Thursday, April 17, 2008

Damn, It Feels Good to be a Gangsta

But not so good to be a web developer working on a major rebuild. At least not right this moment.

I want to launch this summer, so incoming freshman get a fresh start (HA!) on our website. But that apparently worries the faculty and staff, who rely on the website to find answers to the various questions these same freshman bring with them. In my mind, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Students outnumber employees by about 10 to 1. Realistically, this problem is as much political in nature as anything else.

Another problem I'm having is the unstable landscape of browser releases. Safari 3 just came out. Opera 9.5 should be out soon, followed by Opera 10 in the not too distant future. The Firefox team is making sure not to name specific dates, officially stating Firefox 3 will be out “When it's ready”. I've been looking at the minutes from the status meetings and it's obvious the “blockers” (bugs that need to be fixed before the beta can be considered a release candidate) are on a pronounced downward trend. But is that trend linear, meaning the remaining 52 blockers (looks like 62 is the current number of official bugs as of today at 11:28AM PDT) will be out of the way in 2 or 3 short weeks? Or are we in a Zeno's arrow (as opposed to Xenu's arrow) sort of situation where the last few remaining blockers take up more and more time as we near the finish line? There's even talk of seeing IE8 by the end of this year. The IE8 Beta is Vista only, does that mean the final release will be Vista only? And how quickly will people “upgrade”?

I can't really do much but speculate on the future. Maybe the code I write today will continue to work, maybe it won't. Maybe a feature I spend hours implementing in my design will be rendered obsolete with a new browser feature (like Opera's awesome zoom feature, a less awesome version of which made its way into IE7)?

IE6 was an alright browser for its time (a definite improvement over IE5.5), but that was August of 2001. I'm glad it's finally falling off the browser support radar, but it's still there. And chances are it'll still be there when IE8 comes along. I'm not looking forward to attempting to support 3 different versions of IE. At least the users of other browsers can be relied on to update their browser on a fairly regular basis. I got the Firefox update last night at home and it was waiting for me this morning here at work. In a week, it'll be interesting to check how our Firefox version numbers break down in Google Analytics. Currently, all versions of Firefox prior to 2.x makes up less than 2% of total Firefox usage. And Firefox is just 8.17% of all usage, so 2% of that is hardly noticeable in the grand scheme of things.

But ultimately I have to worry about these things. Right now I've got a problem in FF2 where I can't get my input fields in a form to align along a baseline grid. There's an odd 2 pixel increase in height that doesn't seem to be coming from borders or padding or margin and I'm even using Eric Meyer's CSS Reset Reloaded which, in theory, greatly reduces the occurrences of such cross browser oddities. I haven't downloaded the FF3 beta yet to know if the “bug” is still present there...

Ok, I just downloaded it and tried to set it up to allow the beta to run in parallel with this install, but it says only one instance can be running at a time. So I'll have to quit this instance before I can check.

Anyway, my point is, I'm not sure that a 2 pixel difference from the baseline grid is worth taking the time to troubleshoot if, by the time we launch, Firefox 2 will make up a tiny percentage of our user base. It's not mission critical in any way. I doubt anyone but me will EVER take a pixel ruler to this layout and check for things like a baseline grid anyway.

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