Browser Width: A Response

I’ve been meaning to write a friendly response to Paul’s post since I first was alerted to it a couple of weeks ago (Paul and I know each other through Mobius), but things have been busy. Basically, Paul’s complaint is that this blog, and many others, doesn’t fill the screen. Paul explains that he has a desktop display that runs at 1680×1050 and 1600 x 1200 on his laptop (seems like those two numbers should be reversed). Paul evidently runs his browsers in full screen mode. The thing is, most people do not.

I checked the statistics for Pocket PC Thoughts (Google tracks browser window size, while unfortunately Urchin does not) and if you total up all the users who are running their browser window 1280 pixels wide and under, you get 70% of all visitors in the month of January, a strong majority. The percentage of people like Paul who are running at 1600 pixels or more wide? 12%. Not an insignificant number, but also not a huge number. When I’m on my 17″ screen laptop, which runs at 1440 x 900 resolution, I like to see multiple windows on the display at once, to help replicate the work environment that I have on my dual-monitor main workstation. Here’s what I saw when I visited Paul’s blog on said laptop:

[click on the image for the full-sized view]

Not very pretty is it? It’s always a balancing act between the resolution of the browser window from average visitor, and the readability of the site. At the moment I have my 24″ LCD hooked up to my laptop, so I’m viewing the Web at 1920 x 1200 resolution. Take a look at what Paul’s side, MoDaCo, looks like if I were to browse in full screen like Paul does:

[click on the image for the full-sized view]

Now, just like Paul said in his post that he wasn’t picking on me, I’m not picking on MoDaCo here. But to my eyes, that’s not very readable. It’s just too wide – I have to turn my head to read it rather than just my eyes. There’s a reason why newspapers have columns – narrow(ish) columns of text are easy for the eye to follow and read. Usability matters, and while some people may prefer super-wide-pages with super-wide-text, the bulk of the Web-reading population probably does not (although I haven’t surveyed them or anything).

Now all that said, my personal blog template was designed to be around 800 pixels wide, which in retrospect is a bit too narrow given monitor resolutions in the year 2007. I’d like to have the template updated to be around 1000 to 1100 pixels wide, mostly so I can post 640 x 480-sized photos, and hope to have that done in the next month or two. It might not make Paul completely happy, but it will be a bit better for his needs while still maintaining a reasonable column width for readability