More on full-page zooming in web browsers

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
June 16th, 2009 • 2:56 pm

My blog post about the Full-Page Zoom feature in Safari 4 yesterday was Daring-Fireballed, which I don’t mind, except of course that it brings a higher-than-usual level of scrutiny, which in turns leads to a higher volume of e-mail, some of which intended to highlight perceived flaws in my reasoning or reporting.

So I thought I should clarify a few things. First of all, my blog is not a journalistic endeavour. I do not have the resources to fully investigate each and every issue that I touch upon in my blog posts. (I have a full-time day job, blah blah blah.) My blog is primarily a highly personal (which, in the eyes of some, probably means highly biased) account of my own experience using, among other things, Apple computers and Mac OS X software.

That said, I am of course more than willing to further explore an issue when the feedback I get raises my level of interest. It’s just that I cannot and will not do it systematically, especially since I have no way of predicting which of my posts will attract the attention of a high-profile writer like John Gruber and of his own readership.

In this particular case, several readers wrote to point out the existence of a full-page zoom feature in various other browsers, including Firefox 3, Opera, and… Internet Explorer 8.

Needless to say, since Explorer 8 is a Windows-only product, it’s not really relevant to this particular discussion. I am glad to hear that Firefox is also generating some healthy competition on the Windows side and leading to improvements in the web browsing experience for many users. But it’s not exactly likely to make me or my fellow Mac-using readers want to switch to Windows.

Both Opera and Firefox are available for both Mac OS X and Windows. And yes, both of them also include a page-zooming feature similar to the one introduced by Apple in Safari 4. In the case of Firefox, the feature has been available since the release of version 3.0.0, a year ago. (The Wikipedia entry on page-zooming also mentions iCab and Amaya.)

Does all this make the availability of the feature in Safari 4 somewhat less impressive than what I expressed in my post yesterday?

It means, of course, that the feature was not invented by Apple. But I didn’t actually say that in my original post. I just said that I was impressed with Apple’s implementation of the feature. I did mention that Firefox 3 also had a similar feature, although of course I didn’t say explicitly that it had already been available in that browser for a year. (Internet Explorer 8 only came out a few months ago. And I don’t know the exact history of the feature in Opera, but according to an e-mail I got from an Opera staff member, the browser was the very first to introduce such a feature, a long time ago.)

What I also said, however, was that, even in my (very) limited testing, the implementation of the feature in other browsers was not as good as in Safari 4. I tried the page-zooming feature on the web site that I am in the process of developing in Firefox 3, and as soon as I zoomed out by one notch, some of my CSS buttons became misaligned. (They stayed aligned properly when I zoomed in.)

Now, it is of course possible that there is a flaw in my own CSS code, and that Firefox 3 reveals that flaw whereas Safari 4 does not. But I would find this somewhat surprising, given that my site scales perfectly at all sizes in Safari 4, and it really is not a very complicated design. I am afraid I don’t have time at this point to further explore the issue, but I suppose I will have to do so eventually, since I can assume that a number of people will be browsing this site that I am designing with some flavour of Firefox, and that they will encounter the issue if they try to zoom out of my site, for whatever reason.

But if it turns out that it is a bug in Firefox’s rendering engine that I have to work around, then it will simply confirm me in my view that Safari is a better browser. (On the other hand, I get a similar problem in Internet Explorer 8 as well when zooming out of the site, so maybe it is a problem with my code after all. Or maybe it’s a problem in both Firefox and Explorer… For what it’s worth, I cannot reproduce the problem in Opera. I haven’t tried iCab.)

As for Opera, it has another problem, which is even worse: It does not even display my buttons properly at the default zoom setting! Here’s what one of my buttons (made with CSS) looks like at normal size in Safari 4:

CSS button

Here’s what the same button looks like at normal size in Firefox 3:

CSS button

And here’s what the same button looks like at normal size in Opera 10:

CSS button

Oops. It gets even better. Here’s what the same button looks like when I zoom it by one notch in Opera:

CSS button

If you look carefully, you’ll see that there isn’t just a problem with the fact that the button label does not fit in a single line. There is also a very serious problem with the vertical alignment of the initial capitals in the text styled with small caps (and the same problem occurs in other occurrences in small caps on my site’s pages). So clearly there is something very wrong with the font rendering engine used by Opera, which already affects the default zoom size and causes a right old mess as soon as you zoom in.

The moral of the story here is that I don’t mind being Daring-Fireballed at all, and I don’t mind constructive criticism, and I don’t mind spending some time further investigating a specific issue when readers write to me to point out what they feel are shortcomings or gaps in my posts. But that does not necessarily mean that it will lead me to revise my position, quite the contrary!

While some of my posts (mainly due to a lack of resources) can be more about a “gut feeling” than a proper investigation of everything that’s out there, I have found, over the years, that my gut has not often been wide off the mark. And so I will probably continue to mix the two in the future, even if it irritates some of my (occasional) readers. After all, nobody is forcing anyone to read any of this stuff.

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