131. Version Control

Paul Boag

In this weeks show Ryan and Stanton return to talk about the importance of version control and answer your questions on project  management and invoicing applications, download sizes and page weight.

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News and events

Twitter Cuts UK SMS

This week the team over at Twitter announced that they would no longer be delivering outbound SMS over there UK number. They go on to explain that the bill which up until now they’ve been footing is simply too great and that even with a limit of 250 messages per week they estimate a yearly cost of $1000 per user.

Thanks to established relationships with SMS services in Canada, India and the United States the outbound SMS service will be continuing uninterrupted in those countries.

Twitter has suggested a number of alternatives to the service, links to which can be found on their blog. It would also appear that a number of start-ups are rushing to fill the void as TechCrunch have also reported.

A large portion of Twitters popularity is due to their SMS facilities and it is feared that “freezing” out the UK and other countries from this service will be detrimental to their future.

It reminds me of when Pandora, the online radio station, closed its doors entirely to its UK audience due to licensing constraints and it begs to question do we poor souls in the UK miss out on all the good toys?

facelift (FLIR) Image Replacement for Fonts

Facelift Image Replacement (or FLIR, pronounced fleer) is an image replacement script that dynamically generates image representations of text on your web page in fonts that aren’t otherwise supported in web browsers. The generated image is automatically placed on your site and works in a similar way to sIFR, the big difference being the lack of Flash.

This script uses PHP and javaScript and utilises actual .ttf font files to generate its replacement images, so you can simply specify which elements you want to replace, h1, h2 tags etc, download a font you want to use, point the script to it and your done.

I’m looking forward to having a play with this script as it seems to be simple to use and the fact that you don’t have to mess around with Flash like you do with sIFR is a big bonus in my book.

Take a look at the number of examples they have on their website and see for yourself.

Gmail went down!

So Gmail went down for a few hours this week and as Josh Catone said in his sitepoint article article:

Judging by the reactions on Twitter and in the blogosphere, you’d have thought that the world ended.

There’s nothing really more we can say about this that Josh hasn’t already mentioned, but suffice it to say, no web sites/app is going to have 100% up time and this echoes what Stanton and I were talking about the other week in regards to S3 going down. It’s important to always have a backup and not to put all your eggs in one basket because when the service you’re using goes down, and invariably it will, you need a plan B.

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And Now For Something Completely Random

During the recording of this weeks podcast we were thrown completely when we spotted Paul Annett from Clear:Left dressed up as a Gorilla on Yahoo Live! and then proceeded to start dancing… always aiming to share the hysterics here’s proof. Random indeed.

Paul Annett Dresses as a Gorilla

Feature: To Version Control or Not?

Version control can seem like a very daunting thing to incorporate into your work flow, but once it’s there you can be left wondering how you ever lived without it. In this week’s feature Stanton shares his experiences with you in a bid to convince you why you need it.

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Listeners feedback:

Project Management and Invoicing Applications

James writes: I would like some boagworld advice. I’m a web designer and SharePoint specialist at a large company in Cambridge, UK. Over the last 3 to 4 years i have been messing around with web design etc. I now am very busy outside of work and it is getting busier every month.

I started of with a server under the bed at home with UPS hosting these sites. They ranged from personal sites, to company profile pages to shops. This server has now been replaced with a VPS hosted externally.

My plan is to keep working full time and manage my time very carefully outside of work and keep these sites coming in and out etc and then one day take the big leap into the self-employed world.

What could you recommend for me to manage my tasks, projects, time-management and invoicing etc?

I love the podcast and would be quite happy to chat further with you. Look forward to hearing your experience comments.

Well there is a multitude of online and desktop applications designed specifically for managing your business.

Probably the most popular project management app I know of is 37 Signals’ BaseCamp and that’s certainly the first one that springs to mind when I’m asked this question. Depending on what package you have, BaseCamp allows you to create projects, set milestones, to-do lists, manage time spent on tasks among other things, however BaseCamp is tailored more towards collaborative projects for when you’re working with a team of people. It doesn’t provide facilities for invoicing clients and managing your accounts and so it might not be the perfect choice if you working alone.

Another app I know of and which comes highly recommended is FreeAgent. FreeAgent like BaseCamp allows you to create and manage projects, clients and timescales, however in addition it provides you with the facility to generate invoices, manage your bank accounts as well as your expenses and incomes. It’s designed for sole traders, partnerships and limited companies and is wrapped up in a nice, user friendly interface.

A final mention goes to a Microsoft app that I came across a couple of years ago now, and has only this year been release in the UK. It’s called Office Accouting Express 2008 and it’s actually free to download and use. As you would expect it integrates with other Office applications and provides you with all the facilities you would expect from an accounting package, invoicing, client management etc. So if you’re working on a PC it’s worth having a look.

Luckily you can have a play with all these apps before you buy. BaseCamp has a free account which allows you to create 1 project so you can get in and see how it all works, FreeAgent has a series of demos you can use to see if the interface and facilities are to your liking and as I’ve said Office Accounting Express is free. So my advice would be check out them al
l and see what works for you and no doubt there will be several suggestions in the show comments on other apps that I haven’t mentioned here.

Download Sizes

Bob writes: After reading a recent post from Smashing Magazine on textures I started to wonder… what is a good rule of thumb regarding document size per page on the web? Most of the example pages in the article ranked in at close to 900kb per page… am I behind the times?

Very good question, and one I think we all worry about at points. There’s more than just the filesize to really worry about, there’s the general ‘page weight’ which is affected by many factors, such as:

  • The number of HTTP requests made – if you’re pulling in a lot of external javaScript or CSS files, each one has to be requested seperately. You can combine these into single files to reduce load times, but at the expense of readability, maintainability and organisation
  • The size of any javaScript files you’re pulling in – you can get minified versions of most libraries, for example, which strip out all the extra spaces and line breaks in the code, which aren’t needed in order for the code to execute
  • CSS expressions can be a useful tool, but are bloody slow, especially when used a lot
  • Image filesize can have a massive effect on load times, which is one of your main concerns as you mentioned textures. I’m assuming you’re already familiar with image optimisation, but also test to see if you can squeeze images into a GIF, or a PNG8 if possible, these formats will give you a nice small filesize if you only need a limited colour pallete.

In this day and age it’s nice to think that we’re all cruising on nice fast broadband connections, but in reality we know that’s not the case and you really have to consider your audience, and the context in which they may visit your site (Paul’s talked about this quite recently). If you expect an older demographic to your site, or people in remote areas, then they might still be hitting you on a dial up connection. Some visitors may be using poor public wifi (I get suicidal on the train to and from London as the wifi is usually worse than dial-up), or mobile devices where the data charges can be ridiculously high.

There are a couple of tools I use to get an idea of how my pages weigh in:

There is a Firebug addon called YSlow which provides some nifty statistics on what’s happening under the hood of the pages you visit, and also grades the page performance and suggests methods to improve the loading time of your page.

I tested 2 sites quickly with this extension to give an idea of what you can expect to see, Amazon and Boagworld.

  • Amazon.com weighs in at 501k with 85 HTTP requests and a performance rating of D
  • Boagworld.com is a bit lighter on it’s feet at 57.6k and 79 HTTP requests, but has a performance rating of F, due to (among other things) including 37 external javascript files compared to Amazon’s 8, and 33 CSS background images compared to 9 with Amazon.

I also use a Firefox plugin called Firefox Throttle which lets you simulate a specific network speed (such as 56k) and get an idea of how long your site will take on certain connections.

Unfortunately I don’t think there’s a good rule of thumb here. Personally, I don’t let the page weight issue affect or limit my design, but try and make savings where I can nearer the end of the project, by optimising images, switching to minified JS libraries and reducing the amount of HTTP requests where possible.

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