Mac Musings

Which One's Broken, Low End Mac or Internet Explorer 6?

Dan Knight - 2005.05.27 - Tip Jar

A week ago we moved to a CSS-based design at Low End Mac. CSS has been supported by all the major browsers since version 4.0, and only the tiniest fraction of a percent of our visitors are not using modern browsers, so I spent some time learning CSS design, pretty much replicated our existing look-and-feel, and started posting pages with the new design last week.

I did a lot of reading, typed in a lot of examples, did a lot of testing on my eMac (Firefox, Safari, Shiira, Camino, Opera, even Internet Explorer 5.2), and tweaked things until it looked almost the same on all these browsers. There are some differences, and iCab 2.9.x doesn't support the design at all (3.0 will), but between following established standards and testing in all my browsers, I though I was safe.

I didn't count on Internet Explorer 6.

Go figure. In no time at all I started getting emails about Low End Mac being "broken". Broken? But it worked in each one of my browsers and was directly based in samples published in CSS manuals. It should have worked.

It took a while, but by midweek I was finally getting some screen shots. Those of you who don't use IE 6 know that the LEM home page looks like this:

Low End Mac in Firefox

Visitors using IE 6 were seeing this instead:

Low End Mac in Internet Explorer 6

It didn't make any sense at all. The vertical bar with the ads is supposed to be absolutely positioned on the left side of the page. It is in every browser except IE 6. I have to believe that this is some sort of Microsoft bug, since my style sheets and XHTML validate.

If you do a Google search for Internet Explorer CSS bugs, you'll discover there are a lot of them. From my research, none of them matched this problem, so I'm hoping some LEM reader will be able to help solve this problem. After all, 36% of our visitors are using Windows XP, and 90% of them are probably using IE 6. That's one-third of our visitors who can't read the site properly - and that's a big problem.

(Yes, I really should invest in a WinXP computer, but my 17 months with an old Dell have convinced me that a Windows computer on the Internet is trouble just waiting to happen. I spend more time updating and running antivirus, anti-adware, and anti-spyware programs than actually using the computer.)

Here's the CSS code that defines the main section of our pages:

#content {position: relative;
background-color: #ffffff; }
#main-text {margin-left: 168px;
margin-right: 0.5em;
position: static;
top: 0px; }
#adbar {position: absolute;
background-color: #eeeeee;
top: 0px;
left: 0px;
bottom: 0px;
width: 160px;
line-height: 1.25em; }

The "adbar" section should place a 160 pixel wide bar down right at the left side (0px) of the page. The "main-text" section puts the bulk of the page 169 pixels from the left side of the page. It shouldn't be possible for these sections to overlap.

And here's a very reduced version of the XHTML code that shapes the page:

<div id="content">
   <div id="main-text">
   <div id="adbar">

The first and last "divs" mark off a section of the page. The 2nd and 3rd divs display the main text in accordance with the CSS rules above. The 4th and 5th divs display the advertising bar on the left side of the page - except in IE 6.

(For the record, I've eliminated the "adbar" section on this page so IE 6 users can read it.)

If any of you can shed some light and help me find a solution to this problem - other than going back to inefficient table-based layout - I'm all ears. Please email me. Thanks! Dan Knight


Several visitors have emailed to answer the question in the title of this article, "Which one's broken, Low End Mac or Internet Explorer 6?" They each say it's definitely IE 6.

See our follow-up article, Making Low End Mac's Design Work with Internet Explorer 6, to see how we solved this problem.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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