Making CSS UL Menu’s Browser-Consistent

If you’ve ever made a web site and wanted it to look consistent from one browser to the next, then you’re well away of the difficulties that are involved. Fixing these sorts of styling issues can be a major annoyance, however, I like to hunt down issues on my own pages from time to time and stand up to the challenge.

One issue that I can across today was dealing with horizontal menu positioning using unordered lists (<UL>) and some positioning. The positioning wasn’t consistent between browsers or even operating systems.

The bad

I started by opening the affected page in multiple browsers (Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome, Opera & Firefox) on multiple computers (Mac, Linux & Windows) and getting some initial comparisons. There were 3 different variations and (oddly enough) the same browser didn’t necessarily render the same on a different operating system. So there I was. A puzzle… and I like puzzles.

Some of the first things that I inspected were font sizes and families. It occurred to me that different operating systems may differ in fonts, so it seemed like a good starting point. I tested this by forcing a common font: Arial. That wasn’t the problem. The inconsistencies remained consistent.

I also checked into the possibility that the <UL> or <A> elements were applying different heights. Typically anchor elements, <A>, use a display style of inline. If you’re implementing a menu similar to mine then you’re likely applying a block style, which permits better dimension definition of the element. Forcing height on these elements also did not resolve the issue.

I was running out of ideas, but then it hit me. Line-Height. While the other styles appeared to be consistent between browsers and operating systems, there was one style that I’d previously worked with and knew was certainly NOT consistent: line-height.

The good

After forcing a consistent line-height in my CSS, all browsers suddenly began respecting my intended styling. Sigh of relief.

On that note, its worth bringing up the success that browser competition has brought to HTML and CSS rendering standards over the past few years. The push for the fastest and most capable browser has brought a scattered group of browsers a little closer and the result is that we get to enjoy dealing with fewer and fewer bugs.

While your average Joe web developer may have dug around for hours for this issue to no avail, I must say… I thought it was nice to face such a subtle issue rather than being forced to use some crazy IE specific hacks like for legacy IE.

Opera 11 in OS X

mac-browser-comparisons

This is a post that I started a couple of months ago, but finally just got around to revising (since Opera 11 has since been released) and finishing. Hopefully its all in tact. ;)

Being fairly new to Mac OS X, I was excited to install Opera and see how it compares to the default browser Safari as well as others such as Firefox and Google Chrome in terms usability and appearance.

While I hadn’t used Mac OS much since version 9 and then briefly OS X (with my old iBook before it died), I did remember that Opera didn’t exactly have the most elegant user interface. Nor did most other third party web browsers that I tested at the time. Then again, OS X wasn’t as refined then as it is now either. Keep in mind, these are my opinions and you are free to have your own. ;)

I was happy to find that Opera seems to have the most natural feeling user interface when compared to Firefox and Google Chrome, using Safari as the standard since most die-hard Mac users are likely familiar with it the most.

While I didn’t capture Safari in a view where the tabs are visible, the image above is a decent comparison of the browsers’ default address bars and navigation buttons.

As you can see, the buttons, address box and search box in Opera mimic those found in Safari quite well and are not much of a change at all for any ex-Safari user. The tabs used in Opera are also very similar to those found in Safari (pictured below), with the most significant exception being that they are flipped vertically and placed above the address bar (in Opera) rather than below (like in Safari).

While some people may prefer Firefox or Google Chrome over both Opera and Safari, the point remains that their designs are inconsistent with the overall look and feel of the OS in general. That’s not to say that Opera doesn’t have some inconsistencies of its own. There are a few of them, but most of what I’ve found are minor detail tweaks that are needed to perfect the skin.

Just to mention a few things that are stand out to me, the “New tab” icon size should be decreased slightly, retaining the Opera style while removing the unnecessary bold touch. If you compare this button to the same button found in Safari you’ll notice that Opera’s approach is a bit too bold and that changing this makes it more elegant looking (in my opinion of course).

The borders for the navigation buttons, address box and search box should all be slightly adjusted to match the colors used for these in Safari. There are slight inconsistencies among these, with disabled button borders being darker than enabled button borders.

Another inconsistency with Opera is that text boxes in the address bar are not highlighted with a blue glowing border when they are focused…as they are in Safari, Firefox and Google Chrome. Its difficult for me to see if this is advantageous or simply an oversight, however, the “pro-integration” side of me certainly thinks this should be fixed to match the behavior of other browsers in OS X.

Various icons throughout the user interface need to be desaturated to remove color for consistency. An example of this can be found in the address box with the drop down icon. If you look close, the drop down icon is actually blue whereas other similar icons, like the drop down icon in the search box, are gray scaled. This is also a bug I’ve seen in the Windows and Linux skins, but the OS that demands attention to detail is likely the one that this is most noticeable on.

The Speed Dial page, though it was “invented” before the other spin-offs, now uses a darker background that makes it feel a bit more familiar to Safari’s implementation. I find this to add to the integration effect, whereas previous Speed Dial background images felt out of place. On the other hand, Opera doesn’t boast comparatively appealing 3D thumbnails or features to those found in Safari. Instead, the Opera Speed Dial packs in a redundant search box and no immediate method of searching through your history (visually at that!) or displaying your top visited sites automatically.

With a default Speed Dial tab open, knowingly or not, you’re looking at three different ways of searching the Internet…all with the same available list of search engines. You can search from the address bar by simply prepending your search terms with a specific search engine “keyword”, from the dedicated search box in the address box or from the additional search box in the Speed Dial. If I had any influence on this design, I would remove both dedicated search boxes and make the address box smarter and more visually suggestive of performing a search when it is in use.

While I’m suggesting changes to the Speed Dial tab, why not take advantage of Opera’s ability to generate thumbnails of pages to give the user a visual of the pages they are searching through just like Safari is capable of? With the ability to generate these thumbnails already, there is no reason why Opera shouldn’t implement a similarly more appealing visual search of previously visited sites.

As I said before, all browsers have their problems with UI design and integration, especially in Mac OS X. Of the available browsers for this platform, the one with the most features and the best OS X integration is far and away Opera 11. The performance improvement isn’t bad either, with my test results showing Opera 11 beating out Safari 5.0.3 easily in the SunSpider benchmark. You can take my opinions with a grain of salt if you wish, but you should undoubtedly give Opera 11 a spin if you haven’t already!

Sputnik: ECMAScript 3 conformance test suite

An experimental plot to illustrate how the latest stable browsers compare.

Today, The Chromium Blog has officially released their ECMAScript 3 conformance test suite in a form that is more friendly to test in your browser. The test contains over 5,000 tests (currently 5,246) and continues to grow!

The Chromium Blog has also posted some initial results among the top web browsers for Windows (emphasis is mine).

In this example, when running Sputnik on a Windows machine, we saw the following results: Opera 10.50: 78 failures, Safari 4: 159 failures, Chrome 4: 218 failures, Firefox 3.6: 259 failures and Internet Explorer 8: 463 failures.

An experimental plot to illustrate how the latest stable browsers compare.

Putting that into terms of 100% conformance rates: Opera 10.50: 98.5% successful, Safari 4: 97.0% successful, Chrome 4: 95.9% successful, Firefox 3.6: 95.1% successful and Internet Explorer 8: 91.2% successful.

Running the test myself in the latest Opera 10.50 snapshot for Linux (Build 6242) I’m seeing a solid 77, proof that Opera 10.50 is progressing still!

As explained in their post, the goal of this test is not related to Javascript performance in terms of speed, but in terms of conformance to the spec. Ideally all browsers would be in the center of the bullseye, meaning they all conform and behave (nearly) identically.

The Sputnik tests have been released as an open source project, so if you’re interested in providing conformance test cases to improve the future web..now is a perfect chance to get involved. ;)

To run the test yourself or learn more about it, visit: http://sputnik.googlelabs.com/

Ubuntu: Mac OS X themed!

screenshot

So my fiancée loves the way Mac computers look, but who doesn’t? They’re so clean and simple. Well, as much as I like the clean and simple look..I’m not dedicated enough to try to get OS X installed on her HP dv1000.

Don’t get me wrong, her laptop is a mean little machine (especially since I’ve been playing on it lately). The problem with installing OS X is that you have to hunt for all of the drivers and some of them you have to manually configure. Manually configuring in this case also means little to no resources online for many of the things you will have to configure.

There are a few decent places with information about getting Mac OS x86 installed on a non-Apple computer, but trust me…it’s not been simplified enough just yet. ;)

I tried installing OS X on my desktop about a year ago and ran into many complicated situations…so I did the next best thing. I installed Ubuntu! Now that I’ve had it installed and running for ~9-10 months I’m beginning to think this is the best!

So why would I install Linux on my system if I don’t want to manually configure everything? Okay, I don’t mind manually configuring something here and there. Today most Linux distros require very little manual configurations to run properly. Ubuntu literally required none!

The best thing about using Linux is that you can do anything with it! Having this in mind, I took a friend’s laptop (~5 months ago) and installed Ubuntu on it. After getting everything installed and updated I began to Macify it for her. I got a few things done here and there, but just recently I became more interested and began finishing some more of the conversion.

Now, there I’ve seen several screenshots where people have made almost pixel perfect copies of the Mac OS X environment. The screenshots here clearly show some faults, but overall they have the Mac feel going on!

I basically just searched around the web and found little tips here and there on how to get certain looks in Linux. The dock is Cairo-Dock. The web browser is actually Opera, which in Linux has the same skin as the Windows version, but I skinned with a Safari themed skin and altered the toolbar to get the address bar above the tabs.

You can click them for a larger image. I’ll try to post some finished product screenshots once I tidy up the menu bar a bit and add a few more Mac’ish ends. ;)

In the meantime, if you’d like to get started with any of this on your Linux box then you can navigate over to my forum topic with several helpful links to resources!

I’m planning to write a guide for this pretty soon that will step through each little detail for you, but if you can’t wait then go checkout the forum topic. The topic is in no means a tutorial or a guide, it’s really just a note/pastebin for my thoughts and work process, haha. A way for me to hold onto some information in a slightly organized fashion. :D

Stay tuned for the guide in the near future!