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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