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Kimberly Blessing

Giving Credit Where It's Due on Ada Lovelace Day 2014

3 min read

I haven't written a post for Ada Lovelace Day in a few years (last in 2010) and recent conversations have made one feel necessary. When the contributions and accomplishments of my female contemporaries on the Web are unknown to people just a generation behind, I get extremely concerned. After all, the making of the Web is the making of history in modern times. As I've pointed out before, we have the opportunity to document our times and lives unlike never before -- but data loss can occur. And it is.

Twenty years ago, when I was in college and learning how to create web pages, I pretty much had two sources of information: documentation written by TimBL and USENET newsgroups. But once I started working professionally, I realized that there was a wealth of information being printed on paper. And what I saw was that large numbers of these books on web development and design were being written by women.

Me and Molly HolzschlagMe with Molly Holzschlag

Women such as:

I wish I could tell you exactly how many books these women have collectively written -- I'm sure it's over 100 -- but quick searches of their bios and websites doesn't always make this data clear. Is it modesty? Do multiple editions make the numbers tricky? I don't know.

But when I mention the names of these women -- all of whom are still active online, many of whom are still writing (or speaking) about the web and programming -- to web developers today, I'm often met with blank stares. I'll have to mention that Lynda founded Lynda.com, (still!) one of the top online training sites, or that Jen co-founded the extremely popular ARTIFACT conference. I have to explain that Dori has helped run Wise Women's Web, one of the earliest communities for female developers online, and that we have Molly to thank for convincing Bill Gates and Microsoft to be more open about Internet Explorer development at Microsoft (there are so many articles to link to, but I want to link to Molly's old blog posts, which are gone *sadface*).

While my past ALD posts have been happy remembrances of people who've made positive impacts on my life, this post is written out of frustration -- and even a bit of anger -- that the contributions of these women are being forgotten or overlooked in their own time. Let's give credit where it's due. Comment or blog or tweet about the books written by these women that helped you learn your craft. Send them a thank you email or tweet. (In Molly's case, you can give to her fund.) Share this post or the links to these women's websites with someone who needs to learn about their foremothers. And just be thankful that women helped light the path for others by sharing knowledge about building the World Wide Web.

Kimberly Blessing

Optimizing Media Queries

1 min read

I revisited my CSS Dev Conf talk for the Responsive Web Design Summit, with additional data from an analysis of Microsoft.com. (What? Microsoft.com is responsive, you say? It is!) Same story, though: how you compose your media queries affects performance, but not consistently across browsers. Overall front-end optimization is still best! slides, data, and test code is all available.

Kimberly Blessing

The Problem Isn't IE6 -- It's You

5 min read

This post is going to upset a lot of people, I'm sure, but what I have to say needs to be said, if only to remind members of our community to behave themselves.

Is Internet Explorer 6 an old, outdated, hanger-on of a browser? Yes, absolutely. Does it require the use code hacks in order to achieve semi-parity with more modern browsers? Yes, it does. Should this be such a problem for web professionals? No, it shouldn't.

IE6 Cartoon Thanks, Tracy Apps!

For a moment, forget about all of IE6's issues, security, how much you dislike Microsoft, or whatever baggage you're carrying around. Instead, think about IE6 as an unknown browser -- perhaps as a random blip in your browser stats, or maybe as an interesting piece of tech you've seen on a blog or at a conference. You don't know much about that browser or how your site is going to work on it, so what do you? You code it using web standards goodness: you create a base with semantic markup (and any server-side tech for forms), add on design via CSS, then layer on client-side interactivity with JavaScript and Ajax-y goodness -- et voilà, you have a lovely, robust web experience.

Now, with some new or unknown browser, you hope for the best. But with IE6, we know what the issues are. If you're using PNGs with alpha-transparency in your design, you'll need an alternate solution. If you're adding horizontal margins to floats, you know you'll run in to a double-margin bug. If you're trying to clear floats within a parent, you know you need to set height. You'll need to plan for handling unsupported CSS selectors. And when it comes to JavaScript, you may not even know what to plan for (unless you spend most of your days working with JS).

But again, you're a web professional. You know your craft. You know this platform and its issues. (If you don't, you need to know your craft better. No, I don't buy "newness" to the field as an excuse -- this is still a present concern, so you need to understand it! Why not start with my CSS tips for IE6.) While some venting may be in order, I find the outright hatred for this browser (and other versions of IE, also bashed on a regular basis) to be downright unprofessional. Here's why:

  1. IE is still #1. While recent reports cite that its market share is shrinking, IE (all versions combined) is still the number one browser in use worldwide. The snide comments I've seen people make about IE (which I won't link to) often extend to remarks about IE users, which is just about the uncoolest thing I've witnessed. Respect the user, regardless of browser!
  2. IE6 use is shrinking. With the growing number of sites proactively messaging that support is being discontinued for IE6, its share should continue to shrink, which will lessen your burden over time. (You do have an actively managed browser support policy, to help you identify when you don't have to support it any longer, right?) Celebrate that people are upgrading instead of harping on the stragglers.
  3. Promote the best experience. Instead of complaining about having to make a fancy widget work perfectly on IE6, engage with the client/product/design team to explain how you can deliver the best possible experience to every user by honoring only what each browser is truly capable of, rather than let one browser hold you back. You now have plenty of real world examples (Google Apps, Digg, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) to back you up on this!
  4. Help prepare for the future. Remind those in decision-making roles that the more time you spend looking backwards at the old, the less time you have to prepare for the new. Since I haven't met a business owner (small, corporate, or otherwise) who doesn't like "new", this should snap them back to their primary focus of strategies that save money and provide for the future.
  5. Don't make yourself look like an ass. If I'm one of those poor souls still stuck supporting (or, perhaps worse, using) IE6 and I'm trying to hire someone, do you think I'm going to hire the person who's been hating on that browser all over the interwebs? Umm, no.

I know folks are going to jump in with all sorts of comments about me not thinking about Ajax-y web apps or super beautiful design-y sites. The thing is, I do work on and continue to lead a team which works on these types of sites and apps, and yes, we're supporting IE6 in all cases. No, it's not to pixel perfection. No, the functionality we build for a new browser isn't 100% replicated. But these sites aren't as far off as you might think* -- and in the cases where I'm using hacks or JS shims to get IE6 into compliance, I also have easy code management techniques for dropping support.

*In fact, very recently, after preparing business and design teams to accept far less functionality in IE6, my team delivered a cool animated design-y thing that worked perfectly in that browser! (It's not live yet, but I'll update this when it is.)

So take the time to inform and to educate about browser differences and support strategies. Enthusiastically suggest alternatives to your team. Track your browser metrics and get happy about those numbers changing. Say a small thank you to those at Microsoft who are working to improve IE. Get inside the IE6 user's head and present their story, not your own tale of woe. If you need help, ask for it.

Seriously, it'll save you from looking like an ass.

Kimberly Blessing

IE8 Compatibility Mode is not the problem

3 min read

I've spent most of my career working at large Web-focused companies which typically have multiple Web development teams to handle their sites. While the Web may be the vehicle that makes their business viable, most of the business people in these companies are ignorant oblivious too busy to follow the developments of the browser market space.

These companies, while all different, handled the release of new browsers using the same wait-and-see approach: wait until the browser comes out, see how much of the site's traffic moves to that browser, then invest on bug-fixing only if n% of users are on that browser. Most, if not all, of the alpha/beta/RC testing was done by developers who were interested enough to test and possibly bug fix (assuming the issues weren't major shared template problems). And they were probably doing this on their own time, because the business wasn't going to stop business-supporting, revenue-generating development work in order to support a new browser!

I often owned the browser support matrix at the companies I worked for, but just because I owned it didn't mean I could change it whenever I wanted. I had to convince the business teams that preparing for a new browser was worth our time and money. If I didn't walk into meetings with current and historical browser usage statistics and demonstrations of bugs in the new browser, I would have been laughed out of the room. Simply stating that "a new browser is coming and we'd better be ready" just wasn't, and isn't, enough.

Other than a handful of companies, businesses aren't in the browser business, or even in the browser support business (even though we developers may feel differently). Microsoft is right to not expect all businesses and Web sites to jump just because they have a new browser coming out, and I think that IE8's Compatibility Mode provides a decent solution to bridging the gap for users between the old, crappily coded sites and the nice, new(er), standards-compliant sites.

I'm not jumping for joy over it, of course, because it signals that we standardistas haven't succeeded in our education mission. There still aren't enough designers and developers out there building standards-compliant Web sites, with or without business support, to withstand an event such as this. There certainly aren't enough business people who understand the Web well enough to simplify the business case for standards-based development. Community and education tie into this as well.

Those who think that IE8 is going to be a wake-up call to businesses dependent on the Web are wrong -- it won't be. But it should be one to all of those designers and developers and business people who do understand the benefits of sticking with the standards: we still need to get out there and talk to our colleagues and community about standards, and help move the Web forward!

Kimberly Blessing

The Annoying IE8 Loophole

2 min read

Right now, the Web Standards community is celebrating. After weeks of telling us otherwise, Microsoft has announced that IE8 will enable standards mode by default.

Like others, I'm very happy about this change and I applaud Microsoft for reversing their decision. However there's something bothering me about their latest statement...

Developers who want their pages shown using IE8’s “IE7 Standards mode” will need to request that explicitly (using the http header/meta tag approach described here).

You see, originally Microsoft wanted us to add an HTTP header or META tag in order to indicate that a page was compliant with the latest-and-greatest standards mode; now that we get that mode by default, we don't need the header/tag -- except to explicitly indicate that we want the older, IE7-like standards mode.

Don't see the loophole yet? If you work for a big company that's not quite so Web Standards savvy, you might. The loophole is that there's nothing in IE8 that's going to force anyone to upgrade their code! While you, dear Standards-abiding designer/developer, want this opportunity to clean up your site and trash the old code, The Man is going to tell you that there's no point investing in this change and they're going to point you to the HTTP header/META tag solution.

So, now is the time to begin strategizing -- how are you going to convince your boss(es) that an IE8 code refresh is necessary? Also, how do you plan to support IE8 and IE7, and possibly even IE6 and IE5.5?

Go ahead and start the party without me... I need to work this one out first.

Kimberly Blessing

Is IE6 the new NN4?

2 min read

There's a interesting and fun post and comment thread about IE7 adoption over at WaSP, and it has me wondering... will IE6 linger like Netscape Navigator 4.x did?

Surely, no browser could take as long as NN4 to be purged from the systems of its dedicated users. Many WinXP SP2 users will be presented head-on with the option to upgrade via Windows Update very soon -- and my guess is that most people will accept the upgrade, simply because they don't know or care enough to learn about what they're getting. I can already see members of my family just clicking "Yes" or "Accept" on whatever dialog box is displayed... they won't even bother to call and ask me what they should do.

But if companies and ISPs are really suggesting to employees, clients, and users that they not upgrade to IE7, as one commenter suggests, will people listen? If companies and ISPs are making this recommendation, do they have any reason better than "we didn't test our site in any of the IE7 release candidates and either we're too stubborn to accommodate Microsoft or our developers don't know how to fix the display problems in IE7"?

I only slightly jest in suggesting such an excuse -- I'm sure there's some company out there for which that is their reason. But how ridiculous! Ignorance on your part will only serve to frustrate and alienate users, not Microsoft. Not to mention how bad you, Company X, look for making such a statement.

No, I don't really think IE6 will hang around as long as NN4. After the Windows Update, and then after the holidays, when many folks get new computers, we'll see a big drop in its percentage. After that it will slowly decline, until Vista comes out. And by that point its share will probably be less than 20%, I would guess. I could be totally off -- I haven't worked tech support in a long time, but my gut has been right before, and this is what my gut tells me. Regardless, I don't see IE6 CSS hacks going away, just as IE5 hacks haven't totally disappeared. CSS is the new proprietary DOM, in that sense... and for a while longer we'll have to keep forking code to handle specific browsers. IE7 doesn't solve that problem...

Kimberly Blessing

Better Living through Technology

3 min read

Kevinalways likes to talk about better living through chemistry, but for me it's all about better living through technology. Here are some products that are making my life better right now:

  • Tassimo: Despite having worked as a barista during high school and college, it took me until 2005 (during a trip to Italy) to really develop a taste for coffee. I was fearful of spending all my money at Starbucks until I learned about Tassimo, and heard its praises sung by a few coffee lovers. Requiring very little effort on my part, this system makes excellent coffee drinks (I especially enjoy the Gevalia Lattes) as well as hot chocolate and tea. Our local Target recently started selling the T-Discs, but I get mine direct from the manufacturer once a month via auto-replenishment (requiring even less work on my part!). It's convenient and it's cheap. Mmmmmm.
  • SlingBox: I signed up for NHL Center Ice and I accepted a new job that will require me to travel, all on the same day. How would I get to watch my games while on the road? I'd had my eye on the SlingBox since before last Xmas and decided to give the new Pro edition a whirl. With the ability to connect four devices, I can watch regular cable, digital and HD cable, or whatever's on the DVD/VHS. How well does it work? Well, Kevin's on the other side of the globe right now, and he and I watched the Flyers game the other night together. What a way to keep the family together!
  • Microsoft OneNote: Despite being a total technology nerd, I love paper. Whenever I have to think something through, I grab a stack of paper and pens write down all of my thoughts. I'm also big on making lists. I carry a little notebook wherever I go, and it's filled with random thoughts, reminders, quotations, and phone numbers. Now I have a digital notebook that allows me to organize my notes just as I would on paper. I can copy and paste just about any data from any program into OneNote. Checklists, tabbed sections... I can do it all, and I save trees at the same time.

Now all I really need is a high-resolution widescreen tablet PC to replace my high-res widescreen laptop and my slate-model tablet PC. I'm talking about something like the Toshiba Tecra M7, but with a normal keyboard layout. (Who the heck thought that moving the Windows key was a good idea?!?) I don't care how big the thing is or how much it weighs. I just need a workstation replacement that has tablet functionality, for when my hand injury acts up (which it does frequently) and I can't use the touchpad. It would also be handy on all those flights, when the person in front of me fully reclines and I can't keep the laptop open more than 4 or 5 inches. Dammit, Dell, make me a tablet PC! NOW!

Kimberly Blessing

Brand Loyalty and Old TV Shows

2 min read

Yesterday, Kevin told me that I was the most person he'd ever met. Which was funny to me, because I'd been thinking about the very same thing recently.

Indeed, I am an incredible brand-loyal person. I blame (in a good way) my family for this. A few of my family members worked for , back in its heyday, and ever since I was a small child I was always attracted to Rand's 'W' logo. Next was , the only soda we drank, accompanied by -- there was only one in the family, but there's a story behind my love for the car and brand (part of which could be the shared 'W' with Westinghouse). Other brands I'm particularly loyal to include , , (despite the exploding laptop incident), and .

One brand that I've never been particularly loyal to is . For those of you that don't know me, and may not know that I worked at AOL for six years, you may not find anything strange about this. But for those that do know me and do know that I worked at AOL, you probably also won't find this strange. My modus operandi was to subvert the norm and push the products I worked on to be the industry's best, rather than the AOL average of lame and boring.

Well, I don't know if anything I did at AOL ever worked (see today's NY Times article, but I can say that they're now doing something that I can get behind... they're putting old TV shows online at ! You can catch one of my all-time faves, online. (Max was sort of a brand, too, wasn't he?) Other oldies-but-goodies include and . Now go watch some TV!

Kimberly Blessing

MS Windows History

1 min read

Randomly looking for some information on old versions of Windows on Microsoft's site, I found an article that documents the history of the Windows OS. There's a page dedicated to the history of IE as well.