A Plea for Open, Accommodating, and Adaptive Web Sites
What Do MSN and Siskel & Ebert Have in Common?
Try connecting to the Microsoft Network (MSN) and you'll get a splash screen advising that you have to have Shockwave in order to participate.
Perhaps this is a valid programming decision for MSN to make. After all, they are competing with America Online, which clings to the idea of having every customer install a proprietary client in order to play at all. Making MSN users download the Shockwave plugin a single time, on the assumption that they'll revisit the MSN site multiple times. It's no more painful than installing the AOL client, and, once you've gone through the pain one time, you can make use of Shockwave as you visit other sites.
Shockwave is a popular culprit. Recently I wanted to hear what Siskel and Ebert had to say about the movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." So, I visited their web site, and I discovered that they had the thumbs-up-or-down information in a chart, and they also had recent reviews available in audio form for those who'd missed the relevant episode of their TV show. Cool!
But not so fast Â although the PC I was using was sound-equipped, the beneficent site designers at Buena Vista Productions chose Shockwave to deliver the audio. If I were delivering audio-only content, my choice for streaming the audio to the user would be RealAudio. The Siskel and Ebert site offers a simple graphical menu "cube" that barely uses the virtual environment capabilities of Shockwave.
But users may not have the Real player, installed, either. Of course, most users have some form of audio capability on their Web browsers (assuming they have sound cards and speakers, which increasingly is true; it's hard to buy a new PC without sound capability these days). So why can't the web server do something more intelligent than making me change something in my environment? Why can't it talk to my web browser, and have a dialogue something like this:
Server: Hey I'd like to deliver this audio clip in Shockwave. OK?
Browser: Sorry, I can't handle Shockwave.
Server: OK, then, how about RealAudio?
Browser: Nope, I can't do that either.
Server: All right, what about basic non-streaming audio for your Netscape Audio player?.
Browser: Works for me.
Server: All right, but it'll take about 5 minutes to download over your slow modem link. Is that OK?
Browser: No problem.
Server: [begins sending data]
So why don't we see that sort of behavior between client and server?