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Articles - Netscape's Revenge? Time to rethink cross browser compatibility.

Over the past couple of years I've been involved with training many new web masters, developers and site owners. In the process I've had the privilege of in turn being trained by many of them! Working in a training room environment with a group of Netrepreneurs is never dull - web development and marketing can get pretty passionate at times!

If there was ever a subject that stirred up heated debate, it was the issue of cross-browser compatibility. It was very difficult telling someone that the web page that they were working on and so proud of would either crash Netscape browsers or display terribly and they should really rethink the design and functions. The typical response would be "everyone should use IE then!", or "I don't care!" and the inevitable "not many people use Netscape!". I remember some of these debates becoming so heated that they basically became yelling matches - ah, the memories!

It's true, creating a site that is compatible with a wide range of platforms can be a pain in the butt - but the benefits translate into more visitors and if you are an ecommerce based site, this will translate into increased sales.

"Not many people use Netscape!"

This may be about to change. AOL, which up until now has bundled a flavour of Internet Explorer with its services, has recently announced that it is testing a replacement browser. AOL's bundling agreement with Microsoft officially ended in January of 2001, amid great controversy. AOL has engaged other providers since then to develop a product, but all have failed.

Considering that AOL now owns Netscape, it doesn't take too much imagination to guess which browser they are currently testing. AOL's online service currently boasts a membership of over 35 million which is approximately 5% of the total browser market. A move to Netscape will dramatically increase the number of visitors to your site using the software.

"5 percent isn't much of an increase"

When viewed in this way, the figures may not give you much incentive to start designing sites for Netscape - but here's a working example using Taming the Beast.net visitor figures.

For the week leading up to the publishing of this article, our site had around 15800 visitors who viewed nearly 50 000 pages. Currently, the number of Netscape visits to our site stands at around 6.6%. 

Rough Breakdown:

Number of Netscape visits - 1042 over 7 days
Number of Netscape page views - 3300 over 7 days

If AOL goes ahead with the change to Netscape, these figures will only increase.

If you're the owner of an ecommerce based site, imagine losing 3300 chances every week to sell your products because you felt that "everybody should use IE!". If you are a developer and design only for Internet Explorer, you may have lost your clients a good deal of business this week!

Are you hiring someone to create a web site?

This raises a good point for those of you who are considering having a site built by someone else. It will definitely pay to ask the prospective design/development company whether they can create you a site that is cross browser compatible. At the very least, all critical elements on your new site should display properly in IE4.0+ and NS4.0+. It may cost a little extra, but a few dollars spent will be returned to you many times over.

As developers/site owners, it may be time to quit browser brand loyalty mindsets, squabbles about W3C compliancy* and being software company 'fanboys' .... let the market dictate.

Further notes:

Cross Browser Compatibility
http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ articles/crossbrowercompatibility.htm 

The other great debate: Internet Advertising
http://www.tamingthebeast.net/ articles/webadvertising.htm 

(The W3C develops interoperable technologies (specifications, guidelines, software, and tools) to lead the Web to its full potential as a forum for information, commerce, communication, and collective understanding. You can visit the W3C at http://www.w3c.org)

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
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