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September 2013The monthly newsletter by Felgall Pty Ltd

My Word

Primitive Web Sites

There are some sites on the web that are so up to date with the coding techniques that they are using that you need to be using the most modern browser to see all the effects. Fortunately most of those also work well on the commonly used browsers as well as do the vast majority of web sites including many of those using obsolete code. Most web sites are still built using HTML 3.2 but since at least most of the commands in that version of HTML are still supported by most browsers the pages still display the way the author intended and in most cases where they don't the page still displays in a usable way even though it isn't as the author intended (for example aligning content to the left in browsers that no longer support the long obsolete align="right"). The most primitive of web sites are those that not only use long obsolete HTML tags but which also use antiquated approaches to other web related things - such as having a separate page for printing rather than simply styling the page for the appropriate media.

In most cases it is really easy to avoid these really primitive web sites. You simply go to some other more modern web site that provides the same information or service that has been kept more up to date in the way that the pages are written. Unfortunately there are some of the most primitive sites on the web that don't have alternative more modern sites available because the prehistoric site belongs to a government department that you can't avoid interacting with.

There is one web site that not only uses an extremely antiquated approach to the way their web pages are created but which also uses a problematic security system that I attempted to use for a while simply because there was no other web based alternative. This site belongs to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and when I first started using it there appeared to be no other way for me to lodge quarterly business activity statements other than on paper. The problem is their security system which doesn't work at all with the most modern browsers and which requires that you turn off many of the sensible security measures on your own system for it to work with more antiquated browsers. In fact across all the different browsers that I currently have on my computer (including IE8, IE9, IE10, Opera 12, Opera 16, and the latest versions of Chrome and Firefox) the only browser that it even partly works on is Firefox and it only works there at all because I turned off some of the security options in that browser. In so far as lodging the quarterly statements I eventually gave up on such a primitive web site and decided to use a slightly more modern approach to lodging those statements - filling it out by hand on paper, sticking it in an envelope and sending it to them via snail mail.

Just recently I became aware that there are in fact alternative web sites offering a way to lodge these statements electronically that do not involve having to use the ATO web site. These sites still require that you obtain the same security certificate as you need to log into the ATO site but instead of you having to install the certificate on your computer in order to access the ATO, you can instead install the certificate on their web site so that they can use it to access the ATO for you. Now there are three types of certificate - Administrator, Standard and Device and at least some of these alternative sites suggest that you obtain a Device certificate to upload to their site which grants them permission to access the ATO but which is separate from your personal certificate and so can be cancelled by you at any time without affecting your own certificate. The only problem with this is that the government web site where the certificates are obtained also only partly works in Firefox on my computer and doesn't work in any other browser. One option that I couldn't get to work was to have the Device certificate downloaded to a different location from the main certificate store in order that I could upload just that certificate to the alternative site. Now I was able to get around this problem by manually creating the new certificate store that I wanted to upload by copying and editing the main store - something that you are not supposed to do but which appeared to me to be the only way around this problem. Fortunately By having taken a copy of the file before downloading the new device certificate I was able to work out what part of the content was which certificate and to create a new store that worked when uploaded to the alternative site that I decided to test. As it turned out the site I had chosen which was also supposedly a site offering free online accounting software turned out to be impossible to use in other ways (whoever wrote it obviously knew very little about accounting and not much about web page design either) and so having got the part of the site working that offered access for online lodgement of quarterly statements I then decided not to proceed with that site either.

This alternative site was not the only one offering an alternative way to lodge these statements online and so I can now look at one or more of the other alternatives until I find one that suits me. None of the others include online accounting though and so it may turn out that for the part of the functionality that the others provide that the one I already looked at will work just as well for lodging the statements as any of the others do but with my manually filling out the statements online instead of being able to enter all the accounting transactions online and have the statement filled out for me automatically. These alternate sites also offer an option for lodging my company tax return online as well which the ATO site itself doesn't offer and so I may be able to avoid having to order a paper form for the purpose next July when the next annual return is due.

Now unless you are in Australia you will not need to deal with the ATO web site but I am sure that there will be many similar Government web sites in your country that are also extremely primitive when compared to the rest of the web. While there will always be some primitive government sites where there is no alternative but to find a browser that will still work with their site and to disable some of your security for that specific browser in order to interact with it, there will also be some sites where you wouldn't have expected there to be alternatives where alternative sites actually exist. It is well worth having a look around to see whether there are online alternatives in those instances where submitting a paper copy is more modern than the site belonging to the government authority itself.

Even with Government web sites there is often an alternative site that takes a more modern approach with their web site and so looking for a more modern alternative site is always worthwhile.
 

On Site

While the topics covered this month include JavaScript, PHP and mySQL as well as my having completely rewritten a review, most of the pages added all deal with one particular open source script. The miniBB script is an easy way of integrating a simple forum completely into an existing web site but I wasn't impressed by the way much of it was coded and so have written pages showing you how to apply some simple improvements.
 

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The following links will take you to all of the various pages that have been added to the site or undergone major changes in the last month.

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