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Written by Alex


July 14th, 2008.

Enrich your web content with an E-Mag

Have you ever seen one of those clever online magazines where you can “turn” or “flick” the pages with your mouse?

Here’s an Example

If you ever fancied getting your web content displayed in one of these flash viewers (you don’t even have to have a magazine, a product catalogue will do for example), ZMAGS provide an affordable way of creating these “online magazines” via the upload of various PDF files that represent the pages of the e-mag.

The service costs £19 for 1 magazine, £79 for 10 and £149 for 25.  More info here.

Many companies have used this service including our client, Pocket London as shown in the example above.  Other clients include, TNT Magazine, IKEA and Volkswagen

For Pocket London, we built a system around the Zmag IFrames that enables the client to “brand” each e-mag separately to their specifications.  The client can change the header, footer or an intro page around the IFrame through a bespoke content management system, therefore providing limitless possibilites of re-branding their online magazine for any number of clients.

Here are a few examples of the finished product:

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3


July 10th, 2008.

Global Web Stats – Part 2

Last year, I looked at the current trends in terms of browser and operating system market shares, as well as what screen resolutions people are using and the most popular internet user locations in terms of country.

I have been keeping constant track of changes in this data over the past year or so and have been able to study trends and changes in different usages.

My source for the data is W3Counter’s Global Web Stats, who compiles these usage statistics every month by studying the last 25,000,000 vists to approximately 12,000 websites.  There are some other sources for browser activity, for example, W3Schools Browser Statistics (not accurate because statistics are only based on visitors to 1 website).  By sticking to one source for information (even if it is not 100% accurate), it is easier to accurately discover just how quickly things change over any given time period.

Looking at browser usage statistics, Firefox’s share of the browser market has significantly increased.  According to the latest statistics, the total market share for the Mozilla/Firefox browser family is 29.62% compared to IE’s 61.43%.  Over the past year, Firefox has narrowed the gap by almost 10%.  These statistics take an average across many different countries, although recent reports suggest that in some countries, Firefox’s share is significantly higher – for instance in Poland where it is 45%.  However in the UK it is thought to be less than the global average at only 20%.

Internet Explorer 6 has shown a steady decrease in usage with Internet Explorer 7 increasing, although 6 still remains the most popular.  With the advent of Internet Explorer 8 on the horizon, it will be interesting to see how many people ditch IE6 immediately for version 8 and how many make the switch from 7 to 8.  IE8 has been billed as a far more standards compliant browser, that previous versions have been severely lacking in, which could potentially see some recovery for Internet Explorer over Firefox’s increasing market share.

The new Firefox 3 has just been released with rave reviews all round and is already increasingly its popularity.  Although the stats for June only show a 1% market share, this is sure to jump right up over the coming few months as more people upgrade to version 3.

Safari still “enjoys” a rather low percentage of the market (just 2%), despite now being available on PCs and Opera is showing a small but steady increase in popularity, though still only at a 1% market share.  The AOL browser seems to be completely dropping off the radar as more users are encouraged to switch to far more sophisticated browsers such as Firefox.

The following two graphs illustrate these shifts over the past year:

Recent operating system activity shows only slight changes in the market share between Windows and Mac operating systems.  Apple have increased their share to roughly 5% and Microsoft Windows versions account for 91%.  The most interesting statistic is slow uptake of Windows Vista, now a year and a half after its original release, the market share is just 8%, while computers running XP still account for 78% of the market.  With the possible release of a new Windows operating system less than 5 years away, it has been commented on that many users will stick with the largely stable XP until then, after the many grumblings and problems that Vista has had.

The following is a basic illustration of the change in operating system market share at the lower end of the market (not including XP) over the past year:

An analysis of the usage in various countries gives little indication of any change since my last report.  The developed nations of the USA and UK are seeing a decreasing share (although I suspect still an increase in overall usage in these countries) and making way for faster developing countries such as Germany, China, The Netherlands and Turkey.

The statistics on screen resolution confirms we are in the middle of what I like to call a “Widescreen Revolution”.  Screen resolutions such as 1280×800, 1440×900 and 1680×1050 have all shown a significant increase over the past year, and the “old reliable” 1024×768, 1280×1024 and 800×600 resolutions are on a steady decline.  Particularly in our office we waved a rather unemotional farewell to the last or our old CRT monitors that made a bee line for the scrap heap.  I’m sure there are thousands of other offices across the world also seeing the last of those big, chunky, heavy monitors.  In most cases they are being replaced by not only one widescreen flat monitor, but in many cases – 2 or even 3.  Yes, we are also seeing the “Multiple Monitor Revolution”!

The following graph illustrates this behaviour:

There will be another update on Global Web Stats in 2009.


July 9th, 2008.

Bill Gates has stepped down as head of Microsoft, what’s next?

The world’s most famous geek, Bill Gates has recently stepped down from his post as commander-in-chief of the world’s biggest software company – Microsoft.

The man who once claimed he wanted to put a computer on the desk of every home has decided to take a step back from the amazing expansion seen in the computing industry over the past 30 or so years.  He plans to devote more time to his family and to his charitable organisation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, while still remaining Chairman of the company and keeping some influence over special projects such as future versions of Windows.

Bill Gates originally started his career by creating the programming language BASIC with his old school friend, Paul Allen, for the Altair 8800, one of the world’s first “Personal Computers”.  Eventually he registered Microsoft as a trademark in 1976 out of this work and brought together a collection of computer hobbyists and enthusiasts to become his first employees.  By 1980, Gates and Microsoft agreed to produce an operating system for the PC being developed by IBM, otherwise known as MS-DOS.  What followed was a massive expansion in their employee base and turnover, which in turn produced the first version of Windows by 1985, Microsoft Office by 1989 and by 1995, Gates was declared the richest man in the world.  At present, Microsoft now employees over 90,000 workers.

Just what does Gates’ departure mean for the future of Microsoft?  Well you would probably be suprised to hear – not much.  Two people have taken over Bill Gates’ role – Ray Ozzie and Steve Ballmer, but in the large part no one will know the difference as Bill Gates will always be considered as ‘Mr Microsoft’ long into the future.  I suspect the work at management level and the key decisions that are made will remain much the same.

I think that the next big task for Microsoft is to really brush up on the quality control side of things.  It’s fair to say there have been a few shambles over the past few years in all branches of the companies products – from the faulty X-Boxes, to the completely unfinished Vista, to the shambles over Office 2007 document formats and backwards compatibility and the uproar over Outlook 2007′s email rendering it’s been a pretty fiery time for Microsoft recently.

It’s not all bad though as on the plus side it really does seem they are keeping on top of the ball in the future of touch screen technology, releasing Windows on next-gen phones and attempting to make multi-billion dollar takeovers of major rival companies.

What the future really holds for Microsoft, that remains to be seen.  One thing for sure is that there will always be Microsoft haters and hard-core devotees – that will never change.


July 1st, 2008.

Layering IFrames using positioning and z-index

I was recently given a task by a client that required me to layer multiple IFrames on top of each other in order to facilitate the display of 3 separate content blocks (share price feeds) so that the content of two of them was only partially shown.

Each frame was a simple, relatively small area of text that displayed the current share price for a listed fund:

There were to be 3 frames in total.  Each frame was to display a different price, in the bottom 2 frames, only the share price was to be displayed and not any of the other content.

Using standard CSS positioning techniques I was able to position the 3 frames so that the 3 share prices were aligned correctly:

(Note the CSS code here is inline for simplicity)

<div style="display:block;position:absolute;top:0px;">
|||||<iframe src="" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="yes" scrolling="no" style="width:200px; height:90px; position:relative; left:-20px;top:30px;margin:0;padding:0;" />
<div style="display:block;position:absolute;top:30px;">
|||||<iframe src="" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="yes" scrolling="no" style="width:200px; height:90px; position:relative; left:-20px;top:30px;margin:0;padding:0;" />
<div style="display:block;position:absolute;top:60px;">
|||||<iframe src="" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="yes" scrolling="no" style="width:200px; height:90px; position:relative; left:-20px;top:30px;margin:0;padding:0;" />

The major problem here is the overlapping of IFrames, while the positioning is correct, the 3rd IFrame overlaps the 1st and 2nd IFrames, and the 2nd IFrame overlaps the 1st IFrame.

To get around this we use the z-index property of CSS.  This property only works on elements that have been positioned, as we have done with each IFrame, in that it has been placed within an absolutely positioned HTML div element.  Z-index facilitates the display order (or ‘stack’ order) of elements on a page.

Hence we get the following by setting the z-index of each div to 999, 998 and 997 respectively.

<div style="display:block;position:absolute;top:0px;z-index:999;">
|||||<iframe src="" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="yes" scrolling="no" style="width:200px; height:90px; position:relative; left:-20px;top:30px;margin:0;padding:0;" ></iframe>
<div style="display:block;position:absolute;top:30px;z-index:998;">
|||||<iframe src="" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="yes" scrolling="no" style="width:200px; height:90px; position:relative; left:-20px;top:30px;margin:0;padding:0;" ></iframe>
<div style="display:block;position:absolute;top:60px;z-index:997;">
|||||<iframe src="" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="yes" scrolling="no" style="width:200px; height:90px; position:relative; left:-20px;top:30px;margin:0;padding:0;" ></iframe>

Note the lower the number the z-index, the lower the priority it has in the stack.  Z-indexes can also be negative.

The solution was effective enough for the client to be implemented on their site and saves the space that would otherwise be needed on the web page if there were 3 IFrames positioned separately from each other.


August 29th, 2007.

Global Web Stats

Just how popular is Vista today? How many people have switched from IE6 to IE7? Just what share of the browser market does Firefox have?

For answers to these questions and more it is worth regularly checking W3 Counter’s Global Stats which can be found here:

These stats are generated by tracking the last 32 million unique visits to 5,500 websites that represent a broad cross section of internet traffic. From each unique visit, the web browser, operating system, country of origin and screen resolution can all be determined to produce a reasonably good picture of just what general web traffic looks like today.

From looking at the latest stats for 20/08/07 we can see that a person in the USA, running Windows XP, Internet Explorer 6 with a screen resolution of 1024×768 is your average Joe web surfer, this accounts for 6% of web users. Myself I am based in the UK, running Windows XP, Internet Explorer 7 (as my primary browser) and screen resolution of 1280×1024. Only one in a thousand computers run the same combination as I do.

But lets look at the really interesting stats.

Starting with web browsers we can see that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still dominates the market with an approx 66% share. This is not taking into account the stats for IE5, IE4 and earlier, which I am sure some systems in less developed countries are still running. However the real story here is that IE’s lead is slipping due to Firefox’s continuing popularity – Firefox versions 1.0, 1.5 and 2.0 now account for approx 25% of all web browsers. Safari still has an approximate 2-3% share, however it is unclear whether Safari or Firefox dominate the browser industry for Macs.

Operating system stats show that it’s been a slow start for the brand new operating system from Microsoft – Windows Vista. Just 3.33% of the OS market in August, but recent trends show that share increasing. In May 2007 it was 2.13% and has increased by 1.2% over the past 3 months. XP still dominates, but I expect to see Vista’s share increase more rapidly over the next few years as more people buy new PCs or upgrade. Mac OS X users still account for just under 4% of all users suggesting that the marketing managers at Apple need to do more than their latest “Mac vs PC” advertising campaign to encourage more people to make the big switch.

The stats for the countries of origin offer no real suprises with the US of A leading. Germany and the UK in 2nd and 3rd place respectively and a suprising Latvia in 4th. The Chinese account for just over 2% of all users who visited the web pages in question, but recent media reports suggest this statistic is far higher (almost as dominant as the US). It is well known that the Chinese government have blocked internet sites, which could include many in these reports, or that it may be that the sites in the report are more westernised, located in the US (may be blocked), or are written in languages that Chinese web users are generally unlikely to understand – you can only speculate.

Screen resolution statistics are largely trivial, but the most common is 1024×768, which I am sure will remain dominant for many years to come. Many IT professionals, gamers and experienced computer users generally opt for higher resolutions such as 1280×1024, or widescreen resolutions such as 1280×800 or 1440×900. If any of these statistics should be taken into consideration its that 8.42% of web users are still using a low resolution of 800×600. This figure is falling slowly, in May 2007 it was 9%. While many of the systems running 800×600 may be in less developed countries, nevertheless it is important for web designers to design websites with this low resolution in mind. An example of how not to do it –

Because of the lack of legacy data, it is difficult to put some of these stats into context over the past few years, but rest assured I will be keeping track of them over time and a review of the stats will come in the shape of another blog article towards the end of the year.


June 25th, 2007.

Online Retailers – Changes To Your Website Security

You may or may not be aware of the recent changes that have happened to Switch cards.  Switch is no more and has been fully replaced by Maestro (part of the MasterCard family).  This change occurred earlier this month and all websites have been updated to remove the Switch logo and replaced with the Maestro logo.

Further to this Mastercard are implementing security to all Maestro transactions from 30th June 2007.  From this date all online retailers will have to use a security protocol called “3D Secure” if they wish to continue to accept Maestro transactions.  3D Secure encompasses Verified-By-Visa and MasterCard SecureCode and is basically an extra layer of security used to prevent against card fraud.  During the checkout process, after entering their card details, customers will be redirected to their bank or card providers website where they will need to enter a password which they set up with their bank or card provider.  If they have not set up a password they are given the option to do this online.  If all the security details check out then the transaction is completed as normal. 

3D Secure has already begun to be implemented by us on all of our e-commerce websites.  For clients who use Protx as their payment provider the changes do not need to be in place until August 2007.

For more information on these changes click here.

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