Fix browser settings for easier read

March 28, 2002|By MIKE HIMOWITZ

THE WEB browser has redefined the way millions of us get our information. It's a technological marvel, a virtual, on-screen print shop that can display text, graphics and even animation - astounding versatility.

Which means that Web pages can often be confusing, frustrating and hard to read, and equally frustrating to print, if you believe the complaints I get from from readers. And I believe them, because I have many of the same complaints.

You can blame this state of affairs on overzealous designers and advertisers, who want to cram as much information as possible into the narrow confines of your screen. You can also blame it on "improvements" in the HTML formatting language over the years that have given designers the tools to do some of these awful things.

But your Web browser still gives you some powerful tools. They can make pages easier to read and print, no matter what the designers and advertisers throw at you. Here are some tricks I've learned over the years.

From a viewing standpoint, the best way to make a page more readable is by adjusting the size of the print. Most browsers have a "Size" button in the toolbar at the top of the window. Click on it, and a menu will drop down, typically with five size selections ranging from "smallest" to "largest."

If you don't have a Size button visible, you can make the same change by clicking on the "View" menu and selecting "Text Size" from the pull-down menu in Microsoft's Internet Explorer, or selecting Increase or Decrease Font in Netscape Navigator.

Usually, the type size is set to medium. To make it larger or smaller, just choose a different setting. If the designer of your page stuck to the original principles of the Web, the size of the print will change. You'll be amazed at how much easier it is to read a page when you enlarge the typeface by a single size. You'll get less information on the screen at one time, but that's what the scroll bar is for.

Usually, this change affects only the size of the standard body typeface. It won't affect headlines, captions or other styles of type, or the size of graphics and photos. So, depending on how the rest of the Web page is laid out, changing the standard body typeface might produce some unintended results, but at least you'll be able to read the print.

You can also change the browser's standard typeface by clicking on Internet Explorer's Tools Menu, then choosing Internet Options. Click on fonts to change the browser's standard font (although you can't change the size). Try a few typefaces to see if you find one you like better than the standard Times New Roman. In Netscape, you'll find similar (and actually better) controls by clicking on the Edit menu, then selecting Preferences, Appearance and Fonts.

Unfortunately, many Web designers have decided that the "integrity" of their pages is more important than your ability to read what's on them. Most of these people seem to be under the age of 20, and either don't understand that older eyes aren't quite as sharp as theirs, or else figure that if you're over 40 you shouldn't be reading their stuff anyway.

Instead of letting your browser do the formatting according to your preferences, they direct it to display specific fonts and point sizes (usually too small), or create tables of a specific width (usually too wide). As a result, their pages are often hard to read, and the usual browser typeface controls won't work.

But you can do your best to foil the Legion of Kiddie Designers. With Internet Explorer, once again choose Tools/Internet Options. Now click on the Accessibility button and you'll find check boxes that will make the browser ignore the colors, typefaces and sizes specified by the Web page. In Netscape, you find similar controls under Edit/Preferences/Appearance/Fonts.

Try various combinations until you find one that works for you. Some changes can actually make it harder to read certain Web pages, but that leads to a nice thing about the browser: You can always change your settings back.

Most of the changes on your screen will also apply when you print a Web page. So choosing a larger standard typeface will result in using more paper. Because it's easier for your eyes to read a printed page than a monitor screen, you may be comfortable with a smaller typeface in printed output.

Printing a standard Web page that's loaded with ads or graphics can take a long time and waste expensive ink. If you're visiting a news site or some other destination that's heavy with text, look for a link to a "Printer Friendly" version of the page you're viewing. This will eliminate most of the graphics and fancy formatting.

Another problem is Web pages that won't fit in the width of a single sheet when you print them. Typically you'll find a handful of characters dropping off the right side of the paper, or tables of numbers whose rightmost columns disappear altogether.

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