Only Spiders and Jerks Don’t Adhere to Web Standards

Reese Matthews writes:

I’ve only seen a few of your videos, so I don’t know if you’ve touched on it, but there is a bigger problem than “Does __________ browser suck?” or “Is __________ secure?” If you haven’t, perhaps you could talk about it.

Back in the 1990s, the two big browsers were Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE, aka Infernal Exploder) and Netscape (aka Nutscrape). Both companies had the same stupid idea of creating HTML tags that worked only with their own browser, not with others. As a result, many websites would work only in certain browsers.

Some people with biases towards one browser made HTML pages saying things like “Use __________ browser or get lost!” In some cases, jerks added JavaScripts that caused browsers to crash, and sometimes the operating systems would crash as well.

The instances of such stupidity decreased when Netscape faded and both Firefox and Opera were small up and comers. Firefox likely became a dominant browser because it was free while Opera remained on the margins because you had to pay (which I did gladly) or live with ad support until version 8.

At the risk of sounding like I have a persecution complex, there was (confirmed) targeting of Opera by some websites back in the early 2000s, especially by Microsoft. Hotmail and other pages contained code that caused them to display improperly. The source of the pages was examined and there were JavaScripts and metatags that specifically looked for Opera, changing how the page was displayed. When users set Opera to “Mask as Internet Explorer” (Opera would pretend that it was Microsoft’s browser), the problems disappeared. The software didn’t change — the only change was the name sent to the user agent.

It seems such stupidity has returned to the Internet. Websites like Google, YouTube, and others may not be deliberately targeting Opera or any particular browser, but they are writing code that prefers and works well only on Firefox, Chrome, and Explorer. Have a look at these two screen captures I took today, within the same browser, less than two minutes apart. There is no change in my installed version of Opera 11.62; I only changed how the Opera browser identified itself to the user agent:

Only Spiders and Jerks Don't Adhere to Web Standards

Only Spiders and Jerks Don't Adhere to Web Standards

This is not the only page or website doing this. Many features in Gmail and Google+ are crippled or missing if the browser isn’t Firefox, Chrome, or Internet Explorer — and it’s not just Google or YouTube, but many others. Why should pages appear differently solely because of the name of the browser?

This isn’t purely happening with Opera; it’s happening to many other good and full-featured browsers. I use QtWeb — based on WebKit, the same as Safari — as my portable browser, and it has the same problem with many sites. And yet, K-Meleon (which hasn’t been updated in 15 months) is based on Mozilla, the same as Firefox, and it doesn’t have these problems except on YouTube. But even there, it lets me view the older version of the site and watch videos without any problems. YouTube won’t make the older version available to other browsers. YouTube actually calls Opera 11.62 an “outdated browser” — even with the latest versions of Flash and Java installed.

Other popular browsers are or have been deliberately excluded. On Macs, Camino is crippled when loading some sites while Safari looks fine. And a few years ago, many banks would only allow Internet Explorer for Internet banking despite other well-established browsers being capable of it. Firefox was blocked out, and it was widely popular at the time. Speaking of banking, remember this story from 2005, where a man was arrested for using the DOS browser Lynx to make a charitable donation on a website?

The World Wide Web Consortium sets the standards for the Internet such as HTML and XML. If websites were built according to those Internet standards, they would work on every browser. Instead, companies are deliberately and rudely segregating users, giving them a second-rate experience of their sites solely because of their own fanboy or corporate biases. This is not a software issue; it’s a lack of basic manners and courtesy by website designers.

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  • RaterKey

    Great bit of public service. This is certainly an issue, Websites should not be treating standards compliant browsers differently. 

    Also great little note on the Londoner arrested for using Lynx. As a Lynx user myself, I find this shocking! Who cares what the user agent is? Who even cares if I get a page with a by telneting to port 80!!!! I never thought someone could get arrested for using a “non-standard” browser.

    • http://neonguru.net/ neonguru

      Websites are NOT treating opera differently – opera is interpreting the website differently than the other browsers.

      They’re not doing anything different for Opera – they’re just not paying any attention to it. Not enough of a user base to care.
      Part of the reason website developers don’t like IE is because you have to spend so much time to test and tweak your code to look the same as the others. Why would they forego adding features that many people will use in order to test for a handful of users on fringe browsers?

  • Bitemore2

    And all this time I thought it was just me… there are differences in how a site displays even on different computers, and if you use a Netbook, you will have problems.  I guarantee it.  I had a Netbook with Windows 7 Starter, and could not use Firefox to display the Xfinity TV Listings because to get it to show my zip code, I had to be able to click “okay’ at the bottom of the dialog box, which was somewhere below the bottom of the screen, and had no scroll bar with which to scroll down.  I now have an HP all-in-one and a Toshiba laptop, both Windows 7 (and less than a year old, each), and the HP all-in-one has problems of one kind or another will all 3 major browsers.  So, while it gets Chrome as its main browser, I have my Xfinity TV listings in Firefox and my USGS earthquake map in IE.  The Toshiba seems happiest with Firefox for all the sites I use.  Since things are constantly changing, I have no doubts whatsoever that one of these days I’ll have to juggle the browsers again.  I do wish there were some standards that applied equally to all browsers, all sites and all brands of computers!

  • Ralph Worlein

    I too started using Opera when I paid for it. It gripes me to no end to see these pages “optomized” for another browser.

  • Wolfee Darkfang

    Back before we had firefox, I still only used IE to download other browsers, mainly opera. At that time it was obvious Opera was the superior browser. Even though I stuck with the free version because I was a kid back then in a low budget house and couldn’t afford to buy it, it provided so much better speed nonetheless.

  • Tinman57

      I can remember back in the day when I used Netscape, there were some pages that I couldn’t get to load up, function properly or crashed Netscape.  Then I’d have to load up IE6 to look at that page.  If it wasn’t something that I just had to look at, I’d just skip it altogether.