Requirements:

VirtualBox (FREE)
MultipleIEs (FREE)
Windows CD (XP recommended)

About

As a designer or a coder, you’ll reach a point when you want to make sure that your design looks consistent across the numerous Microsoft browsers using your Mac.

There are several ways to quickly check if it looks OK using sites like Browsershots and Adobe BrowserLab, however, those won’t actually allow you to browse the site so you can’t tell if your JavaScript is behaving as it should, your animation effects, hover effects – basically anything that moves.  In this case you’d need to get Windows working on your Mac.  There’s a few ways to do this too, including BootCamp, VMWare, Crossover.

The thing with BootCamp, is that you have to go out of OSX, and boot into Windows – which if you’re like me with over 10 applications open, is really inconvenient.
VMWare and Crossover come at a price, and from experience VMWare does use up quite a bit of resources (maybe it was just me).  So, the best solution I managed to find was: VirtualBox.  It’s a similar program to the others – it lets you install other operating systems on your Mac, but the biggest difference is that it’s FREE, and is quite light too (compared to the others).

How-To

  1. Install VirtualBox
  2. Run VirtualBox
  3. Go through the New Machine Wizard and install Windows XP
  4. Run the XP Virtual Machine
  5. Install IE8
  6. Install IE6 from Multiple IEs

Now, on your XP Virtual Machine you have IE8 and IE6, “but what about IE7?” you ask.  Well, Internet Explorer 8 has really handy developer tools which let you emulate IE7 (as if you were running IE7 itself).  To use it, just open IE, and select “Tools” > “Developer Tools”.  On there, you’ll notice the “Browser Mode” option, in which you select IE7!

Conclusion

So basically, all you need to get IE6, IE7 AND IE8 is VirtualBox and a Windows CD – Windows XP is highly recommended because it’ll let you run all 3 Internet Explorer versions on the same OS!  Most of the tools are free, and an XP CD can be bought pretty cheap from the net too if you don’t already have one.

Extra

  1. When testing sites, I normally upload them to a development site first – if you want to test a site on localhost such as MAMP or XAMPP on your Mac then I’ve found that visiting: http://10..0.2.2 in your virtual machine will work.
  2. When I first installed VirtualBox, the virtual machine would not connect to the Internet.  Now I’m no expert in Virtualization, but I found that by right-clicking my XP machine in the VirtualBox application window, selecting “Settings” and under “Network” setting “Adapter 1” to “PCnet Fast III (Am79C973)”, and attached to “NAT” seemed to get things working for me.

I hope this is useful to you!  For me it’s the best way to test across multiple browsers and it worked out free seeing as I had my XP CD to hand.

AutoTrader is probably the biggest resource available for when it comes to car sales around the UK. Their website has never been too bad, and people were able to use it nicely, without much hassle, and no doubt great bargains were had, and huge profits made by utilising the AutoTrader website. That was until, they brought in their new “Beta” design.

If you’ve checked recently, AutoTrader have updated their website with a new look, currently tagged “Beta”. Now I know a lot of people are complaining that the new site doesn’t work properly – including problems with how it looks, and other problems such as the JavaScript only working sometimes.

The thing with JavaScript is – it’s always good to use it unobtrusively – that’s to say make a website that works without JavaScript, but then improve the experience for people who have Javascript. Don’t make it so that you block off a large part of your userbase just because they have JavaScript disabled. In AutoTraders case, obtrusive JavaScript is only the smaller issue….

Mozilla Firefox is the second most popular web browser in the world, and AdBlock Plus is one of the most popular addons for Firefox. Now here’s a couple of screenshots comparing how the AutoTrader site looks for users with AdBlock, and for users without it:

Adblock Enabled

Adblock Enabled

Adblock Disabled

Adblock Disabled

As you can see, people with advertisements disabled received a very limited view compared to people without it. Whether or not this is deliberate we can’t really say, but it’s definitely something that should not be overlooked. When I personally visited the web page (my default browsing is Firefox with AdBlock) I saw masses of whitespace and thought “Wow! What an eyesore!”. The whole site looked hideous, with just so much white and bright blue text stuck inbetween.

No doubt AutoTrader are being plastered with complaint emails, but this is a mistake that should never have happened. In the meantime, we can all learn a few lessons from this:

  • If you have a new site that you want to test, DONT launch it to the general public. Have a select group of testers who can opt-in to test the Beta version, provide feedback, and only when you know that everything’s working do you make it available to the mass-public.
  • Use unobtrusive JavaScript
  • Don’t rely on adverts to make your site look right

If you’re ever stuck trying to find out which web hosting service a website uses, then there’s a very simple way to find out.
All you need to do is perform a WHOIS lookup, which provides information about any domain name.

A popular WHOIS site is http://www.networksolutions.com/whois/index.jsp. All you do is enter the domain name, and check under the “Domain servers” section. It should look like “ns1.hostingsite.com” so the part after the ns1 will tell you who the web host is.

This could be really useful if you’re looking for hosting yourself, and are impressed by the speed and stability of a site you come across. You can quickly lookup its host and get the same great service for yourself!

Today was a different kind of problem. Working on a PHP web application on localhost using XAMPP, I was required to import a massive list of geographical locations into a MySQL database. The problem was, the .txt file with the data was over 700MB!!

Obviously any import with phpMyAdmin would timeout after 128MB. There’s fiddlier options such as BigDump, but I went out on a search for a more elegant solution.

Introducing Sequel Pro…

Sequel Pro is the successor of cocoaMySql. It’s free of charge, and it’s actively developed.

After a quick download of 3MB, and the 2 second OSX installation time, I launched Sequel Pro. The interface was very intuitive, the first screen asks you to enter details of a new connection. Simple enough: “site name”, “host”, “username”, “password”, “database” -> Connect!

Upon connection it quickly brought up all the tables in the database, and I selected the table that I wanted to import data into. Then, File -> Import and I selected the .txt file that I needed (though the CSV option was selected). I also made sure that the field delimiter was set to “/t” (which means TAB) because that’s how the data in my file was sorted.

The next screen allowed me to select the table into which the data would go, and more importantly, a preview of how the data would be processed. I made sure that all the data was going into the correct fields. Now that I was happy, I clicked Import and that was it.

Within 15 minutes, all the data had been imported into the database succesfully. No messing around with BigDump, no modifying of filesize limits, just a free simple tool, that takes care of everything for you.

If you’re struggling to import data into a database on OSX, then I’d strongly suggest you check out Sequel Pro too!

1)  Where are you looking for designers?

Some places look good, but its always better to look for ones in the same country as you.  Posting in forums is always good because you can look up a users profile to see their post content – which usually reflects their experience, knowledge and communication skills!  If you’ve not been already, try Web Designer Forum who have a Looking to Hire board where you can advertise your job for free!

2) Do you know what you want?

The more information you give the better – the more details you give means that it’s easier for a designer/developer to estimate the total time required and give you a more accurate quote.

If you miss out something in your initial request, chances are there’ll be additional costs during development.  There’s a lot of features in websites which might just look “standard” or as if “the software” might just make it for them but in fact it’s a lot of work for designers.

3) Do they have experience?

Obviously someone with experience is better than someone with no experience – but even the guy with no experience has to start somewhere! Generally designers tend to do small jobs for friends/family/local businesses to build up a bit of a portfolio and will then offer their services elsewhere. Personally I think when looking at experience, you should look at how much work they’ve done, and the quality of it rather than just numbers such as “10 years web experience” – which could just mean having a personal website for 10 years and nothing else!
Try to find someone who has a bit of experience at least as they’ll be able to quote you from experience, know what they’re doing, and most likely complete your site quicker as well.

4)  Things to look for

A portfolio is always one of the first things to look at. Make sure they accept a payment method you want to use. See where they’re based – it’s easier to deal with ones that are national rather than international. Checkout their homepage – if someone claims they’re a designer, they should have a decent website as proof. Validate their site – use the W3C Validator to validate the designers website – many claim to make standards compliant sites yet even their own homepage isn’t valid! Looking at experience and establishment – in a few months or even years you might want to go back to the designer to get more work done, what are the chances they’ll still be around?

5)  Is it safe to request services from someone online?

As a designer/developer, my experience has only been doing jobs requested online. Generally I’m able to pick out the ones that won’t be a nuisance. Seeing as websites are a web-based product, and most designers advertise their services online anyway I see no harm in getting work done via their website, or a forum or job site. It would be advisable to go for the designer with the portfolio and decent site so you know they can be trusted.

6)  Are you prepared to pay?

Just because you have a new idea and want to go online doesn’t mean that designers will lower their prices for you.  Designers tend to charge a fixed hourly rate whether it’s David Beckham that wants a site, or just your average Joe Bloggs who has some shoes to sell.

Most designers will charge a deposit upfront (amount varies) to protect themselves. The remainder of the cost is charged on completion.

7)  Signing contracts

Try to get a contract signed once you and the designer have made agreed on price and requirements.  A contract is good for both parties as it makes everything more “official” and gives you more protection if something does happen to go wrong.

Most contracts are agreements that the designer is willing to provide their service to you for X amount and that you agree to pay the amount on completion.  When the work is done, it should belong to you – but make sure the contract says so.

Visit the Store

We’re really pleased to announce that the Cube Websites store is now live.

It uses Magento, and the custom theme was created by ourselves to match the rest of our website.You can now find our Magento themes on sale there.  As an introductory offer, you can get 20% off any theme you want!
Just enter NEWSTORE20 at checkout to apply your discount – offer valid until 9 January February 2009.

We’ll shortly be adding a new range of Magento themes, so stay tuned!

Preview of Our New Theme Store - click for full-size

Preview of Our New Theme Store - click for full-size

Just to let you know that the store section of our website is almost ready – and we’re really excited.  At the start it will contain the 2 Magento themes that we’ve created, but we will be introducing new themes in the next few weeks so stay tuned.

Click the image for a full size view.

We’re hoping to add other things to the store too such as web scripts and possibly applications too.

Our launch party with Weezer and some muppets, that you weren't invited to

Our launch party with Weezer and some muppets, that you weren't invited to

Today marks the launch of the new dark design of Cube Websites. We’ve upgraded the blog and hosting site to match as well.
We like it a lot, and we hope you do too – if you do notice any bugs, or have suggestions please do let us know either via a comment or using the contact form

This is just the first in a series of changes that Cube Websites is going through. Next in line is a new store interface, and soon after that will be some new Magento themes to sell in the store!

Stay tuned for more updates!