Operating systems

Linux and multimedia-driven Web sites


Over the weekend, my wife and I found ourselves needing to catch up on a couple of missed Ugly Betty episodes. So after a bit of searching, we found that the ABC.com Web site offered the previously aired shows. So we go to the page only to find that its "player" is only supported in Windows and OS X browsers (which included Firefox). I couldn't believe it. Even using the Firefox plugin User Agent Switcher, I was unable to play the videos.

So I found the feedback button and decided to send a simple note reminding the developers that if they could support Firefox in OS X they could support Firefox in Linux. When I clicked the submit button I got the wonderful error:

This site is temporarily too busy to process your request. Please try again later.

I decided to leave the window open (hit Back) and try again later. I tried numerous times over a period of twelve hours only to have the same error. But wait! There was a link to click that said "Browser Not Supported." I hover the mouse over the link and I see "about:blank" in the status bar. So they've given me a link to click that will only open a blank window. How clever.

To me, this is inexcusable. Not only are they shirking cross-platform availability (something a vast majority of media-driven Web sites offer), but they are trying to keep from having to help those of us who do not have the blessed supported platforms!

Of course I am not calling for a boycott (I'm not a fan of that type of rebellion). But what I am calling for is reform on this sort of issue. In this age of cross platform Web design, how can a company as large as ABC not want to offer their products to as many people as possible?

Have you found yourself on media-driven sites only to have your platform not supported? If so, what's the site and what have you done (if anything)?

And to those companies who claim ,"We don't have the resources to handle this," all I have to say to you is: "OPEN SOURCE!" Hey, if it's good enough for the New York Times (who have recently opened the source to pieces of their site that were previously off limits) it's good enough for ABC.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

65 comments
FXEF
FXEF

About all I get from the poll result is that 93% that answered the poll use Linux and and 7% have never used Linux. Is it really the Web sites fault or the lack of multimedia support in your Linux distro? I think our Linux distros need to provide better out of the box multimedia tools. It's getting better with every new release, but still lacking.

jlwallen
jlwallen

why would a web site need to depend upon an OS? aren't there browser standards? ultimately, in this case, it was a product of ABC forcing the user to experience the advertisements by using a proprietary viewer. but sites like youtube have proven that multimedia sites do not need to depend upon an OS - only a browser.

FXEF
FXEF

Yes, browser standards should be the regulating factor, sadly most multimedia sites depend on plug-ins to deliver their multimedia. It's the browser plug-ins that seem to be causing most problems. I hate to pick on any one plug-in but Flash causes me the most pain in Linux. You're right, all sites should take a few lessons from YouTube.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

ABC isn't forcing anybody to do anything. You made the choice to visit their free site.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Didn't get mine in the mail. Don't let my previous postings suggest I don't think ABC is misguided. I agree that a web site should be designed to be viewable in as many browsers as possible, and that the best way to ensure this is conform the W3C standards. However, a business is under no obligation to do so.

Matureman
Matureman

Quote: "ABC isn't forcing anybody to do anything. You made the choice to visit their free site." We, using whatever OS, visit their website at their invitation. Actually, because the number of hits to their site drives ad revenue, it is to ABC's advantage to accommodate as many Os setups as possible.

lmenningen
lmenningen

How I wish everyone had the same browser, OS, etc. This business of supporting a dozen varieties of everything stinks to high heaven, and it is so unnecessary! One will do!

pennatomcat
pennatomcat

crap together in a hurry with Microsloth Frontpage and forget it??????? If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen! Also, what part of freedom of choice don't you understand?

Matureman
Matureman

Quote: "How I wish everyone had the same browser, OS, etc. This business of supporting a dozen varieties of everything stinks to high heaven, and it is so unnecessary! One will do!" Now, I' guessing you were probably musing in public with this comment but in the type of scenario where this idea could blossom, we might see this: It would be easier to have the One system for a while, then someone would get a revolutionary idea for improvement of the One Browser & One OS but The Soviet Committee for the Advancement of the Computer would meet (probably a bunch of old men who are there because of nepotism) and turn down the idea. Angst and ulcers would ensue at the Geeks secret meetings...people would march... people would go to the Gulags and the old men of the committee would go to lunch. An article would appear in Pravda on Page 1 of the State of Technology Section, referencing the heretics who would seek to divide the unity of the people.... I'm sorry, Imenningen. I lapsed into musing myself but you get the idea. Long live the difference!

nwoodson
nwoodson

The ugly truth is that there is just a glitz-driven, new tech smell to everything in this industry. Linux (*nix) in general isn't marketed well, doesn't have all the expensive toys (which is part of the point, but why let truth stand in the way of a good rant) and is intimidating to the "average Joe". You remember him......the guy with the beer can in the cd tray? We're already conditioned to denying linux users the right to propagate, why make web browsing a pleasant experience. My guess is that our (linux users/power users/admins/zealots, etc.) development community would probably be the people to vent to....no sympathy from the M$ slave boys. BTW....Hercules, Zeus, Ajax.....Huecules breaks stuff, Zeus breaks mortals, Ajax breaks linux....but what's the REAL connection here? (no googling!)

Tig2
Tig2

Do I get a cookie? Even if I ask real nice? Please??? :)

nwoodson
nwoodson

not in this context. :) Think something old.....but not that old.

Tig2
Tig2

An areo-space design engineer. While he never worked on that project directly, he was close enough to it. And besides, I AM that old. I still want a cookie! I answered correctly!

nwoodson
nwoodson

That's a-right! [No cookie for you!] My smart-a** quip a la Palmetto. BTW...Hercules....demi-god.....Testic(k)les...QB

Tig2
Tig2

Is Project Nike. Old, but not THAT old. Start with the antiquities first, then move up the time ladder. Now that I think about it, that should have been my first choice... considering present surroundings! Bet I miss out on the cookie too! :(

eclypse
eclypse

There are standards for web development. There is no reason that all web developers can't adhere to them. There is no need for any Micro$oft-dependent content anywhere ever. As long as the standard is followed, it doesn't really matter what browser you use - even if it is Lynx. =) Pretty much any site that uses Flash is broken on Linux. That would also include foxnews.com which looks like crap on Linux (and really anywhere else). As much as I dislike CNN, they have an excellent website. Of course, I am also one of those people who thinks that web sites are best used as sources of _information_. All that flash crap may look pretty, but it is totally un-necessary and usually just craps up everything for no good reason. I rarely browse web sites for anything other than text-based information. I don't need pictures put in some JavaScript crap gallery or some Flash crap gallery or whatever. I just want to be able to read the information I came looking for and if there are 27 8"x10" color glossy pictures with circles and arrows, then that's fine too...

Jaqui
Jaqui

anything you want at Alice's restaurant. :D gods it's been a while since I heard that song. still remember the lyrics though. my favorite refrain: kill kill kill kill kill [ jumping up and down ]

pennatomcat
pennatomcat

you're a mother stabber and a father raper! ;)

Jaqui
Jaqui

kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill kill :D

Tig2
Tig2

There is a local radio station here that plays it every Thanksgiving at noon. It is a tradition that I personally enjoy. Oddly enough, I just used the "8x10 colour glossy with the circles and arrows" line a couple of days ago. What's sad is that some 18 year old will read this and wonder what in the world we're talking about.

swenger
swenger

We also have a station here in central PA that plays it every Thanksgiving. Even my 14 year old son can sing along with it. I also have it on my MP3 player but thats just my own warped taste.

nwoodson
nwoodson

O.K. Mr. Samples......everybody isn't in diapers.

Tig2
Tig2

I use a website for the fund raising I do for the 3 Day. I do not create the site, nor do I maintain it. The NPT awards that contract. One of the gripes that I had last year was that I was unable to log in to message boards for communication. In fact, I was unable to log in for much of anything. I finally got to someone in the IT department of the company that hosts the site and was told that I had to use IE on MS- that was all they support. I raised a mighty stink about the issue and asked why they were not managing to an open standard. While I never got an answer, I can say that the problem was magically fixed- and not because I changed my OS or browser. From a business perspective, we constantly harp on providing for the requirements. "Right-sizing" solutions can include Linux and OS X just as much as Microsoft. I think that it is time to open our thinking to include all comers. Back in the day, pc companies built and shipped a proprietary box and you were pretty much stuck with it- and its attendant peripherals. The computing public forced a change, requiring manufacturers to provide interoperability. To me, this is the same issue, now over operating systems. MS isn't even compatible with itself any more. Time to stop the madness, I say. Demand interoperability. You aren't asking for the moon and the stars. You are asking content developers to provide equal access.

Jaqui
Jaqui

is to bcc the CEO when you send the "webmaster" a comment: Tell the board of directors that your boneheaded decision to require a specific browser just cost the company any chance of getting my money for some reason, I get all sorts of email, from the CEOs, but none from the webmasters. :D

Justin James
Justin James

Considering the install base of Linux, and that the vast majority of its installations are on servers where people are not going to be doing much browsing, I would not be surprised if the percentage of hits to ABC.com from Firefox on Linux was less than 1% of site visitors. Most developers and Web managers do not consider this re-writing something over. I would like to add, you are upset that your less than 1% of the population was denied acccess. When was the last time you were mad because a Web site was unsuable by a blind person because the AJAX technologies didn't work for the user's screen reader? When was the last time you said, "gee, if I was color blind, this site would not work?" Or, "wow, the font on this site is really small, I bet most elderly people can't read it!" I know, it "feels" off topic. But it never fails to amaze me that people in a small demographic due to their choices in technologies will get upset about these things, but never fight for the people in a small demographic due to birth or accident or just plain forces of nature. J.Ja

Matureman
Matureman

Quote..."But it never fails to amaze me that people in a small demographic due to their choices in technologies will get upset about these things, but never fight for the people in a small demographic due to birth or accident or just plain forces of nature." We should always consider the less fortunate among us. Justin, I salute you for thinking of them. You seem like a nice guy and fairly knowledgeable about tech, but, have you considered the fact that there is something to be said for the people who work hard in their off-duty hours to perfect the minority OS such as Linux? They are the ones that give the rest of us options in technology. I, for one, salute them. FWIW, it would be interesting to watch a blind person that is acclimated to XP, use Vista for the first time. That might demonstrate why we need optional OS, such as Linux. Best wishes... and keep a tender heart.

Justin James
Justin James

I have worked with a number of vision impaired users on XP, and with the proper screenreading software, they are able to use XP just as proficiently as the next person. However, I have not had the opportunity to work with such a person on Vista. That being said, I have seen even more items in Vista geared towards handicapped users than in XP. If you dig deep into Microsoft's publications, they actually have made an extremely deep commitment to handicapped users. I am not familiar with any efforts in the OSS world, but I have not looked, either. I would imagine that X would be a good platform to build on for a desktop environment specially designed for a special needs user. Beleive me, I like tons of open source technologies. I use FreeBSD quite heavily at home, and have pushed for it at the workplace where it is appropriate. I like a lot of things about *Nix. J.Ja

Matureman
Matureman

A friend and I have started a men's group at church called "Learning Linux" (we know who the geeks are) and have had surprising response. Next meeting, aside from the other things on our 1-1/2hr. agenda, we have decided to mention the site Jack Wallen highlighted in the former post http://leb.net/blinux/ which has some interesting things to say. We want the guys to know that there are skilled people in the tech community that are willing to give their time to the concerns of the disabled. I'm really glad you brought this subject up because it isn't mentioned much when we discuss OS issues. Maybe the "nix" guys can lend a hand, too.

jlwallen
jlwallen

i've never done this but i would bet you dollars for donuts that the various DEs and WMs for Linux could be so much better customized to suit such things as the sight impaired. think about it - the Linux desktop can be customized in a myriad of ways. AND there are such distributions as BLINUX http://leb.net/blinux/ I have customized Enlightenment and Blackbox desktops for various types and for various reasons. I would venture to say it would be easier to do such things with Linux than with Windows.

jlwallen
jlwallen

my biggest beef with the whole "market share" issue is this: Where do you get your numbers and how trustworthy are they? How can you actually quantify something when one of the players in the field have no real means to measure the amount of user-base? you say 1%? where do you get that figure? and let's relate this to a standard brick and mortar store. if you own a small shop selling cake and you have someone that comes in and says, oh i have a gluten allergy - can you make something gluten free? are you going to turn away that business? if you do that one person will tell others and you have just lost more business than you thought. think about it. it applies here as well.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"A site called W3Counter (www.w3counter.com) tallied 33 million visits at over 5,000 web sites ... The market share for operating systems is still led by Windows XP, at 83.5 percent, followed by Windows 2000 with 3.9 percent. The Mac OS comes in third, with 3.7 percent, followed by Vista, with 3.5 percent. Linux as a desktop OS is still moribund, at 1.3 percent"

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Jack asked where Justin got a figure of less than 1% of web surfers using Linux and Firefox. That's the only reason I posted those numbers. There are many types of standards in the world. One kind is the "official" ones published by sanctioning bodies. Another kind is established through wide-spread use. Learning that the two often aren't the same is one of life's lessons. In the case of web standards, there's a conflict between what W3C says, what developers do, and what viewers want. Apparently many developers don't have a professional issue with creating pages that don't meet the W3C standards, the companies that pay them don't care, and the majority of users visiting those pages don't have a problem viewing them. I agree you have the right to choose what software you want to use. However, the WWW doesn't belong to you either. Web site developers have the right to code to their preferences, not your requirements. The W3C standard isn't a law.

Justin James
Justin James

It is probably the same thing that motivates companies to not provide Linux drivers, and not to port their applications to Linux. They do not see any ROI in it. Of course, they may be mistaken, but unless a company sees ROI in it, they usually won't do it unless they are legally required to do so. I may add, much of that site is in like 6 pt. font, or close to it. It is nearly impossible for me to read. I cannot imagine grandmother, or even my mother being able to read it. So not only does ABC not consider your 1% of the population important, my grandmother's increasingly growing slice of the population does not matter to ABC either. :) J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

Since there is no guarantee of what plugins or codecs the user has installed. As mentioned in another post, there are no standards for video on the Web, merely conventions. And from what I can tell, ABC.com's Web site follows convention fairly well. J.Ja

j-mart
j-mart

How difficult is it to use more compatible content ?

j-mart
j-mart

This is about developing standard and not pandering to companies attempts to force their proprietary controlled rubbish on all of us. Independent standards are the only way forward. The WWW does not belong to to Microsoft and never will. I want choice, I want to use software of my choice, superior technically, more secure, not rubbish produced for the mindless masses.

jlwallen
jlwallen

even at 1.3 per cent... why would anyone want to turn away that number? now i know that not all of those users don't visit specific sites...in fact i'm probably one of maybe 10 users using Linux to visit abc.com. but - in a service industry turning away ANYONE is bad business.

Justin James
Justin James

... then I should have said *less* than 1%: http://www.linux.org/news/2007/10/09/0006.html Looks like I was being generous. And I suspect that Linux.org would try to not pass on a number that is artificially low. Sorry, but you are in an extraordinarily small minority. Unless you are also going to argue for the return of targeting 640 x 480 displays, IE 5 compatible Web sites, or Web sites that work well on a 256 color monitor, you really can't complain that your sub-1% of the market slice is being underserved, particularly when, as a few others have pointed out, you *chose* to be in that minority while being fully informaed about the consequences up front. J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

I am mistaken; the *previews* on the site use Flash. The actual full length videos use a player from "Move networks" (http://www.movenetworks.com). Their Web site does not mention if it is offered in a Linux compatible version, but since it is a plugin requiring a local installation, choice of OS obviously matters just as much as choice of browser. If you look at their Web site, I can understand why a company like ABC would choose to use this particular system. They obviously traded wider compatability for the perceived benefits of that particular system. J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

Please show me the standard regarding the usage of video on the Web. There is no standard. No standard player. No standard file format. No standard codec. As such, don't blame Jack's inability to see the video on some Web site's failure to follow a standard. As I have stated in another post, it is wholly possible that the video is in a codec that is installed by default on Mac & IE, but not on Linux. Who knows? Seeing as the ABC.com Web site seems to use Flash for their player, I think it is possible that the problem is Adobe's, not ABC's. I do beleive that it is high time for a standard to exist for these things. J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

I do not disagree with you in the slightest regarding the standards issue. Indeed, making a donation online and watching a video online are entirely different, because the HTML needed for a donation page can be purely standard HTML, while the multimedia page that Jack talks about *must* not be standards based. Why? Because there is no standard for video! Unless they were going to just have a standard HTML link to the video (unlikely, they probably want to enforce streaming for many reasons), there is 100% zero standards governing the players themselves. In addition, it is quite possible that the video did not work, merely because he did not have the right codec on his system. I may also add, nowhere in Jack's post did he ask for adherance to standards. If that is what it had been about, I would not have bothered to comment, since that is something that I am in agreement with as well. But this post did not call for that; the only solution it called for was to open source ABC.com's Web site. Your NPR (I assume you meant NPR from the context :) ) story is a rather special case. For one thing, they were asking you for a direct contribution, and those range from $20 - $500 or so, from what I have heard on the radio. Yes, you could show that a fix would directly generate them some decent income. In addition, it is quite possible that NPR's status as a government entity (or partial government entity) may require it to adhere to a standard of access that other sites do not. ABC.com is another story. They get their money from the ads. Jack saw the ad, he became a page view, and he had plenty of time to click on the ads, seeing as the video was not working. In fact, considering how many page views he probably generated trying to get it to work, he probably had *more* ad exposure than the typical user! So as far as ABC is concerned, they have not lost a thing, and quite possibly gained. They didn't have to spend some bandwidth, and still got ad exposure. Not bad. Of course, I am hardly advocating this cynical look at getting things to work, but just trying to highlight why NPR was responsive to your needs, and ABC probably does not care too much. J.Ja

Jaqui
Jaqui

if you pick accessable technologies from the start it isn't any more expensive to have a site that will work for everyone.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

is not "statistics" of browsers in use, assumed traffic etc, it is about standards. Is it less expensive to build a web site to a universal standard, or to build it based around a single browser? What happens when M$ changes their browser again? Remember the major java incompatibilities with IE7 when it came out? Is this the result of not building IE7 to be fully compliant with existing standards, or just a fluke? Would you buy a car that for some reason switched the gas and break pedal positions? Or decided it only needs one seat? Or a CD player that only plays CDs from Sony? No. Why? You have an expectation that these products should meet a minimum standard of compatibility to be usable. Building the www around IE makes no sense, compared to building to universal standards. On the web, what OS or browser you use should not be an issue. This is why standards were developed.

Tig2
Tig2

When I complained to the NPT that not only could I not get to parts of their website but that people that wanted to contribute to the 3 Day were being blocked, they made changes. I could prove that being Windows-centric was costing them. And that is where the rubber met the road. If someone (on a Linux system) wanted to make a donation, they couldn't. The result is a better system all around. The pages load quickly regardless of browser. I have greater flexibility on my pages than I had before. I work with people with challenges and have a few in my family. Until the 80's, I was a person with disability. I would say that I am reasonably sensitive to that issue. It is possible and reasonable to conform to standards. And that is all that is asked for here. This allows both the mainstream and the non-mainstream equal access.

j-mart
j-mart

This is a problem of individual companies pushing their own proprietary software and file formats, that they patent as well, in an effort to control market in their favour. Web designers who buy into this by building sites along these lines are not doing a very good job. I am no expert in web design but before a single line of code is produced, at the stage when the basic concept is being decided, I'm sure it doesn't cost more to use content that is universal. Those of you out their with knowledge in this area, please tell me if this is so. I think any estimate of OS or browser preference should even be a consideration. A well designed site universal to all makes more commercial sense as who knows what are correct statistics or even what they will be next year, or next month,or whenever.

Justin James
Justin James

I did originally say "less than 1%", my mistake. J.Ja

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Unlike web browsers, nobody deliberately chooses a food allergy and then expects others to cater to their decision. How much more are you willing tto pay for that gluten-free cake? There are places that specialize in foods catering to specific dietary requirements, but they usually charge more than their "regular food" competitors. Are you willing to pay to view content customized for your browser / OS configuration? Let's remember you're complaining about something that's offered at no cost to you. How does your complaint differ from the guy who's upset because the "Free Joke of the Day" page didn't get updated? If the pet shop is giving away dog chow, they aren't required to give me something else if I own a rabbit. Most of the content on the web is free to the viewer, subsidized by advertising. (This probably renders my previous "diesel car" analogy ineffective.) Are companies willing to lean on the sites they advertise on so the sites will conform to your choice? Those are the people you need to lean on. I'm not sure why you don't like playing the "boycott" card. Unless you (and all other alienated potential viewers) let a site (and it's advertisers) know you won't be back, do you really think they'll change?

jlwallen
jlwallen

i don't play that card simply because innocent people could possibly wind up out of jobs. and honestly - it's not so much about making someone (or a company) change but more making them aware of the issue. as well it's about making people think. and discuss.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Sorry, but this sounds like so much "Poor Pitiful Me". You opted to use a particular OS / browser combo that is in the minority, then complain when you can't access mainstream sites. It's like owners of diesel cars complaining that not every station sells their fuel, or curling fans upset because their sport isn't on ESPN every Monday night. If you're running FF on Linux the odds are you're pretty technically aware and knew there were web sites you couldn't access before you set your system up. Yet another case of the open source minority expecting businesses to spend development dollars to support them.

Jaqui
Jaqui

it costs more in development dollars to make in NOT work for all browsers and os than to make it work for all.

Jaqui
Jaqui

I'm the one that rips sites apart for not being friendly to visually impaired people :) [ flash, javascript, ajax, video clips all break screen readers and should never be the actual content of a site ]

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