I should be making sure that my websites have pretty much the same look and feel across different browsers and platforms, yet am reluctant to do so. Despite the fact that web design is now a mature discipline and a number of “standards” are now defined regarding HTML and CSS, each major browser behaves differently when it comes to handling these simple chunks of plain text.
Since I hardly ever use Windows, any website layouts that I design (or re-design to be more accurate) rarely get tested on Internet Explorer or Firefox for Windows. The silly thing is that even Firefox behaves slightly differently on different operating systems so my sites are missing out on quite a lot. It is only when someone complains or I happen to open any of my sites on Windows that I realize how ugly certain elements seem.
As an example, the menu bar you see at the top of this blog was developed to be translucent with the background image showing through. It looks quite nice under Firefox on Linux (as the above screenshot shows), but shows up as an unattractive black and white under Internet Explorer 6, as shown below. The fonts also aren’t what I wanted them to look like.
You may also have noticed a number of websites that refuse to open in any browser other than IE6. This is especially true for web-based tools designed for use within an enterprise. One of our customers has their own global ticketing system which requires us to report and update any downtimes that are faced. Yes, you guessed it, it requires you to have IE6 and there seemed to be no way around it, other than to find a Windows system or assign the task to someone with a Windows system.
Now, I have changed the black and white to more subtle colors so the menu doesn’t have the same striking feel under IE. I can also just fire up IE when any non-standards compliant website is encountered. All this thanks to being able to run different browsers in my beloved Ubuntu Linux.
I once heard about someone who managed to run IE under Linux using Wine, but I didn’t have any luck with it myself until I found the IEs4Linux site. I downloaded the script from there which did a fresh Internet install of IE using Wine and I had both IE6 and IE5.5 running in not more than 10 minutes. It seems to have exactly the same look and feel as if it was running on Windows and on top of that, you can run multiple versions at once. I can now open the same page on Firefox, Opera, IE5.0, IE5.5 and IE6, all at the same time. Quite wonderful.