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Not the Browser Wars Again!

In the last few years, Web browsers have fortunately been approaching a point at which they are all very close to being standards compliant. Unfortunately, however, there are still vast discrepancies in the way they interpret those standards. Furthermore, some things are not yet standard, such as having a text-sizing button. So, although many browsers support the feature, few of them support it in the same way: In Internet Explorer the user can choose from Largest, Large, Medium, Small, and Smallest. Each of these sizes are about two point sizes apart, with the default setting being Medium, or 12 point. Netscape Navigator, on the other hand, supports different percentage sizes: 100% is 12-point text, 200% is about 29-point text, and the user can choose any arbitrary percentage as well.

What's more, none of the current batch of browsers offers the developer a way to access the size or percentage that the user might have set the browser to. Some might ask why this is an important feature. Well, part of most Web designers' goals is to design Web sites that look as consistent as possible across browsers and platforms. Using standards such as CSS, HTML, and JavaScript, Web developers can ensure that all users are seeing their Web sites in the most usable way. Now, if some of your users have their text size zoomed to 250%, you have no way to design for that: Some browsers will make just the text in a page 250% bigger, while other browsers will scale the entire page, including any images, 250%. Welcome back to the days of not being able to adequately predict what your user might be seeing.


Here is our formal vote for standardizing the way text sizing is handled in browsers and providing access to that setting with JavaScript. All browsers should offer the capability to size the text on a Web page by percentages (100%, 150%, 200%). This should not size the images, however. The text size setting should then be made available through JavaScript, perhaps by way of the window object (window.textScale). This will allow developers to design pages that are more flexible and that take advantage of the text-sizing features of the browser to actually enhance the user's experience. For example, if a user of your map site has set the text size to 300%, you could decide to download a higher-resolution image for the map.

Getting back to Flash, because there is no way in any browser to get the text size that the user has set the browser to, Flash Web sites potentially offer frustration to users who use that feature. To prevent that frustration, this article walks you through the process of building a "text size getter."

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