Consolidation

For a while, the Windows computing side of my life has been spread across far too many versions of the pervasive operating systems with the list including 2000 (desktop and server), XP, 2003 Server, Vista and 7; 9x hasn’t been part of my life for what feels like an age. At home, XP has been the mainstay for my Windows computing needs with Vista Home Premium loaded on my Toshiba laptop. The latter variant came in for more use during that period of home computing “homelessness” and, despite a cacophony of complaints from some, it seemed to work well enough. Since the start of the year, 7 has also been in my sights with beta and release candidate instances in virtual machines leaving me impressed enough to go popping the final version onto both the laptop and in a VM on my main PC. Microsoft finally have got around to checking product keys over the net so that meant a licence purchase for each installation using the same downloaded 32-bit ISO image. 7 still is doing well by me so I am beginning to wonder whether having an XP VM is becoming pointless. The reason for that train of thought is that 7 is becoming the only version that I really need for anything that takes me into the world of Windows.

Work is a different matter with a recent move away from Windows 2000 to Vista heavily reducing my exposure to the venerable old stager (businesses usually take longer to migrate and any good IT manager usually delays any migration by a year anyway). 2000 is sufficiently outmoded by now that even my brother was considering a move to 7 for his work because of al the Office 2007 files that have been coming his way. He may be no technical user but the bad press gained by Vista hasn’t passed him by so a certain wariness is understandable. Saying that, my experiences with Vista haven’t been unpleasant and it always worked well on the laptop and the same also can be said for its corporate desktop counterpart. Much of the noise centered around issues of hardware and software compatibility and that certainly is apparent at work with my having some creases left to straighten.

With all of this general forward heaving, you might think that IE6 would be shuffling its mortal coil by now but a recent check on visitor statistics for this website places it at about 13% share, tantalisingly close to oblivion but still too large to ignore it completely. All in all, it is lingering like that earlier blight of web design, Netscape 4.x. If I was planning a big change to the site design, setting up a Win2K VM would be in order not to completely put off those labouring with the old curmudgeon. For smaller changes, the temptation is not to bother checking but that is questionable when XP is set to live on for a while yet. That came with IE6 and there must be users labouring with the old curmudgeon and that’s ironic with IE8 being available for SP2 since its original launch a while back. Where all this is leading me is towards the idea of waiting for IE6 share to decrease further before tackling any major site changes. After all, I can wait with the general downward trend in market share; there has to be a point when its awkwardness makes it no longer viable to support the thing. That would be a happy day.

Running Internet Explorer on Linux

MSIE 6 running on Ubuntu

On first sight, this probably sounds daft given how good Firefox is but you cannot ignore those surf the web using the ever pervasive Internet Explorer when doing some web development. Using virtualisation is a solution to the need but it can mean that you need to set up a web server with Perl, PHP, MySQL and the like in a virtual machine, all for a little offline testing and then there’s the potential for a lot of file copying too. Otherwise, you are trying to sneak things online and catch the glitches before anyone else does, never a good plan.

Therefore, having the ability to run IE to test your offline LAMPP set up is a boon and IES4Linux allows you to do what’s really needed. Naturally, WINE is involved so some flakiness may be experienced, even after the ever useful API library’s reaching version 1. Otherwise, all usually runs well once you work you way through the very helpful instructions on the IES4Linux website. I did get a misplaced message about the version of WINE that I was using and Python errors made a worrying appearance but neither compromised the end result: a working IE6 installation on my main Ubuntu box.

IE5 and IE5.5 are also on offer if you’re interested but, after looking at my visitor statistics, I think that I can discount these. IE7 and the work-in-progress IE8 make no appearance on the availability list. The absence of IE7 is not a big problem as it might appear because coding for IE6 sufficiently suffices for IE7, even now; IE8 may not be the same in this regard but we shall see. Even so, a later browser release does mean a more secure version and I reckon that including IE7 should be next on the project’s to do list. Saying that, what we have now is far better than nothing at all.

A case of “peekaboo” behaviour in Internet Explorer

I recently changed the engine of my online photo gallery to a speedier PHP/MySQL based affair from its PHP/Perl/XML powered predecessor. On the server side, all was well but a peculiar display issue turned up in Internet Explorer (6, 7 & 8 were afflicted by this behaviour) where photo caption text on the thumbnail gallery pages was being displayed erratically. As far as I can gather, the trigger for the behaviour was that the thumbnail block was placed within a DIV floated using CSS that touched another DIV that cleared the floating behaviour. I use a table to hold the images and their associated captions in place. Furthermore, each caption was also a hyperlink nested within a set of P tags. The remedy was to set the CSS Display property for the affected XHTML tag to a value of "inline-block". With a cascade of DIV, TABLE, TR, TD, P and A tags, finding the right tag where the CSS property in question has the desired effect took some doing. As it happened, it was the tag set, that for the hyperlink, at the bottom of the stack that needed the fix. Of course, it’s all very fine fixing something for one browser but it’s worthless if it breaks the presentation in other browsers. In that vein, I did some testing in Opera, Firefox, Seamonkey and Safari to check if all was well and it was. There may be older browsers like versions of IE prior to 6 where things don’t appear as intended but I get the impression from my visitor statistics that the newer variants hold sway anyway. All in all, it was a useful lesson learnt and that’s never a bad thing.