PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 April, 2007, 12:00am

I bank electronically and pay my bills using my computer. A few years ago, I tried the government's ESDlife website and couldn't get anywhere. It was dreadfully difficult to use. I was also uncertain if it supported my Mac.

I visited the site recently to help my spouse make an appointment to get an ID card and, although things look a tad better, I don't understand why it won't support my computer. Is it really that difficult to create webpages that work on most machines?

Name supplied, Lantau

DQ: The simple answer to your question is, sadly, yes. Supporting every browser and system is difficult - although not impossible. The original ESDlife site left much to be desired but these days it is even more difficult for designers to cover all variables. There are now several versions of the Internet Explorer browser, for example; the same applies to the Windows operating system. There are also different versions of the Firefox and Opera browsers, and different editions of other operating systems to consider, such as Macintosh and Linux.

Dwayne Serjeant, creative director at Ion Global Hong Kong, a leading Web infrastructure company, says it has become tedious and difficult to please everyone. He also says firms and organisations seem unwilling to pay for the all-important testing needed to ensure a site works on multiple browsers and operating platforms.

'Economics is the main issue. How much time and effort does it cost to make the same code work across multiple browsers?' says Serjeant. 'Let's say there are three platforms, with three browsers per platform and two versions of the OS. If you want to ensure the site works in all those configurations, that's a lot of testing. We do that at Ion Global if we can, but quite often the client does not want it.'

Serjeant suggests visiting these sites to see how difficult it can be, especially if you are interested in creating your own webpage:

* mc-computing.com/HTML_Examples/Differences.htm

* www.ericmeyeroncss.com/bonus/trick-hide.html

* www.search-this.com/2007/03/12/no-margin-for-error

Some critics say the government should do more. I agree. I visited the ESDlife site and found it confusing. The 'Configuration Auto-check' link, for example, takes you to a Chinese-language site. The programmers should realise you're likely to want to go from one English-language site to another.

Although I sympathise greatly with the government's predicament, its boffins could do better. If the powers that be cannot handle multiple browsers with some skill, how can it expect others to do so?