Ethan Marcotte now blogs at Unstoppable Robot Ninja.

Weblog entry: it’s not about looking ahead.

Apparently, has entered the online music sales space, currently dominated by Apple’s iTunes music store. They’re offering tracks for download at prices lower than their competitor’s, so it sounds like a great win for consumers. However, their new endeavor is built by and for Microsoft technologies; visit their site with any browser but IE and on any platform but Windows, and you’ll get an obnoxious error message. What was it about this business decision that makes this a good idea?

It’s a given that Microsoft dominates the desktop browser market — perhaps they’re interested in a greatest common denominator approach. Always a great idea to revive the Web of 1997, and slap a Best Viewed with… badge on your website, right? What about three years from now, when users decide they don’t want to buy a new version of Windows in order to upgrade their web browser? As Tim Bray rightly mentions,

People, on average and in the long term, aren’t stupid and aren’t patient and aren’t cowards. When there’s an obviously better way to get the job done, they go out and get it, and management can’t stop them, and Forrester and Gartner can’t stop them, and Accenture and EDS can’t stop them, and not even Microsoft can stop them.

As the title says, the door is ajar: the incumbent is vulnerable, the alternatives are good and cheap. We just have to figure out how to get the alternatives in front of enough of the right people, and eventually just stand back and get out of the way.

Tim Bray, The Door Is Ajar

Tim’s absolutely right; people will migrate away from IE, and toward something that better suits their browsing needs. Maybe some will ultimately stick with what they know; others might prefer Mozilla’s implementation of tabbed browsing to Opera’s (or vice versa), or think that Safari’s pretty cool, and make the switch. Whatever the end result, the coming years will be an exciting time. But no matter the net loss or gain, people will adopt other browsers…which will of course obviate short-sighted business decisions like the one BuyMusic made.

Because after all, it’s a one browser, one operating system world we live in, and it’s always going to stay that way. Way to go, BuyMusic. Way to take us forward.

Cheaper, yes. Smarter, no.

Update: As an aside, I’d like to mention that while they’re apparently allowing text readers (à la Lynx) to access, they can’t be bothered with niggling little details like alt attributes or other accessibility concerns:

A thumbnail of a text browser's view of

Nice work, fellas.


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