Almost Heaven Electronics' Web Tips

Art Glick dba
Almost Heaven Electronics

...a full service Reseller and Systems Integrator offering
All brands of computer hardware and software,
custom programming, data conversion,
technical writing services and, of course, no-nonsense Web design.



...or, "How to Avoid Certain Pitfalls on the Internet"

It's not just frames that I hate! It's crawling messages at the bottom of my browser screen, faulty Java script and especially animated graphics. It's sites loaded so heavily with unblocked graphics that I find myself staring at a blank screen for minutes at a time. Patience is a virtue not easily practiced, and I'm not that patient of a person.

I suspect that most of you share a similar nature. The Internet is a manifestation of our technological society, and it mirrors the character of that society. The phrase "instant gratification" was, I believe, coined even long before Arpanet (early forerunner to the Internet) made its first connection, but most Webmasters seem to have missed this point. The Internet is about instant gratification as much as Microwave Ovens and MacDonalds.

Even if you're new to the Internet, you've probably already seen too many of those "cute" little animated graphics that seem to be cropping up on Web Sites more and more. When you hit a site with such a graphic, provided that your browser supports this feature, you see a small animation that usually repeats continuously.

Even a novice can see that these annoying little tricks waste "machine cycles" (slow down your computer, for you non-techno-weenies) or worse, Internet "bandwidth", (slowing the net for all of us). And, like most of the new HTML tricks, they are only marginally supported by even the later releases of popular browsing software.

When I'm running on an older machine with a slower modem, I really get annoyed watching the line at the bottom of my browser constantly flash a byte count and "Document Done" while I'm trying to read the URL to a link on the page. Even worse, how feeble does a Webmaster have to be to place a link to a large downloadable file on the same page with an animated graphic? I've seen download times tripled just so a silly animation could continue, probably even out of view! Arghhh!

Don't let this happen to you! If you're preparing to download a file and find yourself on a page with an animated graphic, for newer browsers, click on "Stop Animations". For users with older browsers, turn the automatic loading of images OFF in your browser and reload the page before you click on the link to the downloadable file.

Animated graphics are seldom more than a case of a webmaster "showing off" to their client. I've seen few sites enhanced by them. When I go to a site that lists used cars, I'm there to buy a car, and the site exists to sell me one. I fail to see how the graphic of a car driving back and forth across the screen is going to encourage me to return to the site.

In all my time on the Internet, I don't think I've ever seen more than one or two animated graphics that were truly appropriate.

Although less abused and more useful, I think I've also seen about as many frames as I want to see. If your browser supports frames, when you hit a site that has them you'll see your screen divided into segments, each one representing a different HTML document.

Okay, okay, so frames seem ideal for things like Tables of Contents. I can't argue against that point. But, does your page REALLY need them? My computer screen is small enough, and I really don't like scroll bars. It's bad enough that I have to scroll up and down, please don't make me scroll right and left, too, in this box and that box. I've seen sites so poorly divided into frames that the screen seemed like it was half scroll bars!

And, have you ever tried to use your History List with framed pages? The History List is what Netscape maintains to keep track of where you've been on the Internet. It seems that at least those versions prior to and including Netscape 3.0 have a problem with maintaining their History List as soon as you hit a framed page. This means that the "Back" and "Forward" buttons cease to function properly, too. When you hit "Back" you are taken back to the last unframed page. Are frames really worth all this?

By the way, there is a way around this problem with frames, at least for more recent browser software. If you find yourself in a frame and want to go "Back" within that frame, just hit the right mouse bottom and use the "Back" feature on this list.

Then there are the problems with Java script, which seem to now be the most prevalent. Many people consider the use of Java as essential to their web design. It's not a matter of simply enhancing the site visually. Despite some abuse, Java script presents the opportunity to conduct many processes that are genuinely useful to electronic commerce.

The trouble with Java script is that it doesn't work too well, and the reason that it doesn't is because it's too browser specific. It's not supposed to be, but it is. People should just stick to standard CGI.

You can do anything with Perl that you can with Java, but the difference is that your Perl script will run on the server. Get it working on your own system, and you're pretty much guaranteed it will work everywhere. Java runs on the client, that is, each individual machine that connects to the site. Even if it runs with one particular browser, you're pretty much guaranteed that there will be those in common use on which it won't run.

Worse yet, Java has become a vehicle for a new type of virus, the "hostile applet" - an evil little device capable of doing all sorts of unsavory things to your computer system. I recently came across a site on the net devoted to "hostile applets", and although much of it is intended to document the method of a "hostile applet" for the technically oriented, you can still find helpful user information there about these wicked contrivances.

I know that, sooner or later, someone is going to read this and e-mail me to say that something has been fixed with the latest release of Netscape or Internet Explorer. That's great, but most of my clients and customers don't want to keep downloading a new browser every few months.

If you're trying to sell a product or idea on the Internet, you would be wise to avoid the temptation of loading your site down with all the latest "tricks of the trade". Remember, most people don't download a new browser every few months, and there are millions of potential customers using a browser that might not support everything that you do.

With the ever increasing variety of "Internet Publishing" software on the market, anybody can now create an HTML document and call themselves a "webmaster". But the publishing programs can't even be as good as the programmers that created them, and as we all know, there's never any guarantee that even the best programmer knows anything about the object of the program.

For example, these so-called Internet Publishers shouldn't even ALLOW a graphic to be placed on the page without blocking it with height and width parameters. It's the reason that you find yourself staring at a blank page, sometimes for minutes at a time, when you first hit a link. See the box at the bottom of this page for more about this.

There are those of us that have come to web design as programmers. After all - input, output, labels and branches - web design is just a simple form of programming. We are the type that pay close attention to the results of our actions. We consider the widest variety of possibilities.

We all know how enjoyable it is to hit a "mean and lean" site on a server that's not overloaded and see it flash to the screen almost instantly. One day, we'll all have T1 and ISDN, but by then, the "kids" will have figured out even better ways to waste the bandwidth!


Webmaster's Tip of the Year

Thinking about designing a web page or already doing so? If you are, for goodness sakes, please be sure to BLOCK YOUR GRAPHICS! It's only a simple matter of adding the HEIGHT and WIDTH commands to the HTML reference to the graphic. If you do not block your graphics, when people come to view your page their browser must download each graphic before it can know where to place the text. People browsing your page will be greeted with a blank screen until all the graphics have been transferred! If the graphics are blocked, then most browsers will take the text first and lay it out on the screen, leaving space for the graphics as they download. Visitors to your site can then at least read your message while they're waiting to see your pictures.


Please feel free to drop us an e-mail with your thoughts.

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