It’s Time to Grow Up About IE

Development

Online snark towards IE, particularly in Twitter, is really common and I keep seeing comments in my timeline like these:

Love that WordPress might be dropping IE6 support in 3.2. You might as well take care of IE7 while you’re at it.

Sometimes I wonder if going around the globe, uninstalling every single copy of IE, is less time-consuming than debugging

What’s sad is how much of a time suck #IE really is for developers. Think of the billions spent on just debugging for IE

And they used to really wind me.  Happily they don’t any more.  I’m over it.

So why did they wind me up?  Because the amount of time and energy expended in whinging about Internet Explorer in the industry is ridiculous.  It hasn’t changed in five years either.  The whinging is still there. It just never stops. And it needs to.

It’s an Environment Problem

This is where I’m going to no doubt draw some criticism, quite possibly from my colleagues even, but here goes:

Internet Explorer, from version 6, is as much a limiting part of our web environment as the potholes and bumps in our roads are a limiting part of car design.

A car designer is powerless to change the roads in your city or country, just like you and I are powerless to make enterprises change their browser of choice. They don’t care about whether it makes a bit of extra work for us, they care about how much extra work upgrading will be for them.

Of course we can take the moral high ground. IE8 is more secure than IE7. IE9 is faster and more standards compliant. Good, solid reasons for upgrading. But no more likely to be listened to than the advice a car designer from Lotus might give to Greece about the environmental and safety benefits that surfacing their roads to a higher standard might bring. Greece has other priorities than listening to a car designer, and enterprises have higher priorities than listening to the advice of web developers.

So What’s the Real Answer for Enterprise Users?

We found a very real problem for our clients – the back-end of WordPress is a pretty poor place to work in with IE6 and sometimes poor in IE7.  It’s usually passable in the latter, but in some enterprises we found that IE7 installs were so locked down that some functionality, particularly within third party plugins, just wouldn’t work well or was so slow as to be unusable.

In the end we recommended that content teams should be allowed to use Firefox or Google Chrome internally. In all cases so far this advice has been heeded. With Chrome it even has the advantage that it can be installed by users even on Windows PCs with very locked down permissions because of the way it’s coded to not need any admin access. That means you can probably get your content managers running a decent browser without any involvement from IT. Portable Apps on USB sticks can also be run, meaning Firefox and other tools can be made available.

But do check whether that might not be in breach of local IT rules – I wouldn’t want any of you to get into trouble now.

And for Web Developers and Designers?

In terms of web development we’re all going to have to do our best with progressive enhancement. The interconnect/it site works perfectly well in IE6, but has different features to when it’s view in Firefox, and different again if viewed in Chrome.

There are points when you have to make a judgement call. Is it worth supporting that last 5% using out of date browsers? Well, that depends. It’s simple maths – if, say, the cost of supporting a browser with 5% share of your site’s traffic is less than the profit you make from those visitors then you continue to support it. Don’t complain, just do it. That’s the only possible business case you have to make. It may not be fun, but if you’re a professional it’s the only thing you can do. If you’re a hobbyist then support whatever browser you feel like – it’s entirely your choice, and don’t feel obliged to support minority browsers when you’re not making any money from your sites.

David Coveney

David Coveney

Dave has been working in software development since 1988, starting with payroll development and then ERP consultancy for large corporates. He is a keen traveller, photographer and motorsport enthusiast, but now puts family first as he’s massively in love with his two little boys. Dave is still an early adopter. He was connected to the internet from his bedroom, way back in the eighties, had a personal website by 1994, was into the connected house in the late '90s, a smartphone by 2002, and a was the first in the office with a fitness tracker.

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