&ot Information Gift: January 2003 Archives

January 18, 2003

ubik ≠ Verdana & Acrobat Reader?

Recently I was surprised to discover that a couple things I've long taken for granted do not hold up under scrutiny: the Verdana font and .pdf files are not universally viewable. This challenges some design assumptions I've made in the past, and I'm willing to bet that some of you may have done the same thing.

Assumption PDF
Many developers consider .pdf files to be the choice for delivering platform-independent documents that display and print the way you want them to. This is supported by the number of companies, organizations and government agencies that rely on Adobe's technology to deliver downloadable documents where consistency is critical or even a legal requirement. Adobe allows for a relatively unfettered distribution of the free Acrobat Reader application (Acrobat is a tool Adobe sells for authoring PDF files).

So, I was surprised to find that on my fresh new PC running WinXP Pro, the Adobe Acrobat Reader was nowhere to be found.

We Mac users have had a copy of Acrobat Reader seemingly since the dawn of time, which makes sense if you think about it, as Apple and Adobe have long enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, recently leading to Apple's licensing of Display Postscript in OS X. In fact, there's a "Save as PDF" button in the standard OS X Print dialog and screengrabs are saved in the PDF format.

Takeaway: Don't assume that the majority of users have a copy of Acrobat Reader. Due to OS bundling, practically all Mac users will have at least an older version of Acrobat Reader; without that benefit, many Win users will not. Always offer a link to the free Adobe Acrobat Reader download page for web pages that link to .pdf content.

Assumption Verdana
When the True Type font Verdana came out in late '96 and began to be seen on sites created to demo the Win IE 3.0 betas, I was struck by how web pages that used it seemed somehow more warm and friendly. It's easier on the eye, and in fact was designed just for that purpose—for text meant to be read on-screen, where previous fonts had been designed more for readable print output.

Microsoft later bundled the font as part of a set of "Web Fonts" included in Mac IE browsers, and Apple licensed the font for inclusion in Mac OS 8.6. Somehow, by the time Mac OS 9 was rolled out, Verdana was no longer invited to the party.

Chances are though, that if you are a Mac OS 9.x user, you do have this font, but you would have aquired it by either upgrading from Mac OS 8.6—when it was part of the system font set—or by having enabled the 'Install Web Fonts' option in an upgrade or re-install of Mac Internet Explorer. However, if your Mac came with OS 9 and you never upgraded your IE browser, or you chose not to install the optional web fonts, then it's likely that you will not have Verdana available for your web page viewing.

I uncovered this when a Mac IE 5-using client was unable to see the proper bold text formatting on one of her pages. These pages specified Verdana with a fallback to Arial which, at smaller sizes, will not render bold on a Mac screen, cluing us in to the missing Verdana.

Takeaway: well, um, just beware, ok? If you've followed best practices and have allowed for appropriate font degradation, then your designs shouldn't be too terribly impacted. If one of your Mac clients or users find they do not have Verdana installed, tell them to download the latest version of Mac MSIE and install with the Web Fonts option enabled. Sadly, Microsoft no longer allows free downloads of Verdana. We can't have those free software Linux users also having readable web pages now, can we?

I'm happy to report that Apple brought back Verdana (and added a million other fonts) with OS X.

Posted by Lewis Francis at 10:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

January 7, 2003

Safari raises iBrowse?

Today's big news for web developers came from San Francisco's MacWorld show where Apple unveiled the public beta of a new Apple branded browser christened the unlikely and I-can't-decide-if-it's-clever-or-not Safari. Guess if they had as much guts as I do, they could've gone with a worse name. :)

Why should you care? Because, like Microsoft, Apple will bundle this browser, once released, with every Mac it sells. Soon enough it will be a browser on which your site will need to render well if you are to appeal to this market segment. And maybe, because it's based on standards and an open source project—though surprisingly, not the open source project you are thinking about.

Safari is a Cocoa application built upon KHTML, the same code as the Konqueror browser, itself part of the KDE open source desktop environment project for Linux OS. According to this email from Safari's Engineering Master, KHTML was chosen over the more widely publicized Gecko/Mozilla code for it's concise size but speedy (Apple claims a 40% speed improvement over IE for OS X) and wide standards support.

From what I can tell so far, the beta performs as advertized, rendering sites quickly and well. Bookmark and history handling in the Collections view is pretty darn nice. Address book entries that contain url also show up in Collections view, showing off brushed-metal app integration. Favicons are supported. Flash is supported. Shockwave is supported, although with the OpenGL offset bug recently exposed by Chimera's Shockwave implementation. QuickTime is supported (duh). Plug-in detection and reporting. Google searching from the toolbar. Hot-key cache-clearing and Pop-up window blocking (disabled by default). It's even AppleScriptable.

But, it is still a beta and has bugs, no doubt both inherited from Konqueror and newly born, to be aware of and work around. Mark Pilgrim's one of the first to start documenting Safari information for web developers and his site deserves a bookmark. Apple has thoughtfully provided an easy way to submit bugs, activated by an appropriate creepy-crawly button icon where most browser throbbers live, a typically Apple touch that you have to see and use to appreciate.

Never thought I'd see Apple jump into the browser game, but it looks like they could have a contender on their hands once they work out the kinks.

Not sure yet if I'm ready to jump ship from the Chimera nightlies (the tabbed browsing implementation is to die for), but I'm liking what I see.

Posted by Lewis Francis at 11:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

January 6, 2003


Tonight I stumbled onto an OS X feature I didn't know about: Finder FTP access.

Turns out you can mount read-only FTP servers on your desktop just like any other server by hitting CMD-K from the Finder and typing your ftp address into the address field using the following format:

Not sure which version of OS X introduced this feature; apparently in pre-Jaguar systems if you access password protected sites and are not prompted for the unap, you can supply the unap in the uri like so:

FTP servers mounted this way appear to the Finder just like any other mounted volume with the exception that you cannot write to the server, but only read from it.

An interesting and useful result of this marriage of Finder and FTP server is that you can search for files across your mounted ftp volume. From the Finder, open your Find... dialog and select the mounted FTP volume on which you'd like to perform your search. You can also quickly open commonly accessed ftp folders by dragging them to your Finder Favorites. Neat stuff, let's hope that future releases of OS X will also allow uploading.

Posted by Lewis Francis at 12:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)