Sites to IE users: Drop dead!

Former PC Worlder Ed Bott blogs about a trend he rightly deems obnoxious: Using a tool called Explorer Destroyer, some Web sites are detecting instances in which a user's browser is Internet Explorer--then displaying a large message trying to get IE types to switch to Firefox.

(Ed's post is at http://www.edbott.com/weblog/?p=1307 -- his irritation leads him to sling a bit of mildly bad language at this trend.)

As Ed notes, and the screen from the Explorer Destroyer site shows, there's money as well as zealotry involved here: If a visitor clicks through from the message and gets Firefox, the site proprietor gets a US$1 referral fee from Google, which has a search traffic deal with Firefox.

The campaign has three tiers of IE pushback, ranging from a large message at the top of the page to a splash screen to an outright refusal to let you in if you use Bill Gates's browser.

What to make of this? I can't quite tell whether it's sincere fanaticism or an over-the-top prank, but here's a snippet of explanation from the Explorer Destroyer site:

"About 8 months ago, we spent some time talking about an aggressive strategy to get people to switch to Firefox. Remember those splash pages on websites that say 'You must be using Internet Explorer to view this page'. What if it was the opposite? What if websites said: 'You cannot view this page with Internet Explorer. Please download Firefox to continue.'"

Web sites are free, of course, to annoy their users in most any way they choose...including this one. But it's tough to imagine a worse strategy for introducing people to a browser. (And I speak as someone who's spent a lot of time recommending that people consider dumping IE in favor of Firefox.)

I'm not sure what it is about technology that inspires some folks to decide that their favorite product should be used by everyone and anyone who chooses to opt for something else is a fool or a charlatan. But that take on things is as old as personal computing itself. (And I've seen it from both sides: I confess that I was at one time a mild Amiga nutcase, and I was later compared to Norman Bates by an OS/2 adherent who took exception to something I wrote.)

Today, I feel the same way about platforms that I do about religions and political parties: Everyone should feel free to choose their own, and while I'm happy to hear about the virtues of yours, I'd rather you didn't make it your mission to convert me.

Is it really so unreasonable to work under the operating principle that computer users should choose the tools they like best, and a Web site's goal should be to operate reasonably well in every major browser on ever significant operating system? I don't think so, but all this comes on the heels of a more subtle bit of Firefox partisanship: Michael Robertson's launch of AjaxWrite and other Web-based applications that only work in that browser. (In this case, there are technical reasons involved--much as there are when a site will only work with IE, which is at least as bad a situation--but I still wish that these tools were built to serve all comers.)

Wonder what the Firefox team at Mozilla thinks of Explorer Destroyer? I did, so I've asked them. When I hear back, I'll report in here.

Update: I did hear back...and at this time, the Mozilla folks are declining to comment on this. I hope they do chime in at some point. And they probably should, given it seems to be Mozilla's deal with Google that gives Explorer Destroyer its economic model.

Incidentally, I have no idea whether any meaningful number of sites are actually using Explorer Destroyer to poke IE users in the eye. Ed says he came across a couple in random Web surfing, but I haven't seen any myself.

Then again, I use Firefox most of the time--no browbeating required--so if I'm browsing any of the sites in question, I might never see the message.

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Harry McCracken

PC World
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