Software Discrimination Is Never The Answer

Internet Explorer 7 Tax

Last night, as I was perusing social media, a post from a friend caught my attention. It seems that the web-types at Kogan, an online electronics retailer in Australia and the UK, have tired of the additional work required to support Internet Explorer 7, and to even the score, have imposed a 6.8% tax on shoppers using IE7.

While others were celebrating the move, as a Linux user, I was appalled. "What? Appalled? You should be cheering — it's a master stroke against evil and outdated software!"

No, no it isn't. It's discrimination, and of a type that every Linux user has suffered.

According to the blog post announcing the move, the cost of supporting IE7 (i.e., the additional development time required to accommodate IE7's lack of standards support) has grown too high, not just for Kogan, but for the internet at large. IE7 is an "antique", released in 2006, and those who have failed to update deserve to be punished for their profit-draining ways.

Customers unfortunate enough to use the abhorréd browser will be presented with this image:

IE7 Tax

Admittedly, IE7 is old. It is, however, still under extended support from Microsoft, and will be through August 2014. How exactly does that differ from RHEL 3, released in 2003, which will be supported by Red Hat until January 2014? Indeed, why is it more evil than the thoroughly outdated and unmaintained packages that grace most distributions' repositories? If anything older than a year or two is criminal, why are we committing the same crime?

I won't deny that it's a pain to ensure IE7 compatibility. As a web developer, I know it well. I'm keenly aware of the time I've spent fixing sites for IE7, and what it has cost my clients. As a business owner, I'm acutely aware of the cost of accommodating niche sections of the market. I feel the pain.

I understand the allure of a stunt like this — and let's be honest, with IE7's market share at 1.5%, this is about publicity, not profit loss. That any significant portion of Kogan's customers are using IE7 is slight at best, and infinitely dwarfed by the increased attention this self-proclaimed moral stand has attracted.

However, as a Linux user, I know what it's like to be told that my chosen software is too expensive to support. We all run up against a lack of Linux support on a regular basis, and if pressed, the responsible company is guaranteed to reply with a variant of "Sorry, supporting you would cost too much." What one of us hasn't heard "We don't have the resources", "Linux users aren't a significant segment of our market", "We have other development priorities", and a million other ways of saying "You won't bring in enough money to be worth our time"?

To put the matter in perspective, take the oft-rumoured Steam client for Linux as an example. How would the Linux community respond if Valve announced tomorrow that a Linux client was available, but to recoup the additional cost of developing it, every game purchase would include a 6.8% Linux tax?

There is no question of what the response would be: A torch-wielding mob would descend on Valve, screaming about the evils of software discrimination and demanding the heads everyone involved be served on a silver platter. And they would be absolutely right — minus the head thing — because software discrimination is evil.

Cross-platform and cross-browser support is part of the cost of doing business. So are credit card processing fees, employee benefits, and the coffee machine in the break room. Taxing IE7 users because it's too annoying to support them is as evil as creating IE-only websites that shut out users of Firefox or Chrome. It's as evil as creating Flash sites that millions of users can't see. It is the evil of saying "You'd better do what we tell you to, or you're going to suffer for it."

It is discrimination, plain and simple. As Linux users, as open source supporters, as free software advocates, we should not be cheering prejudice applied to others, even others with whom we disagree. We have this experience. We have felt the same thing.

We should be the voices in the darkness saying "This is wrong, this cannot stand." To do otherwise is to give up what we ourselves are fighting for.

Thumbnail image courtesy of 401K 2012.

______________________

Justin Ryan is a Contributing Editor for Linux Journal.

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Where does anyone derive a

RobertPattinson's picture

Where does anyone derive a right to demand of any business how they conduct their business? If a business discriminates by refusing service or tacking on additional fees for service such practices will either be beneficial to the business, it will be costly to the business or it will have no effect whatsoever. To suggest anyone other than the owner has an inherent right to demand how the owner of property will use that property or sell access to that property is just crazy talk. I have no problem with arbitrary discriminators running their own business into the ground.
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Yes,it's interesting

Anonymous's picture

Although,IE 7 is really an disaster.Many webmasters giveup for their website compatibility.Mozilla is always an thousand times better.If any interested in earning can earn online.

Thanks!

I wonder why it is so much

Balu's picture

I wonder why it is so much work for Kogan to keep their site specifically IE7-compatible... Do they do the same for IE6, IE5 and NS4?

Btw. just tried their site with Links, Lynx and W3m, and it appeared to work. Does it really need special work to get the same results in IE7?

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Call me arrogant, but

Ralph124c's picture

I check my pages for correctness with the w3c validators. When I get no errors and no warnings - I'm happy.
So far it's working for me.

A little insulting, middle of the road...

Anonymous's picture

For folks on dial-up and folks who use IE7 which is less than 10 years old, that
is still a significant number of people I think.

I don't fault Kroger for wanting to charge people who use hard to support web browsers, but at the same time insulting people is bad business. Nobody has
to be in a coma to use IE7.

Concerning Firefox, it is updated far too often which raises the question, what is so wrong with it? It is a pain to keep up with browser technology, especially if you are trying to use Internet Explorer on a no longer supported version of Windows.

The problem I see is that Microsoft broke their own driver model and a lot of people are XP users still because they can't afford to throw out all or most of their hardware. These people don't know about or have rejected Linux, perhaps because their in house software won't work under WINE. There is ReactOS, but ReactOS is not stable and it is not appropriate for day to day use yet.

What is driving web browsers changes to occur more frequently than people want to deal with?

not interested

Vitto's picture

not interested in IE, i would prefer chrome or safari

cheers

Hi

RxGs's picture

I would like to thank Justin Ryan for sharing his thoughts on this news. When I first heard about it, I did not think about it as software discrimination and am glad I had the opportunity to consider that perspective. But like most of the feedback in the comments here, I disagree with Mr. Ryan.

While the comparisons made by Mr. Ryan to other situations may have some similarities, I think they are fundamentally different. The most similar would be sites that do not work with Firefox or Chrome, which still exist and used to be very common. But note that the issue there is the opposite. Developing for older versions of IE would commonly break browsers that stuck with standards. This put non-IE browsers at a disadvantage that was caused by a near monopoly in the browser market. The current problem with IE7 is nothing like that. The fact that this was not a blanked refusal to support all versions of IE is an important distinction. (Of course, it might also be tough to convince me that such a decision is bad!)

In the end businesses have the option of deciding which software to support. I am just glad that Kogan has made a good decision by preferring browsers that handle standards better over one that does not.

zxcv

jhomi12's picture

How many people still hang on to windows just for a couple of pieces of software? I'm sure a lot of people would fork out a little extra cash to get the convenience of switching to the operating system they like without feeling like they have to compromise. love sms

I know that this is dated but

willy's picture

I know that this is dated but it is one of the threads that needs to be continued. I know little about web design but I would think that by now designers would be able to prepare websites that use a basic standard that work on any browser and then present all the bells and whistles to the browsers that that can accommodate them. Why should a new website demand a new browser upgrade? Are there no standards that are built into browsers that make them backward compatible automatically? Does Adobe have no responsible for making flash backward compatible?
If software were like cars then every time one company made a new car the rules of the road, type of fuel for cars and speed limit would all change for the end user.
Webmasters need to be much more innovative.

There are standards. The

Anonymous's picture

There are standards. The problem is that IE/Microsoft has a history of ignoring them. Many people just use the version that comes with their OS and never upgrade. When they come across a website that doesn't work, they often don't think the problem is with their web browser, and they blame the website/company. So, web designers are stuck having to design to both the "standards" and IE. What makes it worse is that each version of IE can have its own quirks. So, you design a website that is standards compliant, and then have to make tweaks to make it work with IE 7, making sure your changes don't cause problems with standards compliant browsers. Then you discover your site doesn't work right in IE8. So, you have to make tweaks so that it will work in IE8, but are compatible with IE7 and standards compliant browsers. Then you find out in IE9...

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NBA Snapback Hats's picture

While others were celebrating the move, as a Linux user, I was appalled.

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Mr. Smars's picture

There are also those situations where the company policy is (for reasons that are beyond me) to not allow the user to install software, and they only provide IE7 on WinXP, and with Win7, IE8.

Oh, Portableapps [google for it], you say? Yes, that might have worked, unless some lame-brain in Redmond had thought up applocker.

So, you see. It's not always something a user can do much about.

NOPE!

Anonymous's picture

Leave all the BS out of the arguement.
It's discrimination.
OK so it's discrimination. So what. It's their business and if they want to descriminate it's none of our business.
When a business where I live is privately owned it is simply that. It is private and is on private property. I/we have the right to allow/disallow anyone on our property we wish.
If we change that, what next? Do we have to allow every one who wishes to walk in to come into our homes?
To be honest I think their notice is insulting but if they want to insult potential customers it's none of my business.
They could have just politley said, "Sorry it appears you are using XXXXX and we do not support it." No tax, no insult about dark ages. Just a notification.
I'm sure those who want to do business with them will just download Firefox etc and continue.
It only takes a few minutes at best. Unless your still in the dark ages and on a dial up. Oops I just insulted those who do not have the latest technologies.
Maybe better service isn't available to them.
I live where some people do not have the money for satellite and nothing else id available but dial up. So I guess I have to insult them by telling them they are in the dark ages.

I say they are rude but in their rights to refuse servie to IE.
Charging extra is stupid. Just stop supporting it.
They will upgrade or just go away.
No need to be insulting.

When a business where I live

Anonymous's picture

When a business where I live is privately owned it is simply that. It is private and is on private property. I/we have the right to allow/disallow anyone on our property we wish.
If we change that, what next?

Seriously?? Well, if you don't change that, something like this is next:
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e1/WhiteTradeOnlyLancast...

I'm not saying that this IE thing is in any way equivalent, or even comes remotely close at all. What I am saying is that your position that a business should be able to discriminate based on whatever they want, is... wtf?!?!

It's a matter of ownership rights

Anonymous's picture

Where does anyone derive a right to demand of any business how they conduct their business? If a business discriminates by refusing service or tacking on additional fees for service such practices will either be beneficial to the business, it will be costly to the business or it will have no effect whatsoever. To suggest anyone other than the owner has an inherent right to demand how the owner of property will use that property or sell access to that property is just crazy talk. I have no problem with arbitrary discriminators running their own business into the ground.

This is a non-issue

tacra's picture

There are really only two reasons we still have IE7 around. We also have MsAccess97 around for one of those reasons. That reason is older webapps and older databases. Many companies don't want to pour resources (read money) into updating the software. While I understand having had to support such apps in the past, the risks with not upgrading are far more expensive. How many companies have policies, procedures, and filtering software setup explicitly to protect their computers from malware that affects IE7 but not newer browsers? How many trouble tickets have companies had to deal with because user X is using an outdated browser?

I don't necessarily agree with Kogan's approach to applying a surcharge (not a tax). However, their alternative would be to put a page that states words to the effect, "Your browser is too old. Upgrade or shop some place else." That would get even more expensive for Kogan. I do agree with their position of telling the end user upgrade to newer software.

The other reason you will see IE7 in the field is very old computers that cannot deal with the newer software. And, for those users, it is unlikely they even go to Kogan's website much less buy anything. Their computers are old after all which indicates they aren't buying modern electronics anyway.

By the way, the webapps I refer to in the beginning are almost always hosted on the company's internal network. It isn't uncommon for that app to be either custom written or by a dot.com that went out of business years ago.

I wonder why it is so much

another_oliver's picture

I wonder why it is so much work for Kogan to keep their site specifically IE7-compatible... Do they do the same for IE6, IE5 and NS4?

Btw. just tried their site with Links, Lynx and W3m, and it appeared to work. Does it really need special work to get the same results in IE7?

A misguided lament.

AussieBrent's picture

Ryan says:

"I understand the allure of a stunt like this — and let's be honest, with IE7's market share at 1.5%, this is about publicity, not profit loss"

Erm big no mate.

Why spend 10% of your dev budget for 1.5% of your clients.?
If you sell MS software and want to continue to do so, then the answer is...you have to.

Business is business and Kogan's stance should be applauded.
Being able to take such a stance is more about not having to placate the entrenched vendor driven model.

We in OZ suffer a more insidious issue:
After taking into account taxes and exchange rates. ALL propriety software sold in the country is at a minimum 20%+ to US prices.

...and that includes RHEL subs.
Perhaps your editorials could address that?

There can be a justification

Laxator2's picture

If you want users to move away from a piece of bad (i.e. not standards compliant) software, hitting them in the pocket can be justified. Especially since there is a no-cost equivalent replacement package readily available which does everything that the old one did, only better.

Unsafe cars are recalled by manufacturers. Is this discrimination against a particular model of car? People should not drive it if it is not safe, since there are same-price replacements available, no matter how much they like the old car's color.

If Microsoft wants to

Anonymous's picture

If Microsoft wants to continue to support IE 7, that's their call. That doesn't mean the rest of us have to, or even that we should.

Not supporting IE 7 isn't

Anonymous's picture

Not supporting IE 7 isn't similar to not supporting Firefox.

It's similar to not supporting Firefox 3.5.

It's also similar to not supporting IE 5, IE 6, and other outdated versions of browsers whose current versions one does support.

This isn't about supporting or not supporting a given browser, but rather a particular version of that browser.

I call straw man.

Paying for non-compliance with web standards.

Anonymous's picture

What's the problem?

As a Linux user, I have to pay the penalty for choosing to use a collection of software that allows me to enjoy the freedom to share it with my family and friends. That penalty is dealing with Flash.

Are you suggesting that the retailer raise the price of their goods on everyone, just so that they can continue to support a non-standards complaint web browser that is used by a small number of its customers? How is that fair?

Treating someone differently because of who they are is discrimination. Making someone pay more because of a choice that they make, which adversely affects you, is not. Upgrade to IE8, change your browser, or pay more, they still have a choice, or did you miss that?

what a load of crap

registereduser's picture

there is a free upgrade of IE7 available to anyone. Are you saying they don't support IE8? That's the only way this would be "discrimination".

For what it's worth, I would

Anonymous's picture

For what it's worth, I would have no problem paying a Linux tax for Steam games.

There's always a choice

Anonymous's picture

I wonder how many die hard IE7 users are also shoppers at Kogan. If they can't or won't upgrade to IE8 and they also want to buy from Kogan then they can either borrow someone else's computer for 5 minutes or shop elsewhere.

The only reason I can think of why someone would be stuck with IE7 is if their ageing system can't cope with IE8. If that's the case they probably can't afford to shop at Kogan anyway.

So what's the real issue here?

Discrimination? I'm not convinced that discrimination of the software people choose to use is serious discrimination. Maybe it's because I still view computer use as more luxury than necessity. Like TV, there's always that convenient 'off' button just arms reach away.

When we become such perfectionists that the smallest problem paralyses us, then we have traded what perfection we had for total chaos.

Disagree

Keith K's picture

I would like to thank Justin Ryan for sharing his thoughts on this news. When I first heard about it, I did not think about it as software discrimination and am glad I had the opportunity to consider that perspective. But like most of the feedback in the comments here, I disagree with Mr. Ryan.

While the comparisons made by Mr. Ryan to other situations may have some similarities, I think they are fundamentally different. The most similar would be sites that do not work with Firefox or Chrome, which still exist and used to be very common. But note that the issue there is the opposite. Developing for older versions of IE would commonly break browsers that stuck with standards. This put non-IE browsers at a disadvantage that was caused by a near monopoly in the browser market. The current problem with IE7 is nothing like that. The fact that this was not a blanked refusal to support all versions of IE is an important distinction. (Of course, it might also be tough to convince me that such a decision is bad!)

In the end businesses have the option of deciding which software to support. I am just glad that Kogan has made a good decision by preferring browsers that handle standards better over one that does not.

Kogan has a point and made it humorous

Andy987s's picture

I like many others here think the comparison is wrong.
Logan is annoyed by the bloody mindedness of MS deliberately making their browser incompatible. MS felt they old use their market dominance to try and dissuade developers from spending extra time supporting other browsers. How times have changed and now chrome is more popular than IE.
Kogan is making his point. Why reward bad behavior.

Kogan has a humor

Andy987s's picture

I like many others here think the comparison is wrong.
Logan is annoyed by the bloody mindedness of MS deliberately making their browser incompatible. MS felt they old use their market dominance to try and dissuade developers from spending extra time supporting other browsers. How times have changed and now chrome is more popular than IE.
Kogan is making his point. Why reward bad behavior.

This is a MISLEADING,

kaimagpie's picture

This is a MISLEADING, possibly criminal, use of the word "tax". IE7 users should also flood Kogan with invoices for having to uninstall #IE7.

Your comparison with RHEL3 is

Anonymous's picture

Your comparison with RHEL3 is outright retarded. I have no idea what brower was used on it (Mozilla?), but it was COMPLIANT TO STANDARDS. So the only thing you won't have will be fancy HTML5 and some of the more advanced javascript tricks.

Not the same

hernil's picture

This comparison is quite simply not good at all. A user of IE 6 or 7 could just upgrade, for free without any disadvantages, to IE 8. Or use any of the better, more secure browsers available. Firefox, Chrome and Opera are all great alternatives.

As a Linux user; I can't, without disadvantage, just use Windows or OS X. Simple as that.

Discrimination is streching the truth

@westphillymic's picture

While I understand Internet Explorer is under "Long Term Support" but even as a linux user yourself you seem to not understand that no is subject to work or support things under "Mircrosoft Time". If you try to learn HTML5 the FIRST thing is to learn is to support the damn thing, separate code because of the browser is old & doesnt support it...
While you seem to bring up red hat & the linux desktop since '03, we can also bring Windows XP, back from 2001 or so? yeah put that in the ring & the whole desktop argument becomes silly / rather irrelevant because it isnt the Operating System, this is about Web browsers not the Desktop.

Rediculous Comparison

heimer16's picture

To compare a tax on IE 7 to a surcharge for linux development or support is absolutely rediculous. I can admin the similarity in that if you really really want to use ie7, over any other browser, you'd be willing to pay more to continue to use it. Same as if you really really want to keep driving your 70's muscle car, you're going to pay higher fuel consumption tax. I don't think anyone would disagree to financially discourage super-polluting cars. The choice to use linux, however is different in that it actually provides benefits to some people to use. There's no reason to keep using ie7. There are many reasons to use linux. Name one way in which ie7 is better than any other browser (besides ie6).

And, the assumption that mobs of linux users weilding torches would riot against a 7.8% tax is ludicrous. Look at the contributions of linux users for the Humble Bundle games. Always higher. Linux users more often than the rest of the community realize the time and effort that go into programming and support and would in most cases jump at the chance to offer a bit more money if it meant that their existence would be acknowledged. I would pay a higher price to get photoshop, certain games, and other software on linux, because balanced against licensing windows, dual booting, juggling virtualboxes, and paying a thousand dollar tax for a glowing apple, I would still come out ahead. How many people still hang on to windows just for a couple of pieces of software? I'm sure a lot of people would fork out a little extra cash to get the convenience of switching to the operating system they like without feeling like they have to compromise.

Anyway, long story short, I completely disagree.

Maybe not the best approach. But...

fest3er8's picture

A surcharge might not be the best approach. But Joe User should be strongly encouraged never to use any version of IE on the internet. Far too often non-computer-expert people I know have had nothing but trouble with their systems until I convince them:

  1. to use an alternate browser,
  2. never to click links to places they don't know or haven't researched, no matter how enticing and convincing the carnie barker sounds,
  3. never to open anything from a source they do not know and trust, and
  4. never to open anything from someone they do know and trust if it seems 'out of character'.

Sure, IE can be configured to be 'safer' on the internet, but the settings are simply Greek to non-expert users (or Mandarin to non-expert Greek users).

Consider if you travelled to a distant city and complete stranger there handed you a wrapped parcel saying, "Here! A gift for you!" Would you refuse it? Would you take it? Would you open it? Would you drop it in the nearest dust bin? Same thing should apply to the internet.

Even if the IE user is an

Anonymous Coward's picture

Even if the IE user is an experienced user and takes all of the precautions you outline, using IE is a really risky proposition. Malware is often inserted into flash ads that are placed into legitimate ad networks, that then use them in perfectly legitimate web sites. Simply loading the bogus ad can be enough to infect somebody.

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