Sunday 05 May 2002

Netscape 4.x users. Enough already!

Burningbird has suffered The Attack of the Nagging Netscape Users:

I’ve had entries in my comments in addition to email that the images are overlapping the text when my new weblog is viewed in Netscape 4.7.

I can’t fathom why we are expected to jump through hoops to accommodate users of a browser that (depending on who you believe) commands 2-4% market share and that, as Joe Clark put it, “cannot interpret standard HTML or stylesheets, or, what is far worse, it disastrously misinterprets them.”

To make it worse, supporting Netscape 4.x users makes it far more difficult to create accessible sites. In an article titled To Hell With Bad Browsers, Jeffrey Zeldman summarizes the argument:

…consider the new laws about web accessibility. Separating style from content via HTML 4/XHTML and CSS can help you comply with these laws. Sticking with hacks and workarounds makes compliance that much harder. The temporary downside is that standards-compliant sites may not look great in older browsers. But most users can upgrade their browsers far more easily than people with disabilities can “upgrade” their eyes, ears, or limbs.

In another article (Why Don’t You Code For Netscape?) Zeldman answers the question that Netscape 4.x users are asking Burningbird:

Q. Your website looks nice in Internet Explorer 6, but really bad in Netscape 4.7… Please explain the logic of designing only for one browser.

A. Thanks for writing. We don’t design for only one browser. We design for all browsers and devices by authoring to W3C recommendations including XHTML 1.0 Transitional and Cascading Style Sheets.

As a result, A List Apart displays properly in Opera 5, Opera 6, MSIE5, MSIE5.5, MSIE6, Netscape 6, and Mozilla, while its text is available to any browser or Internet device, from Netscape 1.0 to Palm Pilots and web phones. as it appears in Netscape 4.79This site also displays properly in Opera 5, Opera 6, MSIE5, MSIE5.5, MSIE6, Netscape 6.2, and Mozilla. It doesn’t display properly in the beta version of OmniWeb, though perhaps it eventually will.

The illustration at the left shows how this site appears in Netscape 4.x (and earlier versions). Click on the image to see a full size screen shot.

Users of ancient browsers see the logo, site title & description, then the content, and finally the calendar & links. It doesn’t look pretty but the content’s all there, including the pictures. The structure of the page is obvious because the site name & description, entry dates, and post titles are formatted as Headings 1, 2, and 3 respectively. (I’m not saying I’m Jonny Fantastic—I got all this stuff from Mark Pilgrim.)

But, unlike Burningbird, I don’t get email about the images overlapping the text.

To accomplish this, I use the @import method

<style type="text/css" media="all">
@import "/css/styles.css";

to ensure that 4.0 browsers don’t see the style sheet and can’t botch the rendering of the page.

So why is it that Netscape 4.x users—who could easily upgrade to a standards-compliant browser—put their desire to use an obsolete browser above the needs of all other Web users? Not just above those with disabilities who benefit most from accessible sites, but above everyone who uses a modern browser. And why are they so frequently arrogant about it? As if using a tenth-rate browser is a mark of distinction.

Many years ago, I bought a copy of Helix, a graphical relational database for the Macintosh in which fields, relationships, calculations, queries, and layouts are represented by tiles that you drag around and connect. Developing a database in Helix was a bit like play mah-jong. I’ll never forget opening the manual and reading the first sentence:

If you don’t have a hard drive, you should run out and buy one.

It’s about time we said something similar to Netscape 4.x users:

If you wish to see this site as it’s meant to be viewed, you should download and install a standards-compliant browser.

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Several of the small commercial sites I monitor get 12-13% netscape4, it depends who visits you. I think the "degrades to usable" is a reasonable strategy for many sites, and "looks good in all browsers" unrealistic.
I do know a couple of smart, reasonably web saavy folks who cling to netscape 4, tried the Netscape 6 download mess and gave up, and will probably upgrade next time they buy a new computer. Obviously browser versions are more important to me than to them. Oh well.

Posted by Michael Webb on 6 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

That's a good point. If I were creating a site for an organization in (say) a developing country where there might be a high installed base of version 4 browser users, I'd ensure that the site worked for those browsers.

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 6 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)


My problem is that I prefer the user interface of Netscape, as well as its methods for newsgroup browsing. There are no adequate substitutes for me.

I'm also the type who wishes to specify my own fonts, etc., in opposition to what web designers want to force me to see.


Posted by Michael on 6 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

My current work site is a health care system's page that gets about a million unique visitors a year. Right now we are running about 8% Netscape and 6% of that is from NS4.

I'm trying to design a new site, originally all CSS, but when we (Me & Marketing Staff) started looking at the numbers, I decided that we would hate for 8% of potential customers not to see the site, so the site will be designed using tables.

Posted by M.Kelley on 6 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Michael, you might want to give Opera a shot. I'm not sure about the news reader (I use a separate program to read news) but Opera allows you to set a user style sheet that will override the site's style sheet.

8% is a reasonably high figure -- too many to brush off if you're desiging a business site. It's interesting that so many users remain unconvinced of the advantages of upgrading to a modern browser.

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 6 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Even @import isn't enough if you have the gall to do something as modern as including any style (even a single class="") in a javascript document.write. At best you will crash NS4.x's javascript, at worst you'll end up scattering random stuff around the page. There's really only one solution for NS4.x and CSS: Edit, Preferences, Advanced, uncheck Enable style sheets.

Posted by Phil Ringnalda on 6 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

One problem with ignoring NS4 (much as I'd love to) is that here in the UK it still has a very high installation base in Universities and academic institutions. The University I'm at (Bath) only switched over to having IE as the default browser on their publically accessible workstations a few months ago, so University sites still get a relatively high percentage of NS4 hits. Personally I've had it with NS4 and I plan to design using CSS and the @import rule from now on - provided it's legible in NS4 I'll be happy.

Posted by Simon Willison on 6 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

m, a properly-designed site will allow you to change font sizes all you'd like - css or not.

Posted by Steven Vore on 7 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Why do people stick with the slow & buggy Netscape 4.7 experience? I put much of the blame on Netscape. By supporting both 4.7x and 6.x browsers, they fragmented their own market. Netscape has failed to sell the benefits of W3C-compatible browser to its customers. There is still a misconception, even among some web designers, that a browser is a passive device that merely reflects pre-rendered content that was downloaded into it.

What's the solution? Some high-profile e-commerce site is going to have to announce that it no longer supports Netscape 4.x browsers. Other sites will soon follow -- I don't think any web developers will dismiss the fast turnaround and reliability of pages developed without 4.7 in mind. Not until mainstream sites stop supporting 4.7 (not just by degrading, but by completely disallowing 4.7 access) will we be able to drop that browser.

Posted by Jose Loco on 7 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Steven, I can't say that I disagree that the user should be able to change the font size, but a number of factors have influenced me to specify the font size in pixels:

* Zeldman's A List Apart article, Give Me Pixels, or Give Me Death

* a desire to maximize legibility by having a fixed line length (60-70 characters or 10-12 words)

* the fact that the newer browsers (Opera 6 & Netscape 6) have a zoom control that allows users to magnify the entire page

But, I'm open to argument on this issue...

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 7 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

I have occasional imbedded styles (this may be my poor CSS abilities, I'm just learning - I use them to float text input boxes and search buttons so they line up in different parts of the page) As a result my pages are really screwed up when viewed using NS 4.7 Soooo, I'd like to warn my users to turn off style interpretation by telling them to go to preferences/Advanced/ and uncheck the 'Interpret styles' checkbox. Does someone have a good code snippet for this? Also, do I need to worry about earlier NS versions?

Posted by Stephan Orme on 22 October 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Sorry Stephan, you've asked the wrong guy. I'm not willing to put *any* effort into supporting a five-year-old browser.

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 22 October 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Netscape 4.7x sucks!

Posted by Disgruntled Web Designed on 8 May 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour