|[Editorial] Microsoft Makes It Hard To Be A Web Developer
by Oliver Dueck
Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know that Microsoft, the company we love to hate, is in trouble. As I write this, the Department of Justice and Microsoft are in negotiations over what to do to reprimand the company for its monopolistic activities.
Over the last two years, I had been steadily gaining respect for the boys and girls in Redmond, thanks mostly to the vast improvements found in the company's Mac offerings, most notably Office and the Internet Explorer/Outlook Express combo. But over the past week, I lost a lot of respect for Microsoft, due to an issue which I have found to be largely ignored by the media.
Developing web sites using anything but the most basic HTML results in severe incompatibilities between browsers and platforms. This means developing a web site is an absolute nightmare if your visitors use a variety of operating systems and web browsers.
Luckily, my organization is a die-hard Microsoft customer. Okay, so luck has nothing to do with it, but it sure makes my job easier. If the Intranet looks good and works with Internet Explorer 4.0 running under Windows NT, my job is done. I don't have to worry about any Mac OS or Netscape users. Our biggest problem is that some people are sticking with a resolution of 800 by 600, rather than switching to 1024 by 768. In any case, a relatively minor concern.
However, I'd bet cold hard cash that I am in the minority. Many organizations use a variety of operating systems, and anything publicly available will be getting hits from both Netscape and Internet Explorer, not to mention other niche market browsers like iCab. Once you start getting fancy, you had better be prepared to do a lot of testing.
Of course, there are workarounds to these differences. They usually involve detecting browser types and versions through simple scripts, and then redirecting to different scripts for different browsers, or dynamically tailoring code to fit a specific browser.
But this adds a lot of complexity to web pages. Some web designers probably won't complain - after all, time is money - but it can be a major inconvenience. Not only is there extra devlopment work to be done, you also have to do a lot of testing.
Besides changing existing technologies, Microsoft also likes to add new technologies; two good examples of this are ActiveX and VBscript. VBscript is great to use for server-side scripting (through Active Server Pages), since a lot of people know it, and it is easy to learn. But it is only supported by Internet Explorer. Same deal with ActiveX controls. Dealing with this is simple: don't use VBscript and ActiveX. Trust me, we can live without them.
Let it be known that web developers don't want to put up with this crap any longer. Between the two of them, Microsoft and Netscape own over 95% of the browser market. Where they go, others will follow, or die. There is room enough for both of them, so instead of using different implementations of new technologies to differentiate themselves, they should compete in terms of performance, interface, and customizability. Trust me, both users and designers will thank you for it.
Oliver is a computer science student a the University of New Brunswick, in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. He has been using Macs since 1986 when his father would bring home a Mac Plus on the weekends. He was one of the original writers for Webintosh, and before that was a contributor to the now-defunct MacSense CD magazine.