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

    Pritam @ Specky Geek

    July 12, 2012 11:44 am

    Internet Explorer, particularly the older version, is a big problem. Even, IE8 is poorly-equipped to handle the evolving web. For quite some time, I have been focusing on CSS3 and responsive layouts. IE8 doesn’t care about CSS3. The problem with IE is that it doesn’t auto-update. Browsers such as Firefox and Chrome do. This means any problem or deficiency in the browser gets eliminated automatically as soon as the user clicks on update button.

    I believe the problem lies in Microsoft’s distribution model. Firefox and Chrome are free. IE requires you to have a genuine version of Windows to get the latest version. A lot of people still use Windows XP, often a pirated copy. (Please correct me if I am wrong. I downloaded IE ages ago. I don’t even use Windows.) If Microsoft can make IE independent of Windows or free for everyone (including those using its operating system without paying), the problem should be solved to a large extent.

    Why should one dumb browser or its predecessors hold the web? Trust me, it is a problem. I recently created a responsive theme for a website and the client came back complaining about ‘issues’ of square edges ‘that belong to stone age’. Turned out his web browser was from the stone age—IE8. Once he checked out the site in Firefox, he was a happy client.

    There is no reason why the Web should make do with IE’s limitations. If the browser can’t evolve and keep pace with the Internet, it will eventually die. I don’t bother about IE. Others can also stop caring about it. I am more concerned about 70-80-90% (whatever the figure is) of users who use modern browsers. If you can’t upgrade to the latest browsers, I cannot keep wasting my energy on providing you the best user experience.

    0
    • 52

      so you are basically denying your customers 10-30% (or even more!) of THEIR customers and THEIR money?

      I don’t get your argument about supporting people with pirated OS, what should that be?!

      And actually you do not have to provide the “best user experience”, just a decent or even just ok experience. But you seem not even to care for that.

      1
      • 103

        Depends if the customer is willing to pay the extra 10-20-30% effort it takes for supporting older browsers ;)

        1
        • 154

          Are you mad ?

          It’s EASILY 300% effort from a chrome-working website that’s ok in firefox, to an equivalent in IE 8.

          Don’t forget, most of the CSS breaks, js behaves like shit, about 10 times slower, and some things are downright impossible.

          If it was 30%, I think noone would mind that much… the reality is so much worse that it is indeed time for businesses to stop asking for IE support.

          41
          • 205

            I really think that’s the point. Let the market fix it, but we developers/design companies must reflect this upon our offers. Higher development cost means higher product price. So next time a client comes to you, just present him the options:

            – State-of-the art site, with all the nifties: X€. Fully functional, but with degraded visual support for IE.
            – Same with full IE support: X€ + Y% (caveat: some effects cannot simply be achieved).

            They’ll probably think twice…

            5
          • 256

            @Bertie:
            every effect can be achieved, using flash ( be it full flash or only for the animation).
            But indeed that will command a serious markup, mxml isn’t exactly for pussies, and the documentation is so lacking that experience has real value.

            But seeing how the world has decided that flash must die, that doesn’t sound like such a good solution (quite unfortunate, because there’s nothing quite as powerful in the ajax world yet).

            -16
  2. 307

    As a writer you can paint an issue however you want with diction and heavily connotated words. You say complain when you could easily substitute criticism, because no one likes a complainer. But the fact is, as designers and developers we influence the web. Remember the days when some websites only worked in IE? Was it because IE was the best, most feature capable browser? No, because it was a huge portion of the market share. If you needed to do something advanced and groundbreaking and didn’t have the time to make it work across all browsers you would obviously go with IE no matter how terrible it was. Giving IE one more unfair advantage and perhaps prolonging it’s inevitable downfall. Now, thank goodness, there are many other legit choices for browsers, and IE has lost huge chunks of the markets share. The web is in a vastly better state. But how much did we hold it back by going to grwat lengths to support IE, much worse ONLY supporting IE? Time and time again I had to open up IE each time I would find broken websites because some developer chose to support that browser. I personally would never switch to it completely but I was still dependent on it for some web tasks. Many users are not gonna take the time to download a different browser much less put up with switching back every time they encounter a broken site. So maybe we had no control over that. Maybe we have no control now. But I would assert we have a far greater influence then you acknowledge. This is a well written quality article, but I have to disagree with your conclusion. And just like you can bash and complain the other article for complaining, we can continue to complain about IE, cause frankly it sucks.

    1
  3. 358

    I don’t forget the hours working for IE. I disagree.

    1
  4. 409

    Yeah nice article. Bashing articles are a waste of time and resources. I remember screaming at Netscape (Mozilla – FF) 2 because IE 3 was faster and smooter. In the days of IE 5.5 we were annoyed with Nestcape (I think it was 4 or 6 they never released 5) having to use layers as opposed to divs when doing anything advanced. Where is Netscape now, superceeded by FF was that a build from scratch to win back the market share?
    Anyway part of web development in my eyes has always involved catering for different browsers for functionality now there is also the element of mobile devices for layout and screen res.
    Great article thanks for standing up.

    1
  5. 460

    One point that seems to be missing from the argument is this. The more sites that support old IE the less people will switch to a better browser.

    It’s important to remember that users switching to more capable browsers doesn’t just benefit web developers it also benefits the users that switch.

    Whether you support old IE / new IE / or any other less capable browsers should be assessed on a case by case basis by looking at your usage metrics and factoring in the extra time/cost it takes to develop for those monsters. But its a fact that less support for poor browsers will push the web forward.

    0
    • 511

      No, your site working in IE8, but not IE6 doesn’t cause someone to look for a solution by upgrading their browser to use your site. they close your tab (or window) and look for a site that “just works.”

      As an Opera user, I’m constantly berated that I need to “upgrade to a modern browser” or use a “safer and more secure browser” and it’s incredibly off-putting. When I see a site that tells me to use a different browser, I take offense, as if I have poor judgment.

      If I’m an industry professional and feel that way, how do you think an average user reacts to that?

      1
      • 562

        No average joe is going to use Opera, because it’s a niche browser that almost noone uses – and if you’re really a tech guy, you have at least three browsers on-hand.

        -2
      • 613

        Well, that’s a sad sentiment. It kind of suggests political correctness and conforming to the lowest common denominator so that nobody gets their feelings hurt.

        People need to be educated about these issues involving standards and development effort, and one sure way they might get the message about inferior browsers is if they visit enough sites that suggest their browser isn’t up to scratch. I am sorry if someone feels they are being accused of poor judgement as a result.

        But, usually, there is no choice made FOR Internet Explorer — it is the default browser; and often the user doesn’t KNOW there is a choice. Many think that “IE is the internet”, or that you find a webpage by typing a company name in the Google box and getting lucky, rather than by determining a URL (whatever that is).

        However, many people can understand the concept of there being widespread, common “standard” products (in the sense that everyone commonly uses them) that do not at the same time adhere to certain industry standards or ideals. There are numerous examples of this in everyday life. If you automatically equate the “common” or the “default” as the “good” or the “best”, then you better get out and go around the block a few times.

        Furthermore, just because a consumer has bought into one product (say Windows), I think they would or should understand that this company may not be the best at everything it does nor offer the best of everything. This is no more than recognizing how the world works. And just because I buy Kraft or Nescafe products doesn’t mean that I have to use their cookbook and only use their products in any recipe that I make.

        A person that lives on Kraft singles or Macaroni and Cheese out of a box should not necessarily be made to feel like he is using poor judgement for the way he feeds his family (though that is debatable). But, certainly, it can be pointed out that what he thought was “cheese” is more than a little lacking. He may NEED education. Fortunately, he only has to open his eyes in just about any local supermarket these days to see the fresh produce and notice at least 6 kinds of blue cheese, 4 kinds of Swiss, 10 soft cheeses, etc.

        An IE user isn’t so lucky. For us to pretend as though IE users are as familiar with the internet and issues of standards as they should be is to do them a disservice. And for us to use their imagined embarrassment or indignation as an excuse is to rationalize a real dumbing down of the internet that will indeed continue to perpetuate the issues and hold back its development.

        0
      • 664

        I agree that most users wil go to another site rather than switching browser if they come across a “we don’t support browser x” message.

        The point I was trying to make is It’s not necessarily a good or a bad thing for your business to support any less capable browsers (like I said this will depend on a cost benefit analysis). But it’s defiantly true that if less and less sites support older browsers more and more users will make an effort to switch to more capable browsers. This is better for the user concerned and better for the web as a whole.

        As also mentioned many users will not know why their browser should be upgraded. If they start seeing lots of websites saying IE7 isn’t supported that might give them a nudge towards an upgrade.

        0
        • 715

          Believe me, if even 20% of the websites pushed for a “get chrome now”, every single user would switch away from IE.

          What you say about people leaving the website only holds true when you’re the only activist in the sea. If many people shout “change browser”, anyone will change browser just to hear them shut up.

          Besides, we’re talking about the tech ignorants here, makes sense to push them hard in a direction or another since there’s no way they’ll move by themselves.

          0
  6. 766

    IE 9, slightly less shitty than it’s predecessors.

    Ye, I’m totally sold.

    9
  7. 817

    Your counter-article is utter rubbish. “IE is not holding us back, stop pointing fingers, boohoo”. Are you nuts? Some kind of special insane?

    Try doing WebGL in IE. DOES. NOT. WORK. AT. ALL. Yeah, nice going there, “not holding us back” bullshit my arse. I want to see you work around that inconvenient fact that without WebGL you simply cannot do any usable interactive 3D graphics on the web, like, at all. Not holding us back eh? idiot.

    1
  8. 868

    There is no such thing as “best possible experience”.

    There is one best experience. Everything else is inferior experience.

    Originally, this debate was about “speed vs visuals”: do we give the same visuals but an inferior speed, or the same speed with inferior visuals as “possible best”?

    The web is not a content delivery platform anymore, it’s an application platform.

    Therefore, the decision today is not about speed vs visuals, it’s about features: features vs speed, features vs browser (and therefore: user) coverage, and therefore, (feature * user coverage) vs time to market.

    And there, there is no easy answer, there it can’t be the answer to forget rounded corners in IE, just make sure you deliver the content: it’s not content anymore.

    I don’t think we should have this positive connotation with “best possible experience”. I don’t think that a positive word, like “best” should appear in this sentence.

    Because then, as a community, we cannot act to actually solve the problem: in order to win a war, first, you have to announce your enemy.

    1
  9. 919

    I don’t know much but IE6 (or let say IE) opened new jobs for web designers :)

    -2
  10. 970

    Yes, IE 9 is a lot better, but it should get more features (in comparison to Chrome, Firefox and Opera). And the main thing is, that IE is costing me money, i don’t like that.

    I hate IE 9 less then 6-8, but still, it’s costing me money. I care about progressive (not on small budget sites though), but you are forgetting that explaining these problems to a client, it ain’t easy for them to understand that there is a problem because of an old browser usage (again: small budget).

    So, in short, IE mostly gives me extra nagging and loses me money => i don’t like IE that much.

    2
  11. 1021

    Well, I have to disagree, at least partially. Because blaming makes progress and IE6 is a good example. That’s a fact! You have to admit that without whining and blaming we wouldn’t be in such a great progress where we need to make only few minor fixes! It’s good to see, that IE dev team finally, is at least trying to care about us. We can see the light in the end of the tunnel! So there are sign’s for better webfuture, when blaming stick’s around :)

    0
  12. 1072

    bro, Please place more emphasis on the sentence below, for those who deduct the main purpose of your article.

    6% or .6% cannot drag back the whole web.

    -1
  13. 1123

    I will have to respectfully disagree with this article.

    Just because I’m getting raped every day doesn’t mean that I have to start enjoying it, and Microsoft’s work on IE9/10 only adds a little lubrication to the situation.

    6
  14. 1174

    i surely hope they started from scratch with their development team as well.
    I truly hate writing exceptions for IE6-8 (like mime type pjpeg). Let alone those CSS Bugs from hell.

    When those tabblets nerds are finally released from the MS Bunker they need to put those IE6-8 programmers inside and throw away the key.. grrrrr.. this makes up for all those extra hours and money we programmers spent those last 10 years.

    “Hee, look we finally did it, We finally managed to stick to standards in IE9. So stop booooo-ing!”
    Well done.. really.. well done.. took you 6 years. You can’t really expect i switch over and undo my 6 years of hate.

    0
  15. 1225

    It’s good to see another perspective on the story, and there is something to be said about having to be pragmatic, realistic and to not put all your energy in complaining but instead trying to make the situation as good as you can. However, one piece of the article really put me off.

    “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.”

    If there is one thing I like about my job, then it’s that the web community is one that doesn’t accept this. That doesn’t accept the status quo and will constantly challenge everything from how they work to the work they actually produce. So somebody saying “it’s the way it is, you just have to accept it” seems extremely out of place. If there is one industry with the possibility to change and try something new, and when you hit a barrier, to start over again, it’s the web.

    I think it’s great we’re trying to push technology, and making sure we have to put less time in cross browser support so we have more time to focus on innovating is part of that. In the mean time, every serious app that gets launched still supports the older browsers. Facilitate for today, but keep pushing for a better world. And if you ever stop asking yourself why: stop. And ask yourself why.

    0
  16. 1276

    I refuse to accept that usage of IE is something out of our control and we should just “learn to accept it”. IE has caused billions in costs to businesses because of its failures and it’s development is never consistant.

    At some point you have to decide to educate others on why it might not be good for you development to play with the crazy big kid in the corner of gym who constantly makes up his own rules.

    4
  17. 1327

    Nicholas;

    Right on the money. I’m afraid it’s a generational thing. Many younger developers – by no means all, maybe only a small minority – just want to have fun. They want to do cool stuff. What they don’t want to do is the hard work required to satisfy their employer/clients’ real-world requirements.

    Any motivated college student who’s had an introductory class can produce a great-looking site targeted at a single browser and a single “standard”. People who expect to get paid should resign themselves to building sites that work for the vast majority of each site’s intended audience.

    Is the owner going to change the site’s target audience to suit the developer? No. Is the site’s target audience going to change browsers to suit the developer? No. The only thing left to change is the developer. As you suggest, the best change the developer can make is to recognize the challenge presented by multiple browsers and take pride in working hard and meeting the challenge well – including all the bells and whistles HTML5, CSS3, and all the rest have to offer.

    -3
  18. 1378

    We are forgetting that it is a very big, often nasty, highly profitable corporate world out there. By design.

    It is clear that MS do not want to solve the problems created very quickly. Despite obvious difficulties of scale that any solution would have to tackle, they do have the ability, the power, and the money to do so.

    By 2022 there will be a very complete dossier detailing the history and totalling global economic costs of standardising one aspect of the internet. The $ cost will be enormous and will act as a lobbying argument against the benefits of embracing standards in other, more lucrative, parts of the industry. You have concrete figures of what it will have cost to cause MS to change it’s path, and therefore an indication of how much it will cost to encourage them to change path again. MS have a clear interest in building that figure up as high as they can.

    So if, as a designer at work, you have the uncomfortable feeling that you are being pointlessly shafted over a barrel by a fat, sweaty pig of a browser, you couldn’t be further from the truth – There is a very deliberate point to it.

    1
  19. 1429

    I agree, every job in the world has those aspects that you simply don’t look forward to. When it comes to web development, more often than not this means ensuring your work addresses issues specific to IE. Most web developers have come to accept this fact (those that choose to deal with IE anyway…I’ve met some who completely ignore IE altogether) – we fix what we can, accept the fact that it needs to be done to meet the needs of a large group of users, we gripe and whine about it, and move on to the next project.

    With that being said, I definitely agree that IE9 is a leap forward over past versions, although it does still lack support for many features supported by the other major browsers, but by and large that lack of support is purely aesthetic, there are sometimes workarounds, and progressive enhancement is almost always a viable alternative. Personally, I’m just thankful it does offer at least some of that support and I have fewer issues to address when testing in IE9 over older versions. It also means IE continues to move forward, meaning that hopefully the need to support IE6 and IE7 will become less of a necessity as users slowly migrate to the newer version.

    I see both sides of the fence here really. On one hand, I’m glad Microsoft is making an effort to bring their browser up to the current “standard”, on par with the other major browsers. Do I feel they could have done more? Yes. Am I part of their development team and do I fully understand the hurdles that team had to overcome to get IE9 to market within a time frame that keeps it competitive? No. So I can complain all I want, but I don’t understand the difficulties the developers had to overcome in the first place, and I know I run into my own problems doing development work, so it would be rather hypocritical of me to chastise Microsoft for their efforts.

    On the other hand, I’m sometimes thankful for some of the issues I run into in IE simple because those issues prove to be valuable learning experiences that teach more about my chosen career and more about the fine details related to the development work I’m doing. They can be frustrating yes, and when I have to spend valuable time tracking down the solution to an issue it further compounds my frustration, but when all is said and done, I get a nice feeling of accomplishment for overcoming the obstacle and having learned something along the way.

    0
  20. 1480

    Sure is easier to complain than to take action. I really appreciate the view point you’ve provided. Although I am no developer, I’ve often heard the grumblings about IE throughout our office.

    Perhaps, IE has undeserved disdain; or perhaps it is just a good ole inside joke amongst developers that IE will cause headache. And in some masochistic way they actually enjoy fixing the errors caused by the outdated browser?

    Overall, I agree wholeheartedly with your point that “They might not necessarily work exactly the same in them all, but they should still be able to work.” Accessibility to the web is key for any great benefits deriving from our work.

    0
  21. 1531

    I agree for the most part with this article, still I think there are two sides to this.

    Fact is, there’s a whole bunch of browsers that can do a wide array of things and there’s also a wide range of browsers that are very limited in what they can do.

    Educating your clients about this fact is probably the most important thing. Web design and development is not like print. A design SHOULD not look the same in every browser, although most clients THINK it should. Making them aware of this helps a lot in my experience.

    Furthermore, ever since I’ve started using HTML5 boilerplate for my projects and modified it to my needs (like I added a lt-ie10 class), I can very successfully build websites that function correctly in all browsers and might look and behave slightly nicer in newer browsers.

    If you build something in a website that is crucial to the user, but you only focus on ‘new’ techniques, than your approach to web development is wrong. This even goes for using proper mark-up and css classes.

    In my opinion, people that ‘blame’ old browsers just have the wrong approach.

    I think we all agree that there are enough bugs in older browsers that in fact ARE annoying, but I rarely come across stuff I can’t tackle with just a separate class for that browser.

    0
  22. 1582

    It’s time to stop Internet Explorer you say?

    0
  23. 1633

    I’m a little surprised to hear so many of you refer to the cost to upgrade a browser? What cost?
    It’s a fact that IE 7/8 are more difficult to be compliant with because they’re not compliant.

    0
  24. 1684

    I agree completely that it’s counter-productive to blame IE exclusively for all the UI woes of our industry. Rather than hang just one browser vendor out to dry, though, I think it might be more relevant to look at the underlying issue surrounding all of these browsers: fragmentation.

    No matter which browsers lead, and which browsers follow, we’re living in a world with a confounding variety of browsers, form factors, and interface capabilities, and this problem is growing in scope — not shrinking. I remember a time when a software developer could set up a half-dozen or so machine configurations and have a reasonable assurance that he was able to test UI performance for setups corresponding to 90% or more of the traffic he’d see. That’s long gone. Given the proliferation of platforms and devices we see today, standards support has become more important than ever — it’s our only hope for accomplishing representative development and testing across these clients.

    I’d argue that despite all this fragmentation, we’re seeing better standards compliance than ever before across browsers. The fact that pain continues is a result of continued standards evolution, as well as browser manufacturers’ attempts both to keep up and to differentiate themselves. There’s simply no way to ensure that every client is the same — especially while the standards continue to evolve.

    If our industry wants to do something to improve developer productivity and users’ experiences, we need to find better ways to abstract the mapping of UI capabilities to browser / platform capabilities. I don’t ever want to think about IE vs. Firefox vs. Chrome vs. iWhatever vs. mobile vs. “I’m running on a *what*??” again, and I’d love to see more mature tooling to support this.

    0
  25. 1735

    Matthieu Dufour

    July 12, 2012 3:44 pm

    “If it’s our job to support those browsers then that’s just part of our job.”

    Ah, the classic ‘my job’s my job, I am such a hero..’, I am a professional so I won’t question the tools I am given, I am just gonna get things done no matter how much of a pain it is.

    From a professional point of view : yes. You’re being paid to accomplish something and IE doesn’t really concern your client. I agree.

    But plainly ignoring a company poor’s practices that make dev’s job a living hell ain’t the answer.
    Yes IE9 is getting close to ‘decent’, and yes MS is doing efforts, but it just isn’t enough.

    If IE9 was the ultimate browser, I am pretty sure people would nostalgically laugh back at IE6, and MS would be forgiven by now. Unfortunately it’s not the case.
    Until then, haters gonna hate, why would they not? Don’t you think it’s legitimate?
    The only reason IE isn’t out of the picture by now is MS dominant position in other areas, they keep trying to catch up with the rest, but they do it badly and too late, thus wasting dev’s time.
    They don’t work on a new browser for a better web (their software haven’t been helping for the past decade why would it now?), they just need to make money out of it, and they will because their browser is installed on so many machines by default.

    It is our job to get things to work no matter the constraints, that’s what people pay us for, I agree.
    But it doesn’t mean to have to accept it.

    Just a very quick (dumb) example :

    your job is to harvest honey from a bee’s nest. it’s your job you’re goo at it.
    now your client want you to do your job naked, because of their new policy.
    you go ahead and proceed naked, get stung a couples ouf times, the job’s done and the client’s happy with your work.

    You’ve been professional, but aren’t you gonna complain about the work conditions?

    MS has been doing the same to devs for years, except that they ask you to put honey on your nipples before starting the job.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing a different opinion through this article at least.

    3
  26. 1786

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Great article. Needed to be said.

    0
  27. 1837

    I can’t help myself, but i hate IE and i hate browsing the web with IE. Starts and ends with testing pages in dev-state. I have seven websites online using this KILL IE Plugin and hope more and more customers start using this with me.

    Sorry Microsoft, with IE9 and IE10 you may have made huge progress and IE today is probably not as bad as it was months and years ago, but thing is: there are so much better alternatives out there that makes surfing and using the web so much more fun.

    1
  28. 1888

    Measuring a browsers’ quality should be easy in terms of standards implementation and compliance. The standars exist apart from browsers and the quantity and quality of their implementation can be more or less objectively measured.

    I think it’s in this aspect where IE has always fallen short. In this sense, providing compatibility and proper display in major IE versions is not a choice, and I agree with the author in that.

    Promoting IE use is a different matter, it’s standars implementations is laggy in terms of quantity and quality and it’s extra features are not comparable to the ones of other browsers. Security is an issue too.

    And I’d like to add one extra point in this: platforms. IE is the only major browser that runs only in one platform, all other major browsers run in all major platforms (Mac, Windows, Linux, mobile), the user can have a more unified experience and the developer won’t find unpleasant surprises.

    1
  29. 1939

    I agree with this article in a lot of ways in that sometimes we complain too much about IE and use it as a crutch, but I still feel that all that complaining we did about IE6, IE7, etc. helped MS to decide to make IE9 “completely from scratch.”

    So, maybe our complaints has helped to persuade MS to pay more attention to the development of their browsers. If we don’t raise any complaints, then MS will just sit back with what they have and rake in the money.

    0
  30. 1990

    If you don’t care enough about my website to visit it with a modern browser, I don’t care enough about your experience at my website. Conceding to Ballmer and his cronies now gives them zero incentive to make this train wreck of a company any better. Bring Back Bill.

    0
  31. 2041

    I’m really impressed how this subject motivated so much discussion.
    I understand the point of view where complaining about web design work difficulties and how Internet Explorer is bad not makes thinks better… (but what else we can do?)

    But please don’t insult my intelligence saying there something good in IE (all versions!).
    I’m a BIG fun of Microsoft, I really think Windows 7, Office2010 and Xbox 360 are great products, very well finished and works perfect for me in everyday basis.

    But the browser is really bad and it is truly holding back the web. All professionals who work with web apps know how difficult is to support browsers like IE7 and IE8 (IE6 is totally out of the line). IE9 really is a great step forward but still far behind FireFox and Chrome. For me, the main reason is the nonexistent auto-update.

    The clearest signal that things got wrong for IE is the huge loss in market share. The only person who still uses IE is someone that doesn’t know how to install a different web browser. That’s the hard true.

    For me IE team really need to rethink their auto-update strategy.

    0
  32. 2092

    “As an engineer on the Web application you get to make decisions every single day.”

    That’s the point. 99% of the time, I don’t.

    When I do freelance I have a much more direct connection to the client, and I can explain things like progressive enhancement. But in pretty much every day job I’ve had for the last ten years, I’m saddled with clients who open an IE6 window next to a Chrome 20 window and look between the two to make sure they match. And complain about being cheated if the pages aren’t exactly the same, pixel-for-pixel and function-for-function.

    And then I have to deal with Project Managers and Account Representatives with various levels of understanding of what I do. I explain carefully and rationally what the best practices are, only to be told “Just do what they want. Keep the client happy. That’s all that matters.”

    We have to try to move things forward, because we are the only ones who understand it. It’s not whining about doing extra work. Modern browsers make everything better for everyone, not just us. The more time spent focused on backwards compatibility, the less that’s available to do the best job we can.

    4
  33. 2143

    A good defense of IE. However, nobody is asking Microsoft to do anything other than to catch up and stay current. That’s what the other browsers do. It’s not asking that much.

    5
  34. 2194

    Nicholas, I still can’t agree with you. Microsoft is still making the same mistakes. IE8 will indeed become the next IE6, because users of XP (of which there are still a lot because it’s as good an OS as any out there, and works well on limited hardware) CANNOT upgrade to IE9 (just as Win2k users could not upgrade to IE7). Similarly, users of Vista or early versions of Windows 7 CANNOT upgrade to IE10. MS has got itself (AND US!) into this mess, and continues to be in this mess, by being arrogant, tying the browser too much to the OS, and for other stupid (often marketing-related) reasons of their own making. I don’t see them doing anything much better right now, other than taking half-steps to close the feature/standards gap with other browsers and nudge towards more frequent updates.

    Even where a user’s OS supports a newer version, MS are only rolling out forced upgrades slowly and in a limited way, only a small proportion of users will actually get the automatic upgrades (only if they have the most liberal “automatic update” policy in Windows Update, which experienced Windows users have learned NOT to have enabled under any circumstances…), and the automatic upgrades that have occurred so far haven’t had any discernable effect on the versions in use. Since they only add new features every year or two, they will spend the rest of that time being largely obsolete, then the next year or two continuing to be obsolete as users slowly migrate to the new version.

    We’re entering a world where there are huge advantages to shifting from “anything other than text is a background image” to “use CSS3 effects for everything possible”, and the browser that is holding us back from doing so successfully is… IE8, of which there will be many users for the next couple of years at least.

    I also don’t think people were complaining much when IE6 had 90% market share, they just designed websites for IE and that’s how websites were built and there weren’t many alternatives. It’s when it continued to hold onto 20-50% market share despite being 8 years old, and with multiple better alternatives available, that developers really began complaining.

    And now, IE versions below 9 ARE holding back the web (and even 9 will be somewhat in the next couple of years): it’s not just about enjoying our jobs, it’s about being able to deliver incredible experiences on budgets clients can afford! (And that are easily maintainable going forward.) IE6-8 (and 9 a little) prevents us from being able to do that.

    1
  35. 2245

    It was refreshing to read something so completely different regarding the Internet Explorer.

    However, I really, really, “love to hate” the IE, especially 7 and sometimes 8. It’s nothing about Microsoft, so there’s no “bashing for the sake of bashing” involved.

    I just see this particular browser as a hindrance to proper webdesign. I’m not actually coding myself (lucky me), but I so hate to re-check any of the more modern design elements with the programmers – we all hate to have that “Can IE do that? Which version?” conversation.

    And, sorry to say that, but statements like “It is from within constraints that creativity is born.” are rubbish and kind of, like Daniel said, look like Stockholm Syndrome towards older IE versions. Constraints like older browsers without proper support *kill* creativity, they hold you back because you have to keep in mind that there are browsers out there that are incapable of displaying your site correctly.

    My opinion is that we, as designers and programmers, should labor towards raising awareness for up-to-date browsers, in any way possible.

    Whether it’s by refusing to support certain browsers altogether (very unwise, I think) or gently (or sometimes even not-so-gently) nudging the visitors (like Kogan.com does with the “IE7 tax”, or maybe some gentle hints about what the site would look like on a current browser), is up to the individual.

    I, for my part, simply design with modern browsers in mind. After the whole programming is done, I create a IE-only stylesheet and basically “dumb down” the whole design until a compromise of “design” and “hey, it works” is reached. A lot of work – unnecessary work – for sure, but at the moment I can’t afford to cater exclusively to modern browsers. Believe me, if I could ignore the problems that IE7 and 8 throw my way, I would.

    1
  36. 2296

    I am lucky as in working as an in-house front end developer and having a great influence over the direction the company takes regarding graceful degradation. Basically I always look at what the benefits of certain features or developments working in an identical way in every browser would have on sales on the site, which is what basically pays my salary. Accessibility for me is always the number one target. If css3/html5 design elements or certain Jquery functions do not work in IE(IE9 documents mode seems to cause a lot of problems lately) then I don’t panic. I look at Google Analytics’ breakdown on the site’s audience and make a decision based on the data. If the added time and effort required do not justify the expected revenue then I have actual data to use to explain this to the business owners.
    I feel for guys working for agency’s though, as it’s very difficult to explain to certain clients the intricacies of cross-browser compatibility and the additional costs of development.
    However, as others also said before, this is part of the job and just do the best you can based on the time frame available. Do not let IE’s on any other browsers’ lack of support for new elements stop you from exploring and enjoying the evolving nature of the web.

    1
  37. 2347

    Ah…as UX designers we need to pull our heads out of our @sses and realize that to our “users” (you know…the people that we are actually designing for) upgrading a browser is not always their most important task to accomplish in life. These are know constrains, although frustrating, this is what our clients pay us to solve for.

    “Poor pittyful me…I have to design for a site that works in IE6.”

    I design for “users” who are at times trying to complete tasks in life like research cancer, find a job, or manage their finances…asking them to upgrade their browser seems a bit pompus to me.

    2
    • 2398

      Upgrading to modern browsers makes the Web better for everyone, including the users you mention. There is nothing wrong with trying to educate them. After all, that’s what you’re trying to do with the content of the site in the first place.

      0
  38. 2449

    First, let me applaud Smashing for having both sides of the argument present.

    Second, let me say the article here is very well written.

    Third, lets get a bit more history here. Microsoft did what we are applauding Chrome and Firefox for now, they just did it back in the days of Netscape vs. IE. The problem came that Microsoft made a bunch of experimental features, that developers loved to use. Then the W3C decided they wanted to implement those features differently than MS, so MS was left with a hard choice. Do you support the already developed apps, or do you go the way of standards?

    They went the way of already developed web apps, and thus IE6 was born. So after how much they were lamented, it seems they have taken a sit back and let the other guys battle it out approach. Once they are done battling it out, and a unified approach is figured out, MS can come and adopt that in it’s browser. And then we can’t whine about their non-standard approach…

    What will all the haters do then?

    0
  39. 2500

    I really need to smoke one after reading all this… =)

    0
  40. 2551

    Facts are facts … and fact is, IE’s rendering engine is simply wrong, not according to spec, and buggy. IE9 was an improvement, but it’s amazing that after all the grief MS took, and all the promises it made, it still managed to not get it quite right in IE9. And I say this as someone who is not, in general, a Microsoft hater.

    So it’s ridiculous to say people should just get used to working with different browsers. I shouldn’t have to get used to a browser that is specifically incorrect about the spec, and whose life cycle is painfully slow.

    You code to the standards – and it simply works 99.99999 percent of the time in Firefox/Chrome/etc.. … Then in IE, it’s broken. I’m not talking about pixel-perfection – I’m saying it’s broken, as per the spec. Rendered wrong. Not different. WRONG.

    Meanwhile, CSS3 offers the ability to stop using images for rounded corners and gradient backgrounds – which is HUGE – and IE simply has just not implemented it yet. Like I said, its life cycle is pathetically slow and long.

    0
  41. 2602

    Ultimately I feel that if our clients want the exact same experience in IE7-8 that they do in IE 9, FF, Safari, and Chrome it’s going to cost them.

    I love Smashingmagazine.com flexible design however, I can guarantee that the IE 7-8 version would not fly with most marketing folks. It’s tool minimal and they’re not going to understand nor care why this is. Their just going to wonder why it doesn’t look as cool in their browser when comparing it to others.

    For me the pervious articles were more educational and something to thing about.

    As a designer I’m a huge fan of IE 9 and I can wait for it to gain the majority of the IE market share

    0
  42. 2653

    So IE6 should be supported because it was awesome 10 years ago? Well, stone age was awesome 7000 years ago; go live a life like that. Stop arguing over shit that should have ended ages ago. Its time that IE 6, 7 and 8 die off. They are freaking stone age software.

    Even microsoft does not support its old platforms. They killed continuing support for windows 98, and will even stop supporting windows mobile 7, past windows mobile 8 release. When MS does not support its own software after 2 years why the hell are we forced to support shit that should literally die off?

    0
  43. 2704

    The hilarious thing here is that this article is basically preaching maturity and a professional attitude when evaluating products. You read these comments and I, for one, am scared of the future of this industry. The utter zealotry and immaturity in some of these comments should make people very ashamed to call themselves professionals

    0
  44. 2755

    Ok, IE9 is fine but Opera 12 (and most likely 13, 14 and beyond) on XP but not IE9? It’s the same old mentality from Ballmer. It’s the “hard sale” approach. They are using the browser as a marketing tool, a crowbar, a blunt force billy club for OS sales and no matter how well IE9 works on Vista/7/8/etc there will continue to be resentment because of that. Until IE9 is obviously BETTER than FF or Opera they will not stop losing user numbers. That’s just how it is. And if they don’t watch themselves closely IE on any mobile system will be a thing of the past. Have you tried Opera mini? LOL. When the days of Ballmer come to an end THEN I might not get a sick feeling about using IE*.

    0
  45. 2806

    You lost me at front end lead at Yahoo!. Yahoo! develops a lot of great technology, they just seemingly forget to apply that to their websites. Yahoo! has been the poster-child for cluttered design since I’ve gotten into the business.

    0
  46. 2857

    I am a Chrome user (with a soft spot in my heart for Opera) and would like everyone to upgrade but like Tiago Coelho [see comments] I had to build intranet applications that were largely based on the IE browser available at that time. When companies invest time and money into development, they rarely are willing to let that go. That coupled with the fact that most large employers lock down there computers for “security” people don’t have the option to upgrade or even install alternative browsers.

    The issue is not going away. IE will always have a legacy browser and those browsers are bound to have something missing that you want to develop with. There have been countless articles discussing taming older browsers and numerous js tool kits developed to provide a more consistent presentation across browsers. My suggestion, design it for today’s browsers but develop it for the yesterday’s.

    0
  47. 2908

    “We should just accept things and deal with it”.. haha..hell no. I agree that ie 9 is decent but its the responsibility of every web developer to continue to be very vocal about where microsoft (or any other company that wants to get in the browser game) is going wrong..

    I do have high hopes for windows 8 upgrade for only $40 knocking a big dent out of all the old ie versions usage share, though. Maybe im too optimistic?? Though I do dream haha.

    http://windowsteamblog.com/windows/b/bloggingwindows/archive/2012/07/02/upgrade-to-windows-8-pro-for-39-99.aspx

    0
  48. 2959

    I am glad to see this article. I’m guilty of whining sometimes, but my most satisfying work is 100% cross-browser. I don’t agree that it has to look identical down to the pixel. The whole meaning of flexible design, a concept that I love, is that it adapts – is flexible! The web is continuing to evolve at a very quick, exciting pace. Because of this, old browsers will always be with us. Meanwhile, I think that Louis’s example of rainforest deforestation, while it illustrates his point, is my idea of very lazy and somewhat poor implementation – it isn’t THAT hard to make it work for older browsers too. Thank you Nicholas for a great article!

    0
  49. 3010

    Well, this is quite a heated discussion here. Unfortunately, even Nicholas’s article has largely misrepresented the point of the “old browsers” article. Nowhere in that article did I say not to use Progressive Enhancement. Nowhere in that article did I say not to support old browsers.

    The point of the article is this:

    If IE8 and IE9 users are not auto-updated, and those browsers have a significant market share for years to come, then the Web is being held back. That’s not a point that is under debate. That’s a fact.

    Of course we’re going to use Progressive Enhancement to combat that obstacle. That’s our only tool available for this, and I wholeheartedly support it! But creating awareness of the limitations of IE8 and IE9 is not a bad thing if it leads to those browsers being pushed out of common use. That would be a good thing. Unfortunately, Nicholas seems to imply that supporting IE8 is a good thing, almost as if he prefers to support it.

    But again, nowhere in the article am I discouraging support for old browsers. The whole point of the article is that we *have* to support browsers that have a large market share (meaning IE8 and IE9). So I really don’t understand how anyone could get from that article a message that I was encouraging people to stop supporting old browsers, or not to use Progressive Enhancement.

    If Microsoft does something to get XP and Win7 users gone and/or upgraded to IE10, then I’m all for it, and we can move on from this debate. But MS’s track record on these things has been traditionally very poor, so we’ll have to wait and see.

    In the meantime: Get as many people as you can off IE8 and IE9, and this will help move the web forward, and (as Paul Irish nicely put it), the Web Platform will win.

    1
  50. 3061

    Gotta say I disagree. For as long as I’ve engineered on the web platform IE has been a constant frustration and roadblock. I honestly don’t know how you can call IE9 a “damn good browser”, with only 47% support of modern web standards. To give you some perspective Firefox 3.6 (end of 2009) had 53% support. Upcoming IE10 is a big improvement, scoring 77%. It’s already behind and its not even out yet, but it’s still some great progress. Progress that I can’t applaud because I’ll be stuck supporting that version of IE for a decade. Source: http://caniuse.com

    If Microsoft would ship a single, self-updating product (like FF/Chrome) then I would cheer at every improvement/effort they make. But instead, they greedily dangle their new browser like a carrot to entice people to upgrade Windows OS. So like Paul Irish pointed out (http://paulirish.com/2011/browser-market-pollution-iex-is-the-new-ie6/) we’re going to be stuck with every half-baked browser MS releases for a very long time. I wrote an article about Microsoft’s golden opportunity to turn things around with IE 10: http://geddesign.com/post/10775181893/microsofts-golden-ticket-ie10

    Adding insult to injury, MS markets IE* as the best browser on the market. Apparently some suckers believe it.

    I’m all about having a positive attitude and focusing on the things that can be changed, that’s your message. But you’re wrong that we’re powerless to change the IE problem. Thanks to Google’s Chrome Frame, I get to develop internal apps at work, using the full potential of modern web standards without a single thought for IE. It’s hard to describe the exciting and fulfilling practice of modern web dev. Once you’ve tasted of that, it’s hard to imagine going back to building for a browser that can’t even do gradients or web sockets.

    Microsoft has a big opportunity to change things with IE10, I sincerely hope they do. Until then not only will I keep blaming IE, I’ll keep doing something about it.

    5
    • 3112

      Exactly what I was getting at – IE10 (yet to be released) is already behind the other browsers.

      0

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