On the Subject of Web Browsers

Creative agency mogul and Javascript whizz-kid Phil Hawksworth has posted a defence of IE6, arguing that in fact IE6 isn’t really as awful as we sometimes make out, and that its entrenchment (which is the biggest annoyance) is caused by the web development community’s own pandering to the IE feature set after the first great Browser War (BW 1).

It sounds weird to hear it now, but as someone who wrote DHTML in the bad old days when the big guns were Netscape 4 and IE 4 and backward compatability demanded IE3 and Netscape 3, I can tell you that IE6 is a dream come true, just like IE5 was when that came out. Yes, I complain about it too, and I know there’s non-standard behaviour, but there are ways of ironing out those inconsistencies without resorting to browser-specific hacks, or except in specific circumstances separate codepaths (the prime exceptions being XmlHttpRequest, vector graphics, and events).

The required attributes for a web browser these days are:

  1. Standards compliance (implemented forgivingly)
  2. Performance
  3. A decent debugging tool
  4. Distribution deals

With the advent of Chrome and the Iphone it’s clear that although IE still holds dominance in corporate applications, in the open web the two competing layout engines are Gecko and WebKit, with Trident a distant and somewhat lame third place. Sorry IE, any browser that doesn’t include a decent dev tool is really going to suffer.

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3 Responses to On the Subject of Web Browsers

  1. cak says:

    You make some good points, but I think the deliberate breaking of web standards, and use of Active-X make ie6 the worst browser ever. Sure, there are bad browsers, but none of them were ever so popular, or so entrenched (due to Active-x) as the evil that is ie6.

  2. Richard Marr says:

    @cak

    Cheers for commenting. Is there something about ActiveX in IE6 that make it worse than previous versions?

  3. Interestingly enough some developers specifically to this day support only IE based browsers. Egg.com (an online banking site) uses ActiveX to combine all your other banking information from other banks within their own GUI.

    The downside of this is that if you’re on a mac… then you cant use the site unless you set up a version of Windows OS and then boot up IE.

    It’s an interesting dilemma and one that is often exaggerated… because, well if we didn’t then the amount of wasted time could be over looked by many people.

    One of the things for me when working with IE6 is to understand rather than to brute force. I believe the majority of people working with IE6 feel they dont have time to understand and that it’s a backwards problem.

    Excitingly enough over the weekend I spotted this awesome site (http://ecsstender.org/) which does what I’ve believed would happen with CSS and browser incompatibility.

    A JavaScript hybrid of CSS that will make the whole browser limitation bs (it does peev me off sometimes) a thing of the past. Hook this in with Google’s AJAX code library and we’ve got a repository for the most awesome fix that says good bye moaning, hello innovation.

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