Return of the 'best viewed with' parochialism

Update 01 February 2002: Related links
Update 28 December 2001: Related links
Update 6 April 2001: The aftermath

In the early days, slapping a 'best viewed with Browser X' on your website was considered kewl. It showed that you're a cutting-edge, top-of-the-crop webdesigner familiar with all the latest, kewl proprietary extensions by courtesy of Netscape and Microsoft.

Last year, the same thing was considered utterly lame because all it really showed was that you're a Frontpage jockey stuck to Internet Explorer, and that you couldn't write a single HTML tag if your life depended on it.

But today, it's kewl all over again. Or will be, if Jeffrey Zeldman has his way: "Please consider upgrading to one of the following browsers, which make it easier for Web builders to be sure the sites you visit will work correctly."

Huh, what? Have they forgotten that the WWW is a platform-independent, browser-independent network of information resources? Why the hell should I use a different browser to be sure that the site works correctly? Any standards-compliant document should work correctly by default. That's what HTML is all about.

They even wrote two articles about the whole thing. One promoting the cause, another one explaining their journey. Briefly, what they did on Alistapart was to replace the old table-for-layout design with a div-for-layout design, and use the media attribute and @import trick to hide the stylesheet from browsers like e.g. Netscape 4. These methods have been known and used for a while now - they try to hype it into a web standards crusade! They're so proud of using this technology that we should change to a browser that supports it. It's 1996 all over again.

I use a large range of browsers every day. So if I happen to be visiting a site with my clunky old standards-incapable Netscape 4.0 browser (or a 3.0 browser, or <gasp> even Lynx), then I'm using it for a reason. And if a new-fangled, feature-riddled website looks like @#$ in my browser (most of them look like that even in modern browsers, but that's beside the point), then I can simply turn off CSS, Javascript, images, etc.. If the site is standards-compliant, then I'm left with a nice, structurally sound and syntactically correct HTML document; if not, I get puzzle pieces scattered by a careless child.

Maybe it's time for that famous TBL quote again:

"Anyone who slaps a 'this page is best viewed with Browser X' label on a Web page appears to be yearning for the bad old days, before the Web, when you had very little chance of reading a document written on another computer, another word processor, or another network."

-Tim Berners-Lee, Technology Review, July 1996

But to be honest, it's not all bad. There is one good thing about this design change. Like one reader put it in the ALA Forum: "At least now the font size is readable."


I guess those were my 15 minutes of fame. Now let's get back to business as usual.

Related links

© Matthias Gutfeldt, 2001