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SuperPreview - Nice App, Shame about the Name

It might be the done thing for web developers in certain corners to routinely have a dig at Microsoft – certainly, they’ve given us enough ammo/cause in the past to make this easy (Songsmith, I’m particularly looking at you at the moment!) – but while many of these people will be having a moan about the release of IE8 for one reason or another, I’m finding myself overlooking that and instead getting excited about a different (but related) product: Expression Web SuperPreview.

Let’s start by saying this: what a truly awful product name! It just sounds so bad, which is a shame because the application is actually very good, or at least it appears to be based on my initial playing around.

SuperPreview Splash Screen

What does SuperPreview do?

SuperPreview is a standalone application that lets you preview (or just view?) what your web page/site/app will render as in IE6, IE8 or IE8 in IE7 compatibility mode. The intention is to do away with the multi-IE hacks that developers have had to use in the past to test page layouts by placing it all in one tool.

The application lets you view a given web page on different browsers in a number of different ways – single window, split pane view (horizontal and vertical split) or as onion skin overlays (imagine each screen like it were drawn on tracing paper, allowing you to see all levels at once and spot differences). As you click and drag to move around the page, the associated windows with the other browser views move accordingly; it’s very easy to spot any layout differences. Here it is in split pane view, showing an IE8 and IE8 (IE7 compatibility view) together:

SuperPreview split view

And here’s the overlay view, showing that some of the text is not quite vertically aligned (hence the fuzzy view):

SuperPreview onion skin view

I really like the way that this tool works, and it will really come into its own once other browser are thrown into the mix – ultimately, it will be possible to add in Firefox, Safari, Opera and others into SuperPreview (assuming that you have the browser installed on your system, of course).

What this tool will not do, however, is let you see how these different browsers cope with JavaScript/interaction (or at least that’s my understanding based on this early beta version); for that you would still need to test in the browser itself. I’m happy – very happy – to be proven wrong on this.

There is another downside to this tool that I should mention – the whopping 250mb download (I cannot understand why a one-trick pony application like this needs such a huge installer!) and the requirement for .Net 3.5 framework to be installed. It seemed to take a looooong time to install for me (I tried it on XP SP3 and on Vista), but it’s still beta so maybe some of this will be fixed. Also, I was installing on a virtual machine (running on Parallels on Mac with 4gb ram) which may have affected performance on that front.

So I’m really excited about the potential of this tool – more than I have been about any Microsoft product in a long time – but I want to openly plea to the people in the Expression team to do something: make this tool a free download!

Update: when I first wrote this post, I hadn’t seen anywhere to suggest this would be a free application and I assumed that it would be, like other Expression tools, be a paid-for app, but this is not true! It will be free for all. So you can skip the rest of this now - the reasons for asking are irrelevant now. Joy! Still, if they could get the download size down, that would be very much appreciated :)

Why SuperPreview should be free:

  1. Developers have had to work around the problems of multiple IE versions for long enough without help from Microsoft. Providing a tool that you can vouch for and support means a tool that people can place more trust in (and also know that they are not loading modified DLLs that may have all manner of nasties lurking in)
  2. IE’s different rendering problems have been the bane of standards-aware developers for too long – providing this for free goes some way to making reparations.
  3. Many people are already spending hours of their own time producing excellent tools to help make the web a better, more interoperable place, all of which are free. I’m thinking of the likes of Web Developer Toolbar, Firebug, IETester and many more. If these fine folks can do it for free, surely Microsoft can give this away for free too?
  4. Finally, it’s a marketing opportunity for the Expression Suite – a way of getting the brand in front of a lot of developers who may decide that they like the way the tool works, like the interface, look-and-feel and generally feel more inclined to try out some of the other Expression tools. That’s not to be sniffed at.

So, that’s what I’m hoping for – SuperPreview to be made even more super by making it completely free. Come on Expression team, you know it makes sense.

[Heading inspired by The Monks' "Nice legs, Shame About the Face". Now there's a blast from the past]

Filed under: Reviews, Tool, Tools
Comments (4) Posted by Ian on Monday, March 23, 2009

New book review: Universal Design

Universal Design for Web Applications book coverJust a quick note to say there’s a new review up on the site, this time for Wendy Chisholm and Matt May’s book Universal Design for Web Applications.

I’m hoping to secure a few copies for a little prize giveaway, so watch this space. We’ll also be publishing an extract from the book soon, but have not got confirmation on the chapter just yet (somewhat ironically, it’s likely to be in PDF format, so I hope that the authors are able to encourage O’Reilly to make it nice and accessible!)

Filed under: Reviews
Comments Off Posted by Ian on Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Book Review: Just Ask

A quick mention - there’s a new book review for Shawn Henry’s excellent ‘Just Ask’ that I’ve just added:

This, however, is a joy to behold - Shawn has created an excellent book that is well presented, clearly laid out and notated, nicely designed and just looks extremely sleek.

Definitely worth checking out if you are in the field of accessibility, testing or are outside of those disciplines and want to have a better understanding of them. Top work, Shawn!

Filed under: Reviews
Comments Off Posted by Ian on Monday, April 30, 2007

Think You Know HTML?

HTML Mastery cover

Maybe you do, and maybe you don’t - or at least not as well as you thought you did. Paul Haine is certainly hoping that you don’t feel in any shame in putting yourself in the latter category otherwise his hard work on HTML Mastery will be for nothing. The book, which is due out in January (but you can pre-order on Amazon), goes beyond the simple basics that many of use on a day-to-day basis, looks at some of the lesser-known HTML elements and their uses (and, indeed, the lesser-known ones that deserve to stay lesser-known!). It’s a great refresher for people who think they know HTML pretty well but would like to really master the craft, a task that is helped greatly by the chapters on Microformats and a look at the development of XHTML 2.0 and Web Applications 1.0. But what really makes this book a great read is Paul’s writing style - if you’ve ever read any of his blog entries you’ll know he has a great sense of humour, and this has translated well to the topic at hand, a topic that, in the hands of others, could have been a very stuffy affair.

So, congratulations on the book, Paul - it’s another great addition to the web standards armory.

Pre-order HTML Mastery from Amazon

[Disclosure: I provided the technical editing on the book, in case you're wondering how I know what it's like before its proper release!]

Filed under: Reviews, Standards
Comments (4) Posted by Ian on Monday, November 27, 2006

Web Accessibility - The New Testament?

One of the first books I read about accessibility was Constructing Accessible Web Sites, published by Glasshaus. It was a fantastic book at the time but then something bad happened - Glasshaus publishing went under, pulled down by its parent company. This was a bad thing because, at the time, Glasshaus was putting out some of the best tech books money could buy, with web standards and all that good stuff as part of the package. Fast forward a few years and the book has been revived by Friends Of Ed. It’s now called Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance. To my mind, it’s not the sexiest title, but I can completely understand why it’s called that (it’s going to appeal to a great many corporate types who’ve heard about PAS78, DDA and the like). The author list is largely unchanged, but new names added to the Roster include Richard Rutter, who has contributed a chapter on Accessible CSS, Christian Heilmann, who’s covered accessible JavaScript and Accessify’s very own Patrick H Lauke who provides a case study of a site make-over (converting a university site to an accessible, all-singing, all-dancing site).

I’ve merely scanned through the book, for now - it’s on a pile of 3 books to read and review - but first impressions are that this is a must-have for anyone serious about understanding web accessibility, even if you bought the previous version (this looks to be a fairly major re-write).

Filed under: Accessibility, Reviews
Comments (2) Posted by Ian on Monday, August 21, 2006

Colly’s new CSS book

… so new, in fact, that it’s not even out yet! I just wanted to take this opportunuity to mention that Simon Collison’s finished his hard work on a beginner’s CSS book for Apress. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon now. I will be doing a full review as soon as it’s out and I get a few minutes to put together something worthwhile (in other words, I’ll actually read it rather than skim-read and regurgitate the press release!). I’m hoping that the book fits quite snugly between my own book (a complete beginner’s book for HTML and CSS, web standards all the way) and some of the more advanced CSS books that show you all the nice fancy stuff that you can get creative with (for example, CSS Mastery or Bullet Proof Web Design). Whatever level it’s pitched at, I’m sure Simon has done a great job with it!

Filed under: CSS, Reviews
Comments Off Posted by Ian on Tuesday, July 25, 2006

New in Book Reviews - CSS Mastery

Just a brief heads- up - I have given CSS Mastery a (slightly overdue) review. For anyone who’d been debating whether to buy a copy or not, perhaps this will tip the scales a little.

Book review - CSS Mastery

Filed under: CSS, Reviews
Comments Off Posted by Ian on Tuesday, April 25, 2006