Salon des refusés
As hip people will already be aware, Microsoft’s characteristically outrageous litany of lies took a new form this week when, all of a sudden, certain browsers were deliberately excluded from rendering any “content” at
A Microsoft source, Bob Visse, lied in claiming:
All of our development work for the new
MSN.com is... W3C-standard.... For browsers that we know don’t support those standards or that we can’t insure will get a great experience for the customer, we do serve up a page that suggests that they upgrade to an IE browser....
- Microsoft’s browser-sniffer does not exclude “noncompliant” browsers – merely the “unapproved.” It reportedly excludes, among others, browser variants on platforms Microsoft does not support (anything but Windows and Macintosh) while letting in the same browser on those two platforms. (Opera appears to be the test case here. Mozilla/Netscape 6 compatibility is scattered. We need someone to produce a test table with Mozilla/Netscape 6, Netscape 4, Explorer various, iCab, and “minority” browsers, on every available platform.)
- The correct way to handle a putative minimum browser requirement, should it even be necessary, is to either do nothing and let the browser muddle through or give us a warning and then let us in anyway. Even hoary old Lynx renders large portal sites like MSN just fine if given the chance. Microsoft doesn’t give us a chance to try the site for ourselves.
- It is really up to the “customer” to decide what “a great experience” might be. Taken to its logical conclusion, Visse’s argument would require that sites never be coded accessibly. A blind person or a dyslexic simply is not getting the same experience “normal” people are getting, and we obviously cannot let that happen, can we? (Funnily enough, Microsoft has a staff of dozens who do nothing but work on accessibility all day. Whatever could it mean?)
- There is a misunderstanding of “compliant browsers” – or, more accurately, a deliberate, all-out disinformation campaign based on a breathtaking Microsoft lie. Compliance means interoperability. To be truly XHTML- and CSS-compliant means your site will work in essentially any browser with half-arsed standards support, which the majority of browsers in contemporary use, save for Netscape 4, actually have. To comply with the standard is to embrace the largest possible set, not the smallest. It’s not like being compliant with, say, Windows XP, which means (a) it won’t work on a Mac or an Amiga or an Aibo and (b) you’re locked into a proprietary system.
- This is of course an enormous can of worms, but the logical failure in the present MSN declaration is that the minimum requirement is actually the most compatible range of systems, not the least as claimed, and Microsoft is simply lying to us as to which browsers meet the spec.
- And of course the pièce de résistance is the fact that
MSN.com (and essentially every other individual page Microsoft has ever published) fails to validate as HTML, let alone XHTML. Achieving valid code is not particularly difficult.
At any rate, minimum browser requirements are a miserable idea.
- Web designers are, on the whole, unsophisticated and parochial; they tend to congratulate themselves for thorough browser testing if they run a couple of site pages through Netscape 4 and the very latest Internet Explorer on extremely modern Mac and Windows machines.
- The assumption, which almost seems fair based on such limited data, is that no other browser could possibly work, and even if it could it isn’t worth fine-tuning the site for such “nonstandard” browsers.
- The truth of the matter? Write standards-compliant HTML and reasonably-standards-compliant browsers will render it reasonably. Individual browser differences, unless they are catastrophic, can be ignored; you need not even really bother doing extensive testing if your pages validate.
As before, the correct approach is to simply let the visitor muddle through with whatever browser or device he or she has. Really, it isn’t the designer’s business what equipment we use.
The MSN experience is not unique. Some other get-lost-you-loser! messages we’ve seen lately:
- BlueHaus:: “Since you are reading this, I regret to inform you that you may not be using a browser capable of viewing frames. You will need to download it to enjoy your stay here. The extreme nature of this site is intended only for those viewers capable of interpreting the most current web technologies. I regret that I cannot provide alternative access for all visitors.” No one said you had to, honey.
- Salt Lake Olympics: “Please enable the ‘frames’ setting in your browser’s preferences or settings menu. Please enable the ‘scripts’ setting in your browser’s preferences or settings menu. Thank you, Quokka Sports [sic].”
- Volt, a public-television program, won’t even let you in without Shockwave 5.
What MSN has done is of course contemptible and arrogant and
hypocritical, but looked at more calmly, it is also bad content development. The subject-matter of your site may be of limited interest, but your site must nonetheless offer the widest possible technical compatibility. Pragmatically, you the designer cannot possibly predict what kind of device a visitor will use, and, while it is up to you and your colleagues to decide what your site actually says, it is not up to you to decide how we should read it.
We are, in fact, able to think of one thing worse than Microsoft’s actions, and it is the spineless, ignorant reportage of apologist Ashlee Vance, who described the software juggernaut’s knowing assault on Web standards as a technical glitch. No wonder they say tech journalism has failed.
Posted on 2001-10-28