Monday, 27 October 2008

CSS tips

While I’ve been designing Web sites recently – to W3C standards I might add – I have put together some CSS tips that I’d like to share with you over the next few weeks.

1 Use default values

There is no need to specify a value for a property if you use that property’s default value. 

2 Less is more

The less code that has to be downloaded, the faster the page loads. So shorten hexadecimal colour notation, where possible. 

#000 is the same as #000000, #ffffff is the same as #fff, and #123 is the same as #112233, etc.

3 Less CSS is definitely better

For fonts:

font-size: 1em;
line-height: 1.5em;
font-weight: bold;
font-style: italic;
font-variant: small-caps;
font-family: arial;

Good CSS
font: 1em/1.5em bold italic small-caps arial

You must specify both the font-size and the font-family. Unspecified values (font-weight, font-style, or font-variant) will default to a value of normal.

For background:

background-color: #fff;
background-image: url(image.gif);
background-repeat: no-repeat;
background-position: top left;

Good CSS
background: #f5f5dc url(es.gif) no-repeat top left

For list-style:

list-style: #fff;
list-style-type: disc;
list-style-position: outside;
list-style-image: url(es.gif)

Good CSS
list-style: disc outside url(es.gif)

For margins:

margin-top: 2px;
margin-right: 3px;
margin-bottom: 4px;
margin-left: 3px

Good CSS
margin: 2px 3px 4px 3px 
                   (top, right, bottom, left)

For borders:

border-width: 1px;
border-color: black;
border-style: solid

Good CSS
border: 1px black solid

4 Using two classes together

Two classes can be combined. They must be separated by a space (not a comma) in the HTML. The rule is that where an overlap between classes occurs (in this case, one and two), the class nearest the bottom of the CSS file takes precedence.


<p class="one two">...</p>

More hints and tips next time. 

By the way: anyone looking for an experienced technical writer or Web designer, contact me at

Monday, 20 October 2008

Mainframe myths

Enterprise System Journal ran an interesting article by CA’s Chris O'Malley (he’s executive vice president and general manager of the Mainframe Business Unit) called Seven Mainframe Myths No IT Decision-Maker Should Believe. It’s at, if you want to read the original.

Chris suggests that a number of myths about mainframes are in existence and decision-makers often make the wrong decisions because they believe the myths. He then sets about destroying the myths.

First to go is the myth that mainframes are merely relics from the past. He cites zIIP and zAAP specialty processors as well as IFL (Integrated Facility for Linux) as clear indicators that the mainframe provides sophisticated and advanced computing.

His second myth is that mainframes run only legacy applications. He suggests that the growth of SOA means that many mainframe applications and databases have been repurposed for running Web-based applications.

Next to go is the myth that mainframes don’t “play well” with distributed infrastructure. Chris points out that mainframes support industry standards such as TCP, XML, SOAP, and Web services. They also provide excellent scalability, reliability, and security. Plus, he point out, mainframes can be managed in a common manner with distributed, Web, and mobile infrastructures.

Myth 4 is that mainframes are expensive. Chris admits that the initial cost of a mainframe is high, the TCO is very good. He cites Gartner. Readers will, I’m sure remember Xephon’s Dinosaur Myth, published many years ago, that pointed out the total cost of ownership of a mainframe was better than mid-range machines and PCs.

In these “green” times, the next myth is that mainframes are energy-inefficient. IBM suggests that 1,500 x86 servers would be needed to provide the processing capacity of a z10 mainframe – yet the z10 would consume 85% less energy.

The sixth myth is that mainframes are an IBM monopoly. Well, it’s true that nowadays all the processors are made by IBM. However, when you’re looking for suppliers of DASD, tape, printers, communication devices, then the choice is huge. And in terms of software, yes you need IBM’s operating system, but after that, there are plenty of choices.

Myth 7 is the gerontocracy myth – only old people know how to run mainframes. While this is partly true, there’s now lots of software from lots of suppliers to make the running of a mainframe much easier, so those years of experience are now incorporated into the software.

The article is well-worth a read, and definitely worth pointing out to business managers when they are discussing their current IT environment and what they need for the future.

By the way: anyone looking for an experienced technical writer, contact me at

Monday, 13 October 2008

Chrome – first reports

I have been using the new Chrome browser from Google since it first became available. And I find that I am using it in preference to Explorer 7 (I haven’t tried the beta of 8 yet) and Firefox 3. But there’s much more to Chrome than just being another browser – and that’s what I’d like to talk about.

Firstly, I’d like to say that I have found it very easy to use and generally very robust. My one criticism is that the flash plug-in dies suddenly for apparently no good reason. This has been an irritation at times. But otherwise I have found it user-friendly – particularly when opening new windows to a site that I visit regularly.

What makes Chrome different from other browsers is the fact that it is really a big JavaScript engine and could, very easily, run services and applications as if they were desktop applications. Things, perhaps, like Docs & Spreadsheets or Picasa, and I’m sure many other Web-based applications that aren’t anything to do with Google! This is what’s known as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

The interesting thing, from a user’s perspective is that if I don’t know a company’s URL, I can just type their name in the address bar and Google searches it, in the usual way, and displays the results of the search in the page. I can then click on the correct URL. 

I also quite like the idea of the secret browse! Control+Shift+N gives you an incognito window, which doesn’t save any data locally. I’m not sure quite why I need it, but people who share computers with others might want to hide their tracks.

You can grab a tab a drag it out of the Chrome window into space on the desktop, and you will have a separate version of Chrome running. You also have “about” commands that you can type into the address bar. These tell you about plug-ins, networks, etc. You may like the “about:internets” command to see the Chrome Easter egg.

Everyone’s saying that Chrome is a major escalation in the rivalry between Google and Microsoft – and, of course, it is. It’s also the start of a war with Firefox. Many people were using Firefox, both because it was good and because it wasn’t Microsoft. However, it hadn’t quite made it as the standard corporate browser. Most corporations are very conservative, sticking to what they know works (even when it doesn’t work particularly well) rather than trying something new that might be a disaster. Now corporations have to choose one from three!

Chrome is open source and it support EV-SSL security certificates, so it might be chosen by organizations for its security credentials. We shall see, over the next few months, whether hackers and crackers can do anything nasty to it.

Some people might be a little concerned about Google collecting around 2% of the keystroke data collected by the address bar’s auto-suggest feature. Or maybe it will just confirm the worst fears organizations have of their staff spending too much time on Facebook or looking for pornography. Or maybe we should just spend all our time working from the incognito window.

You might also take another look at Google Gears. The current version (0.4) includes a desktop API that lets Web applications perform file-handling tasks on a user’s desktop. Why should you care? Well it’s a way of making the underlying operating system – typically Windows – unimportant. 

So, at the moment, Chrome, even as a beta, is an easy-to-use browser. The SaaS features may make it able to act more like a mini-operating system. And maybe it will turn up on PDAs and mobile phones, and a million other devices that have Internet access.

Have a play with it and see what you think.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Desktop and mainframe integration

There is a dream that many IT users have. It is simply that the advantages of the mainframe will be available to them on their laptop. Now I know that Microsoft and Co get sniffy about mainframes, and talk about the performance of their servers etc etc until I have drifted into a semi-comatose state; but the truth is that mainframes work and they work well. Which, I guess, is the reason that their long-promised demise hasn’t happened. In fact, it appears that mainframes sales are increasing.

As an aside, there is one giant fly in the ointment in terms of mainframe sales at the moment and that is the current banking crisis. Banks and insurance companies are probably the biggest corporate group to use mainframes – and they are the ones badly affected by the current recession and lack of confidence in banking and insurance.

Anyway, ignoring the outside world, most people would benefit if their laptops and a mainframe were in regular communication. That’s why there have been so many column inches printed about Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) over the past few years. The truth is that carrying so much stuff around on a laptop – like files and applications – is a hugely out-of-date computing model. The reason most people complain about the slowness of their PC is because of all the unused programs that are using up the processing space. An ideal laptop would be in constant fast communication with a mainframe and would have all its data files regularly backed up, and it would download just those parts of an application that it wanted to use, as it needed to use them. You’ve only got to look at the number of Excel functions available, as compared to the number of functions that most people use during the day, to see how much extra unused capacity most programs have.

In what they describe as a move to help accelerate desktop integration to legacy mainframe and green-screen applications for the contact center, Cincom and Attachmate have announced an alliance. Through Attachmate Verastream integration solutions, Cincom Synchrony’s unified agent desktop will, they claim, quickly and inexpensively incorporate back-end systems using minimal IT resources.

Although aimed at contact centers, the principle behind the alliance is quite interesting. The press release suggests that contact agents need to keep swapping between applications to solve customer problems – and this wastes time. Synchrony’s unified agent desktop is meant to present the right applications, resources, and history for a particular interaction, and Cincom can now integrate this to critical back-end systems even faster with Attachmate. Attachmate’s Verastream simplifies access to critical supporting mainframe applications through its non-invasive integration approach.

OK, this is taken from the press release and all the hype you would expect. Also, it is designed for contact centers rather than ordinary users. But the principle of making mainframe information more easily available to PC users is an important one. It’s definitely part of a continuing trend.

On a different topic, I have been using the beta of Google’s Chrome browser for a while now and have found it to be excellent. The one problem that has occurred a few times though is the Flash plug-in has died for no apparent reason. If you haven’t tried Chrome yet, give it a go.

Lastly, this Tuesday (7th October) sees the next Virtual IMS Connection user group meeting. If you are an IMS site then you can sit down at your laptop at work and take part in the meeting. There’s a presentation by BMC Software’s Nick Griffin. If you’re not a member of the group, you can sign up at (it’s free).