Browsing Guide

For best viewing of this website, especially to navigate it with an expandable table of contents (TOC), a few things are expected of your browser. A quick summary is that this site:

  1. assumes support for Cascading Style Sheets (CSS);
  2. greatly prefers that you enable client-side scripting (JavaScript);
  3. works much better if the browser caches pages, scripts, stylesheets and images;
  4. probably can never be sensible to try reading from a mobile phone.

If only during a reworking in early 2021, but very likely for some time after, it’s pretty much a guess which particular browsers will present the site acceptably. So far, it looks satisfactory for Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge (if the latter looks satisfactory for anything).

More than a few readers sometimes reach this site from old Windows versions, and thus old versions of the browser that came with Windows. I am sorry, but I have abandoned support for Internet Explorer 6 and have greatly reduced it for Internet Explorer 7.

Small Screens

The last of the summary expectations may as well be got out of the way early. This website has not just hundreds of pages but thousands. Many are long, even very long. For many, their immediate topic has some complexity and they fit into a subject whose topics are densely interconnected. It’s inconceivable to me that anyone could want to find their way through this volume without ready access to a directory of some sort, which the scripts present to the left of each page. As if keeping this table of contents side-by-side with the content were not bad enough for small screens, there is the problem that almost all the pages have tables of four columns and sometimes of more—and many are not simple grids. All these elements cannot naturally be rearranged for a screen that isn’t wide enough to show them whole.

While I can’t conceive of any useful reading of this website from a small screen, it’s just inevitable that I can’t regard catering for small screens as a practical consideration for the website’s design. Of course, if I had a mobile phone myself, I might think differently—as I might if I hadn’t perceived for years that Microsoft’s redesign of age-old user-interface functionality to suit mobile phones has so much frustated the use of Windows on real computers that my everday experience of Windows is somewhere near to miserable. So there you have my prejudice!

Still, if you want to read my work on small screens and can see how I might help you read it better, then please write to me and prod me to reconsider. Meanwhile, you get a few token attempts whose clumsiness may make your experience even worse.

Scripts

The scripts are very important both while you read the material and indirectly while I write it. Every page is self-standing. You can read them all with scripts disabled. I write them so that they know nothing of pages that link to them, including to know nothing of their place in any navigational support. If, however, you browse with scripts enabled, each page is re-presented with a banner and a table of contents that you can expand and collapse according to what relationships you find among my pages.

It may happen, of course, that those scripts do not work as intended. Whatever browser you use and in whatever configuration, if you find the presentation unsatisfactory, then disable scripts. If you run the scripts but get behaviour that seems defective, or even just deficient, then write to me with an explanation of what is wrong and what might be done about it, and I will at least look at accommodating your solution.

Though I believe the scripts greatly improve the site’s usability, I really do mean them to be merely optional. This certainly is not one of those websites that abandon you—or, worse, condescend to you—for having the temerity to browse with scripting disabled.

To view any one page as if scripts were disabled, add “noscript=true” to the URL search string. The scripts will still run, but only enough to discover that you do not want them to. If instead you add “noviewer=true”, the scripts will run just enough more to carry your direction from page to page as you browse.

Externalities

This website does not make your browser fetch anything from any other domain—not scripts, not even images—except if you choose to follow a link or click on an icon. This website does not store cookies on your computer. Nor does it download code, such as ActiveX controls, for execution on your computer. If you see any attempt at any such mischief, then please alert me to it so that I can investigate it and correct it.

Neither is there any server-side magic. In part, this is because I prefer not to depend on such magic. Not only does this website’s server run on an operating system that I don’t know in any detail, but the nature of the hosting means I anyway have no access to it for debugging. Moreover, I have two servers to maintain: the live server that you browse and another on my own intranet. This local server runs Windows, of course. I don’t need the headache of maintaining server-side magic at all, but especially not in different ways at different servers.

The greater reason, however, is the philosophy of this website. Everything that is done here is entirely open to your inspection. That software on your computer is open to your inspection, albeit with difficulty, is primarily what this site is about. That business on the Internet would move us to a world in which ever more of the software to which we trust our data will instead be on their computers, and not at all open to our inspection, is a game that I urge you not to join eagerly.

By the way, this same reason of openness is also why none of the scripts or stylesheets are “minified” or otherwise obfuscated. Indeed, I comment extensively and leave them in for the world to see—which may well embarrass me, for although I am highly confident of my abilities as a Windows programmer in C++ and assembly language, I readily confess to being all at sea with HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Supported Browsers

Until a reworking of scripts and stylesheets through January and February 2021, most browsers that the server logs show as significant had at least been looked at, once upon a time, to check that they present the site acceptably. But once upon a time was at least a decade ago. My observation of these browsers was never more than cursory and I had absolutely no intention of keeping up to date with the ridiculously numerous new versions. This website is for presenting the results of original research into highly technical issues of what Windows actually does. Mucking around with multiple browsers takes time away from discovery and leaves even less time for writing up.

For any browser, if the behaviour of this website seems deficient to you, then write to me with an explanation of what is wrong and what might be done about it, and I will at least look at accommodating your solution.

Internet Explorer

This website will always look better and behave better in Internet Explorer. This is not to say that Internet Explorer is to be preferred in any way. It has nothing to do with any assessment of Internet Explorer as a browser in comparison with others for better or worse. It’s just to state a fact, mostly arising from the website’s history. Internet Explorer is the browser that I targeted when I first coded scripts for the site, back in 2007, and it is the browser that I use on my own intranet when I consult my own material. (The website you are now browsing is just an extract.) It is therefore the browser that I have most experience with and through which I am most likely to discover faulty behaviour in ordinary use. Through this website’s first decade, when scripts and styles were developed, Internet Explorer was also by far the browser that was most used for visits to the site by real-world readers. It’s therefore also the one whose demand on my limited time for browser support always seemed greatest.

Of course, I did once have a very practical reason for using Internet Explorer. For much of the history of Windows, Internet Explorer is the web browser that is already there, as if for free, for all Windows users. It was therefore a potential source of material for this site’s interest in Windows: anything I notice about it through everyday exposure to it might usefully be studied and written up. Web design as I see it is a hopeless muddle in comparison to Windows programming (as I practise it) and is a huge distraction from what I regard as real work, but at least with Internet Explorer I have some slight prospect of a juicy write-up as compensation.

As for specific versions of Internet Explorer, my intention is to support version 7.0 and higher. Earlier versions are now impossible because the reworking in 2021 avoids FRAMESET and FRAME in favour of DIV but with fixed positioning. Internet Explorer 7 is the first to support fixed positioning, but it is selective about rendering it. Though this website used to demand nothing that wasn’t catered for acceptably in quirks mode, it does now. The presentation you get from Internet Explorer 7 will depend on whether the page you choose happens to be new (or newly edited) or old. This may be true too of later versions. I don’t expect ever to get round to checking every version of Internet Explorer in all their many combinations of compatibility modes.

All pages, old and new, present acceptably—to my eyes—in Internet Explorer 11.

Microsoft Edge

I can’t for the life of me think why anyone uses Microsoft Edge. Yes, it’s installed with Windows, but even the one installed with the original Windows 10 seems to want to be some sort of poor man’s Google Chrome—which the latest versions really are. Since the real thing is free to download, surely anyone who wants a browser to look like Google Chrome will just get Google Chrome.

Still, because Microsoft Edge is installed with Windows, I can’t very well not include it in a first round of observations. Again, but relative to my overall distaste for this browser, all pages present acceptably to me in Microsoft Edge from versions 20 through to 88. The first is from the original release of Windows 10. The last is both a significantly different browser yet just as unsatisfying to use.

Others

From experience with other browsers, there is no way I’d welcome any of them on computers that I care about, including any that I connect to my intranet. Observations of other browsers will start only after the reworked scripts, etc., are live. Expect more on this, though likely never much, through February 2021.