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14 November, 2004

Simply inadequate

I needed an animated gif editor in a hurry yesterday.  The quickest and cheapest route seemed to be to pick up a copy of .net magazine, featuring Gif Movie Gear 2.52 on the cover disc.

Having placed the cover disc in my PC, it didn't autorun, so looked for the appropriate launch file in Windows Explorer.  There it was: 'ierunner.exe'.  Uh oh.  I could guess (correctly) what that was going to do: launch the html-based disc interface in Internet Explorer.  Once in, I could see immediately that the interface was standard html pages, so I hurriedly shut IE and opened the relevant page in my primary browser, Firefox.  No luck.  The pages have been 'optimised' for IE, so don't display or function properly in a real browser - external stylesheets, javascript files & some images fail to load, and internal links are dead.

A little further investigation unearthed a disclaimer that the .net cover disc deliberately doesn't support Netscape (I use Firefox, not Netscape, but never mind) because it isn't possible to run executable files direct from the html pages. I'd say that's an advantage, and the fact that IE does allow executables to run is a potential vulnerability. However, I can see that such a security measure would be a disadvantage for the cover disc.

This would be a good reason for .net to use a proper CD-ROM GUI, rather than lazily opting for IE-only html. I happen to have IE on my PC for error checking when writing web pages, but what about those who have dumped IE altogether, especially Mac or Linux users? Does that mean the coverdisc is unusable by anyone with a secure, standards-compliant browser?

Secondly, why are the html pages coded so badly? Okay, they're intended for display in IE, but they could still be written in valid html/xhtml and css. Even if the links to executable files were to be disabled in all but IE, the navigation and pages themselves should function and display properly in any modern browser.
This is the coverdisc of a magazine devoted to web authoring - shouldn't its own material be an example of high-quality coding? A quick glance at the source code of a random page reveals basic errors (mainly in nesting, which IE can forgive but which break the page in Firefox et al.), but also heavy use of deprecated/obsolete tags and tag attributes, strongly suggesting that the author learned html before 1999 and hasn't developed his/her skills since then. It's conceivable that those new to the subject might study this source code for learning purposes, yet it'll lock them into bad habits, if it doesn't actively mislead.

Very disappointing, and a poor reflection on a useful magazine.

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