Mac browser/plug-in detection woes | September 15, 2003

I'm sure most Mac users have been to websites that sniff for browser versions and end up falling over on certain Mac browsers. Usually you're redirected to a page saying that you either have an old browser or don't have the right plug-in, even if that's not the case. Sometimes, if people are aware of this issue they'll sensibly offer a get out clause, saying something like "If you know you have the Flash 6 player, click here". However more often than not, this isn't the case, and us Mac users are left out in the cold. Sometimes URL guessing works, but usually you're just buggered.

Macromedia is a big culprit in this. The Flash detection script that gets output when you publish a movie just flatly failed to detect the plug-in on Mac browsers. They did produce a more advanced version in a developers kit, but few people seemed to use it. (btw if you want a good flash detection script have a look at Colin Moocks one)

A while ago, somebody on the BNM list mentioned this problem happening on the Marks and Spencer site. A big discussion ensued prompting a number of people (including myself) to contact M&S to complain. They said they were on it, but several month later it's still a problem.

Now while I can understand why the M&S developers may want to warn Safari Users that they may experience some problems while using parts of the site, I feel it's a bit rough just to ban them for entry altogether. After all it's probably just a minor display problem or a bit of javascript that doesn't work as expected. I guess some companies would prefer to create a negative experience and loose customers than give in to the fact that on the web, you cannot guarantee a site will look and act the same across all browser versions.

Well luckily, if your a Safari user and you get bounced by an overly strict browser detection script, there is still help at hand. Simply download the excellent Safari Enhancer, turn on the debug menu and you can change your user agent. That way you can get into sites like M&S that insist you need to use a different browser, when in fact apart from a few minor display quirks, the site seems to be OK.

Safari Enhancer also has a couple of other cool features like the ability to permanently turn off your cache, something every Safari user who is also a web developer should consider.

Posted at September 15, 2003 9:00 AM


Roger Johansson said on September 15, 2003 6:38 PM

Being a Mac user I have run into this kind of problem quite a bit. I do think it’s less common now than two or three years ago, but it still happens too often. Getting around it by changing the user agent your web browser reports is good because it lets you enter the site. It’s also bad, because when the site owner looks at their site’s statistics the web browser you’re really using won’t show up at all. So be sure to use user agent switching sparingly, and always switch back when you’re done with the broken site.

Andy Budd said on September 15, 2003 10:54 PM

And most importantly, make sure you tell the website owner about the problem.