Web Programming and Design

Creating for the Internet offers a unique set of challenges, but also the opportunity for some really interesting programming. Sections here include Portfolio, Philosophy - Web Design / Programming, Reference Tutorials.


Philosophy - Web Design / Programming

Fixed Width Vs. Fluid

Should a web site be designed at a fixed width or allowed to be fluid? Fixed width designs are typically set for an 800 x 600 monitor resolution. While some people still use that resolution, many others have moved on to higher resolutions. The biggest impacts on this discussion are the newer wide screen monitors and the smaller cell phone displays. Recently, a fellow webmaster was reviewing his site logs and a full 25% of his visitors were using wide screen resolutions. My personal opinion is that a site should be designed well for all resolutions. If a site is fixed width, then it must be centred to avoid having visitors see a large blank space. The one thing that I will strongly recommend against is making different versions of the content of the site. The only time this it really works when using a newer or more advanced technology and should be used sparingly. If a site changes, it should only be the presentational elements. Using CSS and some Javascript, it is possible to have the same site at various resolutions with no change to the content (except for resizing the images).

Which Browser To Use?

This is a simple one to answer - whatever browser you are comfortable with. There are so many browsers that it is impossible to rate each one. Personally, I use Firefox simply because it has the developer tools that I like. Mostly I urge everyone to venture out of their comfort zones and try other browsers. You never know, you might find that you like a different browser.

Which Operating System To Use?

In recent years, new operating systems have risen to become very usable. Mac OSX and Linux are two of the "best of the rest" category. I personally prefer to use Linux wherever I can, both from cost and ease of use. Of course, many software packages are only available on Windows. From a programmer's point of view, I find Windows to be overly bloated with features that I will never use.

Web Blogs

Web Blogs represent both the best and the worst that the Internet has to offer. Being able to easily and effectively communicate is one the corner stones of the Internet. Web Blogs give just about anyone the ability to post content to the Internet without having to spend a lengthy amount of time learning coding. Yet with this increased level of freedom comes the completely useless and inane. The are thousands of Web Blogs that serve no real purpose. Worse yet are Web Blogs that start as something meaningful and over time degrade, either through lack of updates or lack of anything worth posting, into an abandoned repository of the forgotten.

There are a multitude of Web Blogs that feature good or useful information. Used wisely and kept up to date, a Web Blog can be truly wonderful. News organizations in particular benefit from well designed and well maintained Web Blogs. Web Blogs are also great for people who are far from friends and family. Unlike E-mail which can mistaken for spam, Web Blogs offer a quick and easy way to remain in touch. Web Blogs offer the convenience of doing one post that everyone can read, at their leisure even weeks or months after the post.

I know of at least 3 major companies, who are still in business, whose pages have not been updated for several months. This is where Web Blogs commonly fail. Personal Web Blogs are all too commonly left with no news for days or weeks. Sometimes there are valid reasons, like travelling in areas that do not offer Web access. All too often though, the culprit is simply a lack of anything worth posting. Some people, and indeed some companies, see this as an opportunity to fill the Web Blogs with the truly mundane.

Technology for the sake of technology

In the rapidly changing online world, new technologies are now emerging on an almost daily basis. With the move towards Web 2.0, many sites either have or are beginning to lose sight of the primary goal of the Internet - communication. The temptation to throw every new technology onto a web site can create a sensory overload for the user. Worse, some sites have so many technologies thrown into the site that the main purpose of the site gets lost. The company catalogue that looks nice, but offers no solid information or links to purchase is a prime example. New technologies are not bad, they just have to used in ways that don´t overpower or confuse the user. In the end the site must offer the user a good experience. If the site fails in that simple goal, then all that technology will site idle on a lonely server locked in dark room never to be heard from again.

Reference Tutorials

Just some quick items to help people dress up their pages.

Flash Preloader

Why have a plain old boring loader bar when you can show off your skills with something more dynamic? This tutorial shows how you can make a radial preloader gauge.

Flash Loader Tutorial - Time to complete 10 to 20 minutes

Flash Text Buttons

Have a Flash file with lots of text buttons? Instead of trying to make multiple buttons with their own text, use one button with a transparency over a layer of text. On a simple 5 button menu, this reduces the .fla file size by 25%. The .swf file is reduced by 3%. Small numbers that can mean big savings on sites with lots of visitors. Another advantage is that if you need to make a change to your buttons, you only need to change it in one location which saves time.