Not Best Viewed In...

Posted on 30 July 2002 in Internet, Web Development (No comments)

On the front page of this site, you will see a little button. It says that this site is "best viewed in any browser".

The Any Browser campaign was started around 1996 due to the large numbers of websites that proclaimed that the site was "best viewed in..." whatever browser the person thought was better.

The idea behind the campaign was simple - the web is more than just one browser.

As a Netscape user in 1996, I had to hit a myriad of sites which told me to view their site in Internet Explorer. The sites in question normally worked in whatever browser you used - and worked fine.

Six years on, you'd hope that people would have changed your ways. True you rarely see "Best Viewed with Internet Explorer" these days, but something far more worrying is taking place instead. Welcome to new world order, where every time you try to view a page, you get bounced off to another page that just says "Sorry, you are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade to Internet Explorer."

I've seen it on personal and commercial sites. On sites aimed at all audiences. The irony is, for me anyway, that I live life on the cutting edge - its just a different cutting edge to these pitiful excuses for web site maintainers.

Mozilla-man.

I am a user of the Mozilla web-browser - the open source web browser of which Netscape 7 is based upon. I update my copy pretty much as soon as a new release is made. Yet frequently I am told I am using an "outdated" browser and that it has "limited functionality". Even better, I am often told that I need to "upgrade to Internet Explorer 4".

And that is it. No opportunity even to try my luck with the content. Just a page that says I can go no further. So what do I do? I go no further, and to be honest.... if I don't have to, I never go back.

There is a reason why I use Mozilla as my day to day browser. This is because I don't use Windows. I am a Linux user, abliet one who also runs Windows XP on my Notebook PC and who has to use Windows NT at work.

As a Linux user I don't have access to Internet Explorer. I cannot use it to view sites. But even if I could, I wouldn't. It's a horrible, buggy, sucky browser that is one of the most unreliable pieces of software on my work PC. Its support of open web standards is pitiful in comparison to Mozilla or Opera - both of which I use at home alongside Konqueror.

So at a stroke, many websites are not only depriving a large bunch of non-IE users of getting at their content, they're throwing away a thriving and growing Linux community. Then there is the people browsing the internet through their TV - especially in homes with digital cable. Well they can't get at the websites either. Did I mention people with disabilities who may, for example, be using a screen reader? What about people browsing through their PDA? Through internet cubicles at train stations? And what if (as seems very likely) AOL move their browser to use the same backend as Netscape 7? Well that's a third of the internet deprived of your site in one foul swoop.

Excuses, pitiful excuses.

One of the excuses I hear a lot when I complain to these people (and I do complain to them) is that its their site and they can do what they want. Or the browser I use has some "bug" that stops their pages displaying exactly the same.

To this I have a couple of responses:

  • You will NEVER make your pages look perfect on every browser, because the web is FAR FAR FAR more than just one browser. The web isn't just IE or Netscape. it's Opera, its phone booths, its screen readers, its text browsers... And they have exactly the same right to view a website as a person using Internet Explorer.
  • You code your websites properly and its perfectly possible to make them look decent. Use sensible, well supported technologies that degrade well, and you'll have no problems at all. I have been building websites since 1997. I do it for a living. I know what I'm talking about.
  • It doesn't matter what your website looks like as long as its viewable. I took the decision with this site to code it entirely in CSS, with the full design for version 5 browsers and above. Yes it might not look as pretty on Netscape 4, but I'm not stopping anyone from reading it at all. No matter what web browser you use, you should be able to read this site, because the content on a website is far more important than the design. Most people would much rather be presented with a text version of a site with good content, than nothing at all.
  • If you're a commercial site, remember this one thing - every person you turn away at the door, is money lost. How many shops turn customers away at the door because a shopper wears glasses? How many companies stand in the way of their adverts because the viewer might be wearing shorts? If you don't open up your site to as many people as possible, you're loosing potential sales.
  • Someone not using Internet Explorer, is only going to load up another browser to see their site, if they really really have to. No one is going to change their browser of choice because you say so. They'll just go elsewhere.

I won't mention the names of the many sites I have complained about in the past - I don't reward failures with links, but needless to say that there are a lot of people who are doing things right. Sadly there are a lot of people who are just plain wrong.

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