How effective are different operating systems in displaying web pages?
I have seen many users on this site provide operating system specifications when describing web development errors, and I have seen several examples of it working on one OS but not another.
Is there any real difference in what is handled, let's say IE6 on different windows versions? Or exactly the same version of firefox on ubuntu as opposed to mac?
It might be a nob question, but I'm really interested.
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There are 4 categories of cross OS related errors that can occur on a website (unintentionally, ignoring things like a web developer sniffing a user agent and freezing with unrecognized results, or using a plugin that can only run on one platform, for example like Silverlight). Arranged into most common for least common, from my personal experience
- Assumptions about fonts and kerning... If the user's operating system does not match your own, and you specify a font that your system does not have, the text will not have the same length and possibly height even if you set a certain point size (the lowercase "m" must match, but all other characters may differ, for example, the height of the capitals). This can lead to chaos on fixed-size layouts, especially with headers that are expected to have only one line. Recently, this can be mitigated by purchasing a "webfont" (typically both the old IE and the new modern standard web font) and using that in your CSS, placing the font for the user to download. This can result in a "flash" as the rendering switches to it after loading,so you need to specify a long caching time.
- Assumptions about form elements . Because these HTML elements are created directly by the operating system and not by the browser, even for the same browser they can look different, have different sizes and behavior, between operating systems. Styling these elements reduces the volatility, but some form elements (for example
) cannot be styled. Just give them a big buffer in your layout.
- Buggy plugins . Even if the plugin exists on all operating systems like Flash, generally they work best on Windows, and then Linux and Mac fight for second place (usually more effort to port Mac, but Linux may have Wiki guides to make them work better, and distf packages can use these tricks to automatically install the plugin for you). The only solution I know is, if you are a Windows developer, have a VirtualBox image of a Linux distribution like Ubuntu or Fedora that you test your site on and see how poorly the plugin works when you add all your bells and whistles. then let's assume the Macs are about the same performance.
- Actual errors in the HTML renderer . This can happen, and as the browser grows faster, the parity-error gap widens across platforms. Typically, the browser's native OS does the best it can, and then some platform uses it the most after that. I rarely see regressions, so when something works on all OSs for the browser, it basically stays that way. You have to do something special to deal with this.
It all depends on the browser manufacturer, but in my experience they are pretty close to the same cross platform apart from some interface elements. Ubuntu is probably the OS they pay less attention to, and Firefox, for example, works exactly the same on Windows and Ubuntu.
Web development, in terms of the operating system your server is running on, is a problem and is not cross platform when it comes to interacting with the file system, but it really isn't your question.
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10 years ago this answer would have been a resounding yes. For example, IE5 on the Mac was a very different codebase than it was on Windows and did things quite a bit differently. But, with modern browsers, this is usually not the case.
There are also minor differences. For example, safari on Mac (not sure about FF) renders with mac-style controls that can have different sizes, borders, font sizes, etc. This can cause thin display issues across platforms, but generally nothing to worry about that just one pixel can ruin your design.
Fonts are another problem as different fonts exist on different systems and they have different metrics.
The latest fad is hardware acceleration, which may differ from OS to OS, but usually should just lead to the speed of rendering differences.
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