Access Denied?

Sleek and self-contained, the iMac is very nearly the perfect Internet computer -- 62 percent of new users go online the day they set up the machine. But if they head for some sites, those new users might find the Internet a rather inhospitable place.

One problem is apparent to the naked eye -- some Web sites render differently depending on the OS used. Outside magazine's Web site ( www.outsidemag.com ), for example, has sharper-looking fonts when viewed on Windows browsers. And at some citysearch.com sites, text may appear in the wrong place on a Mac.

Still, design problems are increasingly rare. Credit Netscape 6 and Microsoft Internet Explorer 5, says David Kerns, a former editorial designer at nashville.citysearch.com and the current creative director at Denmark's Metropol.

"We develop for Mac and Windows boxes with the same end product and level of quality in mind." Kerns says. "We couldn't have done that three years ago, it was simply too expensive."

But although designers are trying to accommodate the Mac, the same can't always be said for developers of Web-based applications.

Some dot-coms that offer services over the Internet feature little or no Mac support. Take Web storage sites such as Xdrive.com and FreeDrive.com, which provide free online storage but don't produce Mac versions of their desktop plug-in software. Livejam.com lets musicians from all around the world come together to play instruments -- unless they're trying to log in from a Mac.

But the worst slights come from Mac developers who give the platform short shrift online. The Palm executive team, for example, has more years of combined experience at Apple than at Palm, but the company limits Palm.net downloads to a Windows-only format. Intuit is a major Mac developer whose chairman, Bill Campbell, sits on Apple's board of directors -- but Intuit's QuickBooks.com site won't work on a Mac and probably never will.

As sites add Mac capability, the situation will improve. And the upcoming Mac OS X release gives Mac users a Unix-based operating system that should make it easier for programmers to develop Web-based services. In the meantime, though, Mac users will just have to surf different.

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