Your Browser is Incompatible – Honest

One of the enduring annoyances over many years of browsing the web is sites that try to do flashy stuff that only works on one particular browser. In the past it used to be that my PC didn’t have the latest version of a particular bit of software, now with using a Mac as my main machine, it is the ‘You’re not using a PC’ routine.

Many companies have now realised that by doing this, you exclude a number of groups of users, whether those are non-Windows users like me, or more especially many of the people who are still using Windows 98 on ageing PC’s, and don’t feel the need to spend money to upgrade to the latest and greatest versions when their existing system serves their needs. A look at the browser stats sites such as the overview at Browser News shows that at least 20% of browsers are not the latest version of Internet Explorer.

As more and more people are encouraged to go online, this becomes more and more of a problem. As a result companies are now encouraged produce sites against established standards or that degrade gracefully. In most cases sites that insist on Windows XP and Internet Explorer will work quite happily on the Mac using Safari or Firefox. However every so often I come across a site that use a browser detection script, and lock me out if I’m not using Internet Explorer. What is interesting, is that in a lot of cases these sites will work perfectly well in my supposedly incompatible browser. It is not that the site developers have tried the site on a browser and it has failed, it is more that they haven’t even bothered to check!

As an example, take the National Lottery site. When I attempt to log in using either Safari or Firefox, it comes up with an error insisting that I have to be using a PC or Mac with Internet Explorer or Netscape 7. As you may know, Microsoft have stopped supporting IE on the Mac, so I have Safari or Firefox, Firefox being based on the same browser engine as Netscape 7. However I played ball and as instructed downloaded the latest Netscape 7, Netscape 7.2, and navigated around the attempts to sign me up for a free e-mail account and the like, and then tried the site again. I got the following, identical response:

So it seems that what was said on the page, wasn’t strictly true – it didn’t like Netscape 7.2 on the Mac, so saying I could use the site on that was wrong.

Anyway, at this point I was just getting annoyed, so I grabbed a little tool called the User Agent Switcher for Firefox and used that to persuade the website that I was using Internet Explorer 6 on Windows XP, and had no problems at all navigating the site. Not unsuprising really as the site was supposed to be Netscape compatible, the problem appeared to be in the browser detection script.

With users being advised by groups such as the Internet Storm Center recommending back in June that users should avoid using Internet Explorer and evidence that users are starting to take the advice, maybe the days of sites targeting limited browsers rather than producing standards based sites are numbered. Having said that there is still no excuse for things like National Lottery site where a compatible browser is locked out due to a bit of sloppy programming in the browser detection!

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