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US Copyright Office Considering MSIE-only website 491

wikinerd writes "The United States Copyright Office asks whether you would have any problem if you were required to use Microsoft Internet Explorer in order to pre-register a work via their website. The Norwegian government recently said no to proprietary formats, but it seems that the US government sites should be informed about the existence of non-Microsoft Web browsers, such as Firefox, Konqueror, Opera, and Safari. I have written a letter about this issue, which is posted on my blog for everyone to copy and base on it their own response. If they see how many people use alternative browsers, they'll probably reconsider and stay within the W3C standards."
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US Copyright Office Considering MSIE-only website

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  • by reality-bytes ( 119275 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @08:34AM (#13320373) Homepage

    If the USPTO are allowed to make such a mistake as this, it might reinforce the notion that the USPTO is no-longer doing anyone any good and maybe, by proxy, calls for patent reform may be answered.

    ....or not.
  • Dumb. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 15, 2005 @08:37AM (#13320387)
    From TFA:
    "Support for Netscape 7.2, Firefox 1.0.3, and Mozilla 1.7.7 is planned but will not be available when preregistration goes into effect."

    So support for other browsers is already planned. I imagine that if enough people complain about it starting out as only IE, they will just postpone this preregistration plan until they have the other browser support ready. All that does is make people who want to use IE wait longer.

  • Interesting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sierpinski ( 266120 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @08:38AM (#13320395)
    I find it extremely interesting that the government in the past has brought an anti-trust suit against Microsoft for being a monopoly, however they themselves would help to propagate this by using their software. Not to mention allowing ONLY their software, they are ensuring that any user who wants to visit their site also must "pay" Microsoft, thus even further contributing to the "monopoly".

    I would have thought that if the government was under the impression that Microsoft was a monopoly (true or not), they would have taken steps to help prevent adding to that situation, and support a different browser for their site, or *gasp* don't require *ANY* browser, but rather just design it to be functionally usable by any W3C compliant browser. Add in the 508 compliance for web accessbility, and you can't go wrong.

    Government, make up your mind.
  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @08:39AM (#13320403) Journal
    Browsers should support HTML. Websites should be written in HTML.

    These are not fundamentally architecturally different pieces of equipment. If you can't create a website that works adeqautely with all browsers, then you don't deserve to be employed as a web designer.
  • RFTA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by soundman32 ( 147936 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @08:41AM (#13320420) Homepage
    If you actually read the article, you would see that they do know about Mozilla, Firefox etc because they will be writing stuff to allow these browsers at a later date.

    This is just 'in the first instance'.
  • Re:RFTA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @08:45AM (#13320440)
    they will be writing stuff to allow these browsers at a later date.

    Without a deadline, it can easily get pushed back and back, until they can say it's working fine with IE only; why bother?

  • Why is it web designers aren't expected to achieve the same level of competency as any other professional? All I ever hear is how hard it would be to make a site cross compatible.

    Well, you know what? Tough shit. Life's hard all around. Let me tell you some day about the vpn solution I had to implement across a dialup link. Oh yeah, and it had to support a full sql application. Any other professional is expected to show, you know, *professionalism* in their field.

    Not web designers tho. They expect to be coddled, and allowed to half ass it.
  • by hotspotbloc ( 767418 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @09:16AM (#13320590) Homepage Journal
    Browsers should support HTML.

    Yes, browsers change faster than the archived information. I'm tired of playing this "cat and mouse" game with browser updates causing one to reedit html files. The US Copyright Office should consider adopting html standards. If MS doesn't want to play along then they can't go screw themselves. Here's the standard I think they should use:

    For reference:

    XHTML 1.0 The Extensible HyperText Markup Language (Second Edition) []

    XHTML []

    If you can't create a website that works adeqautely with all browsers, then you don't deserve to be employed as a web designer.

    If you understand how to correctly use html and css then your site should work with all properly written browsers. The parent is bang on the mark.

  • Re:Interesting (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @09:22AM (#13320627) Homepage Journal
    Most of our customers think we are nuts when we suggest spending more time (their money) so we can get those 2-5% chunks of the browser market, each of which behaves a bit differently.

    So don't suggest that, because there's no need. All you need to do is test your pages for standards compliance. There's plenty of software around to do that, much of it free. In my experience, all the HTML standards tests are fast and easy to use. And if IE users have a problem with some page, just suggest that they get a standards-compliant browser. There are several available for MS Windows, either free for us cheapskates, or for sale to those suckers who believe "You get what you pay for". Any can be downloaded and installed from IE in seconds; MS hasn't (yet) included code in IE that blocks access to competitors' sites.

    Also, complaining about browsers that behave differently is a red herring. HTML was designed from the start to work differently with different browsers. The folks who invented it were well aware of the differences of screens, and wanted something that could be displayed sensibly on both large and small screens. There's also the question of the visually impaired, so HTML should also work with a speech generator. There's very good reason to not want HTML to behave the same everywhere.

    It's arguments like your that make your pages not work sensibly on my Blackberry or my wife's Treo, or for blind people. And you're making the bogus claim that you'd have to test for all of them. Nonsense. All you have to do is use some standards-testing software, and make sure your pages pass their tests. That's cheap and easy, easier than testing against N non-standard browsers.

  • by Ender Ryan ( 79406 ) <[ ] ['' in gap]> on Monday August 15, 2005 @09:24AM (#13320642) Journal
    That assumes that the United States Government still functions as it was intended. That, unfortuneately, is just not the case. If it still functioned properly, the government wouldn't do a complete 180 every time a new president is elected.

    The president has far more power these days than was ever intended.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 15, 2005 @09:26AM (#13320657)
    I have an old Pentium with Win95, running IE5. There is no mention on the site about the IE version required, nor the plugins (acrobat? flash? ).

    IF they mean "the latest version of MSIE", that will also require Windows XP/Vista.

    Also, their "future plans" should be stated more precisely - when? which versions?.

  • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ednopantz ( 467288 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @09:26AM (#13320658)
    >And if IE users have a problem with some page, just suggest that they get a standards-compliant browser.

    You have never actually met a customer or an end user, have you? Excluding 90-odd % of the market just isn't an option.

  • by jasongetsdown ( 890117 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @09:26AM (#13320660)
    Sending letters to your representative is the least used and most effective way of getting heard. There are staff who read and report on everything that gets sent to legislators.

    Without constant feedback from their constituencies legislators are operating in a vacuum, with only their own interests and opinions to guide them. Do you trust a politician to operate honorably in that condition? Making yourself personally heard is important if only to remind politicians that you are listening.

    On the other hand, this particular letter sucks. Not only are there a number of innacuracies (IE ONLY runs on Windows? Then how is it possible that I've used it on a Mac?) but his tack is all wrong. The argument for an "open" patent office site has nothing to do with Linux users. It has everything to do with competition, standards, choice in the marketplace, and remaining consistant the government's anti-trust stance with MegaSloth.

  • Re:RFTA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bigman2003 ( 671309 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @09:39AM (#13320749) Homepage
    I wonder if Wikinerd (the article's submitter) would ever actually be using the Patent Office's submission feature.

    My guess is that they want to see how thier USERS would react to this change. Having 4,000 Slashdotters chime in with their opinion doesn't actually help them find out what their customers need. But, I think a lot of people who would write letters in support of other browsers would never use the system, and are actually just a bunch of un-necessary noise. But those same people are very happy to be that un-necessary noise.

    Whenever I am creating a User Interface, we end up having small focus groups take a look at it, to make sure it is easy to use. (The focus groups are always from our organization, but hey, at least we are taking the step.)

    The number one thing I hear, and the thing that pisses me off the most, is: "Well, *I* didn't have a ny problem with it, but I can see where someone *else* may have difficulty." I just want to scream at them, "*DID* you have problems?!?! I am asking about *YOUR* experience, not what you THINK someone else might have!!"

    Either they don't want to admit that they really are a dumbshit, and don't understand how it works, (Which is actually the input we are looking for) or they really a whiz-kid and were able to figure it out, but nobody else will. But, since we usually take the dumbest people we can find, the second option is rarely the issue.

    But, back on topic- are the REAL customers complaining about the need to use Internet Explorer? Or, is it just a bunch of outsiders who want to push their own agenda....
  • Re:Dumb. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gsasha ( 550394 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @09:44AM (#13320790) Homepage

    First, this "planned" status may take unnecessary long. After all, when they are serving the majority of potential visitors with the IE version, there's much less pressure to go and implement the alternate browsers.

    Second, and more importantly, if they support all the browsers at the same time, that'll force them, at least to some extent, to make a standards-friendly implementation that will work on all the browsers.

    However, if they do IE first, and all the others later, the original version will be full of non-standard IE-specific junk, and the Firefox version will be either ugly and half-functional, or will have to be developed from scratch.

  • Re:Dumb. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tobiasly ( 524456 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @09:45AM (#13320793) Homepage
    It doesn't matter how long the list of "supported" browsers is. What they're trying to accomplish isn't exactly a design-intensive web app. It's a simple way to submit, read, and organize information.

    If they write the website using standards, their list of "supported" browsers could be "all standards-compliant browsers".

    Yes, I understand that any website must be tested with whatever the more popular browsers of the day are. But they aren't doing anyone a favor by listing these browsers they happen to test against as the only "supported" browsers. There's a big difference in terminology there.

    If it validates as proper (X)?HTML and CSS, and preferably accessibility guidelines as well, then they wouldn't have to publish such a list. It makes those who use a browser not in the list, or those who must use accessibility devices such as screen readers, feel like second class citizens.
  • Sample letter (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tinytim ( 25110 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @09:57AM (#13320861) Homepage
    Here's roughly the letter I'm sending, please adapt it and use it as you see fit. Note that you need to send a total of six copies.

    This is on a personal home server over broadband, please be nice. 20MSIE%20Requirement%20-%20Generic.sxw []

    Text follows in case the server chokes...

    August 15, 2005

    Full Name
    Street Address
    City, State, ZIP

    Copyright GC/ I&R
    P.O. Box 70400
    Southwest Station, Washington, DC 20024-0400

    Subject: Proposed MSIE requirement for online filing of copyright preregistrations
    RE: The open letter published at l []

    To whom it may concern;

    As a governmental body, I feel the copyright office should give accessibility to citizens a very high priority. This accessibility is best met with the use of tools that function on a broad range of browsers and operating systems by adhering to open and well-documented standards, such as those of the World Wide Web consortium (W3C).

    Introducing a requirement for a proprietary browser supplied by a single party goes against this ideal, especially when that party has a history of illegal behaviors that include anti-competitive practices.

    Support for open standards is clearly possible, as the open letter states that support for various open and non-Microsoft browsers is planned. It seems a waste of effort to develop a MSIE-only version followed by an open standards version when the open standards version can work with MSIE to begin with.

    There is certainly an argument to be made to ensure that the browser used by the majority of Internet users is well-supported, but it is a fallacy to believe that this support must come at the expense of support for browsers unable to support proprietary features.

    It will be further troubling if the reason for the lack of support for open browsers is an ActiveX requirement. ActiveX technology has been dogged by security problems for years, and its use cannot be justified given the availability of secure, open alternatives. The suitability of alternatives is demonstrated by the planned support of non-MSIE browsers.

    While any complex web browser is subject to security problems, the fact that the US-CERT has repeatedly recommended using a non-Microsoft web browser ( =%22using+a+different+web+browser%22 []) is a strong argument against another government office requiring its use.

    A requirement for businesses and individuals to use MSIE to make submissions to the copyright office is an onerous burden in terms of time, money, and security for those relying on non-Microsoft solutions in their affairs.


    Full Name
  • by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @10:01AM (#13320888) Homepage Journal

    I keep reading about sites that are IE-only, yet I rarely run into a site that doesn't render in Mozilla. The only exception I can think of is a gaming site whose patch downloader will only work with IE, and Microsoft's own update site.

    Maybe if I were visiting more home-brewed sites instead of commercial/large sites I'd have more problems.

  • by crucini ( 98210 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @10:02AM (#13320895)
    But how many of you have ever registered a copyright? If you haven't, isn't it a little disingenuous to write to the Copyright Office complaining?

    I'm seeing a lot of comments demanding plain-jane HTML, and denying that it costs anything to support multiple browsers, because you just check for "standards compliance". I used to think this. It's completely wrong today. Many web applications today have rich interfaces approaching desktop apps. Getting them to work cross-browser is damn hard. It is definitely worth doing for a mass-market thing like gmail, but for a niche site used by a handful of attorneys? Hard to justify.

    Of course, the rich interface is probably not needed or justified in this governmental site.

    The problem is not solvable by standards compliance, at least in the automatable sense. You can have CSS that passes validation, looks fine in IE, and piles things on top of each other in other browsers.
  • by suitepotato ( 863945 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @10:36AM (#13321110)
    ...and that is that there's no real special needs for MSIE tchotchkes in patent reviews and filing. Never mind the top of the line standards, basic HTML 3.2 and before will more than convey any amount of data for the USPTO and its customers. There's no need for any high-end database connectivity that wasn't being done with CGI years ago. If they are going to do anything that requires MSIE most proprietary and non-standard things, then they are asking for trouble from a security standpoint.

    That being said, most corporations are Windows/IE houses and since it comes with Windows, they will use it by default. As another poster mentioned, better than 90% of end-users are Windows users with MSIE and a lot of Mac users are still out there who use the Mac version of IE often but won't admit to it to avoid opprobrium from the anti-MS zealots in the Mac camp.

    To the USPTO this will look like a tinfoil hat FUD paranoia fest in a teacup. To the corporations filing patents with abandon, they won't notice and won't care. To the people having to handle security for the USPTO IT systems, it will no doubt come back to haunt them.
  • by aisaac ( 247911 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @10:47AM (#13321193)
    Here is a possible letter body that is less tendentious than that linked in the article.


    Dear Copyright Office:

    I am responding to your August 4 notice on Preregistration of Certain Unpublished Copyright Claims (37 CFR Part 202 [Docket No. RM 2005-9]), in which you ask whether potential preregistrants will unable or unwilling to use Internet Explorer 5.1 or higher with the new electronic form. I am one of an estimated 20% of browser users who does not use Internet Explorer.

    I understand that the problem is that you will not be able to upgrade to Siebel 7.8 in time for the October 24 launch, and that Siebel 7.7 offers inadequate guarantees of multiple browser support. I understand that you plan to offer multiple browser support "in the future".

    I commend your for developing an electronic form and allowing preregistration. However your announcement of this implementation limitation is worrisome for three reasons.

    - You do not identify the source of the limitation. If the electronic form will be compliant with modern web standards ( []) but will not have been fully tested with other browsers, that is a minor concern. In this case there is high likelihood that all modern browsers will work with the site. If on the other hand the electronic form will actively block other browsers or will contain IE specific code in violation of web standards, this is a larger concern.
    - You do not explicitly address section 508 compliance, which as I understand it is a legal requirement upon the Copyright Office. [] It is hard to understand how section 508 compliant website would be unusable with essentially any modern browser.
    - You do not identify a time frame for removal of this limitation. If you will fix things in a few weeks, fewer users will be affected than if you will take a couple years.
  • by kent_eh ( 543303 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @10:57AM (#13321287)
    But how many of you have ever registered a copyright? If you haven't, isn't it a little disingenuous to write to the Copyright Office complaining?

    That's not really relevant.

    The objections are pointing out that the Copyright Office, as a Government entity, shouldn't be mandating any sort of restriction of access to Government services.
  • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cereal Box ( 4286 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @10:59AM (#13321329)
    So don't suggest that, because there's no need. All you need to do is test your pages for standards compliance.

    That's not true. You still need to test that it works in your browser.

    I mean, I just wrote a webpage that includes XForms, SVG, XHTML 1.1, and SMIL. But it doesn't work right in Firefox, Konqueror, Safari, or Opera! I don't get it... I wrote 100% W3C standard-compliant code, and according to Slashdot, if you just code to the standards, it'll magically work in every browser! I'm so confused!

    All joking aside, I think what you meant to say is that all he needs to do is code to the standards that Firefox (or Konqueror, etc.) supports. There's a big difference between "writing to the standard" and "writing to the supported standard". Contrary to popular Slashdot belief, you cannot write 100% "standards compliant" code and expect it to magically work the second you bring it up in Firefox. It should work, most of the time. So you're wrong in saying that all this guy has to do is feed his pages through the W3C validator and be done with it.

    This "code to the standards" Slashdot mantra really irks me. You guys do realize that even if you write to the standard, it's inevitable that you won't get pixel-perfect pages in every standards-compliant browser, right? Or you may run up against rendering bugs that make "100% standards compliant" pages look different from browser to browser.

    Seriously guys, W3C standards are not a magic bullet. They aid interoperability, but they in no way guarantee anything about how your page will look or operate in any given browser. And the worst part about these standards are how many "should" clauses there are -- i.e., "the browser should do X if Y", which leaves lots of things up for interpretation, and incompatibility.

    In summary, code to the standards as best as you can. But realize that standards support varies from browser to browser, and you'll inevitably have to provide workarounds.
  • Re:RFTA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by robertjw ( 728654 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:10AM (#13321451) Homepage
    My guess is that they want to see how thier USERS would react to this change.

    Perhaps, but personally I believe the US Government should create everything in a standards based manner that can be accessed by any application that adheres to the standards. Anything less is favoritisim and gives the developer of a particular application an advantage in the market place. The US Patent office has a broad customer base, it consists of every citizen of the US and any corporation that does business in the US. The original poster may not currently have a patent to submit, but he could tomorrow, or I could tomorrow.
  • Re:Interesting (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Been on TV ( 886187 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:11PM (#13321936) Homepage

    >You have never actually met a customer or an end user, have you? Excluding 90-odd % of the market just isn't an option.

    Which is exactly what you can do if you are Government and want to break down the dominance of a company like Microsoft. - This is exactly the intention of the Norwegian government []; rid the population and businesses of having to become customer of a particular company in order to communicate with offices and services in the public sector. As long as you have alternatives, such action [] is appropriate behavior from government.

  • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jwhitener ( 198343 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @12:56PM (#13322271)
    It really baffles me that designers/coders actually feel like it is some sort of huge challenge to make a site work with all browsers.

    If you do a bit of homework (or google it) you'll see a pretty stable set of common code that works with all browsers.

    The next step is designing a site only using that code. It really isn't rocket science.

    Do you sacrifice some cutting edge features? Of course. But unless your purpose is to wow your audience with cutting edge stuff, there should never be a reason to use those cutting edge features.

    One of the sites I'm working with now has over 12,000 pages, and is controlled by 3 style sheets. It is clean, compliant code, that has only THREE browser based changes to the stylesheet (in order to make IE work on a couple newer featurs).

    The site has forms, online bill pay, dynamic content, flash, rollovers, and is comprised entirely of divs and css.

    Sites that say "IE Only", or "Requires standards compliant browser", or any other variation of saying, in essence,

    "Please be inconvienced because of my limitations as a designer"

    Need to hire a new web team.

    It is quite literally zero extra work to make a complex site work with all browsers if you know what you are doing.

    And before someone posts 32 specific code examples showing how its impossible, ask yourself, How could I have done that differently? Why did I need to use that code? I will guarantee that there is another way that will work with both browsers, and if not, that you didn't need to implement that in your site.

  • by mollog ( 841386 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @01:23PM (#13322521)
    I'd want to find out why they even suggested this. I'd be looking at the source of the request and trying to determine the reasons/motives for this question.

    If their office can't write a submission web site that accomodates other browsers, then there's a question of competence. If there's a problem with the competence of the staff at that office, let's get the real problem fixed.
  • Re:RFTA (Score:2, Insightful)

    by qeveren ( 318805 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @01:53PM (#13322825)
    Should the Government ever use DVDs?

    DVD is a standard, any normal DVD player can read them.

    Should they have used photocopiers, when Xerox was the only company that could make them?

    That would be the government purchasing a product; the output of the photocopier is readable to anyone.

    Mainframe computers?

    Again, that's the government purchasing a product, it's not relavent.

    The issue is that the government should not restrict its public-access systems to only be viewable to a particular company's product, when there is a universal standard for such systems that would allow any company's similar product to view it without difficulty.

    Using your DVD example, it would be like the government producing DVDs for public release that only work with Sony's DVD players.
  • by legirons ( 809082 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @06:25PM (#13325763)
    "Any other professional is expected to show, you know, *professionalism* in their field."

    Now if only builders had to deal with clients like that... "and the house has to have light shows like las vegas, and we don't care if 15% of people can't fit through the door... now redesign it with a different sort of flashing light... and replace the brick with papier mache, oh you have to work overtime to keep it upright during the storms...

    I'm not a professional webdesigner, but I think they're allowed to start acting like professionals when they started getting treated as such...

1 Angstrom: measure of computer anxiety = 1000 nail-bytes