Resolving your resolution issues

Posted on September 16, 2000

Let's get to the point quickly here -- all Web sites look different depending on various factors: the type of computer you are using (Mac vs. PC), the type of browser you are using (Netscape vs. Internet Explorer vs. WebTV vs. others), the types of extensions you have enabled (Java vs. QuickTime vs. others), your favorite soft drink (Coke vs. Pepsi vs. RC). It's complicated because there are so many variables, more than you had during your entire high school math career.

We get e-mails and phone calls every once in a while, asking for help on a particular part of the Web site. Many times, we can solve the problem fast, but when we can't, it's because we are having trouble actually duplicating or seeing the problem.

A prime example is screen resolution . You might not even know what your screen resolution is for that matter. If you don't, and you have javascript functioning, click here, and I will magically tell you.

On your monitor, resolution is measured by the number of dots, called pixels, on the entire screen. Don't confuse this with Dots candy, which is measured in Pixie Stix. It used to be that monitors were set to 640 pixels wide by 480 pixels tall. In fact, most TVs and even some washing machines are also set to these standards.

Now, a more common screen resolution is 800x600. If you clicked on the link two paragraphs before, you were supposedly told what your screen resolution was. If you chose to ignore me, DON'T EVER DO THAT AGAIN! Click here to check your screen resolution.

It's totally mind-boggling to think of all the problems and choices you have when setting up your screen resolution. The only thing more complicated is thermodynamics. If you want to learn more about setting the resolution, visit a fairly elaborate page on changing it. I'm not sure what's more perplexing -- finding out methods to change screen display for both Windows and Macintosh versions on one page, or the fact that the page is located on a Pennsylvania high school cheerleading Web site.

The proprietor of the site, Douglas Everett, said he helped the cheerleading squad build the site back in 1997 because the school refused to help them with it. Three years ago, most monitor defaults were set to 640x480, and they designed the site at 800x600, so they wanted to make sure everyone received the full effect.

I hope no one out there is still running on Windows 95. If so, please turn your computer off, put it in the original box and proceed immediately to the nearest outhouse. But if you are using Windows 98, you can follow the Windows 95 instructions just fine. If you are familiar at all with your computer's Control Panel, you should be able to find Display on a PC or Monitors on a Mac.

By now you are probably wondering, "Should I vacuum under the couch every time I vacuum, or just occasionally?" but you may also ponder why certain Web sites are best viewed at certain screen resolutions. The problem, like the Pepsi Challenge, is something you think about very seldom. Even then, you often wonder how people cannot tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi because it's rather obvious, unless you have just recently eaten two bottles of hot sauce and/or a pile of charcoal. Most newer sites are designed at 800x600 because newer computers default to that size. Yes, on older monitors, you may have to scroll a little to your right. But a little scrolling never hurt anyone.

If you are designing a site, there are plenty of other things in which you need to take account, but an important element is making sure the majority of your audience views the site the way it's intended to be viewed. Some people even add messages on their sites stating what the screen should be set. Screen resolution is not a difficult subject once you realize what you are doing. So next time, if a site doesn't look proper, check your monitor. Don't forget about the former high school cheerleading squad rooting you on.