Handling mailto links in Firefox

On my setup – Firefox 1.0, KDE 3.2, Thunderbird 0.9, Slackware 10 – clicking on a mailto: link in Firefox does nothing; I wanted this to open a new message in Thunderbird, email address pasted in and ready to go. Thanks to Google, I found the answer pretty quickly – add this line to your user.js:

user_pref("network.protocol-handler.app.mailto","/usr/bin/thunderbird");

Just remember to change /usr/bin/thunderbird to the appropriate path for your installation.

Website access frustration

I’ve just spent an intensely annoying half hour or so trying to get car insurance quotes online. I finally managed to coax a quote out of one of the four sites I tried. What follows is a boring rant on the subject.

The problems mainly stemmed from poor site design and rather badly implemented user-agent sniffing. (This is when a website tries to assess what browser you are using and tailors content based on their guess.) Something in the javascript on the Direct Line site breaks when entering additional driver details, and it becomes impossible to get any further. Both esure.com and Tesco (the car insurance bit of the site, anyway) refuse to let me in based on my user-agent, helpfully suggesting that I “update” by browser to version 4 or above of either Internet Explorer or Netscape(!). When I’m using the brand-spanking-new Mozilla Firefox released in the last week and, it’s probably fair to say, at the cutting edge of browser development, this is rather idiotic. I did manage to get a quote from Churchill, so well done them. Funnily enough, they seemed to use an almost identical system to Direct Line, so I’m not sure where the difference was that broke one site but not the other.

Still, I suppose that Firefox has only just come out of beta testing, so perhaps it’s a bit premature to expect across the board support just yet. I decided to send off a quick note to the offending sites pointing out their lack of support for Firefox, just to let them know potential customers do use browsers other than IE. At the end of the day, they’ll want to know this if they care about their customers. Or at least you’d think so, wouldn’t you?

Attempting to do this results in yet more hurdles. Tesco seem quite reluctant to give out email contact details, but they do provide a form you can fill in to request technical support. Although aimed primarily at their online banking customers, I thought that I’d give this a try. No luck – you have to specify your browser and operating system from a menu with very limited choice and no “other” category. Pretty much all Windows versions and the last three Mac OS releases were your OS choices. The browser list was longer, but only contained versions of three different products – Netscape, IE and AOL. So, no Tesco customers use Linux, Opera or Mozilla, then. Or maybe they just don’t give a shit.

This indicates to me more than just a delay in catering for a comparatively new product – more of a complete mindset. The designers of the Tesco website must have been aware of the existence of other tools and platforms, but have chosen not to cater for them to the extent of not even providing an “other” category on their technical support form. Is this the sort of company you want to use for important financial matters? I think not. The details matter, and Tesco has skipped on those in my view.

Firefox 1.0 launch day!

Heh, it’s the launch for Firefox 1.0 today, and I haven’t been able to get though to the mozilla website all lunchtime. You’d have thought they’d have expected a bit of interest and laid on some extra bandwidth. Maybe they did, and yet interest has exceeded all their expectations.

Well, I really hope that interest is high – Firefox is a great product, and blows Internet Exploiter out of the water – but for the server to get slashdotted off the internet on launch day won’t look too good to any potential new users surfing on by.

(Obligatory conspiracy theory – it’s a Denial of Service attack orchestrated by Microsoft.)

(Aside – it’s nice to see the BBC covering the launch.)

Update (14:45): mozilla.org seems to be OK now, so get over there and get downloading!