The web gets bigger – and smaller

I’m startled by the number of websites which – even these days – are being designed for one browser, one screen resolution, one usage scenario.
I’ve just completed a coding exercise which involved me displaying other people’s web pages inside an ‘iframe’. I couldn’t believe how many of the sites wouldn’t fit inside a window of width 780px, without a horizontal scrollbar.
Granted, the majority of users – maybe two-thirds on a typical site – are using 1024×768 monitors, with the browser usually expanded to full-screen. Fewer and fewer people are on 800×600… so we can be a bit complacent now, can’t we?
Er, no. Look in the shops. At one end of the spectrum, you’ve got widescreen monitors offering wider viewing areas, and graphics cards with outrageous resolutions, so wide that it’s virtually impossible to read pages which don’t force a (reasonable) width.
At the other end, I’m slowly seeing more and more people browsing the web on handheld or portable devices. My PDA gives me 640×480 (how old-skool!), and smartphones are typically 176×220. What crimes against layout will your site commit on those? If you’ve never tried, borrow someone else’s handset, and brace yourself.
The good news is, we have the tools to deal with this. For example, CSS lets you specify one presentation for ‘screen’, and another for ‘handheld’. But it’s shocking – and frankly inexcusable – how few sites actually implement it.