The Days of Whine and Browser Sniffing …

by Stephanie Rewis on May 11, 2005

I really thought we were done with this. At least I thought that
larger, more professional sites had changed. Browser sniffing. Locking
people out of web sites due to their browser choice. What happened to
presenting an unstyled page to those who choose a more current browser? What about screen readers?

Case in point — National Geographic. As some of you know, I home
school my sons. This morning, I was helping the eldest with some
Grasslands research for Biology class. I Googled what appeared to be a great link. However, when I hit it, this is what I got:

Your Browser is not supported

The Following Browsers are supported:
Please download one of these free browsers and try again.

Netscape 4
Netscape 6

Internet Explorer 4
Internet Explorer 5
Internet Explorer 5.5
Internet Explorer 6

So rather than telling me my experience would be better if I were
using one of these icky browsers, they choose to completely lock me
out. Ahhh, but I'm one of those smart web developer types, right? So I
just go to my little Web Developer's Toolbar, and I turn off
JavaScript. They can't sniff without it! Now I'm all set to read. I
refresh my page and voila! I have nothing. I have a completely and
totally white page. Okay…

Final ditch effort. View Source. Wow — the whole, entire, freaking page is loaded with JavaScript. There is no page without it. So they sniff and then they load. If they can't sniff, they don't load anything.

Yes, I have access to a PC. And yes, I went to the page and know
that the main portion is an “interactive” map — albeit a very slow
clunky one. I wonder if they actually tested it in Moz-based browsers
before they locked everyone except IE and NN out. Perhaps, they could
allow the rest of the page to load? Maybe I'd like to see and use the
sidebars, even if they've created something in the main area that no
browser but IE and NN can handle? That would be swell.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Charlton May 11, 2005 at 4:09 pm

Well, if you notice, Netscape 7 isn’t even on the list. So, they’re obviously lagging behind in maintaining any of their browser base.

I wonder if anyone is even looking at their own stats there, since they should see some Safari, Opera, and regular Mozilla users passing through and getting that “error” page.

John Dowdell May 11, 2005 at 7:32 pm

Didn’t let me in with a current Firefox. Wacky.

One of my pet peeves is that phrase “not supported”… doesn’t really mean anything. A visitor can’t tell whether their current browser was tested and failed, wasn’t tested, may work or may not work… I’ve seen this inside tech support, the vaporous phrase “not supported” is sometimes used as if the speaker is actually saying something….

The following identity test seems like it would be better as a capabilities test, true…?

function checkBrowser(){



this.ie4=(document.all && !this.dom)?1:0;

this.ie5=(this.ver.indexOf(“MSIE 5″)>-1 && this.dom && navigator.userAgent.indexOf(“Opera”) < = 0 && navigator.appVersion.indexOf("MSIE 5.5") <=0)?1:0;

this.ie55=(navigator.appVersion.indexOf(“MSIE 5.5″) > 0) ? 1 : 0;

this.ie6=(navigator.appVersion.indexOf(“MSIE 6″) > 0) ? 1 : 0;

this.ns4=(document.layers && !this.dom)?1:0;

this.ns6=(navigator.userAgent.indexOf(“Netscape6″) > 0) ? 1 : 0;

this.op4=(navigator.userAgent.indexOf(“Opera 4″) > 0) ? 1 : 0; || this.ie5 || this.ie55 || this.ie6 || this.ns4 || this.ns6) ? 1 : 0;

return this;


Stef. May 11, 2005 at 10:07 pm

I agree with you both. “Not supported” is just ridiculous. And it’s quite obvious what it REALLY means since they’re not even looking at NN7… It means this has been here for a long time and they haven’t bothered to update it. It also likely means that, unless they’re doing something really strange with those interactive maps, they would probably work in my browser. Would be nice if they wanted to let me know that it might not (an alert or something) but then let me attempt it if I wanted to.

Don’t make my decision for me or lock me out. I hate that. :P

Mark Wubben May 12, 2005 at 8:07 am

Sure, that sucks. But what also sucks is that the link to the comments goes through a JavaScript pop-up, and for some reason pop-ups aren’t working anymore in Firefox.

You should listen to Aaron Boodman:

P.S. I managed to book the flight yesterday, slightly more expensive but the times are better.

Mike May 19, 2005 at 9:46 am

Firefox doesnt work anyway. Every site I go to shifts left and right and is quite annoying. Until at least that is corrected, IE is still for me.

David July 9, 2005 at 2:54 pm

Hmm. Firefox works for me. I agree that browser sniffers are sad. But it’s pretty easy to tell them you’re something else and get the page to load (e.g., with Firefox, one very simple way is with the User Agent Switcher extension). No need to give it much thought.

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