17 March 2004


A Blue Perspective: Future-proof

This site gave me a good laugh when I clicked on the splash image in IE 6.

For anyone whose user agent actually does identify as "Netscape", I'll save you some trouble and tell you that up came this message: "Sorry, but this presentation cannot run on your browser. We recommend using Netscape Navigator/Communicator 4.x+".

As laughable as installing Netscape 4 is now, back then (HTML 3.2!!!) it would have seemed perfectly reasonable. But then again, restricting year dates to 2 digits in software programs seemed reasonable too. There's no guaranteed way to future proof anything you make, but there are ways you can make sure that they at least have a chance. Restricting content based upon something which you think you can detect is one guaranteed way to go out of date, and at worst make your content inaccessible to users in the present.

Often I'll visit a Flash based site and have the site's scripts say that I don't have the correct version of the plugin, then offer me no way of getting any further. Sometimes I do have the correct version; sometimes I've got a lower but compatible version. I might even have a plugin from an entirely different company which somehow lets me read Flash. Either way, I'm not going to spend a couple of minutes downloading yet another plugin just to view your site, particularly when I don't even have any idea what your site can offer me yet. So, you can warn me that I might not be able to view your content properly, then give it to me to make heads of, or you can lose a visitor entirely. Is it really a choice?

This isn't just my usual Flash beat up though. I can see the same problems occurring with CSS Hacks. When you specify a rule in a stylesheet that is designed to cause errors for one particular set of browsers, your code immediately becomes obsolete. You can't predict what future versions of the browsers will do with that hack. They might apply it properly, they might not. If they don't, you'll have to modify your code – find a new hack, nest hacks, re-write rules – it's a downward spiral. Then, when the next version comes out, you'll do it all again.

All this is totally counter-intuitive to Standards. Standards are there to provide a stable, compatible platform on which to build web pages. A Standards-compliant page written now should be readable by an agent in 10 years time, that's the beauty of them – no compromises, no special treatment; standardisation. In the current climate of frozen browser development it's tempting to ignore the lessons from the past, but if you do, you'll get burnt, and I don't want to be cleaning up your code.


, , ,


  1. 1/4

    Mark Wubben commented on 17 March 2004 @ 04:56

    You might want to read this: http://digital-web.com/columns/keepitsimple/keepitsimple_2003-11.shtml

  2. 2/4

    Ben commented on 17 March 2004 @ 07:47

    I find that in my experimental work I much prefer to do without hacks and use pure CSS, and then if it doesn't work, so be it. A little warning message is often enough to indicate that the version being viewed may not be as intended.

  3. 3/4

    The Man in Blue commented on 18 March 2004 @ 22:59

    ... and for quite simply the most stupid use of hack-type circumvention I've ever seen, go to:

    in IE, or just take a look at the first couple of lines of content in the code.

    It's not as if the design's even that cutting edge anyway ...

  4. 4/4

    Trent commented on 20 March 2004 @ 06:14

    Wow, that rad-e8 site is very user hostile.

    I still think http://www.buymusic.com is the most idiotic example of browser blocking. "You must be on a Windows Operating System using Internet Explorer version 5.0 or higher". Oh really? No Mac or Linux users? No Firefox/Opera users? Fine, I'll take my money elsewhere.

    Sheer idiocy. I once was able to access it using a non-IE browser and an altered user-agent string, and the site looked fine. Not that I'd buy anything from them.

  5. Leave your own comment

    Comments have been turned off on this entry to foil the demons from the lower pits of Spamzalot.

    If you've got some vitriol that just has to be spat, then contact me.

Follow me on Twitter

To hear smaller but more regular stuff from me, follow @themaninblue.

Monthly Archives

Popular Entries

My Book: Simply JavaScript

Simply JavaScript

Simply JavaScript is an enjoyable and easy-to-follow guide for beginners as they begin their journey into JavaScript. Separated into 9 logical chapters, it will take you all the way from the basics of the JavaScript language through to DOM manipulation and Ajax.

Step-by-step examples, rich illustrations and humourous commentary will teach you the right way to code JavaScript in both an unobtrusive and an accessible manner.

RSS feed