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By Jim Gerland and Mark Winer

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To Frame or not to Frame... That is the Question!
May 1, 1998

By Jim Gerland and Mark Winer
Special to the News
May 1, 1998

In the "old days" (6 to 8 months ago) it was easy to advise a client not to use frames when designing their web sites. We had a few very good reasons for this advice. First, most people were not using a browser that understood and correctly displayed an HTML frames-enabled web page so most potential customers would not be able to view the client's information. Second, the initial implementation of frames display in Netscape and Microsoft Internet Explorer (MSIE) was poor and so buggy that the browser would almost always crash before the page was finished being displayed. Finally, many web page designers did not yet understand this new feature.

As we said many times in this column, poorly designed web pages are bad enough, but add frames to them and you've got a disaster. You may even have a candidate for the WWW Hall of Shame, www.rt66.com/smcinnis/new/hos (which itself is a framed site)or the Worst of the Web, www.worstoftheweb.com, which itself qualifies for it's own award (in our humble opinion) for the way it uses frames to display the winner of the day.

Nowadays, though, more and more web sites are using frames - some effectively and others poorly. We still do our best to recommend that our clients design their web site without using frames but we do acknowledge that for some sites, frames is an acceptable design feature. We honestly believe though that any framed site can be designed without frames, with a little extra work, and will be just as effective, and more accessible, as a framed version. While we're not ready to join the "I Hate Frames Club", www.voice.com/hatefrm.html, we enjoyed reading that they consider frames a "speed bump on the information superhighway" and their note that while their site looks like it's using frames it is not. This is a good example of how to design a web page without using frames.

We thought it was interesting that Yahoo!, www.yahoo.com, placed the "I Hate Frames" related web pages in their Humor area. To find out more visit www.yahoo.com and in the Search box put "+hate +frames" (without the "").

We were talking about good website design with Mark Greenfield, webmaster for the Computing and Information Technology area at the University at Buffalo, and he mentioned that Jakob Nielsen, www.useit.com, was one of his favorite online columnists. Jakob is a Distinguished Engineer at Sun Microsystems and played a major role in redesigning their web site, www.sun.com, with a goal of "providing value-added information" and not just "product information". Every other week, Jakob writes about some Internet related topic (much like we do) ranging from his very first column (June 1995) on the "Pitfalls of Java User Interfaces" to his latest about the "Global Web". His May 1996 column, "Top ten mistakes of Web design", www.useit.com/alertbox/9605.html, lists "Using Frames" as the #1 mistake because customers cannot bookmark your page so they can come back to it later. Remember, a well designed and managed web site encourages customers to come back often to view new and updated information. Jakob's "Why frames suck (most of the time)", www.useit.com/alertbox/9612.html, discusses some of the fundamental and implementation problems with frames and also a little bit about when it's OK to use frames with good tips on how to do it right!

One caveat we need to point out when using frames is to be careful not to leave your frames on the page when you link your visitor off to another web page outside your web site. If that's what you need to do then either warn them that the information you are about to display is not under your control or use the "target" parameter on your anchor tag to open a new window. You need to design your web site so that it is obeying the copyright and trademark laws. When you frame another web site within your logo, etc. you are potentially violated the target site's trademarks or other intellectual property rights. for a small taste of what can happen see the Ticketmaster vs. Microsoft complaint, www.ljx.com/internet/tktmaster.html, where Ticketmaster accused Microsoft of unauthorized use of the Ticketmaster name and logo. We plan on doing a future article on the legal issues around web site design and maintenance.

Finally, we want to continue to help you utilize the Internet in your life. Let us know what you're interested in and we'll check it out. You can email us, info@internet-guys.com  , or fax us, (716) 853-1350 and let us know what's happening on the Internet in WNY or any computing related activities you're involved with.