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Online banks, retailers shut out Linux, Opera, Konqueror fans

So much for customer segmentation

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We've received an enormous amount of feedback from our story on the impossibility of opening money-saving online energy accounts with Scottish Power if you are a Linux or Opera user.

Many of you reporting that it's difficult for Linux users with default browser configurations to view the Scottish Power site at all. Instead, Linux users receive an unhelpful message that "We have detected certain aspects of your system that will prevent you experiencing this site fully. These are: You are not running a Windows or Apple Macintosh operating system".

Opera users can't use the site either, and with your help we think we've narrowed down this issue to Scottish Power's use of an antiquated version of a software tool called BrowserHawk, which incorrectly reports that Opera fails to support neither Flash or cookies.

There is a workaround for both Opera and Linux users, but it's only partially effective.

Opera and KDE's Konqueror allow user agent spoofing, where the user agent string is altered allowing surfers to pretend to sites that they're using a different browser. A similar trick is also possible with Mozilla, which we'll take as an example.

In this case, first make sure you've got Flash installed then set you browser identity to Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.0; Mac_Power PC) or you could try pretending to be using a Windows machine, again by changing your preferences to override default user agent configs in the user.js file. There's more details on this here.

Netscape 4.x will never view this site on Linux because it's ID cannot be changed, Lynx can have it's ID changed but fails as it can't run JavaScript, which is heavily used on the site. Along with cookies and Flash.

Reg reader and Linux fan Alex Tucker tells us he wasn't able to get very far into Scottish Power's Web site even after changing his browser ID. So user agent spoofing isn't always going to nail this problem.

Bankers show grey matter

Scottish Power discriminatory policies against minority computing users (it's yet to give us a response on this beyond saying it is looking into the issue) illustrate a wider problem of commercial Web sites failing to allow users of perfectly capable alternative browsers from using their online facilities.

A useful site which documents support for online banking for Konqueror users amply illustrates this point, and show how many financial institutions worldwide are making life difficult for potential customers.

Looking at the UK, let's say well done to Egg, Smile, and Lloyd's TSB. Alternative browser users who fancy using NatWest or HFC's online facilities need not apply.

NatWest, which only welcomes users of IE and Netscape 4, is a pet hate by many people who responded to our original article. Netscape 6 is not allowed at Royal Bank of Scotland either "because staff haven't had the chance to evaluate the security of the browser", which has been available for almost two years.

Can anyone seriously suggest IE is preferable for security reasons? Do these people not monitor the security environment and notice the weekly flood of security alerts concerning IE compared to the drip (one we recall of in the last five years) concerning Opera?

Well actually there is someone who can - and it's Marks & Spencer which says "to protect you from certain usability and/or security issues we currently do not support Opera, Mozilla, earlier versions of Netscape or IE. If your preferred browser is not supported, we recommend that you consider co-installing a supported version." ®

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