While not every restaurant takes American Express, you cannot afford not to. If your audience cannot shop, see, eat, or visit your site without downloading a browser or plug-in they may not have--and may not even be able to use--your audience will be smaller than it could be and you will be short-changing yourself in the process. Realistically by the end of this year, there are probably only three browsers you will need to watch and engineer for: Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Explorer, and AOL's flavor of either.
Every page and every element of your site should look good on, at least, Navigator and Explorer--and not just the latest, greatest version. Period. 99% of any sites ending in .edu, .gov, or .com cannot afford to look bad or not serve everyone. Cutting edge is not using whatever latest feature some coder snuck into the latest browser. It is making sure that everyone can see what you have to say (and is much more difficult and "cutting edge" to accomplish this gracefully).
The first step is to determine your audience. With whom are you trying to communicate (and if you say everyone, you still don't get it)? You need to concentrate on those people who mean the most to your business. Then, figure out what browsers they actually use and what those browsers are capable of doing and build to that. Now, if people who use special browsers aren't part of your target audience, then don't worry. But if they are, you better have a graceful (and sophisticated) solution waiting for them when they show up at your door.
Also, just because a new version of a browser is shipping, doesn't mean your customers are using it yet--or ever will. Most new browsers crash so often that your audience may be using an older version out of self-preservation. If you tell them they are wrong and out-of-date then you misunderstand something very important about customer service and you deserve to fail. Building inclusive, compatible systems isn't easy. I realize that this medium is anything but easy, but if you can't stand this kind of heat, then leave the kitchen.
The most savvy of these sites automatically serve up the right version of pages based on the type of browser the request came from. This "smart serving" or "smart swapping" distinguishes a sophisticated website that cares about it's audience from one that either can't or won't care about its customers.
Lastly, your sites need to be compatible with all of the computer platforms that your customers use. This means Windows and Macintosh and UNIX machines if your want their business. You may have to look at your graphics on a Windows computer to compensate for the lack of any gamma control on this hopelessly graphics-wounded machine (everything is much darker on a Windows box). You should definitely post several versions of downloadable files so that Macintosh, Windows, and UNIX users can hear that sound file, see that video clip, and decompress that document.
To summarize: Examples:
- The two browsers driving the features of the market are Netscape's Navigator and Microsoft's Explorer.
- Audio and Video clips (as well as other documents) need to be available in multiple formats.
- Alternate sites or pages for different browsers are possible but make them automatic and "smart" so that the audience needs not be bothered.
- If you don't use alternate sites or pages, be sure that your pages work well in all the browsers your audience uses.
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Copyright 1994 Nathan Shedroff