The Browser Report: Would You Tell 20% of Your Customers to Take a Hike?

July 12th, 2006

It is an old story. You try to access a commerce site, when you get the dreaded message that Windows Internet Explorer is required. Sure, you could try that aging Mac version, but more likely than not, it won’t work either.

Now if you talk to the people who run the site in question, they’ll tell you that you have but one solution, and that is to use Windows, period. No ifs, ands or buts. They programmed the site in that fashion and they are not going to perform all that work again for what is, to them, an extremely small segment of the market.

They might even add insult to injury and suggest that your best solution is to get ahold of a Windows computer, and if they’ve read the tech stories lately, it’s quite possible they’ll suggest you install Windows on your Intel-based Mac.

Now maybe they haven’t read the news as carefully as they should. We all know that Internet Explorer has been blamed for a host of security lapses, and some suggest that the upgraded version 7.0, now in beta 3 mode, isn’t all that much better in many respects. Regardless, the statistics show that Internet Explorer is losing users faster than AOL is hemorrhaging subscribers. As of July, one report, from, gives Internet Explorer’s U.S. market share as 79.78%, with Firefox improving to 15.82%. The rest of the pack holds up the rear, but the handwriting is on the wall. Can you imagine how many millions of people ditched Internet Explorer to reduce its share from 95% to less than 80%? The mind boggles.

More important than that, though, is whether it makes sense for any business to tell so many potential customers to change their ways or take a hike? How can you possibly stay in business that way, unless you’ve already got enough customers to finance those monthly Maui vacations?

The short answer is that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Besides, Internet Explorer’s other shortcomings, Web designers will take you that it pays but a passing glance to standards, which means you actually have have to tweak a site so that it will render properly on Microsoft’s browser. In other words, you have to perform extra compatibility work because Microsoft can’t get its act together and get with the program. Of course, you could use Microsoft’s own development tools and let it mess up things for you.

Now I don’t know about you, but I think companies that insist you use Internet Explorer aren’t very smart. No, let me make that as blunt as possible: Perfectly stupid! Take the real estate industry. The housing boom isn’t quite what it used to be here in the U.S., and agents have to work that much harder to get a sale.

To keep tabs on available properties, they’ll subscribe to the local branch of an MLS, or multiple listing service. Alas, many of them use online sites deliberately programmed to require Internet Explorer. I have one local client who is in that business, and she had to learn Windows to keep abreast of not only her listings, but those available from her local colleagues.

In this case, the solution was to set up Boot Camp on her husband’s MacBook Pro, and Virtual PC on their Power Mac. Before you say “Parallels,” well it was barely in beta when I was asked to assist in their setup, but they are reasonably pleased with the routine I established for them.

But that $200 for a copy of Windows XP, another $50 for virus software, not to mention my hourly rate to configure things for them, was an absolutely unnecessary expense. It was foisted upon them by the local real estate board that just didn’t think things through, and the national company who provides those online services in the first place.

I can always hope things will get better now that Macs are gaining more traction, and Internet Explorer alternatives are growing in market share. In the meantime, I can only tell the people who program sites that require Microsoft’s browser to rethink their decisions. How much business can you afford to give up? Maybe the big companies who have made this move should be confronted by their shareholders to explain why at the next annual meeting. No, I’m not about to suggest class-action lawsuits, because it seems only attorneys profit from those things, and the courts are clogged enough as it is.

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14 Responses to “The Browser Report: Would You Tell 20% of Your Customers to Take a Hike?”

  1. cartographer says:

    As my website states, any website that requires a specific web browser to work, is not only denying potential customers, but chances are is violating accessiblity standards. And for government agencies, and those making money from government agencies there is something called Section 508 in the U.S. which would make this even more restrictive. If your website does not use standard methods for gracefull code degradation, accessibility is lost for those with disabilities who use the web. There is thus a portion of the potential web browsing world who never get to access the web because webmasters fail to code their websites properly. I strongly recommend anytime you reach a website that uses ActiveX, or Microsoft Java (instead of Sun Java), or JScript instead of Javascript, or Flash instead of animated GIFs, to inform them with the help of ‘s form letters what they are doing to potential customers and those with disabilities.

  2. Jim Everson says:

    I’m a full time independent Mac consultant and I have encountered the same MLS problem many times here in Marin county (where real estate is king). I have helped lots of real estate agents get around the problem of MLS. So far, Parallels offers the most convenient solution. I have had several conversations with the MLS folks trying to get some assistance and have picked up a strong anti-Mac bias. They just don’t care to deal with it. Believe me, it keeps my phone ringing.

  3. Max says:

    Some companies dont have a competent marketing area. I recommend reading a book called Branmindset – chapter 8 –; It says that, all platforms must be accepted by the web site to achieve maximum aproach to all people. (something like that couse i´ve read in portuguese).

  4. No, I’m not about to suggest class-action lawsuits, because it seems only attorneys profit from those things, and the courts are clogged enough as it is.

    That’s just the attitude the corporations want you to have. Lawsuits are the only power a minority or small injured party has to redress grievances and cause change.

    The point wouldn’t be to get money, but to make it so expensive for a place to not support more than the dominant plaform than it is for them to do things right in the first place.

    Lawsuits and lawyers, like unions, can be used badly or have too much power. But without them, the only ones with power would be corporations and the people with money that own them.

    Next time you hear someone talk about tort reform, think of it in terms of “who does it benefit?” rather than “who does it rein in?”

    I would suggest that what we may need here _is_ a class action suit. Or an anti-trust action by the DOJ. The threat of either one would cause them to re-think their strategy, at least.

  5. steve says:

    Over the last few months I’ve had occasion to visit the web sites of many realtors themselves. Some work fairly well, quite a few don’t.

    Most recently I was considering selling a house and went to the web to check out the realtors. I’m not sure that many of the problems relate to Mac issues, or just that they don’t have time to maintain their sites, or maybe they were ripped off by somebody or some company to set it up. Maybe the clueless bunch who does the MLS software also sells site designs to realtors.

    I did find a realtor whose site worked well and did a good selling job of saying why I should pick them. Their office also was in the same general neighborhood as the house. When I met with the agent, she seemed as competent and professional as her site had led me to expect.

    Anyhow, I take the approach that people who don’t want me as a customer probably have a good point.

  6. Joe Ragosta says:

    Actually, while real estate sites often don’t work at all with Macs, it’s also common for them to work poorly even with Windows. My wife is a realtor and the MLS she uses stinks. It crashes constantly, responds slowly, and is extremely inconsistent (for example, in some locations you enter a development’s name normally and in others you enter it without any spaces (!!!!). Then there are the pages where the instructions tell you to enter the name without spaces, but you need to get spaces to get it to work. And then you need to use a wild card instead of entering key words – but the wild card doesn’t work. You actually need to enter the entire development name, with or without spaces, depending on how that particular page wants it. Basically, the people coding MLS pages seem to be incompetent across the board.

  7. Steve (2) says:

    Because my wife is a realtor, we are very familiar with the local MLS Internet Explorer requirements. However, I amused that the “more” standards based IE 7 is also unsupported and doesn’t work properly with our local MLS. Those darn standards! When are folks going to wise up and realize that the web is it’s own platform (independent of Windows, Mac, unix, linux, etc.) and needs to be suported by all.

  8. brent lee (webmaster macnightowl) says:

    It has always amazed me that companys – whoo woo – that don’t care about standards and best practices for the future.. basically “the right thing to do”.. They could careless! Are they dumb or greedy? Thay want to play a game of nitch and pick… just crap. Some of them say we can track them by using the worst browser ever devised. Or we can spam them with add on tool bars and more and more crap! Funny how embed IE and widows are.. coincidence, I think not. And the worst part of all of this is that ‘the rest of us’ who are in 2006 have to spend 10% or of our time developing for real browsers and 90% of our time developing for evil IE. I’m am so so so greatful for the!!

  9. brent lee (webmaster macnightowl) says:

    one more thing – if you can NOT develop a website to work on every platform you are not a web developer! you are frikin joke! Go back to the 80s where you belong!

  10. Carlos says:

    Our local board of realtors just started using Navica. This seems to work fine with Safari and really good with Firefox. Here’s some info. It’s the only cross-platform MLS system our board could find. Looks like they’re going to have a big presence at the National Association of Realtors convention this year. I’d suggest getting involved with your local Board of Realtors if you want to effect the MLS system used. Usually local Realtor associations sign 3-5 year contracts with MLS software providers.

  11. Kent says:

    My wife is a realtor in Denver and is going through the same thing. The parts of the MLS web system that the realtors have access to are restricted to Windows IE. It has improved some over the years. This is typical of most companies with a captive audience. If they sell to the general public than they tend to learn real quick that it isn’t smart to lock out 20% of their potential customers. If they serve a closed group of users such as inside a corporation or a group such as realtors than there is no incentive to follow standards. I work for an very large aerospace firm where all outside webpages are required to follow web standards. They don’t want to tick off their potential customers. Inside web pages, only accessable by employees, are a complete mess of incompatable sites. I guess it’s OK to tick off the employees.

  12. Edward R. Shuping says:

    I forwarded this article and responses to our local MLS in Northern Colorado, and here is the response I got:

    “We understand this issue is frustrating but please know we are not biased against Macs or other browsers – at some point we would like to be compatible with more platforms.

    However, it does not make fiscal sense to pursue it right now. The price tag for making those changes to our site is in the tens of thousands of dollars – this is a project of massive proportions with a huge ripple affect after implementation. At this time, with the browser/OS market share as it is, we do not feel it is a service to the vast majority of our subscribers to allocate that amount of R&D money for functionality that would benefit a small percentage of users.”

  13. Poster says:

    The response from the MLS guys is typically shortsighted. For every potential customer they alienate, that’s money that they will never see. There’s a ripple effect in the opposite direction, guys. Tick off one of that “small percentage of users” and you tick off all their friends, who in turn, tick off all their friends. It’s funny, but I guess some people just are making so much money that they can’t be bothered with making any more!

  14. Steve says:

    Well, the MLS folk are not dealing with the public. They have a captive audience of realtors. It’s not like the realtors can take their business elsewhere. Also in that particular case, the MLS people own the software company, so it’s not like they are going to shop around for a better alternative.

    I’m curious how it would take “tens of thousands of dollars” to make a website work with standard HTML. In any event, shouldn’t all the heavy lifting be done on the server side and the client browser just be sent the results in a normal web page?

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