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Best viewed with any browser

From time to time you can see websites displaying the lable "Best viewed with any browser".
   Is it really necessary to stress this fact? Isn't that a matter of course? Did you ever encounter a website that would not display properly - at least with a reasonably up-to-date browser?1 Doesn't that mean to advertise with compatibility to the stone ages of the internet?
   Or is it even the showing-off of some unteachable puristic wise guys who are trying to prove their claim of elitist expertise? The slogan of ideology driven public domain maniacs whose penetrant call for altruism would finally bring the web's progress to a harsh stop?

Well, in some cases this may even contain a microscopic spark of truth but I will try to clarify what's my view on this topic. Obviously the lable "best viewed with any browser" is ironically imitating the corresponding lables with wich Microsoft and Netscape - at the hightime of their battle for control over the web - were campaigning (or let others campaign) to use their respective browsers.
   But in the end the battle wasn't decided by the more feature fat, resource wasting (on both sides - manufacturers and user) browser. Microsoft's market domination on the operating system sector finally lead them to a similar position for web browsers as they were bundeling their internet explorer with Windows. In the long run Netscape could not compete with the titan from Redmond and gave up. At least it looked like it to many people when Netscape released the browser's source code to the public. This was the start of what is now known as the "Mozilla" project2. The market share of Mozilla among the web browser is considerable lower than microsoft's internet explorer but still worth noting and probably representing the amount of people whose distrust in Microsoft surmounts the pain of installing another browser.
   Now those "Best viewed / experienced with ..." lables have vanished from the websites as the battle seems over and they could not establish themselves as a trademark for a more intense web experience but resulted in loads of hate mails to the webmaster from the opposite party.
   Well, wouldn't it be logical to remove the "any browser" lables too? I think (surprise!): no.

But then - what should "Best viewed with any browser" stand for (besides the obvious)? In short: It means not to enjoin on anyone surfing the web what browser to use in which configuration.
   This means more then just objecting to the efforts of several companies to gain a monopoly position in order to control the further development of the web: There is such a multitude of security and privacy threats in the web that it is simply a must to give every means to the responsible user to protect himself from these flaws.
   Being in charge of a website you can achieve this by obeying the following rules:
- The web pages should be as browser independent as possible (that is "best viewed with any browser"), thus giving the viewer the freedom choose the browser that suits his personal feelings and needs towards security and features most. He can then avoid browsers with undesired security flaws or use browsers with features he doesn't want to miss.
- There are more good reasons to support the diversity of browsers used in the web: For competitory reasons the browser manufacturers will probably have a higher motivation to remove errors and security flaws from their products as soon as possible. Moreover it becomes less effective (and thus less attractive) to abuse weaknesses of a browser when less people are using that specific browser. On the other hand a dominating market leader will always be the natural number one target for any attack.
- A web page that is compatible with as many browser as possible inevitably has to rely on global, manufacturer independent standards. The specifications of which are usually better discussed and checked than the proprietary solution of one single manufacturer. Therefor those public standards have the tendency to be more reliable and secure and remaining problems are more likely to be discovered and better understood so that they can be avoided more easily.
- Another important principle is to use only techniques that are substantially necessary to represent the intended content of the web page. Especially the usage of so called active content like ActiveX, JavaScript and Java but also cookies should be considered very carefully, as all those techniques inherit (unintended by their originators of course) considerable risks for privacy and security. They can be used to spy out, change or delete data or to create profiles tracking what the user is doing while cruising the web. In most browsers you have the choice to switch off these techniques and from a privacy / security point of view it is a very good idea to do so. That's why your web page should not force any visitor to activate one of these elements.
   Of course Javascript can achieve some very neat effects like tickers, buttons changing the look while the mouse pointer is hovering over them, etc. and admittedly it may even help to boost the ergonomy of your website (it is startingly seldom used in this way though). But you have really to consider very carefully whether the benefit derived from JavaScript surmounts the risks you're imposing on your visitors. If you decide pro JavaScript you should at least make sure that your page works also with JavaScript disabled even if it loses som of its appeal (for example take care that all menues remain visible and usable). But alone the permanent presence of JavaScript-based visual gimmicks is a great seduction especially to web newbies to leave JavaScript activated as they must fear to miss something. In this spirit you should refrain from using anything that is of no substantial necessity to provide your content.
   A big problem in this context araises from the fact that many authors of web pages are not even aware of the techniques contained in their web pages as many programs that help you write websites are including the formentioned techniques without warning, taht the unsuspecting author is very likely to use many of the ready-made neat effects without any clue concerning the possible impact (see also Powered by vi).
- At last I want to go into one more aspect that, up to now, did not recieve the public reception it deserves and is usually even missing in the frequent articles about "safer surfing": plugins. Plugins are programs that enhance your browsers abilities to display content offered in the web. Most common examples are probably Acrobat Reader, Macromadia's Flash and Real Audio. To plugins applies the same as to the techniques mentioned in the paragraph above: Don't use what you don't need. Regrettably most browsers come already with an impressive collection of plugins in their basic intallation in order not expose itself to the accusation that some web page did not work with it, that someone might miss one stamp size movie or some sqeaky sound. But who knows which plugin is secretly sending UIDs (uniquie identifiers) to its manufacturer that make your computer and your surfing destinations uniquely identifieable? Who does really know what hidden features (and flaws) are contained in the various plugins? Would you expect that for example viewing a malformed PDF document with the Acrobat Reader could perhapes lead to the execution of malicious code on your computer? (Just to be precise - I'm not aware of such a currently known issue in Acrobat Reader, but this is a very typical and frequent security flaw in software that is used on the web). So you should definitely think twice whether you need to use the newest maximega plugin of be it as author or as visitor of web pages. Again the slogan holds: Less is (often) more.
Ok now, enough of this Cassandra style nagging. I hope you enjoy surfing the web anyway and if you're interested to learn more about "Best viewed with any browser" you should visit the AnyBrowser Pages2.

1You did? Great - then we're already in pairs! ;-)
2I'm not liable for the content of external web pages!