Testing Your Web Site In Different Browsers

A couple of weeks ago I was reading a blog post about testing your web site in different browsers. I can’t remember where I read this story but it linked to browsershots.org, which is a free open source online service. This online service enables you to see what your web site will look like on different browsers, everything from Internet Explorer 5 on Windows to Safari on the Mac.

I’ve tweaked the layout of this web site a lot, especially on the CSS side of things. I’ve known this to cause issues in the past. I once had a situation where this web site looked fine on Firefox under Linux, only for it to look different on Windows XP using Firefox or Internet Explorer.

I therefore decided to submit my web site to browsershots.org to see how this web site would perform on a greater selection of browsers. Overall this web site looks fine in other browsers, but I did notice something odd with Internet Explorer 6.0. The right-hand sidebar was displaying directly below the left-hand sidebar, this made the whole web page look a bit strange – yuk!

I therefore decided to dig into Google Analytics to see if anyone was using Internet Explorer 6 to visit my site. The number of visitors using this browser really surprised me. Not only was it a large number, but all these visitors were seeing my web site display incorrectly. Obviously I wanted to fix things as soon as possible.

Here was the breakdown of visitor numbers by browser for the last month. Internet Explorer accounts for almost 40% of traffic visiting this site.


Next I wanted to drilldown and see which versions of Internet Explorer each visitor was using.

I was really surprised how many visitors are still using Internet Explorer 6. It is almost a 50/50 split between Internet Explorer 6 and Internet Explorer 7.

I’ve now got this web site displaying correctly across all browsers on Linux, Windows XP and on the Mac. This isn’t bad considering this is a 3 column theme which are more difficult to work across multiple browsers than 2 column themes.

The motto of this story. Don’t assume everyone has upgraded to the latest browser and make sure your web site displays correctly across all browser platforms. Otherwise you could lose traffic as a result.

What are the most popular browsers on your site and are you are a fan of 2 or 3 column themes?

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Posted in Computer Review

HP iPAQ rx5720 PDA Review

Today I am reviewing the HP iPAQ 5720 Travel Companion which is an all in one satellite navigation system and PDA. Sales of satellite navigation systems have rocketed over the last 5 years and there seems to be no slow down in sight.

So how does a combined satellite navigation and PDA system stack up? and is it worth buying?

I am going to split this review into two. This week I will cover the PDA side of things and the overall usability of the device. Next week I will be putting the TomTom satellite navigation through its paces.

Here is a brief rundown of the technical specifications:

Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0
Pocket PC versions of Microsoft Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Internet Explorer
Microsoft Windows Media Player 10
TomTom NAVIGATOR 6 and integrated GPS receiver
3.5” QVGA touch screen panel
Samsung SC32442 400Mhz processor
64Mb RAM
1Gb Flash Memory
Integrated Bluetooth v2.0
Secure Digital (SDIO) expansion slot
Inside the box you will find the following items:

HP iPAQ rx5702
Touch screen stylus
Carrying case
Battery
USB cable
CD-ROM (includes Outlook 2002 and synchronization software)
User documentation
Wall charger
Car kit – includes windscreen mount, iPAQ holder and car charger

Setup

When the device is first switched on you are guided through a few initial setup screens to get things configured correctly. Setup was straightforward. I installed the iPAQ software on a Windows XP system which already had Microsoft Outlook 2003 installed. The setup was smart enough to detect I already had Outlook installed and so it did not try installing Outlook from the CD-ROM. If you don’t have Outlook already installed on your PC then you are prompted to install Outlook 2002 which is provided on the CD-ROM.

Once setup was complete, it synchronized my Outlook calendar, e-mail inbox and contacts. This process went very smoothly with no problems. You also have the option to create a shared folder on your PC which allows you to synchronize documents between your PC and the iPAQ.

Once the setup process is completed you can then start exploring the iPAQ. The best place to start is the ‘Today’ page. This is the page that is displayed when you first switch on the device. It shows you at a glance the current date and time, your calendar appointments for the day, any unread email messages, battery life indicator, etc.

Usability

You can navigate around the iPAQ using either the provided stylus or by using the buttons on the right-hand side of the screen. People who don’t like using a stylus on the touch screen will welcome these buttons. I found the stylus pretty easy to use and rarely used the buttons.

On the side of the device there are also hot-key buttons to access commonly used functions such as rotating the screen and using the media player. The ability to rotate the screen is useful, especially when using applications like Excel and Word. I found it easier to use these applications when the screen is in portrait mode rather than the default landscape mode.

The 400Mhz processor seemed fast enough for this type of device. Applications loaded quickly and I didn’t observe any sluggishness or undue delays whilst using the device.

Office Software

Outlook is probably the best piece of software on the iPAQ. I found it straightforward to check my emails, manage my appointments and lookup contacts.

I personally found using applications like Excel and Word on this device too fiddly. The screen is just too small to work effectively with any documents, although if you just want to store documents or transfer documents from one PC to another, then it will perform fine.

There are several options available for entering text in applications like Word and Excel. You can either use an on screen keyboard or use one of the handwriting recognition methods. I found the Block Recognizer and Letter Recognizer very difficult to use, the iPAQ had difficulty recognizing my handwriting. I had much greater success using the Transcriber Only method. I found this method much more natural, more closely resembling using a pen on paper, although still a bit fiddly at times.

Connectivity

This device only supports Bluetooth, there is no wireless capability, so bear that in mind before purchasing. This means once you have disconnected the iPAQ from your PC, you are going to be limited in being able to perform tasks like checking for new emails and appointments, etc. unless you have a Bluetooth enabled PC.

If the lack of wireless puts you off, then I recommend you take a look at the next model up, the iPAQ rx5900 which supports wireless. This would give you the option of connecting the iPAQ to a wireless network.

If you only need to synchronize your emails and calendar once a day then the IPAQ rx5702 will perform fine. You could for example, synchronize the iPAQ using the USB cable first thing in the morning, and then check your calendar and new emails on the train whilst commuting into work. For these types of task it will perform great. You could then synchronize the iPAQ again once you arrive at the office.

I found the iPAQ performed well performing these types of tasks. It was useful being able to synchronize my calendar in the morning and then take the device out and about, and get reminders about forthcoming appointments later in the day.

The Bluetooth feature worked well. I had no problem establishing a connection with my mobile phone and transferring documents between the two devices.

Media

The iPAQ also comes with Microsoft Windows Media Player 10 and HP Photosmart Mobile. I encountered no problems managing my audio tracks and photos. It also comes bundled with a couple of games including Solitaire.

iPAQ rx5720 Add-Ons

As mentioned earlier, the iPAQ rx5720 does not support wireless out of the box. Having said that, the iPAQ rx5720 does have a SDIO slot. If you really want wireless capability then you can purchase a wireless card separately and plug it into the SDIO slot. These cards retail in the UK for under £20 so they are not too expensive.

Also, if you find using the stylus too fiddly for entering data then you can purchase a bluetooth keyboard. There are many types on the market but the Brando Bluetooth Smart Keyboard is one possibility.

PDA Summary

Overall this is not a bad PDA device offering easy integration with Outlook on your PC. I found Outlook worked very well with the screen size although you may find power applications like Word and Excel too fiddly to use.

The overall usability of the device is easy to use and it has a good battery life. The lack of wireless may put off power users who want to regularly connect up to a network to synchronize the device. If you only want to synchronize the iPAQ once a day or once a week using a USB cable then it will perform fine. A separate SDIO wireless card can be purchased though to overcome this limitation.

TomTom Satellite Navigation

Next week I will complete this review by giving a full rundown of the TomTom satellite navigation system that is included on the PDA. My initial tests so far show it to be an excellent sat nav system, so come back next week for the full report.

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Posted in PDA Review

Web Site Updates

I thought I’d share with you some of the upcoming topics I plan to cover on this blog over the next few months. For the last few weeks I’ve been running a series on Webmaster and SEO tools. I aim to wrap that series up next week so I can focus on other areas. There is a lot more for me to learn in this field so it is an area I may come back to later in the year.

I plan to run a few more series on other topics over the remainder of this year, so if you’ve got any suggestions on topics you’d like to see then let me know. I will be also be writing more reviews on electronic gadgets, an area I’ve neglected recently. I’ll elaborate more on this soon.

The articles I’ve written on Ubuntu have been some of the most popular on this site so far, so expect to see more in this area too.

Finally, my Feedburner subscription reached the milestone of 100 readers today, so if you’re one of the recent new subscribers then welcome aboard

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Posted in Blog

Ubuntu 7.04 Upgrade First Impressions

Today I upgraded my machine from Ubuntu 6.10 to Ubuntu 7.04, and just like my previous upgrade from Ubuntu 6.06 to 6.10, the whole process went very smoothly. Apart from a couple of minor issues with the new desktop effects, which I’ll go into more detail later in this post, everything else went fine.

The upgrade instructions were very simple to follow. Make sure you read the notice on the upgrade page, which states you must have the latest version of Update Manager (0.45.2) before you upgrade. Otherwise, you will receive an Authentication failed error. I followed the recommended route, which is to go to the System -> Administration -> Update Manager menu option and follow the prompts. Once the upgrade process starts you get a dialog as follows:
Upgrading Ubuntu

There are well over 900 package updates so the whole download process will take some time, depending on the download speed of your network connection. I had no issues during the download process. It did mention during the download that it would overwrite a couple of files that I had modified, but I don’t remember ever modifying the files it mentioned, so I let the installer overwrite these files with the new versions. You do have the option to review these modified files at this point, and you can choose to keep the original files if you wish.

Once the install had finished I was glad to see my desktop looked just as it did before the upgrade. Boot startup times into Ubuntu are about the same as Edgy, no improvement here. The first thing I noticed after booting into Feisty was a new network icon in the top right of the desktop.

Network Manager icon

This is the Network Manager applet . If you right-click on this icon you can get some basic information about your network connection. I have a wired connection, using a pair of Solwise 85Mbps homeplugs, and Ubuntu 7.04 had no trouble connecting to my router.

My network setup is fairly simple so I would be interested to hear views on anyone who has upgraded who uses a wireless router. Is the upgrade any better than from Ubuntu 6.06 to 6.10 ?

I was also glad to see that all my existing apps that I had installed in Ubuntu 6.10, like Google Picasa web albums, were still there and working OK. Firefox worked as before and I had no issues visiting web sites that use Flash. All my existing Ubuntu themes also worked as before.

Existing apps

One of the new features that has been touted quite a lot in Ubuntu 7.04 is easier installation of multimedia codecs. I was keen to try this out as I have several MPG videos that I could never figure out how to play in Ubuntu 6.10. I selected one of these troublesome videos and tried to open it using the Totem Movie Player. As soon as it tried to open the video I got this dialog.

Gnome codec install

I clicked the Yes button and It found the necessary codecs for me.

installing codecs

I selected the codec that was ranked the highest in popularity, Ubuntu then installed the codec and the video started playing perfectly with sound. Quite impressive eh!

Next up, I wanted to see if anything had changed with my display resolution or screen refresh rate. I’ve got a Dell 1907FP LCD monitor. Thankfully everything was as before the upgrade. I had the same selection of screen resolutions and refresh rates to choose from. I’ve got a Nvidia 6600 graphics card and I have run into problems with refresh rates before in Ubuntu, so I was glad to see this part of the upgrade had gone smoothly.

screenshot-screen-resolution-preferences.png

Another new feature in Ubuntu 7.04 is desktop effects. This is experimental software in this release but I was still keen to see what all the fuss was about, so I decided to enable the desktop effects.

The first thing to do is select the Sytem -> Preferences -> Desktop Effects menu option. You’ll then get a dialog similar to this one.

Restricted Manager.

After you enable the driver you are prompted to restart the system.

Desktop effects

Once the system had restarted I noticed a new restricted drivers icon in the top right of the desktop (up near where the clock and restart button is). I’ll come back to this icon later. I then selected the Sytem -> Preferences -> Desktop Effects menu option again which gave me this dialog.

Desktop effects

I didn’t think much of the wobble effect. This basically makes a window wobble when it opens. This is quite distracting when navigating any of the Ubuntu menu options, and would probably give me a headache after a while. I also found the opening and closing of menu options more sluggish. The main problem though was my screen refresh rate. I now only had a choice of either 50 or 55hz.

screen resolution preferences

I could have probably edited a config file somewhere to fix this, but the overall sluggishness of the UI wanted me to remove the desktop effects. I didn’t even bother to try getting the cube effect to work. I was worried at this point that this may not be possible, and that a complete reinstall of Ubuntu may be looming! Thankfully switching the desktop effects off is an easy process. All you need to do is click on the restricted drivers icon I mentioned earlier and you can disable the graphics driver.

restricted drivers

Once that is done you are prompted to restart the system. After doing this I was pleased to see the display had reverted back to as it was before, and that I was able to select a decent refresh rate again.

Next I wanted to make sure that all my existing remote connections would work OK. I use SSH to connect to various remote servers and have these saved as shortcuts on my desktop. When I opened one of these existing shortcuts I got this dialog.

authentication

For those familiar with this dialog will notice it is an improvement over the previous one. The radio button labels now make more sense. If you choose to remember a password forever you get this dialog, which is similar to the one in previous versions.

default keyring

Finally I wanted to make sure all my existing devices work. I checked the following devices and they all worked as before:

External hard drive
No problems here although I still can’t eject the device properly like in previous versions of Ubuntu.

Scanner
No problems with my ageing Epson Perfection scanner. I was able to start the xsane image scanner application and scan documents OK.

Sound card
Didn’t expect to find any issues here. No problems found.

Apple iPod
I was able to connect my Apple iPod 30Gb without any issues, and was able to use the Rhythmbox music player to manage my iPod files.

Summary
This is a top notch product and I take my hat off to all the hard working development folks who worked on this. It’s a definite improvement over the previous version, especially around the installation of multimedia codecs. The upgrade process is a breeze and my desktop was left exactly as it was before the upgrade.

If you’re considering the switch away from Windows, there is now even more incentive to make the switch. What are you waiting for!

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Posted in Computer Review