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Alt Text & Firefox Thoughts
Way back in December of 2004, I wanted to switch from using
Internet Explorer 6 as my primary browser, to Mozilla's Firefox. My
computing landscape was quite different then as compared to now
(October 2014). I was still using a Compaq LTE 5000 laptop with a 75
MHz Pentium CPU and Windows 98 Second Edition as my "daily driver"
computer. It wasn't a bad existence, but Internet Explorer was growing
into antiquity even in those days. The only thing IE really had going
for it was the sheer speed of its rendering engine. Firefox had tabbed
browsing, a popup blocker and more. It was, however, a bit much for a
75 MHz Pentium CPU, or even the 150 MHz upgrade that the LTE 5000 later
What ultimately kept me from switching browsers back then was differing
behavior between Firefox and IE. Internet Explorer has always been
designed to display the so-called "alt text", or "alternate text" that
can be entered to show up in place of an image within a web page. As
best I have been able to tell, alt text is intended not only to
describe an image that can't be displayed, but also to provide
additional information about an image. I have made extensive use of
this feature within this site, sometimes placing humourous (though
still reasonably descriptive for those who could not utilize images)
commentary or "hidden" meanings via alt text. I was displeased to find
that Firefox would not display this text unless an image failed to
load. I considered this behavior to be incorrect. It was suggested to
me at the time that using the TITLE attribute in an image tag would
result in text being made available via mouse-over, usually as a
Most of the HTML here was originally created with a 1996-era WYSIWYG
editor whose author chose to abandon it not long after release. It was
actually pretty buggy and sometimes unstable. I continued using it for
a long time, mainly as a result of the fact that every other WYSIWYG
editor I could find engaged in even more annoying behavior than what I
already had. I've never been a big fan of advanced (or less charitably,
"stupid") HTML tricks, so the design philosophy of pages on this site
has always been targeted toward simple pages that are quick to load.
And while I could certainly have done so, I've never been a fan of hand
coding my HTML. My reasoning really wasn't very good--I was just being
That old editor didn't support the TITLE attribute in image tags. Since
I didn't see myself changing editors at the time, this page contained a
statement that I would not ever support the TITLE attribute. I also
stated that the issue concerning the lack of alt text being displayed
within Firefox was enough to keep me from switching.
Time moves on, things change and with all of that, I finally found
another HTML editor that seemed to work well. With it came support for
the TITLE attribute, and newer pages on this site generally do use that
attribute alongside alt text. Both are usually set to the same thing.
I learned that the original issue of alt text not being displayed
in Firefox (and other Mozilla products) could be addressed by an
extension known as the Popup Alt Attribute.
Back then, Mozilla called their extension database the "extension
room". Amazingly, the Popup Alt Attribute extension continues to be
developed for current (as of this writing, at least) versions of
Firefox! (This page was written mainly as something of a rant, albeit a
rant "with redeeming content" in the form of a link to the Popup Alt
Attribute extension, way back on December 14th, 2004*. It exists today
in revised form mainly because I don't believe in deleting old content
from my server, unless it's seriously flawed in some way.)
User reviews of the Popup Alt Attribute browser add-on in 2004 were
quite polarizing. These days, it seems that the latest reviews cite
deficiencies in the functionality of the add-on as opposed to what the
"correct" way to display alt text was. I had quite the opinion about it
then, which almost seems quaint as compared to the much larger and more
controversial changes the Mozilla Foundation has made to their flagship
product over time.
Somewhere along the way I stopped using the Popup Alt Attribute
extension, and while I thought about reinstalling it after updating and
rewriting this article, it's highly doubtful that I will do so.
It's funny how things that seem to matter so much in the present tense fade into the background over time.
* Some things don't change very much. The original version of
this page was written at 12:32 AM, a time I once considered quite late
at night. These days I stay up even later than that, and I created this
revised version around four o'clock in the morning.