Is Weightwatchers a Victim of the Current Web Browser War?

There is a real war brewing in the Web browser world. Wars create victims in some of the most amazing ways. Here’s some thoughts about some of these victims.

Internet Explorer has been slowly losing market position, given the significant security concerns, sometimes expressed even by government agencies. The trend seems inevitable. For example, only 73% of visitors to the SMM website in September and October were using a version of Internet Explorer. The choice of Web browser can influence many other associated activities so it’s a lucrative market to enter. Even Google was rumoured to be considering its own Web browser although that has since been denied. The security concerns are tough for Microsoft to handle although the aversion to change of most users will slow any exodus.

The new kid on the block is Firefox 1.0, now just released with increasing hype and publicity. If significant numbers of potential customers are switching to a different Web browser, it is important that the company website works for them. As Firefox itself notes, many “blue-chip” websites may have been set up to work with Internet Explorer. Such websites will need to ‘upgrade’ to work for all customers.

Sometimes the changes are likely to be small. For example, as of today November 18th the website for Weightwatchers shows a Site Requirements page when viewed with Firefox. This suggests that cookies and javascript must be enabled, even when both are already enabled. The only way to view the website is with another Web browser. This irritation could be easily corrected once the Web designer realizes that potential customers may be coming via this new Web browser.

However there is a more fundamental and very much more important issue at play here.

Firefox and Internet Explorer are based on fundamentally opposing philosophies about Web design standards. Firefox assumes that Web design standards will be followed and is fairly unforgiving if they are not. The Internet Explorer browser does not itself always follow the standards. In some cases, Web designers have had to do patches to get a website that follows the standards to also display well in IE. So some websites that display reasonably in Internet Explorer may look very different when viewed with Firefox. For some unfortunately the Firefox result can be most unattractive.

This possibly didn’t matter when IE had 95% of the Web browser market. You might only be losing 1 in 20 of your customers because your website didn’t work. Now for some company websites, you may be dealing with a much higher proportion of potential customers lost. So more and more web designers will become aware of the standards and will try to make their websites compatible with the standards.

The Microsoft Internet Explorer philosophy is clearly set out in the IEblog. As you can read there,
We’ve had more than a few comments suggesting that … we cater to those people who don’t code their pages correctly, or people who otherwise didn’t do things the right way. These comments frequently go on to suggest that we (the IE team) should use our market position to force people to fix their broken stuff.

We feel it is vitally important for web sites and applications that worked with yesterday’s IE work with today’s IE, and continue to work with tomorrow’s IE. We feel this is a deeply held expectation by the millions of IE users.

There is the implicit assumption that it is all the non-Microsoft Web designers who have created this legacy of non-conforming websites. However Microsoft is partly to blame in devising a Web browser that does not conform with standards.

So who is the biggest victim now? Well of course Microsoft itself. If they are wise, there should be high-level strategic meetings to review their stance. What they’re saying is that anything that works with the current IE is acceptable? So what deviations from standards are acceptable? Do you have to set up some new “Loose Standards” to define what is now acceptable? They’re also saying this will be their position … for ever. You see the horns of the dilemma that Microsoft is on. It’s a tough position.

If the marketplace moves to more standards-compliant websites, what kind of pressures does that put on Microsoft?

2 thoughts on “Is Weightwatchers a Victim of the Current Web Browser War?”

  1. Microsoft has somewhat spun this to be complimentary to itself. The fact is that it’s one thing to make a browser that overlooks some types of coding errors (e.g., unclosed table tags) and is backwards compatible. It’s quite another to double specified margin sizes and other IE tricks. How is that “backwards compatible”?

    They can claim all they like that they’re supporting their market, and that their market “expects” it. Frankly, I find that most people don’t know what a browser is; they simply click on the “e”. (So they tell me, in fact.) I further think they’re being fairly cynical about their own FrontPage market; how are these people to know that they may be coding for Microsoft rather than the Internet?

    Frankly, creating websites is something like controling a VCR, or driving a car (if less dangerous): bottom line is that you actually have to learn something. Better to learn it than to have it all masked from you, with embarrassing errors galore.

    I’m not suggesting that everyone must adopt Web Standards coding now. Frankly, I don’t see that even all of the better current browsers display identically and/or completely correctly. Not ready for the commercial prime time, where web designers have to develop unbreakable sites. What I’m suggesting is learning a few things, and having the currently major browser support CORRECT coding correctly.

    No, I’m afraid that the only thing backwards here is Microsoft’s approach. Luckily, not all countries are going Microsoft …

  2. I agree, Diane. Microsoft’s approach is backwards. I would even go stronger and say it’s nonsense. It may sound OK as it washes over you, but if you really examine what they’re saying, it will cause them increasing grief. Currently a certain percentage of people have a problem with the chaotic reasoning of Microsoft Internet Explorer. When they’re in a dominant majority position, they can say, “If you have a problem then it’s up to you to solve it”. That won’t last for ever and how do they cope with that change when it comes. The longer they leave it, the worse it gets.

Comments are closed.