How to Stop Wasting Time Developing for Internet Explorer

If you’re a developer, you’ve probably done it. One minute you’re pulling your hair out over broken pages in IE7. Then, suddenly, peace overcomes you: off in a faraway land, you’re dreaming about the day you can thrust your sword into the air and declare to the world: “Internet Explorer will waste no more of my time!” There might even be a viking helmet on your head – or maybe that’s just me.

In the real world, Internet Explorer still exists. Older versions still do things that confound and infuriate us. And plenty of people still use them.

But before you mentally resign and go log a few more hours into Internet Explorer Stole My Life, consider this: you don’t have to keep wasting time on Internet Explorer.

I’ll pause right there for dramatic effect.

If you’re wearing an incredulous expression right now, I don’t blame you; I too have wasted endless hours developing for IE while every other browser played nice. And nothing has changed overnight — I just woke up one day and decided waste would no longer be part of the equation.

Before I dive into specifics, let’s get on the same page about a few things:

First, I’m not suggesting that anyone stop developing for IE altogether. Though we developers don’t generally care for it, a fair portion of users do – nearly 33 per cent, according to our September browser trends report. Rather, I’m suggesting methods to make development more efficient and worthwhile, so time spent developing for IE is productive rather than wasteful.

Second, it’s important to recognize that IE9 and the upcoming IE10 have made huge leaps in compatibility with modern web development methods. Most grief is due to the continued use of outdated browsers. Therefore, most of the tips below will be directed at the outdated versions of IE.

4 Internet Explorer Time-Savers

Let’s start by looking at the time-wasters, then discuss how we can solve the problem:

Time Waster: Developing for outdated IE when your audience isn’t even using it.

Time Saver: Analytics, analytics, analytics! Before you write a line of code in that conditional stylesheet, check your analytics to determine what percentage of your audience actually uses it. If it’s a minuscule amount, is it worth the hours of time spent developing for them? Could that time be better spent polishing your site for browsers that customers actually use?

If you find that a significant amount of visitors do use dinosaur IE, then guess what — you’re not wasting your time doing that work for them. You’re purposefully meeting consumer demand.

Do It: If you haven’t already, install analytics on your site. Google Analytics is a popular and free option. Spend some time getting to know your visitors’ preferred technology, and respond accordingly.

Time Waster: Overhauling your site so it works in the oldest of IE versions.

Time Saver: If you have an online store and can’t stand the thought of the site failing for a single paying customer, or have a complex site that would take a tremendous amount of coding to play nice with old browsers, send a friendly message asking users to update. With the help of JavaScript, your site can detect which browser is being used, and display a message that informs users that their browser is out of date, and offers links to download the latest version of various browsers.

Do It: For an out-of-the-package solution, try this IE6 Upgrade Warning from Google Code. Just add the downloaded folder to your directory and place a line of JavaScript right after your site’s <body> tag. If you know your way around JavaScript, this code can be tweaked to include IE7 as well.

Time Waster: Having to research and respond to the same issues over and over again

Time Saver: When I first started developing, I saw a pattern in the issues that came up in IE. It dawned on me that I should keep a record of the quirky issues that came up, and what the solutions were. Many of the solutions turned out to be best practices anyway — like defining widths of sidebars (lest they be knocked halfway down the page). So, you’re not just fixing an error in vain — you’re adding valuable information to a document that will save hours of frustration down the road.

Do It: Whether it’s an old school pen-and-paper list or a digital document, get that log started! If you’re working with a team, consider creating a Google Drive spreadsheet that you can all add to and reference.

Time Waster: Clients who insist on developing for an outdated browser, no matter what their visitors are using.

Time Saver: It’s simple: charge for it. We have all had those clients who flood your inbox with lists of flaws because they are reviewing the site in IE6. If analytics show that virtually no visitors actually use that browser version, and they are still headstrong about optimizing the site for it, charge extra for your effort. It’s not a waste of time if you’re getting paid to do it!

Do It: Review your contract template and make sure it specifies what browsers (including versions) you will optimize sites for. Anything above that will cost extra!

You may not be able to swear off IE altogether, but there’s no reason you should waste time dealing with it. Instead, cheerfully meet your site visitors’ needs as efficiently as possible — and put the Viking helmet away for another day.

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  • Jahangir

    superb article !!!

    • http://www.rypmarketing.com/ Mandy Barrington

      Thanks Jahangir, happy to hear you found it useful!

  • http://twitter.com/ptamaro ptamaro

    Solid read, great resources — bookmarked and will tweet it…

    • http://www.rypmarketing.com/ Mandy Barrington

      Glad you liked it, ptamaro! Thanks for commenting!

  • http://www.drakeintelgroup.com Karl Gephart

    Very intelligent article–GA is absolutely the key. Thankfully, we designers/developers are mostly over the IE horrors–now our biggest challenge is coding for mobile!

    • http://www.rypmarketing.com/ Mandy Barrington

      Agreed, Karl – that’s a whole new animal! Thank goodness there’s no IE7 for mobile, right??

      • http://pixafy.com Pat Coleman

        At the firm I work at we support down to IE7 and have been doing a lot of mobile work lately. The IE7 of the mobile world to me are older android devices. Mobile Chrome and other HD browsers seem to be developed for the latest top tier phones, but obviously not everyone can afford them. Certain CSS3 styles that are in wide usage like box shadows, border-radius, and background gradients don’t display well on these devices at all. In short, I say it’s great to use the latest techniques but also ensure you support the minimum required across as many versions and platforms as possible.

  • http://www.neojogos.com Jorge

    I fully agree, they should upgrade to the latest version or use a free browser. In my opinion Firefox and Chrome are much better than IE6.

    • Mike

      I don’t think that’s just your opinion!

    • http://gregbabula.info Greg Babula

      That’s putting it mildly, Chrome and IE6 shouldn’t even be compared because the differences are a world apart.

  • Nelson

    How about when IE percentage is 47%? :P

    • http://www.rypmarketing.com/ Mandy Barrington

      Hi, Nelson! I had a site recently that had a large percentage of IE users, too – fortunately, we learned about it in advance via analytics and planned extra hours accordingly, so it wasn’t taking up hours that could have been spent elsewhere. Sometimes we have to do that extra work to support IE users, but it isn’t a big waste of time if you’re getting paid for it, right? ;)

  • http://www.iphoneapp-reviews.com/ iPhoneApp-Reviews

    A good read I’ll be forwarding to our front end developers. Thanks.

    Google Analytics is important but this can only really be used if you’re redesigning a website, rather than starting something new. If you’re starting from scratch with a new client, new domain etc, you’re not going to have any initial stats on your audience so it’s tricky to know what browsers they’re using.

    Sure, you can have a look at the stats for other sites and try and estimate what people are using and then make a decision. But different websites attract different users so without relevant info from the actual website it would be difficult to make an informed decision.

    I agree with charging clients for wanting to support outdated versions of browsers (we do it for IE 6 and earlier). Hell, if IE can’t actually be bothered supporting their older versions, why should we.

    Great article!

    • http://www.rypmarketing.com/ Mandy Barrington

      “Hell, if IE can’t actually be bothered supporting their older versions, why should we.” Haha – that’s so true!

  • http://wed101.com Alex

    I’m closely working with web technologies since 1998 (in IT world since 1981). From my experience the IE is less troubled browser then any other (Netscape, Opera, Safari, FF, Chrome). The IE is not the fastest but it is more stable across Microsoft based operating systems. The browser is more forgiven, it tries to present broken HTML in expected way (which is good and bad). And I still do not know how to deal with FF and Chrome “border collapse” problem. According to our Google Analytics we have 30% IE users, and 30% users use mobile browser, so IE still dominating, and our visitors not a business users, our visitors are brides to be, but the majority of traffic comes during the business hrs, and businesses are PC based (IE)

    • http://www.rypmarketing.com/ Mandy Barrington

      That’s true, Alex – if there’s anything broken in your code, IE will certainly let you know about it! Sometimes that’s not such a bad thing!

  • http://www.digitalidiom.co.uk/ UK Web Designer

    Great Article. One I would advocate and have been doing for some time really but not necessary as a “final decision”.

    I tend to stick to things I know work and avoid tricks / features that cause issues with IE. I stopped supporting IE6 / IE 7 ages ago. It’s also too hard/time consuming to explain to non-tech clients who expect everything to JUST WORK (why wouldn’t they?)

    The downside is my sites are rarely cutting edge unless the clients wants a particular feature. I am only now tentatively moving over to HTML5/CCS3 – even though I like the new flavour!

    However, as I am long in the tooth (15 years in this job), and I know the many quirks of browsers and systems have ALWAYS been a frustration and I think they always will be, especially now we have mobile devices to contend with now. So I guess your pragmatic approach will help but will never solve the problem.

    (As a side: Maybe we should run an article on the most amusing anecdotes gleaned from clients comments/questions… I have had a few #stupid questions in my time.)

    • http://www.rypmarketing.com/ Mandy Barrington

      There’s the Catch 22 we’re all stuck in – develop for the web as it is, or as you want it to be? I think balance between the two is important – but it certainly helps that we can start effectively dropping support for older browsers, like you have. Slowly but surely, we’re forging onward!

  • http://webcloudsoftware.com Ralph Bacon

    As someone coding websites for too many hours a day, I’ve got to admit I’m going to effectively “give up” supporting IE6. It’s stolen too many hours of my life, whether paid for or not. There’s no future in either old age or IE6 support, at least in my book.

    jQuery does a great job of working across all modern browsers so as long as I can get a fallback position that IE6 doesn’t garble then that’s as far as I’m going these days. Fancy transitions? Clever UI? Use a browser that isn’t born brain dead! I try and say this very nicely but of course huge enterprises are stuck in the past for years – my current employer still uses XP and IE6 (although they will upgrade you individually to IE7 if you ask them nicely, woop woop!)

    I’m putting my effort into CSS3, HTML5 and jQuery/JQuery UI/jQuery Mobile – that’s where the money is both now and in the next 5 years, not IE6 support. Jeez, I hate that browser (you might have noticed).

    Must go, one of my users says their web site looks funny… hang on, IE WHAT version?

    • http://webcloudsoftware.com Ralph Bacon

      Yes, a response to my own posting.

      I’ve just spend 2 hours tweaking a website so that it at least shows some resemblance of a normal website to the end user. What a thankless task though.

      And how many features we now take for granted, even down to transparent png images, which I never realised IE6/7 don’t support.

      Sigh. that’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back and all that work won’t attract one more paying customer I bet!

  • https://uglyfashionmedia.com Eoin Oliver

    Great article, I completely agree! Will Tweet it like ptamaro. Not many of my clients insist on designing for it, they’re normally happy to be lead by me as the expert. Still as “the expert” it would be prudent to see how many users are using the browser.

    I can’t agree with Jorge who says users should upgrade. It would be nice, but websites are effectively customer service mediums. It’s kind of like walking into a shop and the shopkeeper says, it costs us extra to get a security van to collect our money and take it somewhere safe, and it’s old fashioned and less secure as you could lose it, so we only accept cards. Short and long of it, they’d lose business. Asking users to upgrade isn’t a bad idea, forcing them to upgrade is just downright rude.

  • http://adrimarie.us Adri

    There’s also the fact that many of us (including myself) still use systems run by Windows XP, and that IE9 also requires the user to have WIndows 7 and up in order to upgrade your IE to IE9, so for XP users, upgrading your IE to the latest at an outdated OS is still pointless.

    I stopped using IE back in the early-mid 2000s and have been a long-time Firefox user ever since, and yet at the workplaces I used to work they still stuck along with the horrid IE6. It really makes us web designers/developers wonder why businesses are too cheap (or lazy?) to upgrade their systems in the first place.

    I had an enjoyable read in this article. Definitely a handy guide! :)

    • http://www.rypmarketing.com/ Mandy Barrington

      Thanks, Adri! I think businesses are a major culprit of outdated browser use – I’ve heard so many people say the same thing! I think 10 years is long enough to go between system updates :)

  • Kevin

    Thanks very much for sharing this article, it is very useful indeed. I must admit I try not to think about I.E6, and I.E.7 and 8 if I can help it.. Otherwise these days it just stresses me out.
    I agree Firefox and Safari are much better to use. What were MS doing in those early days with I.E 6, 7 and 8 trying to force through there own browser standards?

    I guess one of the issues I’ve noticed with some people and that is they don’t like ‘change’ and therefore moving away from early I.E. versions seems hard enough for them let alone moving to Firefox and Safari etc..

    Thanks and regards
    Kevin

  • http://roundsqure.ae Rehaan

    very good article…. I agree unfortunately there are people who still US IE on top of that most of our clients here in dubai they check website in ie6. ie7, Ie8, ie7 compatible mood it’s pain :(

  • Charlie L.

    Great article and… I loved the dinosaur at the end!!
    I remember when I use to develop for IE because it was the Titan (yep, back then, when the dinosaurs roamed around freely) but then, FF and Chrome emerged. When it comes to simple web pages without fancy stuff, even IE it’s OK, but for more complex stuff like a web app, well, that’s a different story. Anyway, there is hope for IE fans… they can always install Chrome Frame ;)

    • http://www.rypmarketing.com/ Mandy Barrington

      Glad someone out there shares my appreciation for the dinosaur! :)

  • http://www.azasrs.gov Kevin

    We have an issue with 67% of our users using IE8. Yes, they are mostly retired people that still use XP. I think XP can only run IE8 and not IE9. Worse yet, these state employee users cannot install another browser due to some security policies. Well at least XP will die as of April 14 2014 when Microsoft stops supporting it.

  • rickibarnes

    I’ve alway supported a couple of versions back of IE, unless it is specifically asked for. So when IE9 came out, I stopped supporting IE6 – and when 10 arrives, it’s all over for IE7. I do this as per point #4 above – I specify what browsers I will guarantee the site will work in, and mention that others can be included for extra cost. I’ve never had anyone request IE6, but I seem to have an inordinate amount of clients who still use IE7, just because they’re using an older OS throughout their workplace and/or they don’t have administrator privileges to make those kind of changes.

  • http://gauravmishra.com Gaurav M

    Thumbs up!

  • Weekoo

    Almost three years ago we started developing a web application and from day 1 we decided to drop support for IE6 at the user end and only support Chrome + Firefox at the administration end. After six months of work the number of IE dropped radically and our logs show that from thousands of active users just a handful were using IE6. During the past six months I have seen no IE6 users and only a few IE7 ones.

    Oh, the administration end now works with IE with no work done due to IE9 being more compatible with the rest of the pack.

    Now we have another (canvas) application on the testing board and from day one we decided to drop support for IE8 :)

  • http://www.visionhive.com Peter Kionga-Kamau

    Thank you for the article. I do have a couple of comments. First and most importantly, customizing sites for IE is very much a waste of time in any circumstance. You only have so many productive years on this planet, and any time spent building workarounds for intentional design flaws in IE rather than on projects that contribute to the progress of civilization is *absolutely* a waste of time, no matter what you get paid. Humanity will never recoup that time. It is arguably even worse to get paid for this kind of work, because it means that not only are you wasting your time, but in addition, whoever did productive work in order to raise the money to pay for it was wasting their time as well.

    The other point is that while notifications to upgrade your browser are an option, I contend that there should *always* be an choice to ignore the notice and use the current browser anyway. In many cases it is the owner, and not the user, that cares about a prefect browsing experience. Everyone wants to believe that users will spend hours drooling over every last detail of their magnificent Website, but the bottom line is that most users really want to spend as little time as possible, find what they came for, and get on with their lives. Given the choice between a less-than-optimal layout and installing a new browser, my bet is that the majority of visitors would just deal with the quirks. The notice can act as a disclaimer. Do not forget that there are also cases where the user really doesn’t want to change their browser. I, for example, run old versions on purpose because, well, it reduces the time I spend optimizing for old browsers once a layout is coded. If I were to upgrade my browsers every time I clicked on some random link I would lose this capability. Instead, I lose interest in sites that make this demand. The issue here is that people use browsers for a variety of purposes, and it is presumptuous and possibly infantile to assume that your Website is the only one that matters to a user – so much so that they will be willing to disregard everything else they do with a browser just so that your site will be displayed exactly the way you prefer it to be displayed.

    • http://www.rypmarketing.com/ Mandy Barrington

      I think you’re right, giving them an *option* to upgrade would be much more friendly in many cases. One case I wouldn’t do that is if the site is completely non-functional in that browser version – for me, it would seem better if they didn’t see anything than if they saw a confusing mess of a site. But for sites that still look reasonably usable, absolutely give them the option. That’s just my two cents, though! Thanks for your comment!

  • http://www.johnmanoah.com John Manoah

    Another method is to force NON-USAGE of IE by enforcing additional fees during checkout. Imagine if my total amount has an additional 10% cost just because I’ve used IE 8? Obviously this message should be loud and clear to the customers before they shop online. For e.g. “Pls note that you are using IE 8 and would incur an additional 10% towards development fee. To avoid this payment try shopping with other browsers like FireFox, Chrome etc” and also provide a help page or a exe to automatically configure non-IE browsers without pain. I’m sure even then it would not cure Microsoft’s sloppiness, that’s a whole different story!!

    • http://www.rypmarketing.com/ Mandy Barrington

      I read about Kogan doing just that – http://www.theverge.com/2012/6/14/3084527/ie7-tax-kogan-electronics-store. To me, it seems a little over the top, because some people truly can’t control what browser they are using – if they use a library for internet access, or if their company is too cheap to update their operating systems (as some other commenters said, IE9 won’t support Windows XP).

  • http://en.commtap.org Neil Thompson

    Unfortunately we still have to support IE6 :-( … although now down to 4% of the total traffic, that 4% includes some key users of the site – people who create content for it – more than 50% of the content of the site has been generated by such users using IE6. We can’t very well put a message on the site telling users to update their browser – working for a large national public organisation they have no power to do this.

    • http://www.rypmarketing.com/ Mandy Barrington

      Wow – I’m sorry to hear that! That’s a surprising amount of traffic from IE – I wonder why?

  • Carlos Aguado

    Mandy, I wonder why do you promote Bigbrother analytics instead of other open source excellent choices like Piwik, http://http://piwik.org

    • http://www.rypmarketing.com/ Mandy Barrington

      Simply because it’s comprehensive, and very widely used. That’s not to say there aren’t other great analytics programs too!

  • Jurgen

    I find it funny that many designers/developers tend to curse IE and hail all others. In my experience (full time pro webdesigner since 2004) IE has always been more easy to get sites right in, than others. It’s almost other browsers that need tweaking, while IE works as expected.

    I agree that modern Chrome, FF and Opera do a great job with CSS3 and such, whereas IE lags behind, even IE9 misses support for some cool stuff. But still, I curse other browsers a lot more than IE when it comes to for example element placement and behavior.

    Besides, in the business and corporate world IE is still very dominant. So if you design for business, you just cannot ignore IE 7, 8 and 9. Even IE6 deserves basic support in my opinion. I always make sure that IE6 shows a decent working site as well. Windows IE6 and 7 together have about the same number of users as Apple Safari. Go figure… And no, I don’t live in some third world country, but in the Netherlands.

    • shanique

      Excuse ME… IE is a total disaster.

  • Munazza

    Mandy,

    You know another big concern beside coding for IE? Its coding html emails. Outlook does same things to your email, what IE does to your websites. :) Shed some light on it in your next article!

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Outlook uses Word to render HTML email. An awful decision.

      IE9 rendering (and usually IE8) is generally good, though. You might miss a few CSS3 effects, but it’ll still work.

  • shanique

    why doesn’t IE just commit suicide?

  • Marc

    Great article, but why not use 2 cons as 1 pro??? IE6 and mobile smallscreens cant handle both much. If you create an acceptable small website without all the fancy stuff, it can be used for both IE6, 7 or 8 and small screened mobiles. Putting in code for only more advanced browsers (those cant be read on the old). So creating a wired and boring framework keeps the support of old and small screen browsing to a minimum, but supported! All other users would not see this…

  • Andreas Josas

    This debate has been raging on since the browser wars first began, except back in the day it was whether people should bother coding for Netscape Navigator. Back in those days IE4-6 was cutting edge! I don’t think it’s an issue so much of wasting time coding for an old browser, but more so a new generation of developers that have never coded for the old browser and so don’t know how how to fix all the odd quirks. If you have a simple design then you have no excuse not to support every browser including IE6 because it is just a few CSS overrides. I totally agree that it comes down to your users and what your analytics say about your users, but the presumption that you should ditch support is crazy. Same goes for JavaScript. You should be coding using progressive enhancement techniques to start with, again unless your site totally relies on it for functionality but for the majority of sites it is “nice to have” features.

    Yes, all this takes time and can be frustrating, but as you say, you should be charging for this time if all this is a requirement.

    My last project needed support for IE6 and no JavaScript. It still happens when you are dealing with major banks, they have applications that still require IE6 (ActiveX controls I presume) and due to their security policies have JS switched off.

    As much as I would LOVE to be able to say >IE9 and JS always on… somehow I don’t think that is going to happen any day soon :(