled. Visitors would be equally impressed, irrespective of their web browser. Had I adopted Netscape earlier, I would never have had the motivation to develop for IE, and thus my development would not have yielded me these results. I had two sets of great looking web pages, both developed with equal zest and passion, which is totally unexpected of me.

Now that both the Netscape and Microsoft products have almost identical features, it is really a waste developing two sets of web pages, except that Netscape still does not support ActiveX controls except via a plug-in (that is not free) and Dynamic HTML — unless one is keen on Dynamic HTML. There are Javascript and Java equivalents of ActiveX bells and whistles, so that’s totally avoidable.

To some extent even today, web sites have pages which are specific to IE.

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