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"Best with" is bad for you

by Scott Bradner

All too many sites on the web have buttons on them labeled something like "best viewed with browser X" and if you press the button you get connected to a place where you can download that browser. There are 3 reasons that people put these buttons on the sites: because of business arrangements; to make a political statement; or because the site uses features only available in some particular browser. The first two reasons are mostly benign but the third can hurt the site owner and annoy surfers who reach the site.

It has become quite common for browser vendor to cut deals with operators of web pages that wind up with the web site agreeing to push a particular browser. Part of the deal is that the site puts on its home page a button that tells anyone reaching the site that they should be using that vendor's browser, i.e. a normal advertising ploy. It has also become common for web page operators who dislike one of the major browser vendors to put a button pushing an alternate browser on their web site. As long as it's just advertising, pro or con, this is fine but if the web site designer has gone beyond advertising and purposefully uses features only present in , or absent from, a particular browser it is bad for us all.

To quote Tim Berners-Lee, the generally acknowledged creator of the web, "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." (Technology Review, July 1996)

The main purpose of standards is to ensure that the user has multiple options for products that implement the standard and there is competition among the vendors of the products. Any time that someone decides to avoid using standards-based products or decides to use features that are beyond what the standard has defined they, by definition, reduce the availability of products that can support their activity. In the case of a web site operator, they reduce the flexibility of the users of that site. I fail to understand what advantage there is to a web site operator in making it hard for their potential customers to use their site.

There is a Campaign for a Non-Browser Specific WWW ( from which you can get a "works best with any browser" button for those sites that are smart enough to understand that making it hard for their customers is counter productive.

disclaimer: Harvard's last campaign was for a bit over $2 billion and did not concern itself with browsers, in any case, the above observation is mine.