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Find advice about how to get the most out of your browsing experience and other assorted tech bits of knowledge and opinion. Have a tech question or topic you'd like me to discuss? Get a hold of me with your suggestions.


Screen Resolution

April 15, 2012

24" iMac with 1920x1200 displayScreen Resolution is a measurement of pixel density (number of pixels per inch) of a display, and is commonly used to refer to a display's width and height in pixels (mine is 1920x1200, for instance). As of early 2012, most screen resolutions exceed 1024x768 pixels. My college professors instructed us to design our websites for a screen resolution of 640x480 (back then scrolling down was discouraged - now, of course, we all have scroll wheels that make it easy and fast to zip down through a site). Even back in the early 2000's 640x480 was a rarely used, low resolution, but their goal was to teach us to design sites that are compatible for even "your grandma's computer screen" (their words not mine, Grandma). Thank goodness those days are behind us! It was infinitely frustrating to have a website layout that was only 640x480. Now it is common practice to have sites designed with widths of 900 to 1024 pixels (this one is 980).

 Choosing a resolution   Your screen comes with the ability to switch resolutions - usually with anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen choices. However, out of the factory, your screen will have an optimal (aka native) resolution (usually the highest available). Choosing a resolution other than the native one will lead to poor image quality. If a lower than native resolution is chosen, you will notice that everything appears larger, but images and text are "pixelated" (lacking crisp and sharp edges). Text and images may appear bigger, but you're sacrificing quality. You will also find that, depending on the resolution you choose, you will need to scroll sideways more often when browsing websites. If you're choosing the lower resolution so that text is easier to read, keep in mind that most browsers come with the ability to increase text size. You can also manage the appearance of items (specifically their size) via your operating system (Mac or Windows). This can increase the size of text and images beyond just within your browser. I point this out because I've found many people's screens set to lower than native resolutions over the years.

 the take-away   Choose your display's native resolution for the best quality. Browsers include the ability to increase text size so you don't have to get the zoomed in effect by choosing a lower resolution. Also, both Mac and Windows operating systems have methods for helping increase visibility without decreasing resolution. A quick search online will give you many how-to articles to help (search "mac universal access" or "windows accessibility options" depending on your operating system).



April 3, 2012

BrowsersYour browser is your connection to the internet. Without it you're not going to any of the sites you love to visit. For the regular, everyday computer user, the browser is probably the most used bit of software, or close to it. So here are some tips to get the most out of it:

 Updates   Keep your browser up-to-date! This is easy, but many people are running outdated versions of their browser. Most browsers will occasionally give you a reminder to download the latest version, but it's up to you to click the button. Updates usually only take a minute or two and come with many benefits. The latest version of most any browser is going to load pages faster, be more secure, and more compatible and web-standards compliant. This means you wait less, worry less, and your pages load how they're suppose to.

 Plug-ins   Make sure you have the latest versions of plug-ins (also know as browser extensions, add-ons, applets). Common add-ons include: Adobe Acrobat (for viewing PDFs), Apple QuickTime (for viewing QuickTime videos), Adobe Shockwave (for interactive content), and Adobe Flash (for viewing Flash-based websites, and videos). Keeping up to date with plug-ins means you'll be far less likely to come to a site where content is not available to you.

 JavaScript   Make sure your browser has JavaScript enabled. This is rarely disabled, but if it is you'll be missing out on great content from almost every site you visit. Click the small thumbnail image of the browser logos above, that effect is created by JavaScript (in coordination with some CSS).

 All browsers are not created equal   Keep in mind that going with the default browser on your computer (or even mobile device) may not always be the best option (i.e. Internet Explorer for Windows; Safari for Mac). Unfortunately, we're not at a point yet where viewing a site in each of the different browsers will yield the same results. While there are web standards that dictate how the code behind websites (HTML and CSS) should be rendered, each browser displays the code slightly differently. In many cases, there are only a handful of noticeable differences. In my opinion these are the best browsers for the fastest, safest, most compatible browsing: Firefox, Safari, and Chrome.

 ...and then there's Internet Explorer   On the flip side of the last sentence of the above paragraph, Internet Explorer (IE) is regularly the buggiest, slowest, least secure, least compatible browser (even the newer versions). If you search, "internet explorer web designers" you'll get results like this from Google and this from Bing (using Microsoft's search engine to prove a point about Microsoft's terrible browser = satirical). While search results will vary from day-to-day, the overall tone of the results is negative for a neutral search. You'll find things like: Problems and Solutions, Getting IE to play well with CSS, Web Designer's Nightmare, Web citizens trying to kill IE 6, a burden to web designers, etc. So if you're using IE just because it is your default browser, click one of the browsers I recommend above and download it. You'll be a happier surfer.

 the take-away   Keep your browser up-to-date. If you use Internet Explorer, consider making a change. I use Firefox and strongly recommend it (remember browsers are free - at least the ones I've outlined above).