On the Subject of Web Browsers

Tuesday 11th August, 2009

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.