Tag Archive for 'useragent'

Incompatible browser compatibility tests

I’ve always been wary of web sites that “test” browser compatibility before deciding whether they are going to work or spew up an error message (often unnecessarily petulant) advising you to use a different browser and/or operating system. To me it used to smack of web developer laziness – in my view all web applications should conform to W3C standards, and degrade gracefully.

However, the rapid advancement of browser technology, and the new applications that these enable mean that such browser compatibility tests are now a necessity. Some so-called “Web 2.0” applications simply cannot be degraded (without completing changing the application’s concepts) and even when possible, it’s often simply not worth it in terms of the developer effort required compared to the number of potential users.

Sadly, it seems that many web developers are just inept when it comes to devising these compatibility tests. One would have thought that in 2006 people would be adept at creating browser compatibility “tests” that don’t unnecessarily block a browser that works. Alas, even some big technology companies still don’t get it right.

Take Vodafone’s UK coverage checker. I tried to load it in Safari on my Macintosh and got a rather terse page telling me to use another browser:

Sorry, unfortunately the Vodafone Coverage Viewer application is not fully compatible with your web browser or platform, and therefore not supported at this time. Please try to use another web browser.

I love the way it doesn’t confirm whether the problem is with your web browser or “platform” (read operating system). Great so as a Mac user, I don’t know for sure whether it would work with any other Mac browser. Why can’t it at least list the browsers it has been tested for compatibility with?

Anyway, I fire up Camino (a Mozilla Gecko-based browser with a Mac-native GUI) and get the same result. This came as something of a shock. Surely no one in this day and age writes web applications that only work in Internet Explorer?

After an instant messaging conversation with a Windows user who confirms that he can access the site in Mozilla Firefox, the problem finally dawns on me. Rather that checking to see if the browser is Gecko-based, the developer has simply chosen to “test” for a particular Gecko-based browser (most probably Firefox). I fiddle with the options in Camino so that it fools web sites into thinking it is Firefox 1.5 / Macintosh and, hey presto – a fully working site!

Aargh! When will developers learn that Firefox != Gecko? All Gecko based browsers render pages exactly the same (when using the same version of Gecko). If they want/need the browser to be a particular version of Gecko then they should test for that version of Gecko, not for versions of Firefox, Flock, Camino, Galeon, Netscape, or any other Mozilla-variant.

Or put another way, if they want to be clever, they should get it right. Muppets!