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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 got.

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 "tooltip".

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 lazy.

Quick loading, no BS web pages are something of an endangered species these days, with Javascript shenanigans running rampant.

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.

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* 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.