Martin Green - 23 July 2003
I Know what You Did Last Summer
Well, I don't actually. But I know which browser you are
using, and your operating system, screen resolution and colour depth
settings too. When you visit a web site your browser makes that
information available so that pages can be rendered properly. So, apart from idle curiosity,
why would I want to know all that?
I built and maintain this web site
myself (yes folks little ol' me, no big corporation, it's all my own
work!) using Microsoft FrontPage, and I like to know which browser
and operating system my visitors are using because it helps me build
pages that will be legible and well laid-out.
Does the Browser Matter?
It is good web-design practice to make you web site
compatible with as many browsers as possible, and I have written
before about the problems this poses. Some time ago I gave up trying
to make my pages look good on Netscape's browsers. With the recent
release of Netscape 7 I decided to give the browser-from-hell
another chance and installed the latest build of Netscape 7. Ten
minutes later I uninstalled it. Netscape's latest incarnation was still unable to render
tables properly, or correctly interpret cascading stylesheets, or
early days of the web. Yet it is festooned with all sorts of bells
and whistles, pretty skins and customisable toolbars. It is the
embodiment of style over substance.
But I figured that since my site is devoted almost entirely to
Microsoft Office most visitors will be using Microsoft's browser.
Surely, the only reasons someone would be using Netscape would be
- They hate Microsoft and would never use any of their products
(in which case they are very welcome but why are they here?).
- They have never heard of Internet Explorer (this must be the
only good reason!).
- They think Internet Explorer is far too expensive and not
worth the money (both NS7 and IE6 are free).
So let's take a look at the statistics as they apply to
this web site:
Over 97% of my visitors use Internet Explorer and the vast
majority of those people are using the latest version, IE6. Netscape
users total less than 2.5%. I guess that speaks for itself!
Is There a Future for Netscape?
A while ago AOL took
control of Netscape and the browser's future seemed secure, but in
May of 2003 Microsoft did a deal with AOL in settlement of the row
between them. In short, Microsoft gave AOL $750 million along with a royalty-free 7-year lease on Microsoft's browsing
technology. So what about Netscape? I think I'd rather be on
Microsoft's payroll than Netscape's right now.
Some say that Netscape's future lies in the non-Microsoft worlds
of Linux and Macintosh but even that doesn't hold much promise
considering Microsoft's controlling stake in the Mac. There are
other browsers in the marketplace. I found Opera
an excellent performer and faster than Internet Explorer when
working on a 56K modem, but on my broadband connection there is no
Windows XP Leads the Field
I have to admit that the operating system statistics surprised
me! Take a look for yourself...
I know that
a lot of corporate users were glad to make the move from Windows NT
to Windows 2000, which ranks a close second behind the top operating
system, Windows XP. Both are way ahead of the others. Yet I was
surprised to see that Windows XP had been taken up so quickly.
installed Windows XP as soon as it was available. I was pretty
desperate at the time, having bought a new desktop machine that came
with Windows ME preloaded. What a disaster that was! It worked fine
until I started installing my software. My Epson Stylus Color 600
printer refused to work and I soon got used to seeing the
"blue-screen-of-death" every time I shut the machine down. I
considered upgrading to Windows 2000 but Windows XP came along and I
chose that. It's an excellent operating system in all respects. Its
System Restore feature is a real lifesaver and has helped me avoid
several potential disasters. And my ageing printer works perfectly
I now run Windows XP on my main
desktop machine with Office XP and on a notebook with Office 2000. I
have two other desktop machines both running Windows 98 with Office
2000, and Office 97 respectively. Why so many machines? First, I
write about, train and develop for all the Microsoft Office versions
so I have to be able to test my work; and second, I can't bring
myself to throw a perfectly good computer away! I have always found
Windows 98 to be a good, stable operating system but I am never
going to touch Windows ME again! My recommendation goes to
Windows XP - it's stable and fast and, once you have got over the
shock of the "lollipop" interface (which you can change in favour of
the traditional one if you want) it beats everything else.
Office 2003... Yawn!!
Until recently I kept a machine running Windows 3.11 and Office
4.3. Occasionally I was asked to run training courses on Access 2
and Excel 5, but I don't have any clients using those systems now. I
cut my Office teeth on those programs so I still have a fondness for
them - and the disks are still on my shelf should I ever need them!
My mailbag indicates that the movement towards new versions
of Microsoft Office has been far slower than the uptake of the
latest Windows versions. Many people
are still using Office 97. It's clear that Office 95 was rushed out
in a largely unfinished and untested state to be ready for the
launch of Windows 95. I haven't come across many users who really
liked it. But Office 97 was, and still is, an excellent product and
in widespread use.
I have searched the web for information about
how many people use the various different versions of Microsoft
Office, but without success, so I have
started to conduct my own poll. I'll publish the results as soon
as I have enough data.
As a Microsoft Office trainer and
developer, I haven't looked forward to newer versions of Office in
the same way as I had to Windows. There can be no argument that I am
a firm supporter and committed user of Microsoft Office but I can't
say I'm all that excited about yet another version - and Office 2003
is almost upon us! But, as with previous updates I will have a copy
as soon as Microsoft releases it and I expect I will be working with
it as my clients demand. I said the same about Office XP (aka:
Office 2002) but it has become my version of choice and I'm using it
right now. I guess the same
will be true for the next version.
How Big is Yours?
Many web hosts can provide some sort of visitor statistics for
your web site, but for comprehensive data on user profiles you are
likely to need the services of a specialist company like
TheCounter.com who publish user statistics obtained from the
millions of visitors to their customers' web sites. This data
contains useful information about the trends in computer hardware
and is of interest to both web developers and
applications developers. I normally use a 17 inch monitor at a
resolution of 800x600 and 32-bit ("High Color") colour depth. I'm too
mean to buy a bigger monitor and my feeble old eyes can't see
When deciding on a profile for my web site I did
some research and discovered that most users were also working at
800x600 but, particularly in business environments, were still using
8-bit (256 Colours) colour depth. So I stuck with "web-safe" colours
to make sure my illustrations didn't offend anyone! Today, the
statistics tell a different story.
The charts below show the
percentages for the various screen resolutions and colour depth from
1999 to 2003 and are calculated from data published at
800x600 resolution still remains most popular but now its popularity
is almost matched by 1024x768. The higher resolution of 1280x1024
has fallen in use, whilst 640x480 and 1152x864 remain more-or-less
unchanged at a low level of use. I stopped using 640x480 a long time
ago and now use 800x600 even on a 14 inch monitor.
This tells me
that I'm going to have to make sure that my site looks OK at the
higher resolution of 1024x768 as well as at 800x600. This trend is
probably due to the increasing popularity and falling price of
larger monitors - 17 inch seems to be the minimum for business use
today. But there's a certain kind of person that likes to crank up
everything to maximum and will always use the highest settings,
reasoning somehow that they are getting more for their money.
I recently worked with a company where all
the staff were issued with excellent 19 inch flat screen monitors,
but their IT department had set the resolution to the maximum of
1280x1024. Their reasoning was that they needed to work with large
spreadsheets and this allowed them to see more columns and rows. The
problem was that setting the resolution so high changed the size of
everything... toolbars, dialog boxes, web pages etc. when all they
wanted to do was see more of their spreadsheets. To get an idea of
how it looked, get someone to hold up a newspaper, then stand back
ten feet and try to read it! Or, next time you have Excel open
change the zoom to 50%. Had they known about Excel's "zoom" command
they could have avoided the problem. Of course, IT had locked
them out of the display properties controls so they couldn't adjust
it to their own preference, and they were all too
frightened to ask IT to change it for them!
This information is
important for developers. In my early days as an applications
developer I had to rebuild a whole bunch of Excel UserForms
because I had mistakenly assumed that the 800x600 monitor on which
my client and I tested the application was typical of those on which
it would be used. "It's a bit small..." they said when we
distributed the (as I thought) finished product. Well, it would be
at 1280x1024! I now know to ask that question in advance.
and More Colour
When Windows 95 came on the scene, a graphics card producing
anything more than 256 colours was something to be proud of. Not so
today. 16-bit colour (65,536 colours) is still the most popular
colour depth but is now almost equalled by 32-bit ("High Colour").
Both 24-bit ("True Colour") and 8-bit (256 colours) survive but are
decreasing in use.
But don't be fooled by "global" statistics.
It's important to know your user. You might expect that 256 colour
is used mainly by people with older systems, perhaps combined with
small monitors (13 or 14 inch) at 640x480 resolution. That would
make sense. But I have come across many business systems where the
colour depth is set at 256 colour (and control removed from the
user) even on high specification systems, the theory being that
anything more drains system resources. Who teaches these guys this
It All Mean?
There is a clear trend towards higher specification hardware. As
people join the population of PC-owners and buy their first
computer, they get what is available. If I went to the local PC
supermarket and bought their cheapest model I would get something
with a far higher spec than my current main desktop PC that I bought
just a year ago! New machines tend to come with the latest operating
system installed, which probably accounts for the success of Windows
But when it comes to Microsoft Office, there seems to be a
different story. I say "seems" because so far this is just an
impression from looking at my own correspondence and from comments
on newsgroups and discussion groups. If you already had a copy of
Office 97 and bought a new computer, would you also upgrade to the
latest version of Microsoft Office?
In the business environment,
upgrading to the next version of Office can be costly in both time
and money, and has implications for staff training too. So I would
guess that uptake of each new version of Microsoft Office is a far
more gradual process (although this doesn't seem to deter Microsoft
from constantly working on the "next" version).
Most of this is
conjecture so, if you have a moment, why not
participate in my poll and help me
add to the sum of human knowledge.
As for me, my vote doesn't
count. I've got them all! But I'm thinking of putting together a
"reality check" machine. I'll set up my ageing (c. 1995) Pentium 75
computer with Windows 3.11 and Office 4.3 Professional and once in a
while I'll switch on the 14 inch monitor set at 640x480 and 256
colours, and remember how things were in the "good old days".