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September 17, 2006

Customer Disservice

The Internet is platform-neutral by design. That means that any application and any computer type that speaks the correct protocol should be able to talk to any other computer type and application using that protocol. For example, my Macintosh running Safari, Internet Explorer or Firefox should be able to talk to XM Radio's account management site running who-cares-what web server. But that is not possible, because some moron who programmed XM's site put in a check for the browser type, and won't let you connect to the site unless you are running a "supported" browser. These include IE, Netscape and AOL. But even IE on the mac (though it fits the version requirement of > 5.01) does not work. So it's apparent that XM's website is looking for the platform along with the browser name and version. I guarantee that I would never hire the person who made that decision to build a website.

This would not be a problem if XM did not charge more for using their phone service.

I know one thing: our investment in hardware for XM is relatively small, and I'll be looking very closely at Sirius the next time I buy a satellite radio.

Posted by jeff at September 17, 2006 2:38 PM

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It's worse than that. XM's account management page maximizes itself and doesn't let you resize the window. Obviously, someone there thinks he knows more about how I want to use my computer than I do. :-(

So I'm not surpised that idiots who would violate the most basic UI design rules would lock out other browsers. I imagine they were dragged kicking and screaming into even supporting Netscape, since it's inconceivable that anyone would want to use anything but IE, right?

I ran into this with an AT&T CallVantage rep the other day. He eventually got the problem fixed (turned out they'd provisioned my account for the wrong TA), but he was really taken aback when I wouldn't start IE to work with the router/TA (I explained to him that Firefox was perfectly suitable for working with it, and in fact that I'd been using it already).

I also ran into these sorts of stupid restrictions with ABC's website. I went there to see about watching the 9/11 movie on their site, but despite seeing the preview on the homepage, I was blocked by an incorrectly programmed browser detection routine on their video page (I was running a version of Firefox that was later than their base version and that was in the range of allowed versions, so there was an obvious bug in the code).

When did XM start charging customers for phone support? I've never run into that before.

Posted by: Aubrey Turner [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 17, 2006 10:43 PM


When you activate new service with XM they charge $9.99 if you activate through the website, $14.99 if you activate through calling customer service. In other words, I get to pay $5 extra for their design issues.

Posted by: MamaLynx [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 18, 2006 9:42 AM

Interesting. I signed up so long ago (June, 2002) that there wasn't a difference, so I've been an "existing customer" every time I've called since then.

I'd complain loudly about the extra charge when calling in and try to get them to lower it to $9.99. It's their fault that their faulty programming is preventing you from signing up online.

Posted by: Aubrey Turner [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 18, 2006 12:35 PM

Isn't there a way to make a given browser report that it is a different version when queried by the web server? I don't know how offhand, but I could swear I have seen that it's possible. Maybe a registry key or something.

Posted by: Jay at September 18, 2006 1:50 PM

Well, Macs don't have registry keys, because they don't have a registry. Some browsers have that built in to their advanced settings (I thought Firefox did, but no go), and others you can set in their properties files. But what kills me is that I tried IE 5.1 for Mac, which is within the range of supposedly supported versions, and it didn't work either, which is what makes me think that they are also checking for the Windows version, for whatever braindead reason. Anyone who worked at XM had just better hope their resume never comes across my desk, because I'll interview them. Oh, yes, I will.

Posted by: Jeff Medcalf [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 18, 2006 8:45 PM

A quick search turned up a Firefox add-on called User Agent Switcher. It adds a toolbar button and a menu entry to let you choose the user agent string to send to the server. It's designed for this very problem (i.e. sites with brain-dead browser detection and exclusion "logic").

This extension is just setting a number of properties within Firefox that aren't normally easy to get to. If you want to do this manually, you can do so through the "about:config" page (enter that in the location bar) by adding or changing the following properties: general.useragent.override, general.appname.override, general.appversion.override, general.platform.override, general.useragent.vendor, general.useragent.vendorSub

Hopefully, this will let you get past their stupid gatekeeper and register for a new account (I certainly don't remember anything on the page that required IE or Windows, but it's been a while since I used it).

Posted by: Aubrey Turner [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 18, 2006 9:21 PM