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What's a fluid layout?

A fluid layout has dimensions based on the user's browser size. They are determined by a percentage, which allows, in most cases, taking all the allocated screen size and always be full screen, contrary to fixed size layouts based on the most common screen resolution of today's monitors, which is 800 pixels (width) by 600 pixels (height), where you can lose some screen estate in bigger resolutions. A fluid layout is a bit more difficult to design, because you have to play with an undetermined width, and therefore requires more time. This type of layout must also be decided before the creation of a site. However, some people recognize the value of that flexibility and demand it.

How can I appear in the results of Google Canada (or any other country)?

In order to appear in canadian results (or any other countries, for that matter) in Google (which can be important if your company deals mainly with canadian customers), your site must be hosted with a server that physically resides in Canada (the IP address must be registered with a canadian company). It can also be useful to add the fr-CA ou en-CA attributes in the meta headers of your HTML pages, and choose the national .ca domain extension. The hosting company that I usually deal with, for hosting client web sites, is canadian, so if you follow my suggestions for your hosting needs, you will appear in Google Canada results (along with the Google.com usual results too, of course). The same principle applies if you wish to target british, australian or french customers, etc.

Why is it not recommended to do a web site completely in Flash?

Web sites that are done exclusively with Flash have the disavantage of not being in HTML, the standard programming language for the web. There are some consequences to this decision. Firstly, a flash web site do not collaborate with the browser for navigation and the following daily functions: back, forward, boommarks, history, print, reload, address bar, right-click, copy/paste text, etc. which make them horribly unusable and inaccessible. Secondly, the visual presentation of a flash page is rigid and do not consider the user's preferences, who, for example, having maybe poor vision, choses a bigger specific font with higher contrast. Also, the necessary plug-in, even though highly popular, is not necessarly available on all operating systems and browsers, such as Unix, OS/2, Lynx, cellular phones, etc. Another point, and the worst, in my opinion, is that Flash is not presently indexed by search engines. You will probably not appear in search results for your specific keywords and therefore lose a big source of traffic. If your site is commercial in nature, this aspect is simply prohibitive. Flash projects also have the tendency of being large and long to download, too long for those that are on dial-up modems, still the majority of surfers. This apparent lack of tact can make you lose a lot of visitors. Lastly, web sites done entirely in Flash are painful and complicated to update and manage for your webmaster (especially if it's you), flash specialists being rather expensive. Adding sections, pages, all those regular activities of an active and popular web site will get arduous.

HTML, at its core, is a structural language that allows different technological products, such as browsers, search engines, cataloging systems like librairies, even cellular phones or palm pilots and other softwares that aren't yet invented, to understand the nature and structure of a document, like the title, meta-information, subtitle, paragraph, lists, tabular data, external links and displays them according to their needs and primary functions. The majority of people uses the web to find information and read textual content, and Flash do not meet fairly those needs. Web users, with unlimited alternative destinations for all subjects and topics, are known to be ficky and having very little patience. A few seconds too long and you lose a visitor, even if it was going to be really pretty.

The only viable use of Flash in my opinion and experience is for the following situations:

  • First page presentation with a choice, in HTML, to skip the intro and go directly to the site. Splash pages are however considered a thing of the past and rather useless, and can be an additional difficulty for a good rank with search engines.
  • Small animations inserted in the HTML page with an equivalent static image for those who do not have the plug-in. These animations should be purely decorative et not contain important functions for the site navigation.
  • Specific sections with interactive and multimedia projects, such as games, presentations, academic projects, animations, etc.

Why does creating a web site cost so much when I can buy Frontpage for just $60?

Frontpage is a product with hundreds of thousands of copies all similar to one another. A manufactured product costs less because it is sold in great quantities, while a web site, being each unique and sold one time, is closer to an artisanal object and a personalised order, where everything is studied according to an enterprise or person specific needs. A good web site requires about a week or more for an expert. If Frontpage was sold as an unique product, it would cost a few millions of dollars ;-)

How is it that using HTML 4.01 with Cascading style sheets is superior to HTML 3.0 (which includes the <font> tag)

During the browser war between Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer, in 1995-1999, there was a race toward new features to improve the presentation capabilities of the HTML language. Along came many formatting tags that were dealing exclusively with visual presentation and forgot the original structural intent of the language. All those formatting tags and special attributes (<font> <bgcolor> etc) are now considered obsolete and deprecated, because the HTML language (and XHTML), better controlled under the supervision of a standard based organisation, the World Wide Web Consortium, was divided in two: HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (or CSS). HTML keeps its focus on structural information and CSS now controls the better part of the presentation, which allows a division of the code between functionnality and appearance, an improved way of programming and maintaining large web sites with a few files. This new way of doing things was finalised with HTML 4.0 and is here to stay since year 2000. A web site has more chances of working under many different browsers and future versions if it is compatible with the new HTML 4.0 standard, which also brought new graphical possibilities and simplified greatly the coding process. All my sites are HTML 4.0 compliant.

How about those governmental laws on accessibility for the handicapped, like the visually impaired...

There aren't any laws requiring non-governmental web sites to be accessible, currently, to handicapped people in Canada, but this trend is growing in other countries in Europe. If it were to happen, rest assured that my sites use all the HTML tools to increase readability among the visually impaired and usability to others. Might as well get good habits from the start...

I want my site to look 100% the same between all browsers...

Unfortunatly, this request is not feasable, and those that promise it aren't honest. Each browser has the choice to render HTML structural code the way it sees fit, and not all of them are at the same level of developement and compatibility. I always test all my sites with the latest versions of Mozilla / Netscape / FireFox (same family of browsers using the Gecko rendering engine), Internet Explorer 5.0/6.0 and Opera 7.0, which constitute about 99% of the browsers market, in order to insure optimal compatibility. For other browsers, I make sure to be HTML 4.0 standard compliant by programming manually so that my sites are readable by any other platforms and alternative technology, such as palm pilots or cell phones.

What should be the maximum size of a web page including images?

The lightest possible, considering the usual lack of patience with web users on simple dialup modems. And a small size also has the advantage of using less bandwith for your web server, which is more economical, and important aspect if your site becomes popular. Everybody appreciates web sites with fast loading pages. I always try to create pages under 100kb, including the images. Please also note that Google does not currently index more than 101kb of textual content on a web page.

How can I be contacted by email without publishing it so that I don't get spam?

There are a few ways to publish your email address and avoid being read by harvesters, a malevolent software, now illegal in the US, that scans web sites for email addresses that will be sold to spammers. In order to do so, you shouldn't insert your address on a page without these precautions:

  • One efficient way is to create an image of your email address and insert on a page without any HTML links. Harvesting softwares cannot read information on an image like humans. That way, users can retype the address in their email application to contact you. Many companies, however, do not like this method since it is not very user friendly, especially for beginners with little experience on the web.
  • Another way is to write the email address from some Javascript encrypted code, but it is not as bullet proof. It used to work well in the past when email harvesters couldn't interpret Javascript, but they have learned to do so nowadays. Another disadvantage is that it requires javascript support from the user, which is at 95% of web users, but many companies still don't want to annoy the other 5%.
  • We can also encrypt the HTML information in some unicode numerical mode, which shouldn't be a problem with most users and could protect you from a few email harvesters. However, the protection is relatively weak.
  • My favorite method is to create a form for the user to write their message and send directly from a web page, which I use personally, and only insert the email address in the processing page. This method is 100% secure, and I can provide it upon request. Many do not appreciate the anonymous aspect of it, so it's still up to you.

To learn more on methods to protect your email address, look at this Starting points on spam protection page and this Protect your email address on the web page.

What do you think of presentation pages?

I am usually against it, except in cases of an important choice to be made by the user, such as language options. Presentation pages (also called splash pages) were popular many years ago (as were spinning logos) but this was due to the arrival of traditional graphic designers that were used to work in older mediums like magazines or other publications, and imposed their dated concepts without taking into account user's behaviors and preferences in the technological field. The presentation page does not add to the user's experience, quite the opposite, in fact, it slows down their exploration (sometimes considerably, if the page was heavy), which goes against their usual lack of patience. Very few well built sites use them nowadays, especially since webmaster understood how Google and its PageRank technology worked. Indeed, this page can dilute the beneficial effect of external links on the importance of your site content.

What software do you recommend to act as a server for a web site?

Personnally, I work almost excusively with Linux/Unix servers running the Apache web server software, for the following reasons:

  • Security: Most web viruses target security weaknesses with Windows servers. This could be due to the intrinsic flaws of Internet Information Server (probably, Microsoft has a track record of favoring a great number of features and user friendliness over security, for marketing reasons) or the fact that hackers target megacorporations with an unethical history. In any cases, the result is the same, Linux/Unix and Apache are both more secure.
  • Open source: Open Source softwares do not follow the same development rules as commercial products. They are free, built and developped by a community of volunteers and computer enthusiasts who are looking to create quality softwares for themselves and everybody else. They are not managed by commercial deadlines, and aren't rushed to the market without adequate testing and development (Microsoft has been known to use its clients as beta testers). The programming code is open for all to scrutinize, and therefore has less chance to contain obvious flaws.
  • Free and free: open source softwares are free (as in do not cost money) and free (as in, the code source is open, changeable and usable by all). A hosting account using Linux/Unix always cost less than its commercial counterparts, like Windows/IIS, for those reasons.
  • Features: Unix (and its PC equivalent, Linux) were built, from the start, to manage multiple users at the same time and behave as servers, and therefore have great capacity and a multitude of powerful features for that purpose. The architecture of Windows was originally built for single users at home and the office.
  • Market share: The Unix/Linux/Apache combo is the top dog and holds the biggest part of the web server market, it is therefore easier to have that option with most hsoting companies.
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