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    Browser-challenged websites turn business away

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver November 15-21, issue 838. High Tech Office column

    How many of you are so rich that you can tell anywhere from 10 to 35 per cent of your potential customers to go away, just because, say, you don't like the colour tie they're wearing?

    Not many, I'd presume.

    But too many websites include online forms that, in effect, tell users who are not running Windows or are using a non-Microsoft Web browser to take their business elsewhere.

    This can cost you or your business sales or can have even more serious consequences.

    I regularly switch-hit between Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems, and between Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple's Safari browsers.

    So if a website chokes on one of these, I just move to another. That's what I did not long ago when I was buying air tickets online.

    Purchasing the actual tickets was not a problem; all the big online travel sites seem to be happy to take my money no matter what browser or operating system I use.

    But when I tried to buy travel insurance from my Mac online at Continental Air, I hit a roadblock. I could fill in the form just fine, but hitting the submit button did nothing. I switched computers and tried again.

    It's not so easy for everyone.

    By the time my daughter realized that Simon Fraser University's registration process was Mac-challenged, all the classes she needed for her program were full. Oh well, she can always go to school for another semester. Now she borrows a PC to register.

    Mac-using job hunters on American Express's website are warned: "The system does not support Mac environments.

    If you don't have access to a PC at home or work, please check out a local public library for Internet access, local Internet cafés ..."

    Recently, some users trying to access emergency aid by filling out on online form for the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website were out of luck, if they weren't using Internet Explorer 6 on a Windows system.

    In this case, even Windows users with an earlier version of IE were left out in the cold - perhaps literally - along with anyone using a non-Windows computer.

    How many people are we talking about?

    Mozilla's Firefox recently celebrated 100 million downloads of its free browser - available for Windows, Linux and the Mac.

    While that's not an accurate indication of the number of people using Firefox, 100 million downloads represents a lot of users; over the past year, IE's market share has dropped from an estimated 96 per cent to around 85 per cent.

    And the percentage of people using non-IE browsers can be even higher depending where you look. My website,, had about 270,000 hits in October 2005. Of those, under 64 per cent were made with Internet Explorer. Nearly 27 per cent were made with some Mozilla browser, such as Firefox.

    Clearly, Internet Explorer still accounts for the largest share of Web browsing, but it's a shrinking share.

    So why are too many sites still IE-only? Jim Rapoza, lab director for IT publication eWeek, suggests he "can think of only one reason these applications were written the way they were ... out-and-out laziness."

    In some cases, he notes this is merely "inconveniencing someone trying to use a banking application or an online store." But in FEMA's case, this laziness resulted in "those in need to potentially go without aid."

    Rapoza points out "that developers need to go well out of their way to write IE-only sites."

    A wide range of standards-based software make creating universally accessible Web pages straightforward (and can make your business site more easily internationalized).

    FEMA and employment-site software developer BrassRing have promised to redo their forms.

    If your business's website is turning away customers (check it at, maybe it's time for a change.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan