Making our Pages Work in Every Browser
Killersites Newsletter Archive: December 9th 2003
Should we be concerned with making pages work in every browser?
In the past, browsers did not 'read' web pages in the same way; often, code that worked in one browser would not work in another. To deal with this problem, web page designers would 'dumb-down' their pages and use many other counterproductive strategies to try and get their pages to work in all browsers. Today, most of those problems are a thing of the past, but there are still some relic issues, which brings us to the main topic of this newsletter.
Should we be concerned with making our pages work in every browser?
I've been creating web sites since 1994, and experience has taught me that it is really not worth your effort to try and make things work in all possible browsers. Some of them, for example, are simply broken!
The most famous broken browser was Netscape 4. We used to call it 'Netscrape' or 'Netcrap', but because it had such a large percentage of the market at the time, we had to deal with it and all the bugs. I've sprouted at least five or six dozen white hairs because of Netscape.
Of course, with every rule there are exceptions, and the exception to this rule is that you need to know your audience. That's imperative.
For example, you are building pages for, say, your company's intranet, and you know you have many Netscape 4 users that must see the pages. Friend, you're out of luck; you are going to have to deal with Netscape 4.
What browsers should we be concerned with?
For the general web market today, Internet Explorer has to be your number one concern, given that it has about 95% to 96% of the market. Concentrate on making things work there, while still keeping up with web standards as laid out by the W3C. Do not be tempted to use IE-specific features and technology, because you will then be locking yourself into Internet Explorer.
Coding to the W3C web standards
The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) is a standards body made up by a variety of organizations, like Microsoft, Netscape, and many other companies and individuals. It is their job to set the standards for how the web should work for everyone. The W3C sets the standard for HTML, CSS, and XML, among many other web-related technologies. The way browsers are supposed to interpret/read HTML-based documents is also defined.
With standards being applied, you would think that, as web designers, we wouldn't have to concern ourselves about which browsers are being used. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The problem is that the browser manufacturers are infamous for ignoring the standards that they helped set in the first place.
All these incompatible browsers have caused huge headaches, and probably cost people and businesses millions upon millions of dollars in time wasted trying to make web pages work in browsers that were broken to begin with.
Good things come to those who wait
Today the major browsers support the standards very well; the nightmare days of the 4.0 browsers are behind us, for the most part. It also seems to be the consensus now that browsers should follow the standards, and we should continue to see good standards-compliant browsers in the future. Stick to the standards now in force, and your pages will work in the important browsers of today and should continue to work well into the future.
Currently, what browsers are less important?
Though most browsers are standards-compliant, they are not perfect. We still have to do some testing, and consider which browsers people are using today.
It can be simply stated that any browser that is not Internet Explorer 5.5 and 6 is not important right now. I know some users of Netscape, Firefox, and other insignificant browsers might be cursing me out now. But the reality is that Internet Explorer more than dominates the scene; IE is the web landscape these days*.
My advice is to code to the W3C standards, and test with Internet Explorer. As I stated above, ultimately you have to pay attention to your situation and your web site's statistics; if you see that you are getting a lot of Opera users, then it's time to start testing for Opera.
Personally, I wouldn't worry too much about code that doesn't work in Firefox or other marginal browsers, as long as it works in the major browsers. Users of these rare browsers are probably used to pages that don't work - besides, they're typically geeks just trying to be different.
UPDATE: Since late 2004, FireFox has made a serious dent in Internet Explorer's market - nearly 10% or more! So now more than ever, you should use standards based HTML (XHTML) and CSS in your web design.
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