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You can, but you shouldn't

"Here's the mascot," he said, leaning over one of my two half-walls, handing me a file of papers, "the production guys will get you the artwork. The jokes are at the back. Call me when it's ready."

It's early 2000. I'm slaving away in my pseudo-cube in my hometown. I'm a script monkey. My job consists of writing minimal CFML (oh yeah, Coldfusion) wrappers around boring products, like fish hooks.

Denis, the cube-leaning account manager, had tasked me with a project that was mostly impossible (at the time), but moreover, it was a project that simply shouldn't have been done.

The pitch was delivered earlier in the day. "It'll be great! The user will be browsing the website, and the dog (the dalmation mascot) will walk onto the screen and tell a joke!"

Now, remember, this is 2000--at the end of the first browser war; the peak of browser non-compliance; a time when developers were using IE as their primary browser and cringed when forced to test code in Netscape (v4) (as opposed to today, when many developers are using a Mozilla-based browser (Netscape's evolved grandson) and are disgusted by the thought of testing on IE).

Technically speaking, we probably could have rigged up a solution that might have worked on most IE installs, but this gave us a convenient excuse to overthrow the marketing fools: the idea was horrible. Our answer was that there was no technology that would allow us to implement the absurd joke-telling-mascot idea.

Sometimes you can, but you shouldn't. This proverb leads nicely into one of my latest web annoyances.

Like any good technically-minded person, I hold more than the average share of pet peeves. Many are related to software, many more to computing in general. A few are directly related to my area of expertise: the Web.

So, I ask you, my fellow Web developers: WHY do you find it necessary to create your own widgets, when there's a good (albeit limited) toolkit available? Stop it. It drives me crazy.

Want examples? Here you go:

Note from future Sean: these were embedded html objects that died years ago. I'm sure you can imagine horrific scroll bars invented by people who don't really understand how scroll bars work.

Admittedly, the stock HTML widgets might not be as pretty as these custom ones, but they WORK, they're consistent from site-to-site, and you don't have to worry about javascript bugs.

For example, on the select boxes, above ( and, I can't click the box and press the first letter of my suggestion (like I can with real HTML select boxes). The radio buttons don't honour keyboard input, either -- I can't use the arrow keys to advance. Generally, these hacked-together widgets don't respect the tab key, either.

And if you're using a text based browser (for whatever reason), or perhaps screen reading software, you're pretty much out of luck.

You wouldn't draw each pixel in a line of text would you? Of course not! (unless you're this guy).

In short: your pretty site is no nicer than the joke telling dalmation. Cut it out.