129. Conferences

This week’s show sees the return of Ryan and Stanton, holding the fort while Paul and Marcus sun themselves on holiday. .

We’ll be talking about taking your first steps into the world of conferences and answering your questions about font smoothing and browser emulators

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News and events

Release of Firefox 3.1 Alpha

Last Wednesday saw a new developer release from the Firefox team. Firefox 3.1 Alpha, or “Shiretoko” is now available for download. Shiretoko is built on a pre-release version of the Gecko 1.9.1 platform and introduces several new features for you to play with.

  • Web standards improvements in the Gecko layout engine
    • They don’t actually say what improvements, so I guess we’ll have to trust them with this one but from what i can gather, they’ve added a lot more CSS3 selectors like :nth-child, the CSS3 “word-wrap” property, CSS3 columns, text-shadow, box-shadow, border-image and more.
  • Text APIfor the <canvas> element.
    • This is a quite detailed API for drawing vector text within the canvas element, and is sure to set the hearts ot typophiles beating just a little bit faster.
  • Support for using border images.
    • The design community has been screaming for this for as long as I can remember, the ability to specify images as borders. The whole rounded-corner craze might be slightly out-of-style now, but I’m sure we’ll see some innovation with this feature very soon.
  • Support for JavaScript query selectors.
    • Now I’m not completely down with the javaScript kids, so I apologise if i don’t get this quite right. But the query selectors seem to be a way to target specific selectors instead of having to filter a result set provided by the getElementsByTagName() call, you can now do the filtering before you execute the query.
  • Several improvements to the Smart Location Bar.
    • When you start typing a URL, Firefox starts giving you options to choose from, you can now filter those results while you’re typing.
  • A new tab switching behaviour.
    • Pressing Ctrl+Tab now gives you a filmstrip style overlay which lets you quickly navigate to your open tabs, and mimics the similar feature in most operating systems nowadays.

The alpha is available from the Mozilla Developer Center.

A List Aparts’ 2008 Survey

It’s that time of year again, the A List Apart team have unleashed their 2008 survey “for the people who make websites”. The survey gathers a massive amount of information, with around 33,000 people taking part last year and covers a wide range of questions covering all aspects of our beloved industry.

The survey covers everything from Age, Gender and Geography to Education, Employment, Vacation (holidays to the rest of us) and those oh-so-important salary details, how many hours worked and your methods of staying upto date with what’s happening in the industry. The data gathered is compiled into a comprehensive, yet easy to read report, and they also provide the raw (anonymous) data so you can do your own number crunching if you so wish.

You can also have a look at the 2007 survey results if you wish, and Paul and Marcus will no doubt be covering the results of this years survey when they’re published. So this is a call to arms really, help improve this survey by taking part at Alistapart.com. We took part, so should you!

The Future of Web Font Embedding

The last news item is a blog post by Richard Rutter on the future of web font embedding. With both Safari and Firefox supporting web fonts in their 3.1 releases, and development releases of Opera, it could be time to start playing with web fonts.

Richard starts by defining web fonts as using the @font-face rule to point to regular TrueType or OpenType font files on a web server, this is to clear up any confusion with Internet Explorer’s proprietary web font support with uses EOT font file, which is also a way to wrap the fonts in DRM, which i think might severely hamper any efforts to bring web fonts into the mainstream.

The font foundries and type designers seem to view web fonts as the death of their industry, insisting that their revenue streams will be destroyed by piracy and free font embedding, rather than seeing this as an opportunity to really boost their industry.

There’s nothing to say that the @font-face rule has to point to a locally hosted font file, The opportunity exists for the font providers to host the fonts themselves, and charge for their useage. This saves us, as designers, from having to install fonts on the machines we design on, and will undoubtedly allow us to choose from a much larger selection of fonts which can be switched quickly and easily.

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Feature: A Year on the Conference Circuit

This week’s feature has stemmed from a listener who asked “which conference would I suggest for a first timer”? And “how difficult is it if you don’t actually know anyone there”? Having attended a couple of the big conferences this year I thought it would be useful to share my experiences.

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Listeners feedback:

Font Smoothing

Steve Writes: I have been listening to your podcast. I really like it.

I jusr want to ask a question. On mac, the fonts seem to be all thicker than windows. What setting are u using? I’ve been using best for lcd. Today I changed to automatic, and the fonts were much thinner. It looks more alike with windows fonts.

Do you think this is a big problem for mac users? Since the fonts will look different. Which setting do you think is the best for web designer on macs?

The difference of Mac fonts compared to their Windows counterparts originates from Apple’s legacy in desktop publishing and graphic design, the fonts are rendered in a way which would give a closer approximation to how they would look when printed.

Mac’s use a specific font wrapper called dfont, this contains extra information to preserve certain features like font outlines and hinting which can then be rendered more accurately on-screen meaning that in general, fonts look better on a Mac, whichever smoothing method you choose.

If you’re a designer, I’d heavily recommend testing your design in as many different browsers as possible, but also on different operating systems as well. I work primarily on Windows Vista (don’t shoot me) and have a dualscreen setup, my second screen can be flipped over to my Mac where I can test in Safari, Firefox and Opera on Mac, I also run a Ubuntu system to test in. Rather than running a standalone IE6 build on vista, I run a full XP virtual machine with IE6 running natively as I just don’t trust the standalone builds.

One of the main things you’ll have to accept is that your design might not look identical on any combination of browser or operating system, and because you’re probably designing websites to be viewed by other people, I’d recommend keeping your font smoothing to the default setting of “automatic” which is most likely going to be the case for your target audience.

Browser Emulators

Andy Asks: Hey guys. Been listening (on and off) for a while now and love the show.

I was wondering if there is such a thing as a browser emulator, software that allows you to see your site as it would appear on IE, Firefox, Safari, Opera, etc. If there is one, is it total crap and not really work.

The answer to your question is yes, there are several websites that can provide you with this type of service.

One of the more popular sites is Litmus which is an online emulator that validates your HTML and CSS as well as presenting you with a screenshot of your website loaded in up to 23 different browsers across various operating systems. It can also provide you with a report of any compatibility issues it has come across. However there is a fee to get any real use out of this service.

What Litmus does it actually does very well; however there are a couple of major draw backs I’ve found:

  • You can’t have an interactive experience – Not all issues can be seen from a screenshot and more often than not you need to just take your mouse and navigate around the site to find problems.
  • You can’t test javaScript – You can’t see javaScript animations from a screenshot.

As Paul said in the previous question, there’s no substitution for the real thing, which is having multiple setups with multiple browsers installed. However that’s not always a viable option especially for freelancers working from home who don’t have the budget (and space…) to have several machines and licenses for operating systems needed for testing, in which case sites like Litmus are invaluable.

My advice is if you can test on the real thing, do, if you can’t then take a look at Litmus.

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  • Nik Bagdon

    @browser emulators: I recommend the excellent, Open Source (ie free) Virtual Box from virtualbox.org.
    This allows you to simultaneously run different images of operating systems from a “host” OS. So you can alt-tab between your OS images, refresh the browser in that window, and see if your site still works.
    Doesn’t solve all the licensing issues, but at least you only have to have one machine. This also doesn’t help non-Mac people with Mac, but Safari under Windows is a reasonable approximation (gamma aside).
    @litmus: a free alternative is browsershots.org. It’s always done the trick for me. However I agree that there’s no substitute for the “real thing”.

  • http://keepwithinthelines.wordpress.com gblake

    Enjoyed Ryan and Paul’s efforts this week. Perhaps they should start a podcast of their own; it could certainly match the Rissington lay-abouts with their meagre offerings.

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