Nobody Beats Up My Little Brother But Me

Deep within the comments of Dave Shea’s recent post on browser dependencies, Jeff Croft summarizes his design methodology. It’s so excellent that I’m going to go right ahead and reprint the thing:

In practice, I often find myself doing a bit of an “outside-in” thing. Since my University job forces me to make sites look reasonable in Netscape 4.7x, I have a general design process that looks something like this:

  1. Mark up content in XHTML. Test in Lynx to esure proper flow and such.
  2. Link to a basic stylesheet that Netscape 4 will see.
  3. Write styles for basic (NN4) stylesheet. Typically, this is fonts, colors, and not much else.
  4. @import an advanced stylesheet, for modern browsers.
  5. Write styles for advanced stylesheet, taking full advantage of as much CSS as possible, not really caring whether it works in “mid-level” browser such as IE5 or IE6. At this point, I’m just getting it to look perfect in Safari/Mozilla/Other near-perfect browser.
  6. Revert to a mid-level browser (usually IE5 and IE6) and tweak styles to satisfy them.

Right on, Jeff. Methodical and comprehensive.

I can also sympathize with Jeff and the requirements of his University job. After all, for three-and-a-half years, I had to target Netscape 4.7 as my organization’s primary browser. I was waiting for years for the company to switch to Netscape 6… then Netscape 6.2… then Netscape 7… but it never happened. Be with me here, people. Feel my pain.

So these days I’m of two minds when I hear people ganging up on poor old Netscape 4. On the one hand, Netscape 4 deserves to be bashed. It is truly a lousy piece of software in all respects: standards compliance, rendering speed, user interface, system resources consumed, you name it.1 On the other hand, most of the people doing the bashing don’t really know the horror. Sure, they’ve thrown up their hands in disgust at its CSS bugs.2 Who hasn’t? But have they fought with it for hours? Have they tried to scroll through a styled table with hundreds of cells on an old UltraSparc? Have they had to explain to users that disabling JavaScript also secretly disables style sheets (even though the two options are separate checkboxes that sit right next to each other)? In short, have they bled?

I dunno. I know it’s perverse, but sometimes I feel like I should defend battered, dying old Netscape 4 from the general population. Journeymen! Dilettantes! Feh. If anyone has the right to bash Netscape 4, it ought to be me.

1. The one area where Netscape 4 made signficant strides was stability. Early Netscape 4 was horribly crashy, but as we moved up through Netscape 4.71, 4.72, etc., it actually became fairly stable. Go figure.

2. Incidentally, Netscape 4 sorta kinda understands the float property. So with some tweaking, you can produce primitive tableless sites that display (imperfectly) in Netscape 4. This very site is only one example.

3. Regarding the title of this entry: I don’t actually have a little brother, and I wouldn’t beat him up if I did. It’s just an expression.

3 thoughts on “Nobody Beats Up My Little Brother But Me

  1. I was with you there. I was feeling your pain. Then you used the word “crashy” in the first footnote and you lost me. You write for a living and you use such words!!??! Shame on you! Next you’ll be telling me that you use that word in Scrabble!?

    Oh, and another thing. I wasn’t AT ALL offended that you said you have no little brother.

    Your little-brother-in-law (school)

  2. “Crashy” is indeed a dangerous word, for use by trained professionals only. Kids, don’t try this at home.

    And thanks for reminding me that I *do* in fact have a little brother to beat up. Where blood had failed me, the law has since provided.

  3. In regard to your comment about the law providing you a little brother, I feel bound to point out that it was your sister who did that. And since said brother has made clear in his comment that he is also your brother in law school, I would be wary of claiming your older brother privilege of beating him up. He will soon have a law degree and will not be afraid to use it.

    — Mom

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