Keep browser lock-out a thing of the past

If you've been using the Web since last century you'll remember that many, many sites back then had a nice and friendly disclaimer saying "You need [insert name of currently popular browser] to view this site. You can download it from [links to a specific browser]". Even today some sites do this, though that behaviour is less common now than in 1999.

These days it's much more fashionable to insult visitors by displaying messages such as "This site requires JavaScript. Please enable it in your browser." or "You need Flash plugin version [X] to view this site." Neither is really any better than the old-fashioned browser sniffing followed by lock-out that Dave Shea talks about in Detect This.

In The Veteran's Charge from a couple of months ago Eric Meyer mentions that the "Best viewed in" trend seems to be regaining popularity with the release of the iPhone. Some sites are actively blocking people using other user agents from entering. I fully agree with Eric on this, but some people shrug it off and say "So what? It's up to each site owner to decide if they want to lock people out."

Legally that may or may not be the case, depending on where in the world you are. Regardless of what the law says, I have a problem with that attitude.

Locking out users, be it because they do not use a particular device or application to browse the Web or because they happen to have a disability, completely misses the point of the Web. The Web is meant to be universal, device-independent, inclusive, and accessible. What, exactly, is the point of deliberately preventing people from accessing your site with the user agent of their choice?

So please, even if your site uses technology that is not supported by all browsers, don't actively prevent people using other browsers from entering. Build your website with web standards and progressive enhancement in mind instead.

This may not seem like a big deal to you if you didn't work with the Web or use it a lot back in 1999. Likewise if you're using Internet Explorer for Windows to browse the Web, you have probably never been the subject of browser discrimination. But for many of us who did use the Web last century, and especially for those of us who weren't (and still aren't) Internet Explorer or Windows users, it brings back bad memories.

Browser lock-out should be a thing of the past. Let's keep it that way.

Posted on November 15, 2007 in Browsers, Accessibility