An important part of making your Web pages accessible is making sure they work properly on existing user agents (browsers). I say this with a bit of reservation, because many people seem to be hanging on to older, outdated browsers instead of doing what they should be doing: upgrading to modern, standards compliant ones.
A few standard elements of HTML are unsupported or poorly supported by Internet Explorer 4, 5 and 6. See Fixing What Breaks in IE for details.
Here in The Oo Kingdom, we try to strike a balance between backwards compatibility with older browsers, and forward compatibility with newer and future ones. As a webmaster, I tend to lean more toward forward compatibility, because if I don’t, I’ll wake up several months or a year from now to find my entire site’s design outdated and looking like yesterday’s news.
Hence our decision, in the summer of 2002, to upgrade all of our
markup to XHTML 1.1
(this was a mistake; see below).
This meant removing all presentational markup from the page sources
and defining everything, including our layout, in the style sheet.
Netscape 4 (and all 4.0 browsers) cannot handle our CSS layout, so I had to
hide our style sheet from those browsers by using the
Floating elements are a problem in Netscape 4
Netscape 4 messes up styled floating elements with margins.
div floated right with a left margin width defined,
will appear at the left side of the page, right over the top of
whatever is supposed to appear there. None of it will be usable!
Netscape 4 also fails to color all of a styled box unless it is
also bordered—it will highlight any text in the box with
the specified color instead. Defining a zero border for images
also fails on Netscape 4 (you can set a zero border in HTML, but only in
Transitional versions). Numerous other CSS
rules also fail on Netscape 4. A few examples appear below:
Floated links are not reachable with the TAB key
Without using a mouse, one should be able to reach any link on a page by using the TAB key. Menus that are floated using CSS are not accessible in this manner by anyone using Netscape 4.
Netscape 4 thinks outside the box
If you nest certain elements inside of other styled elements,
Netscape 4 will drop the styling on the parent element when the
child element is closed. For example, a
styled with 10% left and right margins, will format correctly on
Netscape 4, but the font formatting was lost after an
acronym element inside the
div was closed.
Also, the margins remained after the
divs later, the entire page text
was narrowed to a sliver!
Do what you have to do!
By trial and error, I learned that I could make our colors and fonts available to Netscape 4, but since that browser will botch most of our CSS layout, I have to hide the layout from Netscape 4. The current version of our site hides the entire style sheet from all 4.0 browsers—it’s just easier, and the site works well without the styling.
Netscape 4 cannot find a link target by its
attribute. It looks for the
name attribute, which
has been removed in XHTML 1.1.
Consequently, our same page navigations didn’t work on
Netscape 4, so users had to scroll down the page. On August 15, 2002,
we decided to convert the main site back one notch to XHTML
1.0 Strict, so we could restore the
to our link targets, and Netscape 4 users would be afforded
Some elements not supported
Netscape 4 does not support certain HTML elements, including
See note on
The following paragraphs deal with some elements and attributes not supported by older browsers. This information appears on this site purely for reference.
Style sheets are not supported
Netscape 3 and earlier browsers don’t support style sheets. Neither do Internet Explorer 2 and earlier. It may be a good idea, therefore, to define body, text, and link colors in HTML as well as in the style sheet.
Pages may appear corrupted
If you use the XML prologue at the top of your document source, Netscape 2 and 3 will display it as text. Also, some versions of Internet Explorer for the Mac will mistakenly treat the entire document source as plain text instead of rendering the page as expected.
In the summer of 2002, we upgraded our punctuation from normal typewriter style to curly quotes and apostrophes, em and en dashes, and ellipses, to improve the appearance and readability of our text. We used the entity codes as defined in HTML. To illustrate this, consider the sentence below, written with typewriter-style punctuation:
"I'm befuddled -- it's the Thornton-Flanders case," replied Mrs. Fletcher. "If only there was more evidence -- or should I have said 'there were...'?"
Here is the same sentence, written with proper typographical punctuation:
“I’m befuddled—it’s the Thornton–Flanders case,” replied Mrs. Fletcher. “If only there was more evidence—or should I have said ‘there were…’?”
On most browsers, the latter version will look and read better, but Netscape 2 and 3 cannot read the entity codes for those characters and will render them as question marks, like this:
?I?m befuddled?it?s the Thornton?Flanders case,? replied Mrs. Fletcher. ?If only there was more evidence?or should I have said ?there were????
Netscape 4 and later browsers will display them just fine, and virtually no one uses anything older then that any more, so this shouldn’t be a problem. At any rate, the words are all there, so the sentence makes sense; it only looks goofy.
By the way, that sentence was not taken from the television series Murder, She Wrote—it only sounds like it. Actually, I made it up for this example.
The 21st Anniversary Edition of this site, introduced
in October of 2003, uses the
q element for short
quotations instead of the entity codes for curly quotation marks.
Netscape 4 and older browsers will not recognize the
element, so the quotation marks will not appear on those browsers
at all. In the case of Netscape 2 and 3, this actually
improves the rendering, since those browsers render
the curly quotes as question marks.
Centering may not work
Netscape 2 and 3 don’t support the
attribute of the
table element, so centered tables
won’t be centered on those browsers. In Transitional markup,
you can use a
center element to ensure that your
tables are centered on those browsers. This element requires an
end tag. It is not allowed in the Strict versions of HTML.
Some colors are not supported by Netscape 2
Netscape 2 does not support table colors, so if you define, say, the body color as navy blue, and a table as having black text on a white background, Netscape 2 users will see your black text against the navy blue page background, making it very difficult to read. So the rule of thumb is this: don’t define table colors in HTML that contrast greatly with the page colors! (It’s OK to do it in the style sheet though, since Netscape 2 doesn’t support style sheets.)
Don’t use transparent GIF images as logos, for the same reason. My email logo appeared on Netscape 2 as blue against a navy background on some pages, until I replaced the transparent GIF background with an opaque yellow.
Script handling is touchy on Netscape 2
Normally, data inside a
noscript element will be
noscript element, so if the script is written into
the page source, both elements will be displayed, which
can result in duplicate items on the Web page! So now, whenever I
file to hide the script from Netscape 2.