When Tim Berners-Lee developed HTML and the browser, his goal was to free us from the constraints of software and hardware incompatibility. This is the essence of free market “perfect substitution.”
During the height of the browser wars, Microsoft and Netscape sought market share by offering features not compatible with the other browser — a tactic specifically designed to introduce imperfect substitution.
In the U.S., the federal government has developed accessibility guidelines; the goal is that any web site built with taxpayer money should be accessible to every taxpayer. Businesses, unless they have to meet ADA laws or receive federal grants, are exempt.
So I guess I should just swallow my frustration at my latest “technological incompatibility” — courtesy of Internet.com. But I’m not going to.
There are three major platforms in personal computerdom — Windows, Apple, *nix. It seems logical to me that a business would not knowingly prevent potential customers of one platform from using its site. But that inexplicable action is exactly what Internet.com has done.
I recently subscribed to internet.com’s WebDeveloper.com(R) News. Got my first mail and found a story I was interested in reading. Clicked this link. Nothing happened (blank page). [PC users, the redirect will work for you.]
I sighed … mumbled something about supporting Safari and tried Mozilla. Same thing; blank page. Exasperated, I launched the no-longer-supported Internet Explorer. Imagine my surprise .. when it, too, rendered a totally blank page!
After being told that this site works in Firefox/PC, I tried it on the Mac. Result remains the same: a blank page.
So I forwarded the mail to the PC sitting at my left elbow … clicked the link in Internet Explorer 6 … and was redirected to SmartPhoneToday.
So Internet.com has implemented a redirect system that works only on Windows. Not just on this newsletter — but others as well. Wonderful.
Deliberate? What else could it be — certainly these people TEST their code?
For more than a year, my preferred browser on the Mac has been Safari and second choice is Mozilla. My preferred browser on the PC is Mozilla. I like tabs, and I like CSS standards-conformance.
It seems that MSNBC doesn’t want my eyeballs. We’ll skip Safari for the moment and start with Mozilla. An MSNBC story renders in Mozilla on the Mac just like the Internet.com site: a blank page. Well, there is one difference — there is some code when you view source.
Is the experience any better with Internet Explorer? Not much. Stories render but the “interactives” don’t. Mac folks, try Building the Bomb (scroll). The same interactive partially works in Safari; at least you can see the content (unlike in MSIE). However, try the (only partially) “interactive” feature espionage. We can click those highlighted countries ’til the cows come home — no new copy for us.
In Mac Firefox, however, the “build a bomb interactive” works.
I guess the fact that Microsoft has decided to cease updating Mac Internet Explorer means it’s ok for a different corporate division to stop supporting it (if it ever did). But MSN has never been coded to standard — remember, its redesign launched a controversy when it failed to load for any Netscape browser (except those set to spoof MSIE). “It’s because we’re coded to standards,” asserted a (clueless) VP. Not! The site, and its CSS, flunked W3C validation.
And don’t give me some line about “server logs” showing that these customers are a minority and thus not worth the time for coding to standards — because the site has never support alternative platforms or browsers well, of course those visitors will go somewhere else. It is possible, of course, that the demographics of the Mac, Mozilla or Safari user aren’t predisposed to MSNBC news; it’s certainly never been my news source of choice.
In the spirit of the Web Standards Project, I urge you complain (loudly) when you encounter web applications or sites that discriminate based on platform or browser.
While there might be an excuse when dealing with secure sites (some bank sites will work only with MSIE, not Netscape/Mozilla), there is no reason for general, all-purpose, no-sign-in required sites to discriminate based on platform or browser.
HTML and CSS are open standards. It’s a shame that there is no “body” that can force sites to conform to the standards. Instead, there is only the possibility of the collective of many bodies, united in protest.
[amended at 5.13 am 04-12-2004 to provide links to internet.com and msnbc screen shots. amended at 9.25 am on 04-12-2004 to provide links to firefox]
[Tried W3C validation at 9.41 am 04-12-2004. The redirect works for the validator but the smartphones site flunks validation. Is interent.com using some obscure redirect that Mac browsers can’t understand? Is this a fault of the four browsers I used? My configuration: OS10.3.3; Safari 1.2.1]
[Update: 2.02 pm pacific 04-12-2004 — the internet.com link now resolves with Safari, Mozilla, MSIE and Firefox on the Mac. No explanation — guess someone found the buggy code.]