Web Development

Web Dev Challenge: 1996 Compatibility

The year is 1996, grunge is on it’s last dying breaths, gas is cheap and the internet is rapidly making it’s way out of nerdy basements into the mainstream. The dot-com bubble is underway and web sites are ugly!

I’ve often wondered if the terrible web design back then was completely due to the technological limitations, or if it was entirely due to the fact that nobody had designed for the web before. Or if it was some sort of combination of the two factors.

To answer this question, I came up with the idea of a 1996 compatibility challenge. The idea for this was partially inspired by this post on the blog: Seeing those old sites brought back so many memories of <font> tags and colspans.

Here’s the challenge.
Take an existing web page and make it 1996 compatible. It doesn’t have to match the functionality and it doesn’t have to look identical.
In order for a site to be 1996 compatible, it needs to be designed for the following targets.

  • OS: Windows 95. As far as I remember, there were some serious font display and color issues with the Mac OS, but their market share was so small that a site could easily get away without designing for macs. Windows 3.1 was still quite popular, but we’re ignorning it.
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 2.0. Netscape had an enormous market share in the 90s. Version 2.0 was release in March 1996. Internet Explorer 3.0 compatibility is a bonus.
  • HTML: Version 1.0
  • Javascript: 1.0, was released with NN2/IE3. Since we’re designing for NN, use it’s DOM for any fancy DHTML tricks.
  • Screen: 640×480, 256 colors. Bigger and better displays existed, but were prohibitively expensive.
  • Filesize: 42kb. With slow dialup modems of the day, filesize was the major limiting factor in site load time. I suspect this will be the hardest constraint to work within. The number is based on ancient study I found, stating that the average filesize of a website in August 1997 was 44kb. I arbitrarily dropped a couple of kilobytes.

My good friend notian will also be taking part in this challenge. We’ll be testing our sites in an Win95 virtual machine. If you’re interested in joining the quest for the best website of 1996, leave a comment or tweet or whatnot.