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Simson Garfinkel

A View from Simson Garfinkel

Carrying Water for Microsoft

Careless Web developers work tirelessly to maintain Redmond’s dominance.

  • January 12, 2007

I use three operating systems on a daily basis: MacOS, Windows, and FreeBSD. The Mac is my main desktop; I have a lot of Terminal windows open on the FreeBSD box; and I use Windows for the programs and websites that just don’t run on anything else.

There’s been a lot of talk about both the Mac and the Web being more compatible than ever before. While this may be true, there’s still an awful lot of software and websites out there that just don’t work properly unless you’re using Windows and Internet Explorer (IE).

For example, last night I was investigating the electronic bill-payment features on Fidelity.com. The site tries to work with Firefox and Safari, but it’s inconsistent. Sometimes the pages would display, and other times one page would redirect to the second, which would redirect back to the first, and so on, until Firefox displayed an error message. I called up Fidelity for tech support. Its people said that they would try to help me configure Firefox so that it could work with the site, but it would work better with IE on Windows. Then, once I fired up IE, I discovered that I still needed to adjust at least 10 different settings in the Internet Options window before the Bill Pay website would work properly.

It’s actually not that hard to build a website that works properly with every Web browser that’s on people’s desktops today. The problem is that developers who strive for this kind of compatibility either need to eschew the use of JavaScript and dynamic HTML, or else they need to be extraordinarily careful with the advanced features that they deploy and test everything on every platform. Being a one-man development shop, I tend toward the simplicity solution. Google goes the other way, which is why the interactive Google Maps work not only on IE and Firefox, but also on Safari and even on my Palm Treo 750p (once you download the helper application from Google).

Fidelity’s contractor didn’t set out to build a website that would shut out Macintosh and Linux users. But by being lax with its choice of Web authoring technologies, that’s exactly what it did. This is a shame: in general, the Fidelity.com website works very well with practically any browser you might use. But the bill-payment site wasn’t written by Fidelity: the service appears to be provided by an outside contractor. The technical-support people I spoke with are aware of the problem. Perhaps Fidelity will do something about it one day.

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