Category Archives: Usability

Is Testing on a Mac Necessary?

I’ve always been a firm believer in creating websites that are standards complaint (as much as possible) so that they look and function the same way across various operating systems and browsers. I came from a Windows environment and have never owned a Mac. I’ve used them at work for testing and troubleshooting, but I personally have never had the extra funds to splurge and buy one for myself. So as a developer/designer, I’ve been faced with the dilemma of finding a way to test designs and code on a Mac without having full-time access to one.

Historically my need to test on a Mac has been fulfilled by either a) using the Mac at work for my own (evil) purposes or b) using an online service like browserlab.adobe.com, browsrcamp.com, browsercam.com, or browsershots.org which take a URL, feeds it to a real live Mac, and return a screen shot of the page. These services are great in a pinch but they can be time consuming, and by having to feed them one URL at a time, limit the quantity of pages you can easily check. Not to mention the fact that the last time I checked, browsershots didn’t have any Mac browsers available to pick from. There are also some free apps like SuperPreview that do the same thing, as well as come commercials apps.

The Current State of Mac Browsers

From the data I could scrounge up, it looks like Mac users are currently using one of two web browsers more than any other; Safari and Firefox. That’s good news since Safari is using the WebKit rendering engine and Firefox uses Gecko. The core of both of these engines is the same across operating systems, so the current version of Safari on a Mac should render the same as it does on Windows (with the form controls being unique to each OS). Provided this holds true, a site viewed in Safari or Firefox on Windows should render the same as it does on a Mac. This begs the question, since the leading web browsers on a Mac use the same code rendering engines as they do on a PC, is there a reason to use a Mac for testing?

So What Do You Think?

Does the need to test web development on a Mac justify buying one, or is using the equivalent browser on a PC sufficient? Are the online screenshot services enough? I’m having a hard time justifying laying out a minimum of $600 (a new Mac mini) just for testing. What do you do when it comes to testing on a Mac when you don’t have one?

jQuery Drop Captions Plugin Released

I can’t seem to stop creating jQuery plugins. The project that’s currently taking up most of my time provides me a lot of freedom in the way the site is designed. As I work through various parts of the site, my brain begins to come up with ways to enhance parts here and there with jQuery. Several parts of the site will have images interspersed with text. Some of these pages will use a lightbox to allow the visitor to view a larger version of the image while other pages won’t. Some pages will have images that have captions, yet the captions are getting in the way visually of the flow of the page. jQuery to the rescue.

How can I caption these images while maintaining the clean look of the site? Before I tried to develop anything new, I searched around for some creative caption solutions using any JavaScript framework. Low and behold none of them did what I was thinking of so I came up with Drop Captions.

Drop Captions

In a nutshell, drop captions takes an image’s title attribute and converts it into a caption that appears only when the mouse is moved over the image. This allows me to maintain a clean look to the site, while enabling the functionality of captions. It’s also totally degradable if the user has JavaScript disabled; the title attribute will still display the exact same text.

Demo

  • Example 1
  • Example 2 (demonstrates how drop captions can be used with other JavaScript frameworks)

Download

Download jquery.dropcaptions.js

What’s So Great About This Plugin?

  • It’s a mere 3 KB (about half that if you compress it)
  • Completely degradable
  • Easily configurable
  • Styled with CSS
  • Reusable on multiple images

How to Use

To get up and running, all you need to do is apply the plugin to any images on your page. To use the plugin you’ll need to have a copy of jQuery, or point to jquery on Google, and the plugin. Place the plugin files on your site and link to them:

<script type="text/javascript" src="http://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.3.2/jquery.min.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript" src="jquery.dropcaptions.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript">
$(function(){
	$('.captionedimage').dropCaptions();
});
</script>
You can also include the popular jQuery easing plugin to add some nice easing effects to the captions.
That’s it! You can apply drop captions to any number of images on a page.  Check out the demo code for working examples.

Options

The following options are configurable:

  • showSpeed – how long (in milliseconds) it should take to display a caption when mousing over an image. Default: 500
  • hideSpeed – how long (in milliseconds) it should take to hide a caption when mousing out from an image. Default: 500,
  • showOpacity – The final opacity of the caption once displayed (0-1). Default:   .85
  • hideOpacity – The final opacity of the caption once displayed (0-1). Default:   0
  • showEasing – The style of easing to use when displaying a caption. Default:  ‘swing’
  • hideEasing – The style of easing to use when hiding a caption. Default:  ‘swing’
  • showDelay – how long of a delay (in milliseconds) it should take before the animation of showing a caption begins on mouseover. Default: 0
  • hideDelay – how long of a delay (in milliseconds) it should take before the animation of hiding a caption begins on mouseout. Default: 0

Options are added when calling the script:

$('.captionedimage').dropCaptions({
showSpeed: 2000,
 hideSpeed: 1000,
 showOpacity: 1,
 hideOpacity: 0,
 showEasing: 'easeOutElastic',
 hideEasing: 'easeInQuint',
 hideDelay: 2000
});

The caption area can by styled via CSS and targeting the caption class. For example:

.caption {
 background: #333;
 border-right: 1px solid #666;
 border-bottom: 1px solid #666;
 border-left: 1px solid #666;
 border-top: 1px solid #666;
 font-family: Verdana;
 font-size: 11px;
 padding: 4px;
 -moz-border-radius-bottomright: 6px;
 -moz-border-radius-bottomleft: 6px;
 -webkit-border-bottom-right-radius: 6px;
 -webkit-border-bottom-left-radius: 6px;
 color: #eee;
}

Enjoy!