Philip Chalmers investigates the bold claim that web pages should be viewable in any browser.
Author: Philip Chalmers
I've recently stumbled across a few pages which claim that any page should be viewable in any browser. Sorry if I'm slow, but I don't see that this is a realistic objective.
First, what counts as a browser? And what will count as a browser in a year or two? Jakob Nielsen thought it would be impossible for the same page to work in very limited devices such as mobile phones: End of Single-Design Pages?.
Even if we stick to desk-top systems, nobody knows how many browsers are out there. For example, the hoary ape lists goodness knows how many. It's impossible to test in all of them; look and see how many platforms you'd need! And where could you get reliable descriptions of what they can and can't do, including bug lists? In particular, how many of them crash if a developer uses any of the "graceful degradation" techniques which are becoming common? Netscape 4 is notorious for crashing on some perfectly valid HTML and CSS, and nobody claims to have an exhaustive list of reasons for Netscape 4 crashes.
Browsers which crash are plainly defective - the HTML standards say that a browser should just ignore anything it doesn't understand. Web developers can't be expected to take responsibility for the mistakes of browser / user agent suppliers.
Finally, let's compare web pages with television programmes:
- Nobody blames television programme makers if people can't view programmes with defective television sets.
- UK broadcasters dropped 405-line VHF transmissions decades ago. Viewers have had to upgrade to 625-line UHF sets.
- The UK government intends to switch off analogue television signals, "when digital television is available to all (those who have analogue television i.e. 99.4% of the population), affordable to all (including those on low or fixed incomes) and has been taken up by 95% of viewers." In other words, it intends to force a small minority to choose between upgrading and being left out in the cold.
Television programmes are as electronic as web pages. Why should web pages have to follow different rules?