Matthew Daly's Blog

I'm a web developer in Norfolk. This is my blog...

20th March 2010 9:52 pm

My New Website

For a while now I’ve been considering setting up a website on my own domain name, as this would provide an excellent way of showcasing my abilities with HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and provide a URL I can put on my CV when applying for jobs. I’ve had my eye on the domain name, and last night I bought the bullet and paid for it (bargain at about £6 for 2 years, including VAT).

I’ve wanted to put a blog on there, but I couldn’t find a blogging engine that I could easily integrate into it. I was thinking that the way to go would be to write a custom blogging app using Django, but right now I really don’t have time to sit down and learn Django properly, what with doing an unrelated day job and studying in my spare time. So, I thought rather than put it off, I’ll get some free web hosting and put something on there now, even if it’s fairly basic.

And here it is! Please feel free to have a play around with it and let me know what you think, or any problems you’ve had with it. I’ve used a little CSS3 in making it, partly because it was by far the easiest way to implement drop shadows and rounded corners, but it degrades fairly gracefully in browsers that don’t support CSS3 yet. I didn’t have too many problems with adjusting for IE6 thanks to the reset style sheet I used, and the PNG fix.

In future I will expand upon this fairly basic site (and naturally I’m going to have to stump up for paid hosting in future) but for now this is my first hand-coded website!

14th March 2010 1:56 pm

Switching to Slackware

I’ve had my Dell Inspiron since 2004, and it’s worked very, very well for me (it’s still going strong), but I can’t deny that it’s too slow and old for many modern operating systems. I’ve been running Kubuntu Hardy on it for a while as that was the last version which shipped with KDE3.x but I was feeling the pain of running an older release, so I started hunting around for a replacement. KDE4 is just too heavy for this computer, so that wasn’t an option.

I’ve tried a number of Ubuntu derivatives, including CrunchBang Linux and Xubuntu, but Xubuntu was too slow and I didn’t really get on too well with CrunchBang (too basic for my liking). What I really wanted was a fairly default XFCE desktop (I really like the base XFCE desktop and it’s not as bloated as Gnome or KDE).

Unable to find an Ubuntu derivative that really met my requirements, I decided to look elsewhere. I was considering Debian with XFCE as I have had a lot of good experiences with Debian-based distros outside Ubuntu, including sidux and SimplyMEPIS, but I felt like a little distro-hopping as I haven’t done that for a while (since my trusty Philips X58 died at Christmas time I’ve only had one Linux machine, that being the old Dell, so I’ve relied on my MacBook a lot).

I’ve always been interested in the sound of Slackware, and I had a copy of Slackware 13 that came with Linux Magazine, so I thought I’d give that a go. I’m familiar with the installer so the only issues I was likely to have were with configuring my wireless network. Fortunately, Slackware nowadays ships with wicd included on the disc, and I’m familiar with this. Once I’d finished the install (not hard by any means, just more involved than, for example, Ubuntu’s installer), I booted it up and installed wicd from the DVD, and it worked straight away.

I’ve heard that Slackware has a lot less bloat than most other Linux distros, and my experience certainly bears that out. Compared to Xubuntu, my new Slackware install with XFCE is lightning-fast. As of right now I’m running slackpkg to update my system and while it may not be as flexible and powerful as apt, and not have a nice graphical front-end, it’s perfectly usable and I’m happy with it. I’m used to sudo from both Ubuntu and OS X so I’ve set that up, and all in all I’m very pleased with my new system.

I’ll let you know how I get on with it over time, but for now I think Slackware is a great distro for what I want on this machine, and one that’ll help me learn more about Linux. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Ubuntu, but Slack has its place too, and I have my own reasons for liking both.

18th February 2010 8:30 pm

The Great IE6 Switchover

OK, this subject has been done to death, but Internet Explorer 6 needs to die. It’s old, it’s dated, it’s insecure, it’s not standards compliant, it requires web designers and developers to spend countless hours adjusting perfectly standards-compliant websites to render correctly in IE6 when they could be adding cool new features. You know the drill by now!

So, how do we get people to dump IE6? I think Microsoft have probably done everything reasonable to get people to move to IE7 or IE8, but a hard core of users just won’t budge. By and large these users fall into the following groups:

  1. Corporate users- that is, people using IE6 on their desktops at work. It’s well known that IE6 usage drops substantially at weekends so this probably represents a lot of people. Where I work we’re still on Internet Explorer 6, but the reason for that is that we use a lot of custom web applications which were designed specifically for IE6, and if they changed browsers they’d have to convert these web apps to be standards-compliant. One day they’ll have to update them, but there’s no sign of that happening anytime soon. It’s not the user’s fault (there are many, many posts on the intranet forums at work bemoaning the fact we’re still stuck with IE6) and most of them would rather use a better browser at work since there are a number of very useful web applications which IE6 works terribly with (Google Maps is a good example).
  1. People who don’t know any better and don’t see the need to upgrade -this might include the elderly or other non-computer savvy people who’ve disabled Windows updates for some reason (maybe because they find it makes things slower).

But why are we letting these groups hold the whole future of the web back? By bending over backwards to support these people, we’re prolonging IE6’s shelf life, and making it easy for people to continue IE6 when we really don’t want them to! It’s simple to upgrade your browser or switch to a new one, so why are we propping up a minority who can’t be bothered?

I’m beginning to think that we ought to draw a parallel with digital television. In many countries, the digital and analogue signals have been coexisting for some time, and now we’ve begun switching off the analogue signal. We aren’t bending over backwards to support people who haven’t got a digital television or Freeview box yet - if you haven’t got one when they switch off the signal, you’re going to be watching a blank screen. With web browsers, we don’t expect people to make any financial outlay - we just want them to click on a link, so I think it’s much more reasonable to cut them off from our content unless they switch browsers.

Ultimately, it’s the decision of the person who wants to make a website whether or not to support IE6, but I think we need to be a little harsher than we have in the past. Google are beginning to drop IE6 support, and I’m sure more people will follow. By catering for the remaining IE6 users, we may well be prolonging its usage, and perhaps we need a big stick to encourage users to switch to a newer browser. Of course it’s a difficult decision to make if you’re hoping to attract customers to a commercial website since if website A and website B both sell the same product but the customer’s browser doesn’t work on website A, he’s going to go to website B instead.

11th February 2010 5:55 pm

Moderation on

Due to spamming, I’ve reluctantly decided to start moderating comments on this blog. I don’t want to do so, and regret having to take this step, but it was getting really annoying.

Don’t let this put you off commenting - feel free to do so as long as your post is not spam.

19th January 2010 2:19 pm

The Rise and Rise of Unix

It’s weird that Unix is often regarded as something old and dated, often by consultants trying to sell you on Windows. Often they’ll try and make out that it’s too hard to use, too arcane, and generally a pain, and that you should be using something more modern. But modern Unixes are powerful, flexible and higly mature operating systems that are less bloated than operating systems half their age and can be turned to virtually any task.

Put it this way - can you name any other software that has been around as long as Unix and is still in heavy use today? I can think of one, and that’s the C programming language, which was to a large extent developed alongside Unix, and in which most Unixes are now written. But I can’t think of any others.

(Note: I’m going to be slightly controversial here and in this context, I’m treating all Unix-like operating systems as Unix. Dennis Ritchie, one of the creators of Unix, has said that he regards Unix-like OS’s such as Linux as de-facto Unixes, and I’m going with that here.)

If you consider the desktop market, then it’s only really the OS with the largest market share (Windows, which I’m treating as one OS for all the versions) which isn’t Unix-like. The number two, Mac OS X, is a certified Unix, and then all the Linux distros are Unix-like, as are the BSD’s and OpenSolaris. In fact, you have to go pretty far down the list to get to one that isn’t Unix-like - probablyReactOS, FreeDOS, or Syllable.

The various Linux distros are generally doing OK at winning market share away from Windows, as is OS X, partly because people just didn’t like Vista. Now Windows 7 is out this may stall for a bit, but the release of ChromeOS later this year should mean a few more Unix devices get sold.

Unix also has a majority of the server market, and always has done - it’s well suited to use as a server OS, and has an enviable security record. It’s also very useful as an embedded OS - many routers use Linux or one of the BSD’s for this purpose.

Finally, Unix has been breaking into the mobile OS market for some time now. Embedded Linux-based OS’s were used on a few high-end mobile phones for years, and now Palm have developed webOS, which is also Linux-based. Android is shaping up to be a huge force in mobile OS’s, and of course the iPhone uses a cut-down version of Mac OS X.

So, for a crusty old OS, Unix seems to be in remarkably good health. It’s well-placed to grab a huge piece of the mobile OS market, and has a respectable slice of the desktop. Anyone tells you Unix is old-fashioned, they couldn’t be more wrong. Unix has stood the test of time, probably better than Windows has.

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About me

I'm a web and mobile app developer based in Norfolk. My skillset includes Python, PHP and Javascript, and I have extensive experience working with CodeIgniter, Laravel, Zend Framework, Django, Phonegap and React.js.