FEMA, Microsoft Tiptoe Toward Open Standards

Opinion: Federal agency announces it will make its Web site compatible with non-IE browsers. Meanwhile, Microsoft is also accommodating alternatives to Internet Explorer at some sites.

Strange, strange things are afoot in the land of open standards.

First, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) showed that it could be as incompetent on the Web as it was on the ground in New Orleans by making it so hurricane victims couldnt apply for aid unless they were using Internet Explorer. Then it said it would make its site truly Web browser-friendly, rather than just IE-friendly.

"Currently, to complete your application online, you must be using Microsofts Internet Explorer 6.0 or above. We are in the process of modifying the application so that it will be available to additional browsers," reads the site currently.

Of course, this is FEMA. It still doesnt work with Firefox 1.06 on my SUSE Linux 9.3 box. Now that I think about it: Since this is FEMA, the fix may be ready by say ... 2007?

Still, it might happen this year. After all, I just learned that Mike Brown has resigned as head of FEMA, so we can hope that theyll get some management that knows thing one about emergency management—including the online side.

Im told you can trick the FEMA site into letting you fill in the application simply by setting your browsers user agent to report to the site that youre really running Internet Explorer. With Firefox, you can try this using Chris Pedericks User Agent Switcher.

This wont always work, but in my experience this technique does work about a third of the time. If youre having trouble with a site that insists that it must have Internet Explorer, its well worth trying.

Whats even more amazing, though, is that Microsoft—yes, Microsoft—is beginning to open up some of its Web sites to alternative browsers.

Read the full story on Linux-Watch: FEMA, Microsoft Tiptoe Toward Open Standards