Frequently Asked Questions

I get a lot of questions about the Viewable With Any Browser concept and campaign. Please check below to see if yours is answered here before sending questions. If your question isn't answered, send me feedback.

Translation of this page is available in: Russian

Questions:

Q: Doesn't being "Viewable With Any Browser" mean I can only make gray pages with no images?

A: No. Being "Viewable With Any Browser" does not mean you can't use any HTML which isn't supported in a specific browser. What it does mean is that if you use functionality which isn't available in some browsers, you should do your best to make your page gracefully degrade. HTML is designed so that it is possible to provide alternatives to browsers which don't handle certain features (such as frames, images, java, etc.). For more information on making your page "Viewable With Any Browser", see the Accessible Design Guide.

Q: Why can't we just ask people to upgrade their browsers or switch browsers?

A: There are many reasons why people can't, or don't want to upgrade their browsers or switch. You can certainly tell people they should upgrade, but you can't force them, and not supporting them on your site is not only rude, but can cause you to lose visitors. Some reasons why people may not be able to upgrade or switch browsers:

  • They may be using the browser you require already, but may have features such as Javascript or Java turned off for various reasons, including security, company policy, stability, or reducement of annoyances (such as those hideous Geocities popup windows)
  • They are using a shared or lab computer that they can't install programs on
  • The computer they use may be too old to support a different or more recent version, or may run too slowly with it
  • They may be using a device that has a built in, non-replaceable browser (such as WebTV or a Nokia 9000)
  • They may be using a platform which will not support Netscape or Internet Explorer (or whatever browser you're encouraging them to use)
  • They may not feel comfortable installing software on the computer unless it's absolutely necessary
  • They may not be willing to go through the download
  • They may be using a shell account which only allows text based access
  • They may not be willing to put up with the security holes, bugs, or other problems associated with the major browsers
  • They may prefer an alternate browser- many third party browsers offer features unavailable in the major browsers
  • They may have special needs which restrict their ability to use the mass market browsers or make other browsers more useful to them. Even if they use a mass market browser, some features may still not work for them. For instance users who are blind use speech based browsers, and even if they have a browser with image support, they still can't understand the images without ALT attributes being specified by the page.

Q: Why would someone use a browser other than Netscape or Internet Explorer?

A: See the reasons listed above under "Why can't we just ask people to upgrade their browsers or switch browsers?".

Q: If my site works in Netscape and Internet Explorer, is that enough?

A: Probably not. Although most people do use those browsers, there are many reasons why some people do not, as listed above. What level of browser compatibility you design your site to is up to you, but most sites can make most of their content available to a much larger range of browsers than they do, often without significantly more effort.

Q: Are things like frames, Java, Javascript, cascading style sheets, etc. ok to use?

A: This depends on your audience, and how good a job you do of taking advantage of the built in features in HTML which allow you to create a page which degrades gracefully. I highly recommend that before using any advanced features, you do a common sense check and verify that you're using them for the right reasons (i.e. to provide functionality which is best implemented in this way, and not just to show you can use advanced technologies). Then you determine if you can design your page so that any advanced features you use don't limit people from accessing content unless absolutely necessary. For more information about specific technologies and accessibility, see the Accessible Design Guide.

Q: How can I tell if my page works in every browser?

A: You can't know for sure that your page works in every browser, but if you do due dilligence in testing and validating, you should be generally safe, and you should always give your users a way to notify you if they run into a problem. See the Accessible Design Guide: Testing and Validation for information and advice about how to test for accessibility.

Q: What do I have to do to be listed as a participating site? Do you check the pages before listing them?

A: To be listed as a participating site, use my contact form and give me the address. Being listed as a participating site is not proof that your page is viewable in any browser, but it does indicate that you believe you have made a reasonable effort to make your page viewable to everyone and that you're willing to make reasonable changes should you be notified of accessibility problems. What's reasonable is a personal decision and I do not enforce any specific rules about accessibility, although I do expect that anyone who participates in the campaign takes it seriously enough to do their best. I often check pages for obvious issues when adding them to the list, but I do not require fixes before the pages get added (I just bring the problems to the site owner's attention). I do not do thorough checks for accessibility on a site unless requested specifically due to time constraints (yes, I have a day job too).

If you would like to participate and are not familiar with all the typical accessibility issues, I would highly recommend you review the Accessible Design Guide for information and advice on accessibility. You should definitely check the Testing and Validation section for advice on testing your site for accessibility.

Q: I don't have a web page, but I'd like to help. What can I do?

A: The best way you can help is by spreading the word to anyone you think might be interested (no spamming please!). You can also make an effort to complain to sites which are not accessible to you- there are some example letters you may want to use (or you can contribute your own). Many sites claim they don't make their pages accessible because they don't perceive a demand. Make sure you get your voice heard so they know someone's asking for it. Other ways to contribute are to create and send in campaign graphics (if you feel like expressing yourself creatively) or volunteer to translate to another language if you know one which isn't already available on the translations list.

Q: Isn't catering to alternate and older browsers holding back technology?

A: This is a common misperception. The reality is that incompatibility is high even between major browsers, and the multitude of proprietary extensions and poor standards support make it pretty difficult to make sites which even work consistently in the major browsers when using the "latest technologies", thus discouraging site designers from using those "innovations". At the same time, the W3C has introduced many useful recommendations for HTML and related technologies that have been poorly supported or completely ignored. When new HTML features are introduced, if they aren't properly thought through first, they can cause a lot of problems for people using them (remember the first version of frames?). The big browser makers are more concerned with getting new stuff released than they are with making sure it's done well, and they leave quite a mess to fix up in the process. When the W3C introduces HTML recommendations, they have been completely evaluated and the major issues have been resolved. Netscape and Microsoft are both part of the W3C and have every opportunity to involve themselves in the creation of new recommendations. There is more danger than advantage to the general public to have them going off on their own and introducing new proprietary items.

To distinguish their browsers, it would be better if Microsoft and Netscape focused on improving the browsers themselves and the user experience and customization abilities, rather than trying to coopt the language they're supposed to be interpreting with them. Many useful features, such as ad filtering options, built in validation, site specific enabling/disabling of features, and magnification are available only in third party browsers- innovation in the major browsers has mostly been limited to new proprietary extensions and features to push related products (such as Hotmail integration in Internet Explorer or the Shop button in Netscape), while real improvement of the user experience has faltered.

Supporting standards and not designing pages which are browser specific is the real way to keep the market for browsers open and to keep browser technology improving.

Q: I don't mind if I lose a small group of people visiting my site. Are there any other reasons I should care about being viewable in any browser?

A: Aside from the obvious courtesy issues, there are some other things you should consider. First of all, in the United States, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) could potentially be applied to web sites. You can also find a list of worldwide Policies Relating to Web Accessibility at the W3C site. By making your site accessible you can avoid potential legal issues. Additionally, you may want to consider that although you may only be losing a small group, those may be important people you're losing. Browser choice is not necessarily an effective indicator of a visitor's willingness to buy your products or any other action your site exists for. That person browsing your site may be too poor to afford to upgrade their computer (a common perception about people using alternate browsers) or they may be an Vice President looking to spend, browsing for quick information using their cell phone browser. The person you locked out of your site might have been someone who would have bought a product, been happy with your service, and told 100 of their clients (bet you didn't know they were a consultant!) to purchase from you. You can't tell ahead of time, and you might be surprised who you're missing.

Q: How many people browse without images?

A: There don't seem to be any accurate statistics on this (just like most other things on the Internet). Typically it's quoted at 20 or 30 percent, although it varies a lot depending on class of users and type of site. Adding support for non-image browsers isn't difficult- see the Accessible Design Guide: Images for more information on how to do it.

Some reasons people may not be able to view images on your site:

  • They may have disabled the images to allow for faster web browsing (especially people with slow connections or using dialups which are not a free call, very common in rural areas or outside the US)
  • They may be using a text based browser (either because they have to or because it's better for their needs)
  • They may be blind and using a speech browser
  • They may have filtered out certain types of images (such as ads)

Q: What percentage of users aren't using Netscape or Internet Explorer 4.0 or greater?

A: There aren't any accurate statistics on this, but it's typically pegged at about 5 to 10 percent. This varies a lot from site to site, and is difficult to measure accurately, since many users modify their browsers to fake coming from a major browser (due to many sites limiting access to recognized browsers) and many third party browsers identify themselves as the major browsers for the same reason (typically the browser name is still included, but many stats programs don't distinguish).

Additionally, this does not indicate that only a small percentage of users use alternate browsers- just that a small number of hits come from them. Given that many sites on the Internet do a poor job of supporting alternate browsers, people using them probably do not browse as many sites due to the roadblocks they encounter, and thus the percentage of users using those browsers is probably significantly higher than measured by those hits.

If you have access to your web server logs, you may be able to see what your users are using to access your site. This is not a totally accurate picture of the needs of your users however. If your site is not accessible in an alternate browser, people using that browser aren't likely to spend much time on your site, so you'd naturally see less hits from them. If you were to make your site more accessible, you could see those hits go up. Also, if you don't filter images or framed pages out of the calculations, the statistics for those pages will naturally be skewed.

If you use an alternate method to analyze your site statistics, such as a web based counter, Javascript, or an outside service, it may not count all browsers, leaving you with inaccurate statistics. For instance, any image based counter will not increment if the image isn't loaded, so anyone visiting with a text based browser or images off won't get counted.

Q: Doesn't supporting alternate browsers help Microsoft/Netscape?

A: Supporting alternate browsers helps pretty much everyone, although the company which has the most power in the browser market (currently Microsoft, although Netscape still has a bunch of clout) has the most to lose from customers having choice. Regardless of whether you have a complaint against one of the major browser vendors or you want to support one over the other, it's still more important to keep the field open for everyone so that we don't end up suffering as a result. Remember that the major browsers don't really have your best interests in mind.

Q: Isn't this just a bunch of anti-Microsoft/anti-Netscape stuff?

A: Not really. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of either one, but this is more about inclusion than exclusion. It's very easy to get annoyed at what the vendors have done to the market, but it's better to set a good example and refuse to play their proprietary games than it is to stamp your foot and just block out people from whatever vendor you happen to be annoyed with. I will state that Microsoft owning the majority of the browser market is a very dangerous thing, since they can use it to squeeze alternate platforms out of the market. Netscape has also caused problems by playing very Microsoft like games trying to control the browser market, and then doing a poor job of maintaining their browser and supporting standards. The best way to fight these types of tactics is not to play the game of designing proprietary pages and to demand pages which are not browser specific.

Q: I don't know HTML- I use a graphical editor to create pages. What can I do to make my pages viewable by any browser?

A: This is a tough problem. Some graphical editors are better than others at this sort of thing, and I'm not much of a graphical editor user so I can't offer much help. The best thing you can do is try not to use an editor which does too bad a job, use any validator the editor provides, and take advantage of anything it lets you do to make your pages more accessible (such as providing ALT). For more information, see the Accessible Design Guide: Tools.

Q: A site I want to use doesn't work in my browser. What can I do about it?

A: The best thing you can do is to notify the maintainer of the site. Be polite (people are generally much more willing to help when you're polite) and explain, as clearly as possible, what the problems you're encountering are and how they can reproduce those problems to test for themselves (assuming you know how). It is a very good idea to also refer them to the Accessible Design Guide or other literature online which explains how they can deal with the accessibility issues they have, so that they will know how to fix it if they are willing. There are some example letters available you can base your message off of if you like.

If they tell you they are unwilling to fix their site, let them know what their actions are costing them (again, be polite) in terms of visits from you (or others if you normally recommend sites), sales, etc. Also, if there is a competing site which is accessible to you, make sure to let them know that they're getting your business instead. You may not be able to change their minds, but you can give them something to think about.

Q: Wouldn't it be easier to get the browser makers to adhere to standards than to get all web pages to make their pages viewable with any browser?

A: I believe that getting browser makers to adhere to standards is a great idea, and I fully support the efforts to do that, and I don't intend to try to supplant those efforts with my campaign. However, I believe that a key component in these efforts is to reduce the incentive the browser makers have to continue to ignore standards. The best way I know of to do that is to design sites which are standards compliant and non-browser specific. As long as the browser makers can get the web designers to do their dirty marketing work for them, they don't have much reason to support standards efforts. Thus making pages viewable in any browser and encouraging others to do so makes it more likely browsers make the effort to support standards.

Additionally, even if Netscape and Microsoft fully implemented standards, there are still many people who do not use those browsers or who will be using older versions. HTML is designed to be degradable so that web designers do not have to leave people behind. So it's still important to make your pages accessible to everyone, and HTML makes the job easier than you might think.

Q: Isn't supporting every browser impossible? What about all the people who can't read the language your page is on? If you go that far, shouldn't you translate to every language too?

A: While it's true that you can't support every browser all the time, you can take advantage of the built in features in HTML to make your pages accessible to almost everyone without a lot of additional difficulty. If you have the skills to translate your pages, that's a good thing to do, but it's not anywhere near as doable as making your page accessible to just about any browser.

Q: There are certain technologies not supported by all browsers which I must use on my site. Does this mean I can't make my site accessible?

A: If this is the case, you can't make your site 100% accessible, but you can still do your part to make as much of your site accessible as possible. You may need Java to implement a specifialized configurator for example, but that doesn't mean that all the other useful information available on your site can't be made available to everyone. If you do have special needs for technologies in certain places on your site, do your best to inform the user of the fact as soon as it makes sense to do so. For example, if cookies are required to place orders on your site, don't wait until the user tries to place an order before letting them know all the effort they spent shopping was in vain because they couldn't store anything in their cart. Give them upfront information so they can react appropriately. At the same time, you don't want to completely lock them out if you can help it, just because they can't use cookies, because they may just be looking at prices and will come back later with a cookies enabled browser to purchase.

It is a good idea to have a browser compatibility information page available on your site if you require any advanced technologies for use of your site. Be specific about what is required and what is optional (but recommended). Many sites just tell people they need Netscape or IE 4.0 or greater to use their sites, when in fact only certain sections require certain technologies which may also be available in other browsers. Don't just tell people they need a specific browser to view your site, tell them which pages require specific functionality, and let them know of specific browsers that you know will work with it. If you need SSL, you definitely don't need to tell them they have to use Netscape or IE- just let them know they need to use a browser which is capable of SSL, and if you like, suggest browsers which you have tested and verified will work. By giving more specific information, users of older and third party browsers can make intelligent judgements on whether they can use the site effectively without being pushed to use a specific browser that they may not need to meet the functionality requirements of the site.