The Browser Wars

browsers

It was only last year that the bane of our lives (okay, exaggerating, but still) was Internet Explorer 6. You know the story: you’d design a beautiful website, wrangled with the client to get it beautiful in their eyes, too and started the development.

You code it in Firefox or Chrome, test it in Opera and Safari for the ten people in the world who use it. Then, begrudgingly, you’d move your cursor towards that angelic blue ‘e’, and…CRAP! Your navigation is staggered down the page, the page is aligned to the left and all of your beautifully-crafted columns are crashing into each other.

You then spend the next few hours adding hack after hack, line after line of style to cater to Microsoft Dinosaur. Sometimes it would look okay in IE7 and IE8. Sometimes it wouldn’t. But you could almost guarantee that IE6 would completely break your page.

Now, it seems, lessons are being learnt and IE6 is being rapidly discarded into the ether.

Enter Internet Explorer 7

Now, as web standards rapidly develop and new technologies are constantly being adopted by the browser vendors in their nightly builds, Internet Explorer 7 is being left behind. It is, however, still installed on millions of machines around the world.

Sometimes when I think about it, it seems as though IE7 may go the way of Windows Vista and just not latch on. Indeed when IE7 was first launched, Firefox and other alternatives had already well-established themselves into the market.

IE6 once held over 95 per cent of the browser market around the world. IE7 hasn’t been nearly as popular, but it was still widely adopted. At MintTwist, we only need to look at the stats for our clients’ websites to make that claim.

So is IE7 at risk of becoming the new IE6? Well, in some ways it is, because it is an old-fashioned browser, many years out of date and just not able to cope with the way the Internet has progressed over the last year, let alone the years since IE7 was released into the wild.

There are, however, a few differences. For example, as mentioned, there aren’t nearly as many IE7 users as there were IE6 users. Also, whether we like to admit it or not, IE7 is still more advanced than IE6.

The biggest difference, though, is that IE7 is seen amongst corporates and other organisations as a re-skinned IE6, as Vista was to XP. So corporate adoption of version 7 wasn’t as high as it was for IE6 (when they were all but forced to use it).

But there are still so many IE7 users

Yes, true. But there are a few things that we in the industry can do to lessen the problem.

  1. Spend time formulating a plan and explain it to clients.
    When a client tells you their new website must support IE7, inform them that this browser is two versions behind, and that supporting it is encouraging its use. This puts their website’s visitors at risk from the various problems that come with using an outmoded browser.
  2. Explain to your clients that use is dropping very quickly.
    Clients who haven’t done proper research are blind to the fact that IE7 doesn’t have the same negative market impact as IE6 did. They will assume—perhaps after you tell them that IE6 use is so small—that IE7 is the new IE6, and that all of those IE6 users have moved onto IE7. That simply isn’t the case, and if they have website stats, use them to prove the point.
  3. Play the cool technology card.
    Let clients know that if they are supporting IE7, they cannot use the cool, shiny stuff they see on the Internet because IE7 simply can’t handle it. It might even be helpful for your agency to produce a set of live web page examples showcasing common client requests, and how they look in old browsers. Explain that hacking away at code for days to replicate the effect into IE7 will cost more money, highlighting that what they are asking for is niche and not common. This leads nicely onto point 4…
  4. Point out the expertise, skill and, therefore expense in the development.
    If a client is shown that developing for IE7 is a pain in the arse and will take a lot longer, they may realise that, perhaps, it isn’t necessary for their website to look exactly the same in every old browser going. This mirrors the process of highlighting the value in the work we do.

Surely there are exceptions

There always are, aren’t there? It’s a fact of life.

There will be occasions, at least for a little while, that IE7 needs to be a primary focus in order to properly address a particular audience. The argument here is that we should develop in IE7 from the outset, and that the person/team designing the website is involved with the development team from the planning stage so as to mitigate any potential problems.

Education, education, education

You might assume from all of the above that I would recommend ignoring IE7 altogether. Let me categorically say that this isn’t the case. Of course we mustn’t ever totally ignore any user. What I am talking about here is education.

We must educate everybody we can in the benefits of modern browsers. Show people what Firefox 4 (and 5 and 6 etc.), IE9 and Chrome can do, and show them that IE7 can’t!

Whatever you do, remember to do all you can to educate the masses and keep the web clean. People will listen if you are passionate enough.

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