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Form follows function and achieving thereof

In the beginning there was the internet. It was formless and empty and information was hovering on the lines. Then the web was created, to give house to the information. Then there was HTML. It gave structure to the information and the people saw that it was good.

Meanwhille, due to ages of low resolution screens, many Microsoft Windows users were forced into the habit of frequently hitting the infamous maximize window button (sic) in a most obsessive compulsive fashion. These users, great as they are by number, sometimes feel annoyed by gray, white, coloured or patterned margins to the right side of the page design. This is probably what brought centred page layouts into fashion: to spread out the effect to both sides of the screen.

Fluid

The style which probably reflects the look of early 90’s page designs most is the fluid page layout. Until the late 90’s, fluid page layouts were still wildly popular, because they made the most efficient use of both (s)vga and xga screens. Further increase of resolution (and thus window size: people work full screen) made the designs look ugly, as by increasing the line length, the font size does not increase and the magic relation between x-height and line length is lost. The human eye only has so much tolerance for being able to find the beginning of each next line, after having traveled a screen wide from right to left.

The big breaktrough of content management systems also called for more designs based on a fixed page width. After all, one desires to have some degree of control over the way graphics and advertisments do mix with text on the end user’s screen.

These are a few of several good reasons why people switched to static page designs.

The mysterious exception

Let’s take a look at the expectation of the grown up web surfer. Is he actually bothered by trivial technicalities such as pixels, page width and screen resolution? Most people whom I know, are not. According to the end user: web pages are pages and pages have a certain width, just like most other kind of pages that people work with.

Think of it: other page handling applications like Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat (Reader) all offer the possibility of automatically scaling the page to the width of the window it is drawn in, regardless the physical width of the page itself in either inches, centimeters or pixels. Talking of which, units would become totally irrelevant. Just like in DTP applications. A page width of 21 centimters in Quark express doesn’t mean anything for the page view on screen. The application doesn’t know, nor care, what the physical dimensions of the users’s viewing area are. Pages may be scaled to to window height or window width or every desired zoom percentage.

So why can’t web browsers be the same? Admittedly, Opera already offers the possibility of up- or downscaling web pages, but as a fixed setting in percentages. Adding an option for automatic zoom to width of page, plus an adequate scaling algorithm would do the trick and it would turn, the already great Opera browser, into a real killer application. Listen to this Håkon!

Browsers on the Mac OS X platform could use quartz to do the actual work beautifully. Also Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Vista will feature some powerful scaling technology, ready to be utilised for useful features such as scaling web pages instead of more eyecandy. That would turn the ugly duckling into a real swan.


[]: http://www.cornae.com/articles/dealing-with-labels [3]: http://www.cornae.com/articles/dealing-with-labels [4]: http://www.cornae.com/form-follows-function-and-achieving-thereof “Legends of the Form” [5]: http://www.cornae.com/articles/dealing-with-labels []: http://www.cornae.com/articles/form-follows-function-and-achieving-thereof [7]: http://www.cornae.com/articles/form-follows-function-and-achieving-thereof [8]: http://www.cornae.com/articles/form-follows-function-and-achieving-thereof []: http://www.cornae.com/articles/gregorian-date-input-diversity [10]: http://www.cornae.com/articles/gregorian-date-input-diversity [11]: http://www.cornae.com/articles/gregorian-date-input-diversity []: http://www.cornae.com/articles/ajax-and-the-old-world [13]: http://www.cornae.com/articles/ajax-and-the-old-world [14]: http://www.cornae.com/articles/ajax-and-the-old-world

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