Saturday, October 10, 2009

Web Browsers and the District of Columbia Government

A couple of months ago the Cleveland Park Listserv debuted Kelli Miller's Advice Column. The response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic, and so we decided to do it again: We have added a technology column to the Cleveland Park Listserv. (Read more about her column at We searched for somebody to be our tech columnist, and then decided that there's no place like home: The Listserv's owner and chief technology officer will be the list's technology columnist. (That's me.) The Cleveland Park Listserv's tech column will appear on Tuesdays.

Bill Adler


Web Browsers and the District Government

In the ancient days of the Internet, circa 2000, it wasn't uncommon to see websites that were "optimized" for a particular web browser, usually Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Even some United States government websites could only be used with Microsoft's Internet Explorer, including, until a couple of years ago, the United States Postal Service's website. We've come a long way since then in terms of web design and almost all websites are viewable and usable in any browser that you choose, be it Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Opera, Safari or some other program. Many websites instantly adapt to smartphones, too.

Except for the District of Columbia's Service Request Center. Firefox users: Go ahead, give it a try at or through You can't get beyond the opening page, which tells you, "This site is optimized for Internet Explorer 5 or higher. This new version of the Service Request Center currently works only with Internet Explorer. An updated version with expanded browser support will be available in the near future." "Optimized" isn't even the right word: You can't do anything on that page with Firefox. Nothing at all. You can't even copy the warning: I had to retype it for this article.

An estimated 50 percent of PC users deploy Firefox; another 10 percent use other browsers, so to create such an important webpage that can only be used with Microsoft's IE is -- well, it makes you scratch your head and wonder what other technology blunders are lurking behind the curtain in the District Government.

The browser is becoming the most important piece of software on our computers. As we move into "the cloud," the browser is the tool that does it all: Email, wordprocessing, listening to the radio, photo editing, connecting with friends, and more. ("The cloud" is the term used to refer to working with data that's stored on a remote machine, rather than your own computer. When you use a service like Gmail, Microsoft Office Online or Facebook, you're computing in "the cloud.") Websites need to and can work with all browsers. To design such an important website from the ground up that doesn't work with Firefox is Internet malpractice.

So what can you do about this problem if you use Firefox or another non-Internet Explorer browser? You can call 311 for a service request or you can grit your teeth, and fire up Internet Explorer. If you do use Internet Explorer and IE asks if you want to update to the latest version, do that. Latest may or may not be greatest, but updating such a vital piece of software will help reduce your computer's vulnerability to nasty things on the Internet, such as worms and viruses.

In a future column I'll write about which browser is best, and more about cloud computing. If you have any ideas about what you would like to see the Listserv's tech column, let me know. Happy computing!


Bill Adler is the co-owner of the Cleveland Park Listserv,, and the author of over 20 books including "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relations with Gadgets," and "Outwitting Squirrels."  You can also read his columns on the Cleveland Park Listserv. 

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