Friday, April 21, 2006

Firefox fanatics decide to make money by punishing users

Ed Bott blogged Last night I spent an hour or two visiting unfamiliar websites while researching a topic for an upcoming column. In the process, I discovered a new and exceedingly obnoxious trend: Some members of the Firefox community have decided that you shouldn’t be allowed to view their sites correctly – or, in some cases, at all – unless you’re using the One True Browser.

On at least three sites I visited last night, the home page has been coded so that it looks different if you visit using Internet Explorer. Specifically, the top of the page – a region approximately 180 pixels deep, occupying the full width of the page – is taken over by a large banner that reads: “We see you’re using Internet Explorer. Try Firefox, you’ll like it better.” That’s followed by a bulleted list of the advantages of Firefox, and a big bold arrow pointing to a button where the hapless visitor can download Firefox with the Google toolbar. This is bullshit.

I agree it is stupid, but at least those webmasters thought enough of Firefox to risk offending their viewers using a different browser. Back when Microsoft was trying to suppress the number of people that were switching to Netscape (whose open source code created Mozilla which then turned into Firefox) they did some things in Microsoft Front Page to make pages created by it viewable only by IE, and not by Netscape. The webmaster did not have a choice. There was no "tick off netscape viewers" switch. They did not even tell people they were doing it.
I’ve already got Firefox installed on this computer, and I use it more than half the time.
I use it 95% of the time, but I do leave IE around just in case I need it (like to make sure a page looks ok with its outdated CSS processing software).
But for this project I’m using Internet Explorer. In this case, the web designer says he wants me to have a better browsing experience, so he has deliberately created a degraded and obnoxious browsing experience for me. What’s wrong with that picture?

And despite the altruistic language, let’s be clear – this is about money. If I click that button and download the software, the website owner gets paid by Google. In fact, this is worse than a pop-up ad, because I can’t get rid of it. Every time I visit that site, the obnoxious oversize banner appears, telling me how stupid I am and how smart the website designer is.
I disagree. I don't think it is all about money. The amount the website owner gets paid by Google for the click is peanuts. He is doing it becuase he likes Firefox and he wants others to try it themselves. I agree he is stupid for doing it, but it is not all about money.
This campaign is being run by a site called Explorer Destroyer, which offers three versions of its punish-IE-users code. The one I ran into is the Gentle Encouragement version. There’s also a Semi-serious version, which forces the user to view a splash page before seeing the site, and a Dead Serious version, which completely blocks the site from viewing by any browser that uses the IE user agent. (You can see a demo here.)

I thought the open source movement was about giving people options and about adhering to standards. Hey, Asa, here’s a question for you: Does the Firefox community really advocate designing websites so that they’re deliberately broken if you view them in any browser other than Firefox? What would the community say if Microsoft did the same?
As I indicated above, they did, and it was even worse, because they did it by tweaking their webpage building program Front Page, and did not tell the webmasters they were doing it. Mozilla Composer does not do anything like this.

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