For web production staff, our primary job is to ensure that the vision of the designers we work with is translated as accurately as possible onto the web. This has not always been as easy or as straight forward as we would like. Microsoft stopped development on Internet Explorer for several years to speed the development of the beleaguered Windows Vista. During this dark time, we developers had to struggle to work around bugs that were never fixed and standards that were ignored.
In recent times however things have been looking up for the development community. Ever since Firefox came on the scene and restarted the browser wars Microsoft has been putting resources into Internet Explorer and has addressed many of the long standing issues that developers have had to deal with over the years. And while Explorer still has a way to go to catch up with its browser rivals, it is no longer the sick cousin of the browser world.
We have now arrived at a place where the latest versions of the major browsers are now all capable of rendering a page consistently and correctly most of the time. And while IE presently does not support some bells and whistles such as rounded corners, we developers are free to use features like this knowing that a page will render fine in Internet Explorer but look better in other browsers at least until Explorer implements the features.
Wait though – developers are not able to walk on easy street yet. In spite of the passage of years and the availability of superior browsers, older versions of IE still dominate the landscape. DOH! I find this a little like being extremely thirsty and having a glass of water that is just out of reach. I have often wondered why this is the case. A newer much better version is freely available, why don’t they upgrade?
I think they haven’t for many reasons. Mainly, because Internet Explorer has been behind for so long, many of the early adopters have shifted to other browsers. This has left Microsoft with a user base of people who use their browser because it is the one that ships with their operating system. This remaining population which includes several of my older relatives are not the types of people that are going to seek out new software to install on their computer. As a result it took IE7 over a year to overtake IE6 in usage, and it has taken IE8 just has long to overtake `IE7.
Stripped of a large portion of early adopters and enthusiasts IE has lost the momentum it once had. This problem is compounded with the fact that many users consider that newer versions of Microsoft products are not always better than the older versions and in some cases they are worse.
Unlike competing products where the majority of users switch to the newest version in a relatively short period of time too many IE users are still using software that was hot at the beginning of the last decade. Go back another decade and the graphical Internet we all now know and love did not even exist. And this is with IE being an automatic update. I shudder to think how many people would have updated their browser if it were not an automatic download.
While the other browsers have long histories of complying with web standards, Internet Explorer is a more recent convert to this cause. As a result, as Microsoft works towards compliance, each version of IE is extremely different from its predecessors and has the potential to render the same page in a completely different way. This not only makes IE users wary of upgrading due to compatibility fears, but also creates a great deal more work for developers who have to make sure that a website renders properly in the various generations of this product.
In spite of years of obsolescence, gaping security holes and numerous “Kill IE6” web campaigns over ten percent of Internet Users still use IE6. Even the fact that major sites including Youtube, Facebook and Digg no longer function in IE6 does not appear to be enough to put the nail in the coffin of this product.
IE7 for it’s part works a lot better than IE6, but it still has lots of rendering bugs and problems. It really wasn’t until IE8 that these issues for the most part have been resolved.
As a developer I want to spend my time building web sites in a standards compliant way. I do not want to spend my time figuring out workarounds or rewriting my code so it works on older platforms. I am also fairly certain my customers would prefer not to have to pay for the extra time it takes to do this. To this end I would encourage everyone to get behind helping IE users move on to modern products. I would like the media to do their part to help generate buzz around Microsoft’s latest products. And I would suggest developers drop support for IE6 and perhaps soon even IE7. Hopefully then, we will be able to spend our time focused on bringing the vision of Designers and customers to the Internet.