Browserling Interactive Cross-Browser Testing Platform

Have you ever wanted to see what your website looks like in an older (or newer!) browser than you are using? Then try Browserling interactive cross-browser testing platform

Warning: this program is seriously useful, and after you really get to like playing with the different versions there is a Time’s Up message which gives two options:

  • create an account for 10 minute sessions
  • buy a paid plan for unlimited sessions

We would recommend the developer plan as a starter, for $20/month, which is for designers, front-end developers, and freelancers who need to check their work against all the browsers. This option offers unlimited sessions, and ssh tunnels.

The Dedicated Plan is listed as $250/month and adds the following

  • Remote desktop access or use the browsers through a web interface
  • Includes 200 testling minutes per month
  • SSH tunnels to access localhost and intranet services

This plan contains their entire non-IE browser selection plus IE9. Additional versions of IE require additional dedicated resources at extra cost.

Make sure you exit after a PHP Header Location

We came accross a bug in a bot filtering page the other day. The page called a routine which used a regular expression to check for validly formatted input. The function was called from several places and worked fine. In just one branch it appeared to fail to validate the input, and continued execution of the page instead of redirecting to the target page.

The reason? Someone left out the exit; after the Header Location call, which allows the execution to continue down the page. Moral: Make sure you call exit after a PHP Header call to Location if you want execution to branch immediately!

Customising WordPress Using Templates

In order to customize a WordPress theme, you may need to decide which template file needs editing in order to provide a conditional display. Say you want to have a link to you favorite book retailers which only appears on your books page, then you may need to build a custom template for that page.

WordPress uses the Query String, the information contained within each link on your web site, to decide which template or set of templates will be used to display the page. If your visitor clicks on a link to a category page like, then WordPress looks for a template file that matches the category’s ID in the directory for the current theme. If it is missing, WordPress next looks for a generic category template file, category.php. Failing that archive.php and if that is missing the main theme template file, index.php.

In order to find out the category ID number go to Manage Categories and hover your mouse over your target category and the ID will show up in the link. Alternatively if you are editing a category, the ID will be displayed at the end of the url.

You then create your custom page with the name category-2.php in the case of After that, when you display Books the custom page will display. Easy!

For more detail on the use of templates see Codex WordPress Template Hierarchy

Customising WordPress Using Page Templates

If you are considering customising WordPress, you may be interested to know that it can be configured to use custom Page Templates for different Pages. This means that several or all pages could have their own unique Page Templates and so appear completely different.

If you want to create a custom page template called MyTemplate, create a file called mytemplate.php. At the top of the file, put the following:
Template Name: MyTemplate

Copy the content of another template (perhaps page.php or index.php) after the above five lines of code then you will only have to alter the HTML and PHP code, instead of creating it all from scratch. MyTemplate will now be available as a choice when you create or edit a new page. You can go ahead and customise this new template further without if affecting your default pages.

To select a template, there must be at least one custom Page Template available in the active theme. Once there is, toward the bottom of the Write Page administration panel (or on the sidebar, depending on which version of WordPress you are using) you will see there is a drop-down labeled Page Template. From there you can select which Template will be used when displaying this particular Page, and MyTemplate should now appear.

See Codex WordPress Creating your own Page Templates to find out how to create a custom Page Template.

Successful Development with Agile Methodologies

The term Agile is one of the buzz words in the Business Analysis press at the moment. Agile methodologies promote a project management process that encourages frequent inspection and adaptation. It uses a leadership philosophy that encourages teamwork, self-organization and accountability, and a set of engineering best practices that allow for rapid delivery of high-quality software. It encourages a business approach that aligns development with customer needs and company goals. One flavor of Agile is Extreme Programming which is sometimes affectionately known as XP.

The main aim of Extreme Programming is to reduce the cost of change by introducing basic values, principles and practices to a system development project. Proponents of Extreme Programming and Agile Methodologies in general, regard ongoing changes to requirements as a natural and desirable aspect of software development projects.

In Extreme Programming the level of customer satisfaction depends on the Extreme Programming cycle, which is sometimes known as “the circle of life”:

  • the customer decides which features have value,
  • programmers estimate the cost of providing the features,
  • the customer chooses the best combination of features based on value and cost,
  • programmers build the features, learning how to estimate costs in the process,
  • the customer learns how to define value and how to make effective choices.

This is highly effective, and when both parties are fully engaged, then both sides benefit. The trouble with this win-win virtuous cycle occurs if you have an intermediary between the business and the developers, or one party who has not fully engaged.

If you place an intermediary such as an analyst between the customer and the developers, then the third party gets all the benefit. The best results occur if the Business Analyst acts as a facilitator to enable the interaction. This lets the developers see and feel the urgency and need, and to understand what the users really want. The users understand the level of complexity of any underlying modeling and so are able to assess relative value of features. The Business Analyst learns from both parties and is able to translate terminology on the spot, or illuminate areas which lack clarity. One such meeting, lasting an hour or so can save weeks of Use Case building and requirements documentation in traditional system development methods.

In the situation where one party has not fully engaged, the problem is of a different caliber. Often the customer lacks engagement because they have seen Agile as a way to save themselves time and expense with documentation. This can occur if an evangelist for an Agile methodology gives high abstraction level feedback for a successful project, often in a throwaway comment, in a social situation. This is really a high risk situation, and one to be avoided at all costs. It is the Project Manager’s responsibility to ensure that business owners do not see use of an Agile methodology as a way to save costs by eliminating documentation. If she fails to ensure engagement, such project will inevitably suffer from cost overrun, mission creep and even failure when the deliverables do not meet the needs of the users.

The way to ensure a successful development project is to have sufficient capacity in the disciplines of Business Analysis and Project Management to ensure that the lessons are learned and both parties remain engaged. By applying Extreme Programming, a system development project will be more flexible with respect to changes, and will meet the needs of the users when it is live. By having close engagement between the business users and the developers, the customer learns how to define value and how to make effective choices, and the programmers learn how to estimate costs. If this is all kept in-house then the business keeps all the benefits.

Although Extreme Programming itself is relatively new, many of its practices have been around for some time. The methodology simply takes best practices to extreme levels. However it is not an excuse to avoid engagement in a project or omit documentation. Its strength lies in the rapid time to market, and the acceptance that change is inevitable. Its weakness lies in its attractiveness to budget slashers who do not understand or fully embrace the methodology, or misguided evangelists who believe that by putting the users in with the programmers you can cut out the Business Analysts and Project Manager.

The benefits of Extreme Programming and Agile Methodologies are self evident to their supporters, who can show you any number of successful projects, completed on time and within budget. The detractors can enumerate the risks and point to projects which have over-run or gone of the rails through lack of discipline. In reality, they are both right, because in life we get what we look for.

The responsibility of the Project Manager is to ensure that we focus is success, and use the right methodology for the situation. The Business Analyst is the facilitator to enable the interaction between the customer and the developers, and so deliver the successful product. Customers will see success by embracing change and allowing Agile development teams to work with users for rapid delivery of high-quality software, using a business approach that aligns development with customer needs and company goals.

Bruce Thompson

Webmaster of The Institution of Analysts and Programmers, Bruce Thompson is a PRINCE2 Practitioner and active Agile evangelist for more than 10 years. He has delivered a number of successful projects using DSDM and Extreme Programming.

For further information on Agile see the Wikipedia entry for Agile Software Development
For more information on analysts in the loop see Business Analysis in Extreme Programming by Ron Jeffries
If you are in Business Analysis, Project Management or Agile Software Development and are interested in joining like minded individuals, visit The Institution of Analysts and Programmers website

A day in the life of a WordPress Blogger

Sometimes we work for customers who have high security environments, with restrictive settings that can cause problems for developers. An example recently occurred after a Microsoft security scare, and the security policy was tightened to exclude ActiveX controls and client side scripting. When I noticed the dreaded Information Bar drop down on IE7 helpfully warning me that my security settings do not allow websites to use ActiveX, I had that dread feeling you get when you realise you are not going to be able to do your planned jobs for today, without a lot of extra work.

Sure enough, all of our well crafted JavaScript based sites, clever dancing widgets and client side validation routines have ceased to work for my corporate customers. Even the years old multi-sites search on the TechCo Home Page has ceased to function. IE helpfully displays the search text in the URL querystring, but that is about it!

With a sinking heart I clicked on the log-in link of one of our WordPress blog sites, and attempted to log in. Well success, you can at least log in! Now for the acid test; can you post some information or edit a page? Sure enough, the wizzy icons above the edit window are no longer there. The Visual and HTML tabs do not allow you to flick between views because the other tab is not an active link. We are all Dooooomed!

But wait! The Save Draft facility on the right side appears to be a button. Click it and the reassuring message appears at the top of the screen that the Post has been saved. I can still work! How about the Publish Button? Yes, that works too! Praise be upon those wonderful developers at WordPress who had the foresight to consider the poor sap working a restricted environment with all the Ajax, ActiveX, and other JavaScript goodies turned off.

Think about that, you script kids who shout that a site without JavaScript and on hover events, is a legacy of the dark ages. Sometimes that old HTML Button has a place too!

Widgetizing Themes

We came across this really helpful resource on which tells you how to fix up your WordPress theme, and make it Widget ready. Widgets are now a standard part of the WordPress install so to reach the broadest audience all modern themes should support them, as well as supporting old style sidebars.

You need to know PHP, HTML mark-up and CSS to benefit from this resource, but if you are in to writing your own WordPress themes, then you probably are up to speed with these anyway. If not you will need to be, so why not get cracking now and learn?

Click here to learn how to Widgetize your WordPress theme