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  • The Browser Wars: Why Did They Forget Printing?

    December 19th, 2006

    Believe me when I tell you that I have spent a fair amount of time working in all the popular browsers on the Mac platform and sometimes even under Windows. I’ve also read the reviews, just to see if other tech publications react the same as I do, and there is one significant omission in most of those articles, one that I consider important.

    Understand that the first job of a browser is to deliver pages speedily and accurately. No single browser is 100% successful at this task, even if it passes the appropriate canned testing routines. One site will look great in one browser, and awful in another.

    A few demand Microsoft Internet Explorer, and don’t seem to understand that it’s losing market share, and they are also losing access to millions of potential customers. Take the real estate industry, for example, and certain multiple listing systems. Even if nobody else needed, say, Parallels Desktop to run Windows on a Mac, realtors would be able to make the company live long and prosper.

    As I’ve said previously, I have, in recent years, used Safari as my default browser. It’s not that it is the greatest application of this sort on the planet, necessarily, but it seems to do most everything well. I can view most pages without encountering any weird anomalies — and keep the phrase “most pages” in mind — and it can print well-formatted versions of those pages.

    However, Safari can be troublesome when I edit pages for The Mac Night Owl in WordPress, the open-source publishing system that we use. The main shortcoming is the lack of the navigation bar that appears in Firefox and — sometimes at any rate — in Opera. That and a few other troublesome matters, plus speedier rendering, made me finally move to Firefox as the default browser.

    But there are exceptions, and those exceptions are found in that gray area that Firefox won’t address until version 3, and that’s printing.

    Now isn’t a browser supposed to free you from the tethers of output devices and paper? Not necessarily. Indeed, there are times when a proper printing capability is absolutely essential.

    Say you place an order at Amazon or any other online retailer. You can, of course, save a file of a receipt, but you might prefer to have a hard copy to store with your business records, or just to refer to when you’re not using a computer.

    Maybe you read an interesting article at Google News and wanted to refer to it during lunch, or when there was nothing to read when flying to a corporate gathering. Regardless of your needs and your reasoning, if a browser fails at that task, you are forced to use another application to accomplish the task or do without.

    Here’s where Firefox fails — and little is said about it.

    While most sites print all right, even if it requires using the specially formatted Print version on a site, some do not. The placement of graphics overlaps the text, or just the first page of a document that would fill two or more pages appears in your printer’s output tray.

    Opera does a little better on some sites, and worse on others. If there’s an area where Safari and other browsers based on Apple’s WebKit emerge supreme, it’s printing. Even if you don’t use a site’s Print option — assuming one is even available — you’ll get a pretty good representation of what you see on the screen.

    In version 3 of Firefox, they’ll use Mozilla’s new Cairo graphics library, which, among other things, “is designed to produce identical output on all output media while taking advantage of display hardware acceleration when available (eg. through the X Render Extension or OpenGL).” I can’t wait, but why are so many other tech writers uninterested in such things?



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    13 Responses to “The Browser Wars: Why Did They Forget Printing?”

    1. gopher says:

      There are many alternative web browsers, and there are many sites which don’t follow w3.org standards. Both of these contribute to lack of good printing support. My FAQ here helps you understand how to combat that ignorance:

      http://www.macmaps.com/browser.html

    2. linda says:

      What I wish is that someone would copy the Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (Mac) 5.2 print features – it not only has its own print preview window, it allows the user to easily change the font size for the printout. I have a high resolution monitor, and find myself cranking up the font size of many sites, but then if I want to print, have to turn the size back down on the screen view, and then either do multiple preview checks, or hope it fits. (I hate getting a 15 pt printout!) Whereas IE, you can change the font size on the printout, but that won’t affect things when you go back to the screen.

    3. Andrew says:

      The printing features of Internet Explorer 7 aren’t too bad, better than Firefox anyway. I know IE is very unpopular among Mac users, but perhaps that is another reason to have Parallels Desktop on your Mac, as the new version is actually a fairly nice browser.

      Of course IE7 has its own annoyances. While it prints beauifully, why can’t it wrap text to fit my windows instead of forcing horizontal scrolling?

    4. wmd says:

      One d*mned minute, captain…

      I am a strident Safari supporter but Opera has about the best support for printing CSS2.

      Safari does not support “page-break-inside: avoid” which is an absolute killer for any
      web application that expects to produce effective printouts. I posted this flaw to
      Surfin Safari over a year ago to have it only fall upon deaf ears…

      Opera, on the other hand appears to properly support all of the print related CSS2.
      I wish Safari did – but it doesn’t. Now, of course, Safari supports Java while Opera
      doesn’t on the Mac. So, I continue to use Safari and curse them for their lack of CSS2
      print element support.

    5. Opera, on the other hand appears to properly support all of the print related CSS2.
      I wish Safari did – but it doesn’t. Now, of course, Safari supports Java while Opera
      doesn’t on the Mac. So, I continue to use Safari and curse them for their lack of CSS2
      print element support.

      Forgetting the backend support, I’ve had problems printing from Opera. Sometimes a site will print and sometimes it won’t, and I’ve run into stability issues involving sudden quits with version 9.1. I did clear all preferences, caches, etc., without much improvement.

      But I’ve always been hot and cold about Opera. It has a great feature set, so there’s always hope that there will be a 9.1.1 that’ll address some issues, assuming it’s not just me.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. Norman Brooks says:

      This isn’t about printing, but I too have a frustration with Firefox. Its Find on This Page function doesn’t work for me. Often I do a search on Google and get hits that don’t contain what they are supposed too, at least not in a readily apparent way. In those cases I will often want to do a Find on This Page, but when I click on it in Firefox’s edit menu, nothing happens. The dialog box that allows entry of your query never appears. As a result, I almost never use Firefox, and certainly not when I’m planning to use Google. The Firefox version that’s optimized for the G5 is the one that I have.

    7. MichaelT says:

      Norman, are you looking at the bottom of the browser window?

    8. For printing, you should use PDFs. The site should make PDFs of all content long enough that people would want to print out. It is not hard to make a PDF on Linux and the Mac, and for people who use Windows who think it is so much cheaper than the Mac can used some of that “saved” money to buy Adobe Acrobat or use the free product OpenOffice.org. Some very loud spoken people seem to hate PDFs because it is *possible* to set restrictions that are easily circumvented on how they are used and want to “punish” Adobe. Also I guess some people enjoy losing their place in long documents online and having to battle with scrolling to far away from where they wanted because someone thought it was a good idea not to offer the ability to make page breaks in HTML.

    9. For printing, you should use PDFs. The site should make PDFs of all content long enough that people would want to print out. It is not hard to make a PDF on Linux and the Mac, and for people who use Windows who think it is so much cheaper than the Mac can used some of that “saved” money to buy Adobe Acrobat or use the free product OpenOffice.org. Some very loud spoken people seem to hate PDFs because it is *possible* to set restrictions that are easily circumvented on how they are used and want to “punish” Adobe. Also I guess some people enjoy losing their place in long documents online and having to battle with scrolling to far away from where they wanted because someone thought it was a good idea not to offer the ability to make page breaks in HTML.

      On sites where printing doesn’t work properly, making it a PDF doesn’t seem to help, according to my testing.

      Peace,
      Gene

    10. wmd says:

      Hello, you can’t make canned PDF’s of DYNAMIC content!!!

      HTML, actually CSS2, does indeed support page break control. That is exactly what I am saying that Opera supports and Safari does only partially. The most important style “page-break-inside” remains unsupported in ALL browsers on ALL platforms except for Opera. It’d be cool if Safari and Firefox could get this working. Clearly it can be done – Opera does it. The other browser makers, however, have other priorities…

    11. Norman Brooks says:

      MichaelT–Thanks, I wasn’t. After reading your reply, I did, and I see that the facility is there. I would never have thought to look there for it, however. Not very intuitive, is it? Now at least I can give Firefox another try.

    12. Andrew says:

      PDF is hit and miss, at least with my Mac’s built-in PDF function. I also have Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional on my Mac and 7 on my Windows machine, and use that as my solution to faied browser print jobs. The real Acrobat Pro software has never failed to render a web pageto print properly, for me at least.

    13. MichaelT says:

      No, Norman, it’s not very intuitive. I found it by accident myself. Not like any other Find interface I’ve seen, but now that I know where it is, it is useful.

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