Monday, 23 April 2012

Preparing for MSIE Overtaking Day

    It's been a trope of the web developer's existence for the last decade: Microsoft Internet Explorer won the browser wars in the 1990s, all other browsers are irrelevant. The customer has this firmly lodged in their heads from the days when MSIE had over 90% of the market and demands support for IE in all its forms over support for any other browser. We may just about have won the war over abandoning IE6 support, but we are still demanded to code in all the workarounds demanded by its just-as-creaky younger siblings.
    It might have been true in the mid-2000s to manipulate the famous phrase about IBM to "nobody ever got fired for supporting MSIE". But as a quick look at StatCounter's Global Stats will tell you, over the last couple of years Google Chrome has come from nowhere and is rapidly converging on MSIE's market share. Extrapolate the graph forward a few months, and it becomes obvious that sometime this summer, probably in June, Chrome will overtake MSIE as the world's most popular browser.

    That's right, June 2012 will see MSIE Overtaking Day.

    You might think it would be unwise to break out the champagne though. After all, the top spot is just passing from one big company to another, won't it just be a case of "Here's the new boss, same as the old boss"? In that we're fortunate: unlike MSIE with its proprietary approach to rendering HTML, Chrome is a Webkit browser, underpinned by open source and web standards. So if we code to those standards we can expect it to work without too many tweaks on all browsers that support them.

    No more browser-specific stylesheets, no more special Javascript hacks, no more compatibility libraries.

    But the title of this piece is "Preparing for MSIE Overtaking Day". We're already there, as developers we're used to coding web standards, all our sites already work in Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera. It is the non-technical people who need preparing, all those marketing people at the customer, the legal people and the developer project managers who are stuck in that 2000-era trope. I was shocked not too long ago to encounter a site whose contract specified individual browser versions. Not even "version X and above", so when a legitimate bug was reported in a recent browser the response came back that it wasn't supported because the browser wasn't several years old. That kind of thinking is simply not acceptable.
    So we have to think away from the browser in the post-MSIE world of frequently released standards-compliant browsers. We have to sell web standards such as HTM5 rather than support for particular browsers to the non-technical people we encounter as web developers, and we have to hammer home that message using the clearly visible statistics.
    Otherwise we'll still be coding for MSIE7 in 2017 just like some of us had to support MSIE6 in 2010 And that just ain't funny, not at all.


  1. Sure no more hacks no more oddities as long as you don't wand to target the corporate environment or emerging economies. Chrome is shaping up to be the most important browser of the decade but until HTML5 is stable and XP is over and done it is naive at best to wave a celebratory flag, as naive as MS where when they said IE6 was dead in January (except the 25% of Chinese users still using it)

    Chrome is doing some strange and fast moving things under the hood its javascript engine in particular is throwing up bugs you don't see anywhere else as it changes faster than developers can seem to keep up with it. It is an exciting and chaotic time in web development but we will need to do a lot more cross browser support in coming years, not less.

  2. True, there's no such thing as a perfect browser :)

    But what we have at the moment, where the main players behave in mostly the same way - think about the older IE box model for instance - and the Javascript is mostly the same, it about as good as it's been in my long career as a web developer.

    I would make the argument that people targeting emerging economies should think first about feature phone browsers. Opera Mini and Nokia Series 40.