Vid's Space

Actually, this is just part of Vid's Space. For more, go back to the full Vid's Space.

Passing Thoughts

Customize Your Browser

Have you ever really poked around your web browser's settings? It's not all technical mumbo-jumbo. In most browsers, you can choose what fonts to use on certain websites. Actually, maybe I should clarify something first. Websites don't actually come in unchangeable fonts like a printed document would. They're actually electronic text, with suggestions for your computer about things like fonts for displaying it. Some websites don't even have these suggestions, and that's when your browser uses “default” fonts.

There are actually at least three kinds of default fonts, because some websites might suggest one category of font without really caring what specific font to use. These categories are “serif” (newspaper-style fonts), “sans-serif” (relatively plain fonts) and “monospace” (typewriter-style fonts). In many browsers, the defaults for these respective categories are Times (New Roman), Arial/Helvetica, and Courier (New). Many people find these specific fonts to be rather boring, partly because they're the default fonts for almost everything. As a result, most websites are designed with suggestions for slightly more interesting fonts.

So, back to your web browser. In most popular browsers, the user can specify what default fonts to use, either in just the “serif” category or in multiple categories. Many browsers allow the user to select different fonts based on what language a website is written in. Some of them will even ignore the font suggestions a website provides, and use only the default user-specified fonts, if that's what the user wants.

I encourage everyone to select their favorite fonts (think practical; do you really want to read a whole article in Jokerman?) for their browser defaults. I have a few suggestions, for readers who don't know what to pick. For serif fonts, try Garamond, Palatino, Georgia or Constantia. For the sans-serif category, perhaps Lucida Sans/Grande, Tahoma, Corbel, Frutiger, or Century Gothic. In the monospace category, it's probably best to let each user pick his favorite from the monospace fonts installed on his system, since tastes and installed fonts can vary significantly.

If people's default fonts are more interesting, then maybe web authors would feel more comfortable relying on them rather than specifying a font for the sake of specifying a font. Or, on the other hand, if a designer actually wants Times New Roman, he should learn to specify it.

For that matter, some other default style choices in web browsers are rather bland. Maybe headings should, unless the website says otherwise, be in a sans-serif font rather than serif. And why don't paragraphs have indented first lines or justified text? Not to mention the inter-paragraph spacing that looks exactly like one blank line. That's given too many amateur web authors the mistaken idea that <P> simply means “insert two line breaks”. And why the crap do all web browsers have the same default style sheet? I don't think HTML was intended to look exactly the same on everyone's screen, and if an author wants it to, then he should specify all these style choices in CSS.

In case you're wondering, these default styles can usually be overridden by the user, too. How this is done varies from browser to browser, but often it's a matter of placing a CSS file somewhere the browser will look for it. For some browsers, an add-on may be available to simplify this process. (Example: for Firefox, there's an add-on called Stylish that's quite popular.) If you don't want to learn CSS, it shouldn't be too hard to get an interesting stylesheet from someone else, and many style-related browser plugins have associated means for users to share stylesheets.

Alright, this ramble has gone on long enough. I think I covered my annoyances. To summarize, go customize your browser already!

More Passing Thoughts