When I encounter a website which is broken in Opera, my browser of choice, I hate it. I know that Opera is perfectly capable of displaying any site Firefox or Internet Explorer can. It makes me feel like lecturing whoever made the site about cross-browser compatibility, valid XHTML, valid CSS, you name it.
But if you think about it, is it okay, on todays web, to target just a single browser or a selection of browsers?
Are we going to back to the old days?
Everyone who has used the internet for a long time should remember the messages on websites: This site works best in Netscape Navigator/Internet Explorer and resolution 800×600. Even today, some websites display similar messages, but luckily most, if not all, big and popular websites have stopped doing this.
Are we going to back to the days when you had to use a specific browser to get the most out of a website?
The mobile web
These days mobile browsing is getting more and more popular. With browsers like Opera Mobile, and Safari on the iPhone, mobile devices are getting closer to “real” computers in regards to internet access. These browsers introduce a yet another target group.
As the mobile browsers are still limited compared to “proper” browsers, people try to adapt: They write crippled targeted versions of their sites for phone users. While this can be a good thing if you get a tailored website for a small screen device, it’s again a group that you might have to target your website for, a group which might get a nice feature you want to use in a “real” browser too.
Effects of targeting specific browsers
Generally speaking, most websites don’t, and shouldn’t, reduce their user groups to specific browsers. Even if your site doesn’t look perfect in a specific browser, why stop them from using your site?
One of the reasons for something like this could be that often the user will not like a website which doesn’t function properly in their browser. But how will they feel if they are stopped at the door? How would you feel?
Since it’s definitely possible, and not even difficult, to create content that works in all modern browsers, why segment your users? A websites lifeblood comes from the users, and in most cases, the more users, the better. If you tell even 10% of people that they can’t use your site, you may actually lose much more visitors due to browser discrimination – the 10% you block could’ve told about your site to a lot more people, for example.
So in effect, targeting a specifc browser group can hurt you.
Reasons for targeting, despite all this
What could be reasons for targeting specific browsers, despite all this?
Older browsers and specialized browsers such as text-only browsers like lynx are their own case. If a user is using and outdated version of a browser and your site doesn’t work in it properly, they should feel encouraged to upgrade, especially if you can detect the old browser and provide the user with links. More often than not, the user will still blame the site in a case where it doesn’t work properly in their browser.
Internet Explorer is also a special case. Being completely honest, it can do a lot of things no other browser on Windows can. Why? Because of the dreaded ActiveX.
Despite being a dangerous feature, ActiveX grants a lot of power to the browser. Ever used Panda Software’s ActiveScan? It’s a virus scanner inside the browser. Internet Explorer only.
In the end it boils down to the ideals and morals of the developer. Does he/she want to make their site usable by at least almost all users?
My personal opinion on this is that sites should provide at least the basic functionality to use it for all users. Advanced features can be made available to modern browsers, and some very specialized features can target only certain moden browsers. If you’re leaving out a browser which could do something you’re doing in other browsers, you’re doing it wrong.
As web standards, the open web and such are a somewhat hot topic today, maybe we are going to a good direction.