Trial By Firefox

Here in Montreal, we are blessed with a large number of very talented web designers and games and software programmers. It’s one of the strengths of our city, as has been confirmed by a number of the world multimedia forces, who have set up shop here. A striking example of that is Ubisoft, the French games powerhouse, with a studio of over 1000 talented designers and support staff. There’s some really brilliant work being done here.

Designing effective websites is one of the toughest assignments of all. Most business websites are designed to be part of the selling process, either generating sales leads or in some cases taking the order. Selling effective websites require many more talents and skills than the web designer alone can bring to the table. However the web designer has enough challenges in his own area of expertise.

A little incident yesterday got me musing on that. It’s all concerned with what the technos call Cross-Browser Compatibility. Microsoft paid $ 1.1 billion US in stock when they bought Great Plains in March 2001. This is an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) suite of programmes that has now become an important part of Microsoft Business Solutions. I was looking with interest at the website of one of its principal local resellers. After the introductory “splash page”, I was shown a warning page, part of which I show below.

What an irritating downer. I use Firefox as my default browser, so that is why I got the warning. I might have been a customer: what a way to welcome me.

Surprisingly Microsoft itself seems to run into the same problem. There’s no warning but if you try to watch their principal sales aid for the Great Plains software, you’ll have a problem with Firefox. The Demo video appears the right size in Internet Explorer but very small in Firefox. This is core business stuff we’re talking about here

Of course a good question is whether the non-Internet Explorer sector of the market is big enough to worry about. Actually there’s quite a trend here. Looking at the traffic for the SMM website, the share of visitors using Internet Explorer has been steadily dropping. This website may be typical of the manufacturing and service sector audience. During the last 30 days, there were 8,800 visitors and only 74% of them were using Internet Explorer in all its different versions. So 1 in 4 of the visitors to the Microsoft Business Solutions reseller website might see that warning sign.

For whatever reason, Microsoft is finally realizing that it must crunch this problem. It’s somewhat of a strategic hot potato. The several versions of Internet Explorer have not always embodied the latest web design standards. In order to ensure websites designed to work with older IE versions will continue to work, the same looseness in not observing standards must continue. There’s the dilemma. Stay with the legacy or cut loose and conform to current standards. Yesterday there was also good news. An article on CNET posed the question, Microsoft yielding to IE standards pressure? The answer seemed to be positive.

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