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Alternative browser villains named and shamed

Reg readers have their say on Opera, Mozilla, Konqueror site exclusions

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Updated Our stories on how online banks, retailers and utilities make life difficult for Linux users, or just people who prefer alternative browsers (such as Opera) has touched a nerve among many of our readers.

Although Opera, Mozilla and KDE's Konqueror allow user agent spoofing, which allows you to change your preferences to impersonate either IE or Netscape, this isn't always effective to get access to IE/Netscape only sites - particularly those that use ActiveX heavily. This browser cloaking workaround also lacks elegance - not least because e-commerce firms will think Opera fans are using IE, justifying their view that alternative browser support isn't needed.

Banks, who are naturally financially sensitive, fail to test for alternative browsers because the cost-benefit analysis doesn't add up, we're told. The suggestion from some financial outfits that they can't be sure alternative browsers are secure is, we believe, a red herring. After all they recommend IE, don't they?

Chicken and Egg

Other e-commerce outfits think along the same lines as banks, developers tell us. Unless some breakeven percentage of a customer base uses Linux or Opera, the thinking goes, then clients won't insist their systems are "made compatible".

Developers should follow (of course) platform independent standards, but in the real world many don't. The situation is made all the more difficult by proprietary features in some browsers themselves.

So it's not easy to get it right but there are many organisations who pull off this trick. Kudos to these outfits, which we'll call our Internet saints. Of course there's many who through laziness/incompetence persist in making life miserable for alternative browser/OS users, let's call these organisations Internet sinners.

Based on your voluminous feedback to our earlier stories we've drawn up a list of Internet saints and sinners (browser fascists). We're not terribly optimistic, but there's just a chance this list might prompt those in the latter camp to consider whether they need to reform their approach.

Sinners

Abbey National: IE and Netscape 4.75 only

ABN Amro: Dutch bank has no plans to support Opera

Argos: IE only in practice because intended Netscape support is stuffed. Patronisingly tells non IE/Netscape users to update their browsers to access the site and "enjoy a better all-round web experience" - however site doesn't support Netscape 7 even though it offers it as a download. Netscape 6 and Mozilla users also get the brush off

Bank of Scotland: Opera on NT works but not Opera on Linux, they seem to be trying though.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce: IE/Netscape only, though user agent spoofing will allow you to use the site

Capital One: again IE and ancient Netscape only

CitiBank: mixed reports - Mozilla users like it but some surfers dislike its heavy use of JavaScript

Clydesdale Bank: looking for a night at the Opera? Look elsewhere.

Dixons: both Mozilla and Opera get rather upset by JavaScript errors

First Direct: claims to be Windows/IE only but Linux users report happily using the site, which is pure Java

Halifax: Linux-unfriendly, reckons Opera users who aren't in stealth mode can't use 128-bit encryption

HFC Bank: doesn't stoop to Konqueror

HSBC: mixed reports, Opera users report problems but a larger number of Linux users (in the UK) say the site works fine. Tuxheads in Oz are not so happy

Marks & Spencer: Opera/Mozilla refuseniks - suggests alternate browser users might experience usability /security issues

Merrill Lynch: bank uses Linux, but doesn't let clients do the same (Opera or Konqueror hostile)

Nat West: only supports IE, Netscape 4.x

Royal Bank of Scotland: IE, Netscape only

RBC Centura Bank of Canada: No support for Netscape 6.x

Sainsbury's: Mac-unfriendly retailer - excessive use of JavaScript

Scottish Power: Linux/Opera/alternative browsers barred, the site generates an offensive error message to Linux users

smile: makes Unix users frown and riles Opera lovers, but parent Co-operative bank is Linux-friendly

St George Bank, Australia: MS, NS only (again)

TXU Energi: another utility that snubs Linux/Opera/Konqueror fans

Virgin Megastore, France: IE only

Woolwich: prefers users to stick to IE. Mozilla doesn't work properly

Dear oh dear. Of course our list here is only skimming the surface of a very deep and murky ocean, for a more comprehensive resource we highly recommend this
Banks 'n' Browsers list, which is far more comprehensive than anything we'll be able to put together. Nice table too.

There's also a site recording Web site compatability for Konqueror users, which doesn't apply for those who use other browsers.

Before we leave you let's raise our hat to those sites Reg readers single out for praise. It's a much shorter list.

Saints

AIB, Ireland

Bank of Ireland

Barclays: most of you are happy, although there's some quibbles from one or two Mozilla users

BCP Bank, Portugal: supports IE, Mozilla (including Phoenix), Opera and Netscape

Lloyds TSB: penguin hugging

Nationwide: Opera embracing

Westpac, Australia

That's about all but I'm sure you're wondering, based on our random sample of correspondents, which sites you love and loathe the most. Clear winner and kudos goes to Lloyds TSB.

When it comes to which site you reckoned was the dog's dinner it's a much closer run thing. Argos, because it made such a pig's ear of Netscape support in particular, featured heavily in dispatches. Our friends at Scottish Power - particularly because its site even prevents Linux users accessing information about what to do in an emergency - also came in for a lot of criticism.

But there's only one ultimate villain - step forward Nat West, Reg readers really, really don't like your site. ®

Related Stories

Online banks, retailers shut out Linux, Opera, Konqueror fans
Scottish Power disconnects Linux users

External Links

Rant about clueless Web site admins - which gives some tips on how to put things right
More help: the HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.0 standards. There's also plenty more relevant stuff on the World Wide Web Consortium site
Viewable With Any Browser campaign
Web accessibility, alternative browsers and the disabled

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