|Mozilla launched their new web browser version, Firefox 3, last week and they have had over 17 million downloads so far. Impressive! Internet Explorer 8 is currently available in a beta version (things can only get ‘beta’) and is expected to launch towards the end of 2008. The web browser battle continues but at what cost for website developers and owners across the world?
New versions of web browsers are great! Just ask any web developer… and wait for the reaction - Probably not very positive. With Firefox 3 just launched and IE8 around the corner, in this post I explore the ugly, the bad and the good (does the order matter?) from a web developer’s point of view and explain how it affects developers, web users and clients.
If you want to see any web developer cringe (read “swear like a sailor”), just mention the words: “new version of Internet Explorer” or any of the other major browsers for that matter. In the ongoing battle of the browsers, with Microsoft Internet Explorer still leading and Mozilla Firefox steadily gaining ground, we understand that new releases are necessary. Most developers also love progression and new technology, so what’s the problem then? Well, the problem is… it breaks stuff! It breaks our clients’ websites, our own websites, our favourite websites and everything else on the web. It breaks our hearts and our spirits and our will to continue coding… OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but every time a new version of any major browser is released, web design, development and quality control teams across the world are faced with the same problems that pop out of the woodwork as more and more surfers start using these new browser versions.
With the previous major release of Internet Explorer 7, we were proactive and started resolving the compatibility issues well in advance. We tested our products on the beta versions of IE7 and resolved styling issues, Flash issues, security issues and a range of other issues that could only be produced when browsing websites with IE7. One of the major problems we had was that you could not run IE6 and IE7 side by side. Sure, we were able to download tools to emulate IE6 while running IE7, but were they stable and 100% the same as IE6? No. So, ensuring that everything worked in both versions of IE and Mozilla was tough. Even after this exercise, we still had to resolve issues on customised websites some time after IE7 was launched. We had to dig deep to find “hacks” to make everything work on all the browser versions. Very frustrating. Web developers like to build new things, not fix things that are really out of their control. I still don’t understand why one browser renders something 2 pixels more to the left than another browser and why they don’t just adopt one standard. *Sigh* (read: *Eish*)
Another problem associated with the release of new browsers, is the cost involved to change our clients’ websites to be compatible with the new browser versions. Clients don’t really have a choice and although we can resolve most of the issues on our products, many of our clients’ websites are so customised, that development costs are unavoidable. Imagine our national television broadcasters telling us that HD TV will be implemented next week and your old analogue TV set will then be unable to receive any channels. Not likely, but should it happen, you would have no other choice than to buy an HD ready TV set or stop watching TV. My advice? Make provision for it in your IT budget. Your website is likely to undergo at least one upgrade per year if you want to stay up to date with technological advances.
Luckily it is not all doom and gloom and because web browsers are developed by people like us, they understand the frustration and improve with each new release. Mozilla seems to stick by their standards and differences between releases are relatively small. Microsoft, on the other hand, has now decided to change the way their browser interprets websites to better conform to the standards. When I read this blog post, I thought about the implications and immediately started worrying and anticipating a re-run of the IE7 compatibility battle. Luckily the developers at Microsoft heeded the feedback and decided to give us a break by providing us with the “EmulateIE7” tag. What this means is that web developers can include this tag in web pages, which will order IE8 to act as if it were IE7. So, now we can at least make sure that when IE8 launches and users start surfing our websites with it, they will have the same experience and (hopefully) nothing will break. That gives us the ability to make 100% sure that our clients’ websites work in IE8 and Mozilla without any nasty surprises.
In true “battle of the browsers” spirit, both Mozilla Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 8 are offering some great enhancements such as:
- Firefox 3
- Claims to be much faster than IE
- Better security
- Smart location bar
- Full zoom feature
- Faster with different rendering modes
- Better security
- Web slices – Looks pretty cool
- Better conformation to standards
We’ll look at some of these new features in one of my next posts. So, which browser is the best? I honestly can’t make up my mind. In my opinion a browser is a browser and Firefox and IE are probably better than the rest. Yes, one might claim to have better features while the other claim to be faster, but it remains a free piece of software that facilitates my Internet activities. Maybe it’s because I started browsing BBS channels and using Beltel a long time ago and found that as exciting as the Internet today. In the end, it is the content that matters, not the sleeve of the book.
While we watch in anticipation as the battle continues, have a look at my post on browser market share and usage. And spare a thought for the developers when you next download the latest version of your favourite web browser.