An MSN-TV Complaint

July 18, 2003 10AM PST

A concerned reader writes:

Your site: FAILS to satisfy the MSN-TV Browser! It bleeds off the viewable screen to the right and since the WebTv Browser does not permit side scrolling, your pages are a MESS!

What do you propose to do about this? You can find a link to the MSN Developer site here (a bit down the page): and from there, Download the MSN-TV Viewer to see how your pages look on a TV Browser!

— Very Truly Yours, Magic Dave

Some days these posts just write themselves.

Dear Magic Dave,

Thanks for your letter, it caused me to think. What did I think about? Well, do you remember that scene in Taxi Driver, where De Niro was looking in the mirror, and he was like, Are you looking at me? Are you looking at me? There’s no one else here, so you must be looking at me? Yeah. That was pretty cool.

But anyway, your letter. So here’s the deal. I like accessibility. Specifically, I like the power that CSS provides in allowing the user to browse with any anything they happen to have. You’ve got a Palm? Come on in! You’re using a screen reader? Sure, you too. You want to visit my site in Mosaic? Even you!

See, Magic Dave, the great thing about CSS is that if a user agent doesn’t support it it doesn’t use it. This allows me to go full–out nuts in my style, while keeping the site’s content accessible and viewable to everybody. It’s a beautiful thing. Except when it doesn’t work.

So what’s the problem then? Well, as best as I can tell, it’s this: MSN-TV seems to want to render ‘screen’ style sheets, designed for colour computer monitors — a decision I can’t support on a device with only 544 pixels of horizontal resolution. If it were to realize that there’s a special media type called ‘tv’ and use that, we’d both be enjoying a beer and watching the sunset right about now. But we’re not, are we?

Why won’t MSN-TV support my site? I’ve done everything in my power to make sure the proper user agents render it, and the ones that just can’t keep up don’t even bother. I’m not a miracle worker. I can’t fix MSN-TV.

So the ball’s back in your court, Magic Dave. Why do you use a broken browser that makes a mess of my wonderful site? I see you maintain a page chock full of great tips on why MSN-TV is better than a PC, so I have a feeling you won’t change your browser of choice to make me happy any time soon.

It’s tempting for me to say that you shouldn’t have to, that browsers should be better about supporting what they can handle and admitting what they can’t — but you were pretty insistent that I do something about it, as if I’m on the hook for this one. Since it turns out it’s your choice that causes my site to render improperly, what do you propose to do about it?

Incidentally, have you ever heard of cement canoe racing? A bunch of engineering students get together and race big, clunky canoes, literally made of concrete. It strikes me as a bit odd that they’d start with a material so obviously wrong for speed and finesse, as well as something that by all rights shouldn’t work for the purpose they intend. They do it for the challenge, I suppose, and the sense of satisfaction of wrangling a result out of an impossible situation.

Nah, I don’t bring it up for any particular reason, but I just had one more question: do you really design web pages on MSN-TV?