Online Services alienating non-IE users?

Posted 27 Oct 2002 at 00:00 UTC by kgb Share This

Many online services only work reliably using Internet Explorer due to poor design. Should we, can we, do anything to address this growing problem?

Some of my work this year has been with financial institutions and online banking (OLB), which has been in the news a lot recently (usually portrayed positively). However this story on slashdot about most OLB being incompatible with non-IE web browsers hit closer to home. This is has been my frustration also. I do not use IE for several reasons:

  1. I was an web user before there was an Internet Explorer; during the time Microsoft stated that the internet was unimportant. I am already use to a different browser.
  2. I use multiple OS's in my personal and professional life; IE cannot be used on most of them. I prefer browsers that run under them all.
  3. I hate SPAM and revealing information about my PC like my email address. Freely being able to turn off & on Java (or ActiveX) prevents this.
  4. I hate popup ad windows. Most other browsers can be configured to prevent these.
  5. I like to configure my browser to run animated GIFs once, or not at all
  6. I like speed and fast rendering.
  7. I like not worrying about violating any licenses
  8. I occassionally need to use Lynx or other non-graphical browser for scripting purposes.

To make a web site IE only instantly alienates all unix, Linux, and Apple users (people more likely to use online services). WE know it's not that hard to create web sites that work properly with multiple browsers, and even with non-graphic browsers. If unix shops are able to do this and not break IE, why do many online service sites only work with IE? If this is so easy to avoid why does it happen?

The explanation is simple and predictable, and not limited to the financial industry. These shops create their web applications using Microsoft developement tools, which love to break standards or exploite Microsoft-only technology like ActiveX. Most also do not test their web sites against anything except IE. After all, IE is already on all their desktops. Once those first few calls go into their help desk that a Netscape or Mozilla user is having problems using their site, they stick a Javascript test in their web page and create a "your browser is not compatible with our site" banner.

The internet/web was not created nor is owned by Microsoft, and a large population does not use Internet Explorer. IE was a late comer in the browser arena. The internet is based on standards and open architectures, and IE is proprietary and works only under one OS -- Microsoft's.

Perhaps someone should start tracking web sites that are IE only (or vice-versa) and help bring more light on this growing problem.

non-IE users really aren't missing out..., posted 27 Oct 2002 at 02:28 UTC by amars » (Journeyer)

I like to hold the opinion that if a web-site doesn't make their site accessible to me, then i'm not their target audience, and I'm not really missing out on much. I also want to believe that it will come back to bite them in the ass eventually, as companies who don't care enough about their products to make them as readily available to as many customers as possible are destined to fail as it's obvious their priorities aren't straight.

I protest., posted 27 Oct 2002 at 03:46 UTC by jennv » (Journeyer)

If I can find an email address on the IE-only site, I protest. I email them and report that I can't read their website, and use a browser that is compliant with HTML version whatever. I point to the W3C site and if I'm feeling particularly pissed off I quote RFC 2616 and 2617. (Ok, so the RFCs are http not html, but hey, it's nice and intimidating.)

If it's something I use, especially a company I pay money to, I have no qualms about calling up their customer service line and whinging politely.

That's the key element, though - I'm always polite. Assertive, sometimes angry, but polite. I find that being politely angry can be really effective. :)

In many cases, the people I speak to have never realised that people may NOT use IE. Strange, hm?

Jenn V.

Alternatives to Vanguard?, posted 27 Oct 2002 at 04:29 UTC by forrest » (Journeyer)

I'm lucky that my checking acount at USBank has no trouble with Mozilla under Linux at all, but the last time I tried to transfer money to my Vanguard Money Market account, it wouldn't work. I ended up having to use IE/Win2K.

It used to work, but they broke it. I sent e-mail and they replied "we're sorry, we try to make everything work, but we only guarantee IE/Windows".

Vanguard has a good reputation as a financial services institution, or so I've been told by my friends who research these matters. Does anyone have a recommendation of a good place to move my savings which has a decent reputation and Moz/Linux browser support?

duality, posted 27 Oct 2002 at 05:43 UTC by amars » (Journeyer)


Tracking sites, posted 27 Oct 2002 at 06:48 UTC by softkid » (Journeyer)

" Perhaps someone should start tracking web sites that are IE only (or vice-versa) and help bring more light on this growing problem"

This is already done by here. I do open bugs in the tech evangelism at mozilla when I encounter such a site. Then I try it with my other special browser (Omniweb), and if it does not work with omniweb I personnaly write a letter saying I can't access the web site.

Also in order to enforce standard compatibility, I cehck my users agent strings in my non IE browsers, because web designers will look at the numbers of hits in order to bring support for non IE browsers. Opera for instace says its a IE browser, or netzscape browser, I say, it should be know at Opera and thus grow the non IE stats.

RE: Tracking sites, posted 27 Oct 2002 at 16:21 UTC by mglazer » (Journeyer)

Put all my sites I have ever made in my life (few thousand probably) on your list.

I am sure most if not all were or are incompatible with any browser that does not support web html coding standards.

Any outdated browser that does not comply with web and coding standards probably wont meet my standards in coding.

You see as a programmer and coder I tend to want to expand, progress, innovate, create, not stand still and be sluggish.

If the browser isn't or the user who owns the browser is not willing to upgrade, fuk 'em!

I've felt this way before it was cool to, since 1998.

"Let's roll SGML in browsers Already!"

"Don't let slow companies and slow users slow down your pace of innovation"

Ignorance, posted 27 Oct 2002 at 17:19 UTC by salmoni » (Master)

Whenever I encounter a site that insists upon using IE, I don't bother using it.

The beautiful thing (and its drawback!) about the web is its size. If a company or organisation will not deal with me at least on some of my terms, I will simply go elsewhere. The difference in attitude between these two camps can often be the difference between the success and failure of a business. If somebody displays the attitude that I am the one who has to run around them (ie, if they think that they are doing me a favour by making money out of me), then frankly I'll take my custom to their competitors.

Just imagine a shop employing a security guard on the door. Then imagine that this security guard prevents one in every twenty customers from entering the store because (for example) they have a beard. How long do you think that guard is going to stay employed by that company, particularly in time of an economic slowdown? If I was in charge, that guard would be out on the street in no time.

Web consortium standards are easy to implement, and pretty much all businesses can do whatever they want by using them. There really is little or no reason to deviate from them except for laziness and a lack of understanding of usability.

Re: Tracking sites, posted 28 Oct 2002 at 10:54 UTC by Denny » (Journeyer)

mglazer, your statements sound like an advertisement for Mozilla, not IE, so I'm a little confused about your first sentence... did you mean to say all your sites will work with various browsers (as long as they're compliant), or did you mean to imply that IE is completely standards compliant?

Some banks that work for me, posted 28 Oct 2002 at 12:55 UTC by MichaelCrawford » (Master)

I'm surprised to hear so many people have trouble using online banking. I guess I've been lucky. These banks work fine for me with Mozilla in either Linux, Windows or OS X:

Bank of Montreal used to have a statement on their site that said they could not guarantee the security of netscape 6, but they never prevented its use (or mozilla's use) and I never had any trouble.

For a while, Comerica's page rendered mostly blank in Netscape 4 but they seem to have fixed it.

You can make the argument to a bank that standards compliance is required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as this allows web browsers for the blind to read the text to blind people. However, a judge recently ruled that the ADA didn't require Southwest Airlines (I think) to make its site accessible to the blind. But it hasn't been tested in appeal.

I wrote an article about using validators to guarantee standards compliance: Use Validators and Load Generators to Test Your Web Applications. Maybe you can get your tech support people to read it.

Re, Re: Tracking sites, posted 28 Oct 2002 at 14:09 UTC by mglazer » (Journeyer)

Denny, I was not endorsing any particular company or browser.

I was endorsing enhancements, innovation, standards compliance, and forward movement. Sluggishness for software whether IE or Mozilla should not be accepted by wanting backwards compliance but instead pushing companies for standards compliance.

The biggest problems with browser's have been not standards compliance but what most web programmers have dealt with 'backwards compliance' which is a pretty pathetic and sad thing for a coder to have to deal with.

For a long time the sentiment was always write code for all browsers, even that one vistior with a very old minimal browser. Now the new sentiment is write for standards and tell people to upgrade. That was very taboo for a very long time but I never liked to code backwards it didn't feel right or innovative so I didn't.

Men with beards should make a fuss, posted 28 Oct 2002 at 14:47 UTC by redi » (Master)

imagine that this security guard prevents one in every twenty customers from entering the store because (for example) they have a beard. How long do you think that guard is going to stay employed by that company [...] ?
This assumes that the shop knows about the guard's behaviour. If the bearded men leave quietly without complaining, the guard could carry on forever. You need to inform the company that you tried to use their site, but because you were unable to you had to take your business elsewhere. Silently going elsewhere doesn't help. IMHO the best recourse is a polite, technically literate note to say what you tried to do, why it didn't work and what they should do to resolve the problem. Be sure to mention that you took your business to a competitor that does support your browser. This shows them that it is technically possible (so might make someone in charge ask why the competitor can do it when they apparently "can't"), and it shows them why they have lost a customer to a competitor (marketing love knowing that).

I think part of the problem is with people who claim that supporting alternative browsers is too much trouble because the market share is so small, when sometimes it's just because they don't know how to write a portable, standards-based version and are afraid for their jobs - they want to stick with what they know. I don't know whether these are web designers, developers, security analysts or PHBs, but I certainly think that writing IE-only sites with embedded ActiveX objects (or other proprietary add-ons) is due to laziness and/or ignorance, and big businesses shouldn't be hiring lazy and/or ignorant people. I doubt many people who know how to write portable (i.e. support all clients) web sites would suggest writing a non-portable one, except where the user base is clearly defined and the client browser is fixed (i.e. for intranet projects).

user agents, posted 28 Oct 2002 at 16:48 UTC by mrsbrisby » (Journeyer)

Even if many (most?) MSIE browsers were altered to give a different identification (say they're Opera or Netscape) things still wouldn't change.

Web (page and application) designers see how their site _looks_ in MSIE. They don't care that other browsers exist, only that they're an insigificant part of their target audience: It's merely a visual inspection.

We Must Teach Designers to Use Validators, posted 30 Oct 2002 at 02:08 UTC by MichaelCrawford » (Master)

The usual way a web designer checks to see that their page looks right is to look at it in a browser. If they're really ambitious, they will look in both IE and Netscape, but usually just IE.

But a page can render OK in IE if it has quite broken HTML, even just by accident and not because the designer took advantage of proprietary features.

Very few web designers know how to us an HTML validator. Most don't know they exist, and the few that do don't make more than one or two tries after having hundreds of syntax errors thrown back at them. Most don't realize that if you fix just the first error encountered, then revalidate, and again fix the first error, the page will be validated in just a few tries.

If you ever have the opportunity to teach someone HTML, teach them how to use a validator. My niece Denika wanted to learn to write web pages so I sat down and explained what XHTML 1.0 was, how to put a DOCTYPE declaration in a document, and how to use a validator, and why you would want to bother.

Very likely many people reading this work at companies where there are web designers. Take them aside and show them how to use a validator. If you generate HTML in your web applications, make sure your own pages validate.

This won't fix the problem of the banks directly, but it will increase the popularity of the validators and increase awareness of what it means for a document to be valid. Word will start to spread among the designer community, and eventually more and more valid pages will appear.

Of course there is the problem of WYSIWYG design tools producing invalid pages. One way to deal with them is to discourage anyone from using a tool that produces invalid pages, and if you're ever in a position to acquire a tool for a company, then test several competing tools and only select tools that produce valid markup. Also encouraging hand-coding - hand coded pages are more efficient to load and render anyway.

Legislation may help, posted 1 Nov 2002 at 04:46 UTC by Ankh » (Master)

There has already been a court case involving the Australian olympics web site, which was not accessible.

In the US, Europe and Canada, there is legislation about government web sites; this sort of legislation seems to be moving into the private sector, to enforce a requirement that web sites not exclude minorities.

It's not clear to me how much of an effect this will have, but if you can show that a bank discriminated against you because online banking didn't work with a screen-reader or a text-only browser (say), you will get banks' attention. And a court will help you: banks really don't like punitive fines.

Thanks for mentioning the W3C HTML Validator. There's also a CSS validator -- many of the things that drive web designers to proprietary extensions and inaccessible formats can actually be done with CSS.

Pressure on browser vendors to include native support for SVG and SMIL would help, too.

RE: Legislation may help, posted 2 Nov 2002 at 05:14 UTC by mglazer » (Journeyer)

Uh, your wrong.

The first case (in the USA) brought by a blind person against a website, because he couldn't see it, was ruled that the internet space is not bound by discrimination laws even for a public or government website.

I'm sure some nut judge will rule in this arena in favor of another nutjob sooner or later.

Great, just what we need more governemnt legistlation and where else in the internet arena.... god it makes me sick to think how low some people will go for money and to ruin it for everybody else.

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