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  • 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 OneStat.com, 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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