Monday, November 30, 2009

Half Price Christmas Sale

50% of all Web Hosting PackagesWith the festive season fast approaching we thought it the right time to offer a great Christmas sale.

We are now offering 50% off all of our hosting packages! That means that you can now get a year of web hosting with us for just £7.49!

To view our hosting packages visit our website.

To claim your 50% off, enter the following code during the checkout: bApPwg

This offer ends on Christmas Eve, so hurry to bag your Christmas bargain.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

The Decline of Internet Explorer

During the browser wars of the mid to late 1990s many initially had their money on Netscape to win as Microsoft were mostly playing catch up. However the sheer monetary might of Microsoft soon told and at the turn of the century Internet Explorer was used by 96% of web surfers.

I am sure that when the developers of Netscape fragmented and announced that they were working on a new browser, Microsoft were hardly shaking in their boots. After all by 2002 Netscape was effectively dead, although it took several years for Netscape to realise this.

Firefox

However it wasn't long before Microsoft once again underestimated the browser market and announced that they would no longer be updating their browser after IE6, instead stating that IE would be updating only when new versions of Windows Operating systems appeared.

Indeed Microsoft's IE6 came out in 2001, IE7 at the end of 2006, about the same time as Windows Vista. A lot had happened in that time and Microsoft had left themselves once again with a lot of catching up to do. In the same time Mozilla had released 3 versions of their new Firefox browser and made tabbed browsing, search boxes and Extensions/Add Ons the way to go.

The browser wars have been raging again ever since. Apple joined in 2007 with Safari and Google at the end of 2008 with Chrome.

2009

2009 has been a great year in terms of web browser development, Firefox released version 3.5 of their browser, Apple version 4 of Safari, Microsoft IE8 and even Google updated Chrome. With the greater choice this entails, it seems that many people are jumping ship and swapping browsers.

Today, Internet Explorer has just 59% of the browser market, the lowest for more than a decade. This is despite the recent release of IE7 and IE8. Firefox has shot up from about 5% in 2005 to now account for about 31.2% of the browser market.

Even new boys like Safari and Chrome have overtaken Opera (1.56%), with 4.07% and 3.3% respectively.



What is apparent is that despite the release of IE8 this year, Microsoft have still lost almost 10% of their market share in just 6 months. This trend is only likely to continue, especially as Microsoft have announced that in Europe, they won't be releasing Windows 7 with Internet Explorer, or any browser for that matter. Giving much more incentive to switch to Firefox, Safari or Chrome.

Browser of Choice

Although IE still has around double the market share of Firefox, its closest rival, it is much closer when the browser versions themselves are compared.

IE7 had 45% of the market share at the start of the year, now it is down to just 29%, with Firefox 3 right behind at 25% (up from 20%). Of course many of those who stopped using IE7 switched to IE8, but not all of them, clearly some are moving to Firefox. If more make the switch from IE7 to either Firefox or IE8, then, for the first time in more than a decade, Internet Explorer will no longer be the world's most popular browser.

Web surfers have never had such a rich choice, nor such a rich browsing experience as they have right now, and things look as though they will just keep getting better.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Internet Explorer 8

Microsoft disables automatic IE 8 downloads | The Register
Microsoft will cushion you from the Internet Explorer 8 standards mess with software to prevent automatic download of its next browser to your machine.

Ask any web designer what their least favourite browser is and it's a good bet that Internet Explorer will be their reply. It isn't because of some anti-Microsoft sentiment, or because it isn't as cool or as customisable as other browsers, nor even anything to do with page loading speed, but quite simply because it doesn't follow the official W3C web standards. Microsoft acknowledges this problem and since Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) has been working to bring its browser into line with W3C specifications.

The Browser Wars

The browser wars of the 1990s between the now defunct Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer started off this problem, as each browser began following only some standards, or worse, only following their own standards.

Surprisingly, back then it was Microsoft's browser that was the most standards compliant, and Netscape that used its own 'standards'. By the time that IE had won the browser war and was used by 96% of web surfers, it too had moved onto supporting its own proprietary standards. At this point it wasn't too much of a problem, as web designers could simply design for IE, as it was a fairly safe bet that most of the viewers of a website would be using it.

It wasn't all rosy however, the browser war had meant there had been a stagnation in bug fixes and actual development, web designers were stuck designing in lengthy, bloated code as the slicker design method of HTML and CSS didn't work properly with Internet Explorer.

CSS

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) were meant to make the design process far, far easier and also make the viewing of web pages faster and more aesthetically pleasing. Web pages using CSS load faster, are easier to alter and allow more complicated layouts, but for years after CSS was accepted as a standard, web designers were stuck using the older, more troublesome table based designs.

With the decline of Netscape that preceded its eventual demise, it was clear that Microsoft were in the driving seat of website design. From 2002 many web designers created websites aimed only at IE5.5 and IE6,  by this point IE had become mostly CSS compliant. Anyone attempting to design to official W3C standards, was asking for trouble and many headaches.

Then the second browser war started.

Firefox

Firefox was more standards compliant than IE, which meant that website designers had another browser to consider when designing a website, especially as Firefox became instantly popular and standards compliant websites were back in vogue.

Many designers were therefore creating W3C compliant websites, and uncovering the power of CSS. But upon viewing them in IE, they'd discover things like the double margin bug, three pixel bug, float drop problems and also the fact that IE6 doesn't handle transparent PNGs.

More than a few of them were scratching their heads and wishing 'If only IE were like Firefox!' With the popularity of Firefox soaring, accounting for 21% of the browser market by the end of 2008, it seemed that Microsoft heard.

IE7

There are workarounds and so called hacks to get websites to look in IE6 as they do in Firefox but they were a hassle and meant much fiddling on the part of the designer. Firefox and Apple's Safari were far more forgiving and getting more and more popular with users, in response Microsoft released IE7.

Although still not fully standards complaint, IE7 was the most compliant browser yet and Microsoft promised to go even further with IE8.

IE8

IE8 is fully standards compliant, but after a decade of IE only designs, that may not be a good thing. If your website is fully standards compliant, or was aimed primarily at Firefox but with a few IE hacks, you should be OK, but if it was aimed mainly at IE6, you may have problems. It is certainly worth checking out IE8 to see what your website looks like as you may find, particularly if it is a few years old, that is doesn't look as good as it did.

It seems that Microsoft have delayed IE8 to allow businesses to do precisely this. Microsoft did see this problem coming and have added two viewing modes for IE8, the default mode which is the standards compliant viewing mode and compatibility mode, which allows the user to view the website as if viewing with an older version of IE. Sadly though, few people are switching modes, meaning a lot of websites are not displaying correctly in IE8.

Although this may not be too much of a problem at the moment, especially with Microsoft's delaying the release of the browser, it could become a problem very quickly. Although it was released only two years ago, IE7 accounts for 50% of the browser market,  the previous version, IE6 just 20%.

Two events this year are likely to push the uptake of IE8 to be faster than that of IE7.

The release of Windows 7 later this year, which will most likely ship with IE8 as standard and also the fact that mainstream support for Windows XP ends in April 2009. Those buying a new PC will have the choice of Vista, or Windows 7, both of which will likely have IE8 as their default browser.

If you're not sure what your website will look like, you can use this website to preview your website in IE8 (and other versions of IE) for free. Needless to say the Horizon Web Development website and the Horizon Flash Memory website display perfectly.

Others, aren't so lucky.   



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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Get the most from your website

coin_stack Many people see the Internet as a fast track to cash, and while you can make a lot of money on the Internet, it is not the fast track, or get rich quick scheme that many people believe it to be.

That said there are ways to maximise your website's potential, and we'll take a look at them below.

Running a website for profit

Like any other kind of business, running a website for profit, be it an e-commerce website or otherwise, is hard work. If you are expecting to simply create a website, place it on the Internet and have customers beat a path to your door, you are in for a rude awakening.

This is no different from running a small shop, sure you may get a passing trade, but to really get your business doing well you have to get the brand out there and well known, normally through advertisements.

The Internet is no different, if you have a website and are looking at making a profit from it, the search engines hold the key.

Visitors

Visitors to your website can usually be broken down into two categories, those who found your website from information in the real world, such as adverts in the local press or word of mouth, and those that found your website via the search engines.

If your business is wholly web based and you do not have any other way of advertising then the search engines are even more important to your business.

Organic

The most common way for visitor to find your website is by searching for your product and services in the search engines, known as natural or organic search results.

The success of your website in the organic search results depends on a number of factors; if your website was built by professionals using modern and search engine friendly techniques, such as XHTML and CSS then it has a good start. A good mix of keywords is also needed on the pages, again this relies on a professional website designer as keywords spamming or writing page content without thought to things such keywords could leave your site very difficult to find.

A simple example is if you want people searching for Acme XL Widgets to find your website, then you must have that phrase somewhere on the website, and not in picture or flash format.

Importance and Relevance

It's not enough just to have the right keywords on the page though, to ensure that your website comes in the top rankings and not on page 506 you have to make sure that the search engines see your website as important (or authoritative) and relevant.

The more links from quality websites that you have, the more important your site will be considered by the search engines. Of course getting quality websites to link to your own site is not easy, but the first step is to have interesting, useful and informative content on the pages that people will want to link to.

To show the search engines and visitors that your site is both important and relevant, you must update it regularly. Google and the other search engines see websites that do not change their content as less relevant and out of date. If Google checks your website every few months and find the same content, neither it nor any visitors are going to be in any rush to return.

A simple way of have useful and regularly updated content is to have a blog.

Blogging

Search engines love blogs and we advise every business to have some kind of blog on their website. Blogs offer a simple way of having regular content and information on your website, even if it is just product reviews or the latest information about your services.

Discussing issues relevant to your industry, giving help and advice or giving something away for free is a great way of getting lots of hits on your website and also some good quality links to it. 

Adverts

The quickest and easiest way of getting people to your website is through Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising, such as Google's Adwords program. Those searching for keywords that you have chosen will view your advert, and hopefully click it to visit your page.

Although getting the visitors (or hits) is fairly easy, getting a return on your advertisement investment is not. Unlike other ways of having search engines refer visitors to your website, it isn't free. Moreover as you pay for every visitor, so getting as many visitors as possible isn't the idea, rather getting the right visitors to your website.

People clicking your advert by mistake or visiting your website looking for something that you don't sell all cost money. The trick with PPC advertising is to get only those that are interested in purchasing your product/service to click on your advert. This was covered in more detail in an earlier article, How to get the best from Google Adwords.

If you are already using Google Adwords but have found that you are getting a low return on your investment, lots of impressions but a low Click Through Rate (CTR) and a high cost per click, you should consider our Google Adwords Consultation.

Frugal

Google Product Search (formerly Froogle), offers those with a smaller budget a way of advertising their products for free. Signing up for a Google Base account allows website owners to submit a list of their products so that they appear in Google Product Search.

The ability to localise products and services means that even small, local business can target the right customers.

To get the best overall benefit from the search engines, Google's Product Search and Adwords, you need a fully e-commerce website.

E-Commerce

Once, such websites were prohibitively expensive to all but big businesses. Today however, you can purchase a fully automated, custom designed e-commerce website for one off payment of just £249.

Such a website allows you to add your own products quickly and easily, describing in as much detail as needed your product/service. This of course allows you to cover the keywords aspect of your website as well as the relevant and constantly changing content that the search engines like.

Such websites also allow you to better tailor Google Adwords and Products Search to link directly to a specific product or product category and get a better return on your time and investment.

Our package includes Google Adwords setup, a free blog, optimised website code and text and an excellent hosting package.

There are cheaper e-commerce website packages around, some are also open source and free, but to make sure that all the boxes are ticked; including the vital and often overlooked ones, such as security and usability, you should purchase a professional package from a reliable company.

Remember, you pay for the website not only in the short term, but you will also bear the long term costs of having a website on the Internet, so your best bet is a site that will give you a return on your investment and an advantage in making money online.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Keeping Passwords Safe

Keeping your information safe and private in today's online, information hungry world is no mean feat. Give your telephone number to one company and within a year or two you find yourself receiving calls about insurance almost every day.

Give a company your email address and you'll find your inbox stuffed full of recommendations for cheap medications, Russian/Indian business partners, dating websites and of course porn. (At Horizon Web Development we never pass on your email address).

Unfortunately, short of changing your telephone number and email addresses regularly, there is little that you can do to prevent the two above situations from occurring. 

There is however some information that you absolutely should keep private and safe, no matter what - your Internet passwords.

Memory Aids

We all have them, we all have to in order to access the countless websites that we need to use and we all have our own memory aids to track the countless PINs and passwords, simple memory aids so that we can remember them all.

The simplest is of course to use the same password for every site; this is also the most foolhardy.

Many users, when they set up a new account online, will give their email address and a password, those that use just one password will have therefore given the same password that they log into their email with.

While this isn't in itself to much of a concern, should the website ever get hacked, the criminal would not only have access to the unfortunate users email account, but they wouldn't have to be a criminal mastermind to work out their password for shopping or banking websites too.

A recent example of this is the hack of US political commentator Bill O'Reilly whose website was hacked and a list of users, their email address and passwords was published online.

"A case in point is Carolyn Carpenter, 68, of Henderson, Nevada. The list showed she used a six-letter word from the English language to access her account. Early Friday evening, when told she should change all accounts that used the password, she replied: "Oh damn, I use it all over the place."
The Register | Bill O'Reilly's website hacked

No doubt she spent most of the night changing all of her passwords to another six-letter word from the English language, but hopefully she learnt her lesson and used a different password for each.

Other tricks to remember passwords are to use birthdays, a mother's maiden name, football teams or pet's names.

Sadly this is also bad practice as the first technique a would-be hacker would try is, is to go through all the words in the dictionary.

The experts warn us that to combat this, the best passwords are those that are not found in the dictionary, those that combine letters and numbers so rather than Horizon - H0r150n. It just gets a little tricky to remember what letters were substituted for what. Also after a few words, it becomes impossible to keep track.

Password Manager

Another option is a password manager. There are plenty of them around, such as Keywallet, Passpack and Keepass.

These programs create random passwords for you, and more importantly store them, along with the website and username so that they can be retrieved easily. Such programs make it easy to go from using passwords such as rover, to fS8cSh;o.sPiiMGBuZoqmRgdBotS9N which no one is going to guess, or even crack easily.

The ability to have completely random and also unique passwords for every website is extremely reassuring and one of the best ways to stay safe online. Should one password be compromised somehow, all your others are perfectly safe. You just have to remember the Master Password that accesses all of your other passwords in the program.

There are however downsides to password managers; should you decide that you current password manager isn't for you, well changing it may not be easy. Some like KeePass have the option to import and export passwords to and from other programs, however compatibility between programs is patchy.

Even two programs that import/export in the same formats, won't necessarily understand each other's password lists. Which means if you use one, it is best to use it on all your PCs and laptops.

Portable Use

Another drawback of password managers is apparent when out and about and struck by the need to check your email. fS8cSh;o.sPiiMGBuZoqmRgdBotS9N is not a password that is remembered off by heart, especially when you have 30 or more similar ones.

Some password managers, such as KeePass have portable versions that you can use on a USB memory stick. The safety of this however is debatable. The master password has to be something memorable because if forgotten, there is no way to access all those other passwords.

This of course means that the master password tends to be something like a birthday, a mother's maiden name, football teams or pet's names. Which, as mentioned earlier, is easily guessed or cracked. Carrying around a USB stick crammed with passwords, as well as the corresponding usernames and website addresses, would seem a little risky, especially as they are only protected with a simple password.

Web Based Password Manager

There is however another way of generating random passwords, whilst also getting away with using simple, easy to remember memory aids and passwords. Password Chart offers the ability to create long and seemingly meaningless passwords from simple everyday words.

For example, Horizon Web Development would be:

+7C#S*6C#SHC84nT6h!4C#SKiG8

Easy to remember, whilst also being a strong password. Of course this has its drawbacks too, if the site is offline, or Internet access is not available, you're completely lost unless you printed out the chart.

The best solution is probably to use a mixture of passwords and memory aids, and not rely too much on one product, because if that fails, there will be lots of clicking on Forgotten Password links and waiting for the emails, assuming that you haven't lost access to your email too.

 

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Google and the Cloud

Google's launch of a new browser named Chrome this week has been met with a somewhat muted response. Although it was expected that at some point Google would launch a browser, there is still concern as to just where this new browser would fit into the market.

Firefox has for several years been taking chunks out of the dominance of the Internet Explorer, and if Google's Chrome is going to be taking users from anywhere, it will likely be those that use the likes of Firefox, Opera or Safari.

A different sort of browser

However Chrome isn't intended as a direct replacement for Firefox, or even Internet Explorer for that matter. Chrome is aimed at a completely different market. Chrome's primary aim is to give better compatibility and reliability with some of it's other services such as Google Apps.

"What we really needed was not just a browser, but also a modern platform for web pages and applications, and that's what we set out to build,"
Mr Pichai, VP Product Management.

Regardless of it's main focus, there are plenty of raised eyebrows at the thought of a Google browser.

Privacy

Google does not have a good record when it comes to privacy, up until recently it kept search data indefinitely, now Google says that it would only be keeping search data for up to two years.

Many have questioned just why the search company needs to keep this data at all, let alone for two years, and the EU and Norway have launched investigations into this type of data retention.

The data kept by Google includes the search term typed in, the address of the internet server and occasionally more personal information contained on “cookies”, or identifier programs, on an individual’s computer.

It is quite worrying the amount of data that Google, and other search engines are able to glean from simple searches, and it is not clear whether after two years the information is in some way randomised, or deleted entirely.

Peter Fleischer, European privacy counsel for Google, has said that the company..


"...needed to keep search information for some time for security purposes – to help guard against hacking and people trying to misuse Google’s advertising system."

Even so, two years is a long time to keep information on the off chance of misuse.

Google's advertising system has also come under fire for its privacy issues, with AT & T saying:

Advertising-network operators such as Google have evolved beyond merely tracking consumer web surfing activity on sites for which they have a direct ad-serving relationship. They now have the ability to observe a user's entire web browsing experience at a granular level, including all URLs visited, all searches, and actual page-views.

If this wasn't the case before, with Google having its own browser, it is likely to be the case now. A browser automatically tracks the sites that a user visits, as well as storing cookies. Normally this isn't too much of a concern except on a shared PC, but if Google's Chrome sends this information back to Google....

There are already concerns regarding Google's Omnibox:

Provided that users leave Chrome's auto-suggest feature on and have Google as their default search provider, Google will have access to any keystrokes that are typed into the browser's Omnibox, even before a user hits enter....A Google representative told CNET News that the company plans to store about 2 percent of that data--and plans to store it along with the Internet Protocol address of the computer that typed it....In theory, that means that if one were to type the address of a site--even if they decide not to hit enter--they could leave incriminating evidence on Google's servers.

Quite a surprising feature and again we must ask if this is really necessary. There is an option (Incognito mode) that prevents the sending of information, but it is unclear how well this mode is labelled and whether the average user will be aware of it. As in all aspects of personal privacy the options should be the other way round, Incognito mode should be enabled by default and turned off by users that wish to, as the vast majority of users are likely just to use the browser as is.

The Cloud

There is of course another area in which Google is competing with Microsoft, the cloud. The cloud is where services are provided as web based applications, in other words where no software is purchased or downloaded, the user simply needs a web browser to use the applications. Many companies are moving into providing services in 'the cloud'; Adobe for instance provides a stripped down version of its Photoshop application for free as a web based service.

Google provides Google Apps, also for free - at least for basic use, as a web based service, directly competing with Microsoft's Office program. Admittedly the cloud appears to be a very useful way of using software at first glance. Previously those using multiple computers have to carry around flash memory cards or USB sticks containing their information and documents. Even then they had to make sure that the same software was installed on every PC they were intending to use.

Google Apps, and other services like them, make working on the move much more conveinant and remove the hassle of trying to open an important document on a PC that doesn't have Microsoft Office installed.

Along with the pros, there are a few cons; this move toward providing a service rather than the actual software means that the user has nothing tangible to rely on. Should the internet or even just the service provider fail, they are lost.

Then of course there are the costs, at present many of these services are free with premium paid for subscription services an option, but once the dominance of the likes of Microsoft is broken, what is to stop these service providers charging everyone? Moreover, what is to stop them setting whatever price they want to, once you have become tied in to their services?

Add to this the privacy issues concerning someone like Google, who have access to your search records and information; with GMail, your emails and content; with your browser, the websites you visit and your browsing habits; and with your documents and accounts they may well have filled in the last gaps in your private information.

Of course this is a cynical view, but a slip up the Chrome EULA provided the cynics with quite a bit of ammunition:

"By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display, and distribute any Content which you submit, post, or display on or through, the Services."

This was of course later altered when it was pointed out, but it does bring up another important point, few people actually read EULAs and this article shows why perhaps they should do.

The Future

Google envisions a move toward the cloud in most aspects of every day computing, and in fact this view is nothing new. Bill Gates said many years ago that he believed computing would move toward a subscription service, where Microsoft are paid every month, just like other utility providers. Now such a reality is closer than ever.

However a complete move to remote computing is unlikely, what with the prevalence of cheap flash storage and with laptops and netbooks being so cheap and open source software being so freely available, there isn't a desperate need for such a solution.

Should Google resolve its privacy issues, it will be an excellent option for many people, and that of course is what is key - choice. It would give users a variety if options of how to use software, so they aren't tied to just one method, particularly those on the move. The smart people would have a laptop and/or a flash card and perhaps use Google Apps too, just in case one should fail.

Google's Chrome is an interesting move, Chrome isn't yet the answer to anyone's prayers, but it will certainly push forward browser development and open new avenues. If the fears over Google and privacy turn out to be wholly unfounded, then it may help enable a much freer computing environment for everyone.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Web Hosting and Domains

We've made some changes to our website here at Horizon Web Development, our hosting packages have been revamped and we now have an automated set up in place meaning you can buy your domain and hosting at once and set up your website immediately.

Domains

If you are looking for a domain name look no further than our new domain name look up feature of our website.

Here simply enter the name you would like to register, all available domains will appear on the following page along with prices and registration periods. Simply tick the box to add the domain name to your basket.

If you already have a domain name registered with another company but are interested in our hosting packages, simply enter your domain in the second box on our hosting package page here. You do not need to transfer your domain over to us to use our hosting packages.

Hosting

We offer some great web hosting packages, with our Starter Package at just £14.99 a year (£1.25 per month) and with more features than many of our rivals business or professional packages.

Simply visit our hosting page to view what we have on offer. If you see a better like for like hosting offer elsewhere in the UK, let us know and we'll match it for you.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

End of an Era

This past week has been a sad week for web users, with the final death knell for Netscape. For some it is a sad day and the end of an era, others would say a well flogged old horse has been finally put out of its misery.

When I first starting browsing the web there was really only ever Netscape, it was launched in 1994 and dominated the browser market for most of the nineties, offering better features, faster browsing and generally being more advanced than any of its competitors.

For most internet users today that probably seems pretty hard to believe, but there was an internet before Microsoft Internet Explorer, which itself wasn't launched until 1995 and didn't really start to compete with Netscape until version 3 (IE3), released in 1996. At its peak in 1996 Netscape accounted for 90% of the browser market (at the same time IE had about a 4% market share).

Netscape just had more to offer back then, it was a full internet suite with a built in mail reader, very similar to Mozilla Thunderbird of today, a WYSIWIG HTML editor, that surprisingly at the time was a pretty good match for Microsoft's paid for, Frontpage.

For me Netscape Communicator 4.7, released 1999, was the one that remember most, chiefly because it was the one that I used the longest and also because it was just about the last version of Netscape that I used as my main browser.

This was the peak of the so called 'First Browser War' and unfortunately Netscape dropped the ball. Netscape 5 was in development for a long time, before finally being scrapped. By the time Netscape was purchased by AOL and work began on Netscape 6, Internet Explorer 5 was out (1998) and it pretty much signalled the end of Netscape. By version 5.5 in 2000, I too was using Microsoft Internet Explorer.

To be fair to Netscape, Microsoft always had the advantage, not only were they a huge company, they accounted for around 90% of the operating system market and so included IE with the operating system. Few people felt the need to download a new browser when one was already included with the OS, particularly during the days of dial up.

By the end of 1998 IE had a 50% market share, Netscape had dipped below 50% for the first time. Netscape 6 arrived in 2000, I used it but unfortunately it was a bug ridden flop and so IE5.5 became my browser of choice, as it did for most people. By 2001 Netscape had just 10% of the market share and the browser war was over.

Personally I was glad to see the end of the browser war, not just because it meant that I had just one browser to choose from but because it made website design easier. During the browser wars, website design became a nightmare. Netscape and IE followed their own, mostly incompatible rules, meaning that it was extremely difficult to get a website to display properly in both browsers. This was of the course the days of the 'Best Viewed In' banners. Things were able to move on once again in website design, after the several years of stagnation during the browser wars.

I did download Netscape 7 in 2002 and even Netscape 9 in 2007, but just for nostalgia really. They were unimpressive and so seldom used. By then I had been using Mozilla Firefox for 3 years as my primary browser. With Firefox, Mozilla had done what Netscape had failed to do since the mid nineties, produce a ground breaking and advanced browser, which revitalised the browser market. At the time of my switch to Firefox, Netscape accounted for less than 1% of the browser market and to all intents and purposes, was dead in the water.

Whilst I agree that perhaps the end of Netscape is long overdue, it is sad that the only browser that truly matched IE, is no longer with us. Although a far better browser, Firefox only accounts for about 18% of the browser market share, and will take years to chip away at Internet Explorer's huge lead.



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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How to stop spam bots with FormMail and CSS

Most people who run their own websites have some kind of online form for getting information from a potential client or site visitor, unfortunately there is little to stop spammers or spam bots from using these forms too. Which means you'll receive an endless stream of information about cheap holidays, medication and porn sites, rather than the enquiries about your products and services that you hoped you'd get.

The more popular and better ranked your site is, the more of these spammers use your contact form, if you're lucky it could just be 20-30 a day, if not it will be upwards of 100 a day. One of the major causes for so much spam coming through your online form, is the form itself. Most people use a ready made form, and why not? Why pay someone else, or spend the time writing thousands of lines of code for a script youself, when you can download one for free? Not to mention that custom written scripts, particularly those that will be the target of countless spammers, have to be very secure. With the free scripts available on line you are assured that thousands, if not millions of people are testing that script and any holes are quickly discovered.

FormMail

The most popular on line form script is FormMail from Matt's Script Archive. Many web hosts offer this free with their hosting packages, some web designers offer this too and it is available to download in countless locations. The reason for the huge popularity (the site has a PageRank of 7/10) of this script is that it is free, it has been around since 1995 so almost everyone in the industry has heard of it, and it is very simple to use, even for those with little or no knowledge of HTML or Perl.

What isn't generally known is that the script was written by Matt when he was about 16 and still a high school student studying Perl (the programming language that the script is written in), so unfortunately the script was (and still is) full of holes. In fact even though it is still one of the most widely used form to email scripts the general consensus within the webmaster community is 'Don't Use It!'

A better and easier to use script was made by the nms project. This is generally regarded as a far more secure script by the webmaster community but works in a similar way, so no need to change all of your online forms. This is the script that is generally used by Horizon Web Development in their online forms but even though it is quite secure, it still isn't perfect, spammers can still get through by simply filling in your form or by creating an automated 'robot' or spam bot to do it for them.

This is very difficult to guard against as there is no real way for the form to be able to tell a spam bot from a real person, or is there?

The CSS trick

There is a trick to fool spam bots into filling the form out in a particular way so that they give themselves away, without annoying or asking for extra input from potential clients, as a word verification test would do.

It is actually amazingly simple, just add an extra text field and name it something that a spam bot would mostly likely be programmed to fill in automatically, such as 'Surname' or 'First Name' or some other variation of it that you haven't used in your real form and assign it to the class 'Surname'. Then in your Stylesheet simply add the following bit of code:



Surname {

visibility: hidden;

}

The 'Surname' field will then be hidden from legitimate users, so they can't accidentally fill it in, but not from spam bots who will see it as merely another field to fill in on your form and mostly likely just another space to insert countless porn links.

So simple and yet brilliant, except that that is as far as I managed to get. As I mentioned our web forms use nms FormMail, but unfortunately there aren't any Perl programmers in the Horizon Web Development Team. We tried and failed to guess at how to edit the FormMail script so that it would verify the 'Surname' field and automatically reject any forms that had that field filled in, our knowledge of HTML, CSS and PHP not really coming in handy.

Many, many hours were spent trawling the internet for a solution, but amazingly none of us were able to find one. Even though it is the most widely used FormMail script, there was no solution to be found for Matt's FormMail script either. It was as if the users of these scripts had never needed to verify fields in their forms.

NMS FormMail

Then I struck gold! This site:- http://codingforums.com/showthread.php?t=113863 in which 'rwedge' had revealed the answer. Again it was amazingly simple, using the nms FormMail script (and I advise anyone that is using Matt's Script to change to this one as it is far easier to set up and much more secure), add this piece of code into the user customisation section:



# USER CUSTOMISATION SECTION
# --------------------------
# Place any custom code here

use CGI;
sub spam {
my $q = new CGI;
my $spamcheck = $q->param('Surname') || '';
if ($spamcheck ne '') {
print "Location: http://www.farfaraway.com\n\n";
exit;
}
}
spam();


Then find the section below and comment it out by adding a # to the first line.


# use CGI;
use POSIX qw(locale_h strftime);
use CGI::NMS::Charset;

Surname of course being the name of the trick field that you want the spam bots to fill in and location where you want them to be directed after your FormMail script rejects them.

It was all so simple and yet amazingly effective. I felt that I had no choice but to write something about it so that anyone else searching for a solution won't have to devote hours and hours like we did to find the answer.

No more spam

Since adding that field to our forms and adding the above code to our script we've not had a single spam email via the contact form. If only all other spam could be dealt with so effectively.

Update: This article was written over a year ago and, as yet, still no spam via the contact form!



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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Safari BETA for Windows – now working!

Apple have released another update for Safari and this time it works! Again I must say how impressed I am by how it looks, sites seem to look much better in the browser, in much the same way that they do in Firefox on Linux.

I haven't had much time to play with it yet and I am not sure that it could replace Firefox as my default browser but so far I am impressed. The one thing missing that I have noticed straightaway is the lack of a 'New Tab' button. There also doesn't seem to be a way to add more search engines to the search box, such as Amazon, eBay and so forth.

But it is early days yet and this is afterall only a BETA.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Apple release Safari 3.0.1 – still not working

I was quite pleased yesterday, I discovered that Apple have released an update for Safari making it Safari 3.0.1. At last I thought, I will be able to use Safari!

I was wrong. Still the same problems persisted, missing text on sites such as BBC News, Amazon, Horizon Web Development and so on. Oddly Horizon Flash Memory is fine, so if I want a new SD card I can use Safari, anything else though and I have to use Firefox.

I am surprised that they have released an update but not sorted out, what must be for most people, the biggest problem with Safari, they can't read the pages.

I hope that they sort it out soon, otherwise this Safari hype could run out of steam and lose all those potential users, myself included.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Safari BETA for Windows – not working yet

Many designers, be they graphic designers, desktop publishers or web designers have Macs. Not just because they are cooler but also because things seem to just look better on a Mac. I have noticed the same thing with websites viewed on the Mac and as a web designer realised that it may be worth getting one. Well Apple have solved that problem for those web designers who use Windows, with Safari for the PC.

Safari for Windows has been released today and I couldn't resist taking a look, and unfortunately I was disappointed from the off. Firstly I had garbled text. A quick Google, well found nothing as the browser was only released today but I did manage to discover that it was something to do with the font Lucida Grande and that I should uninstall it and then reinstall the one that came with Safari.

Very annoying and I was very close to just removing the browser, but I persevered, I opened my Control Panel, clicked the Fonts folder and deleted both Lucida Grande fonts that I had there. Then I went to the Safari folder (C:\Program Files\Safari\Safari.resources) and copied the two Lucida Grande files there into my Fonts folder and that got it looking normal.

I admit I was impressed with the look and speed of it so I thought I would try another site so just for fun I thought that I would visit the BBC News website and this is what I saw!

Something about cats was all I could gather from that News story, but perhaps it was a one off, so next to the Horizon Web Development site and this:

Oh dear. Trips to Amazon.co.uk and Play.com produced similar results and so in the end I gave up. Not only can I not use this browser for fun but testing web sites in this browser will probably lead me to try and correct problems that don't really exist.

Back to the drawing board for Apple and back to Firefox for me.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

SD Card: The New Standard?

The SD card, or Secure Digital is fast becoming the industry standard for digital cameras. It had succeeded the No.1 card of the late 1990s, Smart Media, by the early 2000s; and now virtually all digital camera makers, not to mention PDA, camcorder, mobile phone and GPS manufacturers use the card.

SD CardHaving said that calling it the "New Standard" is something of a misnomer. Although used by big brands such as Casio, Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Kodak, Panasonic and Konica Minolta there are three big names in the industry that use their own cards. Olympus and Fuji use the xD card in their digital cameras and Sony use the Memory Stick. So unless your electronics product is made by Sony, Olympus or Fuji, the chances are that you'll need an SD card.

The SD card hasn't reached this level of dominance by chance, this is a quality card and I always ensure that any device I buy either exclusively uses an SD card or at least has an SD card slot. This not only makes all the cards that I have collected from my other devices interchangeable but also mean when I upgrade to a bigger capacity card it can be used in all my devices.

microSD CardAnother reason for their popularity is that SD cards have two smaller cousins that are used in many mobile phones at the moment, miniSD and microSD. The miniSD cards are small at just 20 mm x 21.5 mm x 1.4 mm but the microSD cards are even smaller at just 11 mm x 15 mm x 1 mm and weighing less than half a gram, making them smaller enough to use in even the tinniest of devices. All the mini and micro SD cards sold by Horizon Flash Memory come with an SD adaptor so that they are also backwards compatible with any SD card readers.

Of course the only draw back is that the smaller the cards become the more expensive they are.

xD picture cardThe miniSD and microSD cards aren't the only reason for the dominance of the SD cards. SD cards have a faster read/write speed than the likes of the xD card and a maximum capacity of 8GB (only 4GB are currently widely available and coming soon on Horizon Flash Memory), compared to the 2GB max of the xD card. But the SD card has a theoretical maximum capacity of 132GB, four times the theoretical limits of the Memory Stick and 32 times that of the xD cards!

As I said I use them in every device that I can and at the moment that is two mobile phones and a Panasonic Lumix digital camera. The speed and 2GB capacity means that when using my Panasonic Lumix camera I am able to just keep clicking away taking pictures continuously and can store about 700 pictures on the card. On one mobile phone I have a 1GB microSD for storing music, TV shows, documents etc, a life saver when on the move. The other has a miniSD card as is used mainly to transporting documents. The adaptors for the miniSD and microSD mean that they can also be used in my camera and in any card reader that accepts SD cards.

compact flash cardThere are many that believe the SD card is the successor to the floppy disk. Which in my view is an ideal replacement that seems to have been a long time in coming. The demise of the floppy disk has been dragging on for years. I miss the floppy, not the slow speeds or the errors or low capacity but the fact that every PC had a floppy drive, they were universal and you could save your work and take it home with you in your shirt pocket, slot into your PC at home and carry on. There have been many attempts to get that kind of flexibility, there was the ZIP drive, but they were expensive and not everyone had them or could afford to have them. Saving your work to a ZIP disk and then making the journey to work/friends or wherever, only to find that they didn't have a ZIP drive!

Then came the CD and DVD, both though had the same problem, they didn't fit into my shirt pocket, or trouser pocket, or any pocket for that matter. Of course then there was the bigger problem of taking information on a CD but then being unable to change it and save it back to the same CD when out and about! Something that was taken for granted with floppies.

Flash Memory Card ReaderAs for USB flash drives I have found them very unreliable and for some reason not as handy as an SD card. Most, if not all, new PCs come fitted with card readers, all of which read SD cards. They are small (even the largest of the SD family fit into my shirt pocket with room to spare for a card reader), fast and the readers are almost ubiquitous so the SD card is at last the perfect replacement for the floppy.

Unlike the floppy disk though, SD cards are used and will be used in all manner of gadgets in the home. At the moment it is printers, TVs, Cameras, Camcorders, PCs, Media Centers, and DVD recorders with SD card slots but it won't be long until fridges, cookers, microwaves and even washing machines have them.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Be Ranked No.1 on Google!

"We can guarantee to get your site a Top Ten ranking in Google, MSN, Yahoo, and Lycos…."

I get emails like the above quite a lot, usually I can't go a week or so without having some random company sending me an email guaranteeing that they'll get my site ranked No.1 in Google, or even just the Top Ten for the less optimistic ones.

The fact is that no one can guarantee any kind of ranking on Google and the other search engines, not a top ten ranking, and certainly not the prized No.1 position. Many of the so called SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) specialists that send these emails are just after a quick buck. Some won't even attempt to get you higher others will get you ranked for a keyword or phrase that you are already highly ranked for, such as in our case Horizon Web Development, which we are already in the top two for, as you can see here (I'll save you having to type in "Horizon Web Development").

Others use unscrupulous tactics that could get you banned from Google and other search engines, typically after you've paid. A common tactic is what is known as keyword spamming or keyword stuffing whereby they literally cram your pages with keywords in lists or in such a way as to make sections of your site unreadable. Tactics such as this usually work quite well at first, normally right up until after you've parted with your cash and thanked them for the good work, and then get you banned.

A famous US company that employed unscrupulous tactics is the one mentioned in this article.

So how can you be sure that you're aren't being conned into parting with your hard earned cash for little or no benefit? Well here's a bit of advice:

  1. Always check out their website and find out how well it is ranked.
  2. Carry out a quick Google search to see if you can find recommendations or complaints out there from any of their previous customers, or to just get a general idea of their reputation.
  3. If they have a list of previous clients, contact one or two to ask what they thought of the company.
  4. Ask them what they are going to actually do to get your site better ranked. Never hand over control of your site to a company without knowing exactly what they are going to do.
  5. Ask for a detailed invoice so that you can clearly see what your money has got and don't let them blind you with jargon.
  6. Finally make sure that you check to ensure that they've delivered what they have promised, preferably before you pay!

At Horizon Web Development we design our websites with Search Engine Optimisation in mind and are always on hand to offer advice of keywords, SEO, rankings and search engines.


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Monday, May 07, 2007

Is your site well designed?

It's a common problem. Many businesses have websites designed by local web design companies and believe that they've received a good service, when in fact they receive an absolute turkey of a website that looks like it was designed by an unskilled amateur ten years ago. But how can you tell if you have a well designed site?

The first thing to check your site for is what's known as the 1990s look. These are sites that were either designed in the early days of the internet or by designers who learnt their trade in the early days and haven't updated their skills. A classic example of this kind of site is Northbridge Police Department.

How to tell if you have a site from the 1990s

  1. Background image - The days of the quirky repeating background image are fortunately long gone. If your site has a repeating background such as the one in the above example you should think about a change. A background image shouldn't interfere with what's on the page or make the text difficult to read and it certainly shouldn't repeat an image over and over.
  2. Animated GIF's - Another sure-fire way to make your site look dated. The animated GIF was a novel idea, briefly, and has long since lost its charm. Nowadays annoying flashing animations such the US flag in the above example make a site look out of date, cheap and unprofessional and should be avoided at all costs. It is much better to have a nice clear picture that complements your design than some meaningless moving picture.
  3. Music – It is simple to embed a little sound clip into a page and so about ten years ago everyone was doing it, and to be fair I was one of them. But I soon realised that there is nothing more annoying when trying to read text than having the same piece of music playing over and over and over. It is not only distracting, but if it can't be turned off, deeply annoying. Remember the person viewing your site may be doing so late at night, on a train or during a meeting, so the last thing they want is to have a crap little ditty that you particularly liked blaring out uncontrollably. If your site plays a little tune, remove it. If you disagree and like having the sound effect, try reading your whole site text with it playing and see if you change your mind.
  4. Splash Pages – Something else that was 'in' several years ago. It seemed that if you wanted to portray an air of professionalism on your website then you needed a splash page. However today nothing could be further from the truth. If you have one, get rid of it as soon as possible. Apart from wasting the most important page on your site and being annoying it is one of the most obvious giveaways of a site from the 1990s. Most web designers avoid these now, however some clients still ask for them.
  5. Site Best Viewed with…. – If your site has "Site Best Viewed at 800x600" or something along those lines then it is in serious need of a revamp. These kinds of messages were popular in the late 1990s, I didn't actually use them myself but most sites did and even today there are some relics of sites that still have them. They are completely pointless as no visitor would ever really change their screen resolution just to view your site, they'd just go elsewhere. It also shows laziness on the part of the web designer, as if they either couldn't be bothered or weren't capable of designing a site that looks good on any screen resolution. The other popular "Best Viewed with…" message from the time was "Best Viewed with Internet Explorer/Netscape." These messages (in most cases buttons) were from the browsers wars of the mid-nineties between Netscape and Internet Explorer. If your site has one of these buttons (and many do) remove it immediately. The so called 'Browser War' ended in 1999 (yes that is eight years ago!) so you are making your site look incredibly dated. More so if you have a Netscape button as Netscape pretty much disappeared and now accounts for less than 1% of the browser market so if you are claiming that your site is best viewed with Netscape on your homepage you are alienating 99% of your visitors.
  6. Blinking/Scrolling Text – These are both now seen as something of a joke among web designers. Blinking text was never really that popular amongst designers but because it was a simple effect, achieved by just placing <blink> either side of the word you wish to make blink (e.g. My <blink>Flashing</blink> Text), that didn't require a knowledge of JavaScript or DHTML it was widely used by hobbyists and amateur web designers for homepages. It was a similar story with scrolling text and both became associated with poorly designed, amateurish sites and so just about everyone stopped using them by the late 1990s. Again if your site has them, look for a new designer.
  7. Garish Text/Background Colours – This is another sign of a bad web designer or a really old site from the 1990s. Simply because you could have a variety of different coloured backgrounds many people, especially new or amateur website designers did. This led to sites that had text that was near on impossible to read. Colour clashes such as a bright red background and yellow text were highly popular! Some sites even had sections in different colours resulting a multi coloured mess that was impossible to read. The general rule of thumb when it comes to backgrounds is to have a white or very light coloured background with black text or a very dark or black background with white text. Most sensible designers don't try to go for something in between. If your site has a coloured background and coloured text you should certainly think about a change. Not only does it make your site text hard to read but it makes it look like a personal website from the late 1990s.
  8. Non-Standard Fonts – Another technique that was popular with novices back in the 1990s was to make good use of the available fonts, I have even come across sites that had different fonts for each paragraph! While it may have seemed a good idea at the time, designers must remember that not everyone has the same fonts on their PC. Even those that did have the necessary fancy fonts would most likely find the text difficult to read. If your site is using fancy fonts as the main site text you should think about a changing to a more common font, such as Arial, Georgia, Tahoma or Verdana. Studies have shown that the easiest fonts to read are Sans Serif fonts such as Arial and Verdana so while it may look fancier to have a great unique font, the viewer won't appreciate it and will probably think your site is from the late 90s.

If your site doesn't have any of the above then you can breathe a sigh of relief but that doesn't necessarily mean that you have a well designed site. There is more to a well designed site than simply the look of it but we'll come back to this in a future post.


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