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I get questions every day from readers who want to know what current design standards they should be using to create websites. The problem is that standards on the Web completely change at least every year and sometimes from month to month. In order to stay abreast of the current trends, I present a list of the most frequently asked questions that readers have been sending me. I'll be updating this list regularly on my website.

I get questions every day from readers who want to know what current design standards they should be using to create websites. The problem is that standards on the Web completely change at least every year and sometimes from month to month. In order to stay abreast of the current trends, I present a list of the most frequently asked questions that readers have been sending me. I'll be updating this list regularly on my website.

Question: What is the minimum browser version that I should support in my Web designs - Netscape 3.x, Internet Explorer 3.x or better?

Answer: Because of the recent upgrade push due to Y2K-related issues, the 3.0 browsers are becoming an increasingly moot point for support consideration. However, with the proliferation of hand-held computers and cellular phone access of the Internet, a version of the site that supports these devices should be considered.

Question: Should I still use the browser-safe colour palette?

Answer: I recommend using the 216 colour "browser-safe" palette to construct websites. This will ensure that images look as good as possible on the maximum number of screens. Obviously, for graphics such as photographs and images that rely on shading or for curved graphics that require anti-aliasing, this rule can be stretched but never to the point that graphics become unsightly on computers with fewer colours. Most graphics programs these days will allow you to preview how your graphics will look in a variety of colour settings. Make sure to test the graphics in a variety of conditions before putting them on the Web.

Question: What screen size should I design my websites for?

Answer: The design standard has become 800x600, but all sites should be usable in 640x480. Although the 640x480 screen size comprises less than 13 per cent of website visitors and falling, it is important that any website design not be unusable on smaller screens. Important content and design elements should be placed "above the fold" so they are visible without vertical scrolling and all important user interface elements must be visible without horizontal scrolling.

Question: I hear a lot of people saying that frames are dead. Is this true?

Answer: No. Frames can be used in a variety of ways to improve usability on websites, despite the fact that they often prove more challenging to design with. Most of the problems associated with frames can be overcome. However, you should consider the use of frames on a client-by-client, site-by-site basis. If the client expresses a strong preference against frames, it is probably best to find other design solutions.

Question: How long should it take a Web page to load?

Answer: The rule of thumb in the Web design industry is the "eight-second rule". Visitors will wait up to eight seconds for something to appear on the screen after entering a Web page. If nothing happens in that eight seconds, they will go elsewhere. Therefore, you should design your sites to begin showing content within that time limit, and be completely loaded within 15 seconds. Anything longer, and you risk losing your audience.

Question: Should I use plug-ins on my website?

Answer: Flash and other plug-ins allow you to add sound and interactive elements to websites. The problem is if the visitor does not have the plug-in they cannot see your site. Since plug-ins often require download and installation, many site visitors may be unwilling or unable to get them. It is usually a good idea to offer an alternative version of your site that does not require plug-ins. You should also provide a page that lists all plug-ins needed for your site and links to download them.

Question: What is the difference between Java and JavaScript?

Answer: Java is a programming language which can be used to write stand-alone software applications that do not require a Web browser. In addition, Java can be used to write "applets" (small applications) that can be run on a Web page. JavaScript, on the other hand, is a scripting language used to control the HTML on a Web page and can only be used within a Web browser.

Question: Should I use JavaScript rollovers in my website?

Answer: Due to limitations in various browsers, JavaScript should not be relied on to relay necessary navigational information. Instead, JavaScript rollovers should only be used to improve the experience if it is available.

Question: How can I include alternative content for browsers that do not support JavaScript?

Answer: Content within a <noscript>...</noscript> tag will only show up on a Web page if the page is being displayed in a browser that does not support JavaScript. This allows you to provide alternate content or navigation for those browsers.

Question: How can I include information for website visitors who do not have a browser that supports graphics?

Answer: There are a variety of reasons that a visitor your site may not see the graphics: they are sight impaired, they have a slow connection and keep graphics turned off, or they are surfing using a hand-held device such as a mobile phone. All graphics (even decorative graphics) should use the alt attribute within an <img> tag to conform with the W3C's "Web Content Accessibility Guidelines". The alt attribute allows you to provide a textual description of the graphic that will be used by non-graphic browsers.

Jason Cranford Teague is the author of 'DHTML for the World Wide Web', available from bookshops around the UK. If you have any questions, you can find an archive of his column at the Webbed Environments website or e-mail him.

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