It’s Time To Stop Blaming Internet Explorer

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Earlier this week we published two articles by Louis Lazaris: one on why old browsers are holding back the Web1 and another encouraging Web users to upgrade their browsers and use modern browsers other than IE2. This article presents another perspective on this issue. Nicholas C. Zakas, a well-respected member of the developer community, goes into specifics of why we should focus on the good parts of our job so we can tolerate the bad ones and why fixating on circumstances that you can’t change isn’t a recipe for success. Do you share Louis’ or Nicholas’ view? Leave a comment.—Ed.

A couple of days ago, Smashing Magazine published an article entitled, Old Browsers Are Holding Back The Web. The author of this article, Louis Lazaris, suggests that “old browsers” are holding Web developers back from creating beautiful experiences. Old browsers, in this case, apparently referred to Internet Explorer version 6-9. That’s right, the author groups Internet Explorer 9 into the same group as Internet Explorer 6. He goes on to list some of the things that you can’t use in Internet Explorer 8 and 9.

(Note: Louis Lazaris makes a statement that even although IE9 is a huge step forward from previous versions of Internet Explorer, it’s already missing some of the important features that other modern browsers have and does not have auto-update like other popular browsers do, so it will become outdated relatively soon. According to Microsoft auto-update policy, only those users will be upgraded to a newer version of Internet Explorer that have on automatic updating via Windows Update turned on.—Ed.)

Articles like this frustrate me a lot. For most of my career, I’ve fought hard against the “woe is me” attitude embraced by so many in Web development and articulated in the article. This attitude is completely counterproductive and frequently inaccurately described. Everyone was complaining when Internet Explorer 6 had a 90%+ marketshare. That share has shrunk to 6.3% today globally3 (though Louis cites 0.66%, which is true in the United States). Microsoft even kicked off a campaign to encourage people to upgrade.

I can understand complaining about Internet Explorer 6 and even 7. We had them for a long time, they were a source of frustration, and I get that. I would still never let anyone that I worked with get too buried in complaining about them. If it’s our job to support those browsers then that’s just part of our job. The truth is that every job has some part of it that sucks. Even at my favorite job, as front end lead on the Yahoo homepage, there were still parts of my job that sucked. You just need to focus on the good parts so you can tolerate the bad ones. Welcome to life.

But then the article goes on to bemoan the fact that so many people use Internet Explorer 8 and that Internet Explorer 9 is gaining market share. First and foremost, I would much rather support Internet Explorer 8 then I would 6 and 7. Microsoft forcing most people to upgrade from 6 and 7 to 8 is an incredible move and undoubtedly a blessing.

Internet Explorer 9

Internet Explorer 9, on the other hand, is a damn good browser. The only reason it doesn’t have all of the features as Chrome and Firefox is because they rebuilt the thing from scratch so that adding more features in the future would be easier. Let me say that again: they rebuilt the browser from scratch. They necessarily had to decide what were the most important features to get in so that they could release something and start getting people to upgrade from version 8. If they had waited for feature parity with Chrome or Firefox, we probably still wouldn’t have Internet Explorer 9.

The constant drumming of “Internet Explorer X is the new Internet Explorer 6″ is getting very old. Microsoft has done a lot to try to correct their past transgressions, and it seems like there are still too many people who aren’t willing to let go of old grudges. There will always be a browser that lags behind others. First it was Mosaic that was lagging behind Netscape. Then it was Netscape lagging behind Internet Explorer. Then it was Internet Explorer lagging behind Firefox. People are already starting to complain about Android 2.x browsers.

What makes the Web beautiful is precisely that there are multiple browsers and, if you build things correctly, your sites and applications work in them all. They might not necessarily work exactly the same in them all, but they should still be able to work. There is absolutely nothing preventing you from using new features in your Web applications, that’s what progressive enhancement is all about. No one is saying you can’t use RGBA. No one is holding a gun to your head and saying don’t use CSS animations. As an engineer on the Web application you get to make decisions every single day.

Progressive Enhancement

Louis briefly mentions progressive enhancement as a concept that doesn’t even enter into the equation. Once again, this is indicative of an old attitude of Web development that is counterproductive and ultimately lacking in creativity. The reason that I still give talks about progressive enhancement is because it allows you to give the best experience possible to users based on the browser’s capabilities. That’s the way the Web was meant to work. I’ve included a video of that talk below in case you haven’t seen it.

It’s not actually old browsers that are holding back the web, it’s old ways of thinking about the Web that are holding back the Web. Fixating on circumstances that you can’t change isn’t a recipe for success. The number of browsers we have to support, even “old browsers”, just represent constraints to the problems that we have to solve. It is from within constraints that creativity is born4. The Web development community has evolved enough that we should stop pointing fingers at Internet Explorer and start taking responsibility for how we do our jobs. Let’s create solutions rather than continually pointing fingers. We are better than that.

Yes, complaining is useful to get people to listen. Microsoft is listening, so continuing to complain doesn’t do anything except perpetuate an attitude that I would rather not have in Web development. Let’s give them a chance to right the ship without retrying them for past transgressions perpetually.

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/07/09/old-browsers-are-holding-back-the-web/
  2. 2 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/07/10/dear-web-user-please-upgrade-your-browser/
  3. 3 http://www.ie6countdown.com/
  4. 4 http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/11/need-to-create-get-a-constraint/

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Nicholas C. Zakas is a front-end consultant, author, and speaker. He worked at Yahoo! for almost five years, where he was front-end tech lead for the Yahoo! homepage and a contributor to the YUI library. He is the author of Maintainable JavaScript (O’Reilly, 2012), Professional JavaScript for Web Developers (Wrox, 2012), High Performance JavaScript (O’Reilly, 2010), and Professional Ajax (Wrox, 2007). Nicholas is a strong advocate for development best practices including progressive enhancement, accessibility, performance, scalability, and maintainability. He blogs regularly at http://www.nczonline.net and can be found on Twitter via @slicknet.

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  1. 1

    The entire Internet progresses forward through the process of introduction, review, discussion, revision and publication of standards. The majority of life-changing technology world-wide, on the Internet, has come about through this very process. Standards are what allow us to move forward unhindered throughout the Information Age and beyond. Microsoft has continuously demonstrated not only an unwillingness to accept this but has attempted, at nearly every turn, to force a de-facto ‘standard’ in which they define the terms alone. If people are unwilling to rid themselves of Microsoft technologies as a whole, at the very least NOT catering to a web browser that is quite literally, by its definitive lack of support for existing and emerging standards, holding the entire Internet back. Further, Internet Explorer daily endangers the personal security of every user that suffers even an accidental opening of the application. Yes, many other browsers also have major security concerns, though they’re often patched within a day or two that the error is reported. Microsoft’s timeline for patches is abysmal and this is precisely the reason that browser updates should be permitted independently of operating system updates. There is not now, nor will there likely ever be, enough of an excuse for me to support Internet Explorer.

    Users have little to no trouble downloading a technology to support content that they’re attempting to view, be it Flash for some active content on the web or PDF software or even attempting to view an office document. If there is an easy way to suggest to users that they need to download a different technology to view the content for which they’re seeking, then there should also be an easy way to suggest an alternate browser that is less likely to ruin or complicate their Internet experience.

    I know I sound like a mad & prejudiced developer, but that is not [entirely] the case. I was developing back when HTTP was not yet in widespread use and have watched the evolution of the Internet, the web and technology as a whole since then. It has become apparent to me as an undeniable fact that Internet Explorer remains one of, if not THE, worst browser(s) on the planet and should have been deleted long ago.

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  2. 252

    http://www.webdevout.net/browser-support-css

    That’s sure a lot of red on the ie side and a lot of wasted hours on my end.

    – Front-end Developer

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  3. 503

    Wait a second.. Browser auto-upgrades are the solution?? No freaking way.
    Internet Explorer is at LEAST just as horrible in it’s 11th version. The browser is not only slow, when you start it up, it completely HALTS when you try to initiate the program, and uses an excess of system ressources trying to just LOAD one bloody page during the start-up. And it works so close just closing tabs. And this is the case whatever computer I use. All because Microsoft has to inflate it with all sorts of bureaucratic, plug-ins(?) and arbitrary measures – seemingly, as neither Chrome or Firefox has any problem loading and starting. That’s only if the system is sufficiently burdened on beforehand.
    The latest upgrades for Internet Explorer on my Win7 laptop only made it worse and more of a clay-feeted colossus than it already was, if anything. Applying immediate updates to a browser that is built on a totally unstable and somewhat incoherent foundation is not a solution. I’m only saying it from a user-perspective, but it has long been the way Microsoft patches its failures – and as a long-time Windows user, I’m definitely not thinking this apply for Windows products in general. Outlook, Word, a.o. has never brought me disappointment.

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    Why has it been made necessary to cause IE11 to fail rather than shut down normally? And is it not damaging to have to do that most evenings when I’m almost falling asleep already?
    Best start-up still remains FF’s optionality – but IE is still the only one with decent, usable tab grouping and therefore gets more of my support than it really deserves.

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