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01/05/2005 Archived Entry: "Viewable with any browser"

If you live in California and bought a Microsoft product between 1995 and 2001, you have until Saturday to claim your court-ordered refund from Microsoft. If you can, that is. Evidently the firm which set up the claims web site made it hostile to "people with pop-up blockers, ... or unusual computer configurations".

No, I don't suspect conspiracy -- I suspect stupidity.

I've seen too many such web sites. In my opinion, any web designer who requires visitors to use Internet Explorer is either lazy or incompetent or both. It's not difficult to design browser-independent web pages, but it does require some attention to detail, and a willingess to abandon the latest whizzy features of IE.

I've yet to see any example where those whizzy features were necessary for web publishing or e-commerce. Amazon, eBay, and PayPal work just dandy for Linux and Mac users. I've also yet to see an example where a pop-up was really required, although they might make a particular web experience more pleasant; but any pop-up blocker worth owning -- think Mozilla and Opera -- can distinguish between "requested" and "unrequested" pop-ups.

Indeed, I've been to several web sites that say "IE Required" and that refuse access to other browsers....but work just fine when visited with Opera or Konqueror programmed to identify themselves as IE 6. There's no reason for this other than sheer bloody-mindedness on the part of the web designer.

It's getting so bad that the forces of Political Correctness are weighing in, claiming that the accessibility problems are creating a "net underclass". Whether web accessibility is a "right" is a dubious proposition at best....but I'll tell you this: if your pages are browser-hostile, you are losing customers (or visitors). Is this why you created a web page?

For years, we have supported the Any Browser Campaign. We design our pages to use as few whizzy browser features as we can -- right now, just tables, images, and simple forms, which work with any graphical browser since Netscape 2.0. You can even view these pages with the text-only Lynx browser, although you lose the columnar presentation. I try to follow the standards of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). (I'm currently writing to HTML 4.0 Transitional, which is a bit behind the times but is widely supported.)

If you are a web designer, please, please, please write to a browser-independent standard. The Any Browser and W3C links provide a wealth of information for how to design such pages. It's possible to design web pages that behave differently for different browsers, and "fall back" gracefully to a default presentation; but in my book the simplest, most elegant, and more useful solution is to write HTML once that works everywhere. W3C also provides a web page validator to let you check how well your web page conforms to industry-accepted standards.* And test your pages with an assortment of browsers. Remember: more and more people are using alternative browsers....and are browsing from their cell phones and PDAs.

If you are a web user -- and you're not still using IE, right? -- complain when you find an IE-only page. And don't whinge about "accessibility rights," use language the owners understand. Tell them you're taking your business elsewhere because you can't view their web site. (Perhaps someday I'll offer a form letter for this purpose.) You might also want to install a copy of Opera (Windows/Linux/Mac) or Konqueror (Linux) to lie to those few "IE-only" pages that you absolutely must visit. (I don't know yet if Firefox has this feature.)


*Oopsie. I see that Wendy's main page has fallen out of compliance. That's what I get for using a text editor to write HTML; which in turn is an unfortunate byproduct of our blog software. Automated tools like Mozilla Composer or Open Office do a much better job of adhering to standards. *blush*

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