Nielsen rules on screen resolution

It comes up during every web design project: how do we handle page width? Do we fix a number of pixels, or do we fill the browser window? Many people opt for the latter, in a (mistaken) belief that it’s inherently better for accessibility. Many designers prefer a specified width, simply because it’s easier. Who’s right?
Enter Jakob Nielsen, usability guru. His latest column on rules that we should ‘optimize Web pages for 1024×768, but use a liquid layout that stretches well for any resolution, from 800×600 to 1280×1024.‘ So there you have it.
Of course, liquid layouts mean getting out of the habit of ‘full screen’ browsing. For many of us, it’s just instinct now to expand the browser window to the full desktop. But there is a limit to the width of page that the brain can take in – in my experience, 1280px is more or less it.
A word of advice to web designers, by the way: don’t rely on javascript to tell you the browser window’s width. All too often, this ignores the possibility of on-screen sidebars. I’m a Firefox user who chooses to keep various things permanently on-screen using a sidebar. Does your javascript test take that into account? If it doesn’t, I’m going to have to scroll horizontally. And that’s so 1990s, guys.
By the way… read Jakob’s piece to the end. Is it really true that ‘big monitors are the easiest way to increase white-collar productivity’? Can your brain handle a resolution of 5000×3000? – I’m not sure I can. Still, if you’re looking for an excuse to buy an HD TV, it can’t do any harm to quote Dr Nielsen: ‘There’s no doubt that big screens are worth the money.’