My Secret Life as a Spaghetti Coder
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I know, I know - everyone has big monitors now.

But with 1900+ pixels, I keep half for the browser and half for other stuff. If you go with 1000+ pixels, it doesn't leave me with enough room for my other apps, and I've got to (ack!) scroll sideways. It's not as bad with the ball on the Mighty Mouse, but most people don't have one and it's not exactly effortless even with one.

What do you think?

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As tempted as I am to cater my working standards to better fit your visual needs and workflow, I'll probably (grudgingly) stick with my current 1024px width standard. Sorry. :-)

Posted by Rob Wilkerson on Jan 22, 2008 at 01:11 PM UTC - 5 hrs

Keeping the screen size small is a step in the right direction. Some of us don't have large screens, AND we use large print which effectively shrinks the screen. Then there are those browsing with phones. If I knew enough about CSS weirdness I'd say make things flow, but when space is squeezed, let the main column get most of the space. I've seen blogs
with 2 fat sidebars and

a
main
column
like
this,
often
with
the
text
bleeding
into
other
columns,

when read with large print.

If there were a chord to make the scrollwheel act horizontally, such scolling would be less painful. But I think CSS and definitely HTML are too inflexible about this sort of thing. The person browsing should be able to override aspects of style not simply with a custom stylesheet (because one size doesn't fit all websites, and the accessibility of some sites may be better than the user's stylesheet) but with controls on the browser. Then the browser should (optionally) remember this by URL. But the corporate style people
would get really upset that I'm using a font other than the one they chose, and probably paid for. So I won't hold my breath.

Posted by hgs on Jan 22, 2008 at 01:27 PM UTC - 5 hrs

Rob - it's not just me, but I think potentially many other people as well.

hgs mentioned phones and a case I'm seeing lately as people set the sidebars with fixed pixel sizes and leave the main content area to fill the rest. Their (often wrong) assumption is that they can take up 400+ pixels and people will have it at least at 1000, leaving 600 for the main area. Needless to say, these sites look quite silly to me.

Devices with small screens and "normal" web browsers are going to become more abundant, and although their resolution will eventually catch up, it's not quite there yet. Luckily (at least with the iPhone), they have some nifty browsing tricks to make that less of a problem.

I stayed with the browser at full screen up to 1440 pixels wide, but now I've changed. As users get more and more pixels, I would expect they'll learn not to keep maximizing it (especially as people have layouts that make the lines impossibly long to read). I know when I hit 2400, I'm keeping my browsing around 800, because that extra space becomes two extra screens.

I know I'm a somewhat savvy user, but I wouldn't expect it to remain a savvy user's secret to desire more on the screen at once than one item.

1024 is not too bad, but with designs that get wider than that, I just avoid ever bothering to scroll.

We have to remember that the web is a symbiotic medium. Users want information and websites want users. So, if I'm unwilling to scroll to the right to see something, then that's on me and I don't get what I want.

But be careful, since there are enough sources of the same information that users have a choice, and I'll just go somewhere else.

How many others out there are like me? Not many at the moment, I would think, but that may change.

I think it might be a good idea to start reexamining these assumptions we came up with that said it was OK to have wide websites because monitor trends were giving us more pixels. Now, we've got too many pixels for the next generation of small devices, and what happens when they get even smaller (maybe I have a wristwatch computer)?

I know there's WML, but did that ever take off like some of us were told it would?

Anyway, I did like your comment, and I certainly get the gist. I do the same thing in other situations: "who cares what less than 1% of the users are doing if it's going to cost too much to fix it for them?" Tell them to upgrade their crappy 640x480 monitors.

I'm just trying to see if we can get ahead of the next trend. I don't know how on-target I am, of course. Only time will tell ... Or perhaps a survey of random distribution that matches the population at large, of those who have really big screens and their browsing habits.

I don't have the resources to pull off such a survey though. =)

Posted by Sammy Larbi on Jan 22, 2008 at 03:25 PM UTC - 5 hrs

hgs - my comment about the Mighty Mouse in the post itself was about a "ball." The ball can move any direction, so when you move it left and right you get a horizontal scroll.

It's from Apple, and while it works on Windows Vista with BootCamp drivers, I don't know if they make a driver specifically for Windows to use the mouse.

There could be other mice like that, but I'm still unsure of the app support for such a thing in Windows programs.

Posted by Sammy Larbi on Jan 22, 2008 at 03:28 PM UTC - 5 hrs

@Sam -

Point taken. I'm not sure, though, whether that's a trend worth getting ahead of. If I set my "container" to a width of 960px, it's easy enough to change that to 750px if sufficient need arises. Of course, I'm also more judicious in my use of real estate. My sidebar doesn't consume 400px of that 960. :-)

Good point about the web as a symbiotic medium. I always tell my clients that all things being equal, a visitor is just as likely to use their site as any other. Introduce something sufficiently undesirable, though, and things aren't equal any longer. There are too many options and people won't (and shouldn't) tolerate any significant level of annoyance.

Posted by Rob Wilkerson on Jan 22, 2008 at 04:04 PM UTC - 5 hrs

Hi Sam,

I put up a response to this post on my blogs (visitmix.com and blogs.msdn.com) as I think you've touched on a great subject and I wanted to expand on it but with visuals hehe.

I do apologise for not keeping the thread consolidated.

http://blogs.msdn.com/msmossyblog/archive/2008/01/...

-
Scott Barnes
RIA Evangelist
Microsoft.

Posted by Scott Barnes on Jan 27, 2008 at 07:31 PM UTC - 5 hrs

Scott- no need to keep it consolidated - that's what the web is for.

Thanks for letting me know about it, I'll check it out!

Posted by Sammy Larbi on Jan 27, 2008 at 08:42 PM UTC - 5 hrs

I used Google Analytics to check browser resolutions of visitors to my site over the whole of 2007. There were 267 (!) different screen resolutions used. 51% were on 1024x768, 14% on 1280x1024, 11% on 1280x800 and 9% on 800x600. There's a bit of a long tail of people on unusual resolutions; there's more people on an unusual resolution as there are on 1280x1024. As developers perhaps we need to be creating sites that are more flexible at any resolution.

Posted by duncan on Jan 28, 2008 at 04:14 AM UTC - 5 hrs

I agree that designs should be accommodating - especially that they should degrade gracefully. But I don't think they should necessarily expand out to the size of the browser.

Even when I was browsing full screen at 1440 pixels width, some sites expanded to take up the entire space. Needless to say, lines of text were so long as to become unreadable.

Posted by Sammy Larbi on Jan 28, 2008 at 05:55 AM UTC - 5 hrs

I tend to agree with Sam. For years I was a fan of what I called "jello-designs" that shaped themselves to fill the entire viewport. With increasingly higher resolutions, though, it's become difficult to maintain a site like that. Designs feel stretched and, as Sam mentioned, text becomes difficult to read when lines are that long.

These days, I tend to stick to fixed width, but admittedly catering to the 1024x768 crowd rather than lower resolutions. My non-scientific reasoning is that almost no one uses a lower resolution and that most people maximize their browser window to maximize their real estate. With the prevalence cinema displays, though, I might have to begin rethinking that position.

Not today, though... :-)

Posted by Rob Wilkerson on Jan 28, 2008 at 06:49 AM UTC - 5 hrs

I just got a silly-wide computer monitor and I have to say that the folks who design their sites to be a percentage of the screen size (ex. width: 90%), have extremely wide sites on my monitor. It makes reading them difficult as I have to scan from one of a line alllllll the way back to the beginning of the next line. Not fun at all.

I always like to bring up the Magazine analogy; there is no limit to how big we can make magazines, and yet, we never make them much bigger. Why? Because they are a very comfortable size and that's how people enjoy reading them. Remember, screen size is not the limiting factor in web design - usability is.

Posted by Ben Nadel on Jan 28, 2008 at 07:18 AM UTC - 5 hrs

No no no. Web sites should never assume or enforce widths, let the user do that. Having to scroll down because the designer opted not to use a chunk of my width irks me big time. Higher or lower resolution, open the browser fully or partially, length of lines as a result - those should be end-user considerations. Worried that lines will run too long? That's what columns are for. Mandating width is a leftover from print design days. The web should be about empowering users to interact as works best for them, not what works best for the developer/designer.

--- Ben

Posted by Ben Forta on Jan 28, 2008 at 07:41 AM UTC - 5 hrs

@Ben,

For my own personal usage, I completely disagree. I am a maximized-window type of guy. My browser is full screen all the time. The idea of only opening my browser window "partially" in order to create the best user experience makes me totally uncomfortable. Every added step that a user needs to take to create a more enjoyable experience makes that experience that much less enjoyable.

If I have to do anything more than just go to a site to enjoy it, then chances are, I am not going to keep on going to it unless the content is insanely good.

Posted by Ben Nadel on Jan 28, 2008 at 08:13 AM UTC - 5 hrs

@Ben Forta - I agree with you in theory, but at what point does instant-readability overtake (or become subordinate to) configurability?

From my view, I agree since I keep my browser open only 1/2 way (so in my case, it should go no wider than the browser). But from Ben Nadel's perspective, the assumption that he wants the site as wide as his browser is also a big no-no. To my knowledge, there is an optimum line length.

You can definitely make a good argument for letting the user configure to his/her tastes (and I'd probably agree with it), but what should the default case be? Surely 100 words per line based on a maximized window is not the default?

Posted by Sammy Larbi on Jan 28, 2008 at 08:57 AM UTC - 5 hrs

I stopped running in maximized mode once I got multiple monitors on both work and home computers-- it's easier to fling browser windows hither and yon if they're not maximized. It seems my "natural" window-size preference is about 1024x900.
Our newest designs for projects around here use a fluid design that doesn't lead to infinite line width if I do maximize things. I agree with Sammy that although it constrains configurability I think it enhances readability.
That said, I'm working with someone who I consider a far above average designer, and his designs degrade quite well on small devices and archaic browsers.

Posted by Chris on Jan 29, 2008 at 02:16 PM UTC - 5 hrs

I hardly ever fling windows around. It drives me crazy. I can't even stand watching other people do it. To me, its as bad as watching people use the EDIT menu to perform copy / paste actions when CTRL+C/V work so much faster.

When it comes to windows navigations, I am all about the ALT+TAB and ALT+SHIFT+TAB to instantly navigate from window to window.

Posted by Ben Nadel on Jan 29, 2008 at 04:46 PM UTC - 5 hrs

@Ben Nadel- I never used to do it either, but now that I've got so much space, I'm a lot more likely to do it to make it easier to switch between windows. When I've got 7-10 windows open to where I can see useful information in all of them, it's a lot easier to click on it than to alt-tab so many times.

Posted by Sammy Larbi on Jan 30, 2008 at 06:46 AM UTC - 5 hrs

@Sam,

I have not found that point yet. Perhaps I don't keep as many windows open right now. To me, ALT+TAB requires almost no movement. Using the mouse requires a lot more movement and precision usage (you actually have to aim at something and make sure you click on it).

Posted by Ben Nadel on Jan 30, 2008 at 06:53 AM UTC - 5 hrs

I tend to work on laptops because I prefer the small overall footprint, but if I had some kind of Jurassic-size cinema display, I'd probably follow Sam's path for no other reason than because I'd have the space to do so. Maximizing windows with _that_ much space would be more annoying rather than less.

Since I don't have the space, though, I work like Ben works (Alt+Tab/Cmd+Tab) in order to maximize the real estate I _do_ have.

Posted by Rob Wilkerson on Jan 30, 2008 at 07:14 AM UTC - 5 hrs

@Ben - I normally use they keyboard as much as possible - as you said, it's too slow not to. But in this case, the thing I'm aiming at is rather big, so it's not too difficult to just get it in one quick movement.

@Rob - I'm on a laptop, but it's 1900 pixels wide (and then add the 1680 from the external monitor). Without the monitor, I usually stick to keyboard navigation.

I thought I read somewhere you could tag numbers to the windows, so it may be worth trying alt-1 ... 9.

Posted by Sammy Larbi on Jan 30, 2008 at 07:21 AM UTC - 5 hrs

I know this is an old post that I found out, but I wonder if the whonpost keep the same idea now in when I see this page quite half my own screen.

It doesn't matter you have a 600px width screen, it matter what is the most of the users have in theior own screen. Anywqay, They was not going to knock your door to ask you and watch the web in your own screen.

Posted by MIkersson on Nov 30, 2011 at 10:50 AM UTC - 5 hrs

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