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    Tuesday, November 16, 2004

    Why won't you just line up?!?

    You know by now that I strongly prefer Firefox as my web browser over Internet Explorer. Actually, I'd just as soon punt IE through the goalposts of life if I could. But that's not possible so I'll simply continue to support Firefox as both a user and a developer. And it's the latter I want to touch on tonight.

    Firefox is one of the best (if not *the* best) browser when it comes to adhering to web standards -- those fun little guidelines set forth by the World Wide Web Consortium in hopes of making the planet a better place someday. Your browser is packed with all sorts of code (hopefully to comply with standards) so it knows how to render a webpage properly. However each browser's definition of "properly" differs. Sometimes the difference is substantial and you have to develop a messy set of hacks to get out of hot water. Other times the difference is negligible -- but no less annoying -- as in today's example.

    I'm trying to add a new feature to a website's homepage, namely a pulldown menu with a list of countries that sends the visitor on her/his way to the proper website translated in her/his native language. Simple, right? Well yeah. It's not rocket surgery. So it's a quick job.

    Wo there Kicky Kickerson, not so fast. The pulldown works fine, but I quickly discover that it displays differently between browsers. I give you Exhibit A -- The Firefox interpretation:

    Firefox interpretation

    Everything seems to be doing what it's supposed to. The pulldown menu is displaying as it should and all areas of alignment look good. Now we move to Exhibit B -- The IE interpretation:

    IE interpretation

    Oh Kicky! Where to begin! First, the little yellow arrow doesn't match up properly with the pulldown. Second, the pulldown doesn't match up with the "Go" button. And third (and this is a doozie) there's a tad of extra space immediately below the pulldown which not only pushes the text down but it also throws off the alignment of the dotted horizontal lines that cut across the entire homepage design.

    *smacks forehead in despair*

    This stinks. After playing with margins and spacing and witchcraft, there's seemingly no way to get IE to behave like Firefox. It's a shame too because, as we all know, IE is the weapon of choice out there.

    So is this rant worthy of such a long post? Not really. I'll admit I'm being pretty picky about this, and if you're still with me then you deserve a pat on the back. Yet consider the interaction I'll have when I report this inconsistency, bearing in mind that most people don't know and don't care about Firefox (yet). I'm sure it'll go something like, "Hey Sean, can you fix that spacing below the dropdown?" ... "Umm, no. I tried, but I can't." ... "But it looks like just a line of extra space. Can't you just remove it? It looks bad." ... "No, I'm sorry I'm unable to." ... "Why not?" -- and here's where any argument I once had falls flat on its face -- "Cuz."

    And there's unfortunately no way around it. If you have a solution, by all means, please send it my way. But for now I have to suck up the fact that this little browser issue is what stands between a "job well done" and a "job that's, yeah, basically done, but not looking too good for reasons I can't explain." Sometimes things click beautifully into place, and other times you want to punt IE through the goalposts of life.

    *sigh* Back to work.

    [EDIT: There's a happy ending to this story. I discovered that the extra space below the pulldown menu wasn't caused by the pulldown itself. The space was appearing because I was using a <form> tag where IE takes the liberty of tossing in some extra space after the tag closes. So I played with the "margin-bottom" attribute pixel by pixel until I closed in on that extra space. Bingo. It's been fixed. And it only took me four hours.]