Browsers become business bugbear

commentary The debate between Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox has intensified in recent months. Media columnists have put forth the merits of their case; an overwhelming number believe the time is right to bury Internet Explorer.

commentary The debate between Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox has intensified in recent months.

Media columnists have put forth the merits of their case; an overwhelming number believe the time is right to bury Internet Explorer.

The security flaws plaguing Internet Explorer has led to a renewed interest in other browser options, with market research pointing to Firefox as the leading choice. But a bigger problem, if left unresolved, could lead to corporate bottom lines being affected.

Here's an example to mull over.

"Your browser version is not supported. By continuing you may experience decreased performance." This message greets Mozilla Firefox and Opera users attempting to access the online banking service of the nation's leading lender, the National Australia Bank (NAB).

As a Firefox user and an NAB customer, it irks me each time I have to revert to Internet Explorer even for simple tasks like checking my account balance.

The NAB isn't alone in giving preferential treatment to Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape users. Other Web sites such as Westpac and Citibank -- which use browsers as a conduit for online transactions -- have similar restrictions.

I can understand Microsoft's move in planting hurdles for its competitors. That's only natural. Its Windows Update service, for instance, can't be directly accessed by non-IE browsers due to ActiveX controls. Users have to instead proceed to the Microsoft Download Center and click on Windows (Security & Updates) to download the latest security updates.

What's wrong with this picture? Why would a commercial entity deliberately turn away business? Or do I smell a whiff of laziness in the air?

It's only a matter of time before I switch banks. The NAB seems to be oblivious to Internet Explorer's security problems and Netscape's plunge in popularity. To a customer, this goes to show that the bank is living in its own world.

If the NAB and others of its ilk are serious about customer retention, it's time for action.

First, wake up to the fact that Internet Explorer is losing its dominant position in the browser world. Stop designing Web pages to suit one or two browsers and come to the realisation that competition is heating up by the day: now there's even talk of Google joining the fray. So, please start coding and testing Web pages on different browsers!

There's no telling what the future holds since the browser market is still in its infancy. But one thing's for sure: Australia's eight million online banking users deserve choice and must not be ruled by a set of fatuous parameters.

To the NAB, a word of advice: it's time to stop alienating customers with unnecessary barriers and start conforming to usability standards -- you know, the basics?