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Tech 101 | Mac Focus

Keep Out! No Apple Users Allowed Here

February 08, 2001|JIM HEID

jim@jimheid.com

Have you played the free games at Electronic Arts' Web site lately? Downloaded any audio programs from Audible.com? Managed your investments using Yahoo's FinanceVision? Checked out the latest tech toys at Sony Electronics' site?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you aren't using a Mac--none of the aforementioned sites work on Macs. Try accessing them, and at best you'll receive a message stating that Macs aren't supported. With Sony's sites, you simply get incomplete pages.

Make no mistake--the vast majority of Web sites work equally well on Macs and Windows. Indeed, as an Internet platform, the Mac has some big advantages over Windows, starting with the best browser, Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5. Apple's Mac-only iTools services also are outstanding, and the computer virus threat is much smaller on Macs.

But none of this is very comforting when you're greeted by a "No Macs Allowed" sign.

What's behind the digital discrimination? In some cases, it's sloppy Web design. Sony's sites, for example, use Windows-style directory slashes in their hyperlinks. Because Sony's designers apparently didn't test their work on Macs, Sony loses the chance to pitch its products to 22 million consumers.

Some sites are Mac-hostile because they use Windows-only technologies. Yahoo's FinanceVision, for example, relies on the Windows Media browser plug-in, which lacks a Mac equivalent. (Yahoo recently launched a beta version of FinanceVision that uses RealNetworks' RealPlayer plug-in. )

The Java and JavaScript programming languages also are common culprits. Web sites use Java to provide everything from online games to news tickers to navigation menus. Java on the Mac has long been a mixed bag, though it has improved and it promises to be much better with Mac OS X.

JavaScript is commonly used for navigation schemes and "rollover" effects, in which buttons highlight when you point to them. JavaScript has a checkered past on the Mac, thanks largely to Microsoft, which implemented it poorly in Internet Explorer versions before 5.0. And even Internet Explorer 5 has JavaScript limitations that cause problems with some multimedia-intensive sites, such as the edgy http://sputnik7.com. (Sputnik7.com does work on Macs running Netscape Communicator.)

Mac users are accustomed to being treated like second-class citizens by software developers, who tend to give Windows priority because it's where the big sales numbers are. But the Web isn't the software business, and companies that pursue Windows-only Web strategies are misguided and shortsighted.

Most estimates put Apple's current personal-computer market share at about 5%. Would a store turn away 5% of the people who approached its entrance simply because of the vehicle they used to get there? Supporting multiple Web platforms may require more testing and development time, but the investment pays back--especially in the Mac world, where users are eager to spread the word about Mac-friendly discoveries.

What's more, Web browsing devices are gradually diversifying to encompass TV set-top boxes, hand-held computers and soon, refrigerators and dashboards. Companies that put all their eggs in Bill Gates' basket will have a harder time adapting their sites to work on tomorrow's browsing devices.

I know Steve Jobs has his hands full these days, but Apple could do more to ensure that Mac users don't get left out by pressuring high-profile companies such as Yahoo and Sony to clean up their acts and by assisting them if necessary.

In the meantime, fighting digital discrimination is up to you. If you encounter sites that work poorly or not at all on Macs, e-mail their operators and tell them you're taking your eyeballs and your money elsewhere.

And if you're prowling for sites where Macs are welcome, consider a stop at Apple's iReview directory (http://www.apple.com/ireview). Each of its more than 700 Web site reviews has a gauge that rates the site's Mac-friendliness.

*

Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine.

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