Return of the Browser Wars

A recent Computerworld article reports on the Explorer Destroyer campaign to get Internet Explorer users to switch to Firefox. It provides script code that webmasters can add to their sites to determine which browser is being used, and provide gentle or blunt suggestions to Explorer users, or even prevent them from accessing the site. As a website owner with a deep pathological loathing for all things Microsoft, I’ll be all over this, right? Wrong. Been there, done that, got over it.

I remember using the original graphic browser, NCSA Mosaic back in 1993, shortly after it was introduced. Soon afterwards, I switched to a newer, better browser, Netscape. A little whlle later, Bill Gates realized the Internet was not just a passing fad as he predicted, and decided to dominate the browser market with Internet Explorer.

By that time, I had started building my own little website. I decided to use some features that were available in Netscape but not IE. My site was proudly adorned with one of the little “Netscape Now” buttons, and a page explaining that some parts of the site would be unavailable to IE users. (To be fair, I should point out that IE had its own set of features that weren’t available in Netscape).

Eventually, browser technology evolved far more rapidly than my webspinning skills, and my site no longer contains features that are cutting edge in one browser and not available at all in others. And, although still a strong follower of the “Microsoft is Evil” camp, I’ve also gotten on the Any Browser bandwagon. These folks believe that webmasters should build sites that are viewable with any browser, in keeping with the original intent of the Web. Quoting Tim Berners-Lee (one of the creators of the Web):

Anyone who slaps a ‘this page is best viewed with Browser X’ label on a Web page appears to be yearning for the bad old days, before the Web, when you had very little chance of reading a document written on another computer, another word processor, or another network.

The whole beauty of the web was supposed to be that any browser could see any site. A site that forces users to use the site owner’s favorite browser is really violating the open spirit of the Web.

Admittedly, Microsoft’s domination of the browser market has led to the creation of a lot of sites that work only with IE. In most cases, I don’t think the site owners do this intentionally. They’re just clueless morons who have no idea what they’re doing.

Microsoft is evil. IE is buggy and full of security risks. The world would be a better place if fewer people used it. That would force some website owners to wake up and realize they should build their sites in accordance with Web standards, instead of crappy kludges that don’t work with standard browsers. Convincing IE users to switch is good. But I don’t think building sites that force users to dump IE is any better than building sites that force them to use it. Even if it’s for a good cause, website owners shouldn’t be dictating their users’ choice of browsers.

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