The innovation balance

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There’s lots of people out there really pushing the envelope of what can be done with the DOM and CSS. You all know this. But, at some point, there comes a time when you hit a wall, and that wall is named Internet Explorer.

This wasn’t always the case: to get to the Internet Explorer wall you now step over the crumbling ruins of the wall that was there before. If you pick up an aged, weathered brick from that wall you can just about see the words “Netscape 4″ painted on it. But that wall’s just an old pile of stones that everyone ignores, these days. Internet Explorer is the new Netscape 4.

The concern here is: do you let that hold you back? I mean, l00k, d00d! Firef0x haz these k-rAd new t00ls! IE is teh sux0r! Kill the M$!

Er, perhaps not. That’s a serious question, though; at what point should we abandon IE support in order to deliver better interfaces to Firefox users?

There’s a pretty reasonable argument that the answer to that question is: never. Don’t do FF-only things. Waving the banner of “standards compliance” and saying “well, it’s the IE development team’s fault for not bothering to implement all of CSS” is pure sophistry, and you know it. Web developers were castigated, and rightly so, for using Internet Explorer-specific technologies. Anyone remember HTML+TIME? Javascript expressions in CSS? Those of you sneering now: what about innerHTML? Contenteditable? XMLHTTPRequest? Not everything that is non-standard is necessarily something to be thrown away.

There’s a small, but growing, class of DOM manipulations that are being released as working in Firefox (and possibly Safari and Opera) but not in IE. Take two very neat indeed hacks I’ve seen recently: Brad Fitzpatrick’s Ajax-based shared whiteboard and Tim Taylor’s drag-and-drop sortable lists. They’re both really neat bits of code, and I hope that their talented authors won’t take exception to me naming them here; they also both don’t work in IE. Now, since DOM manipulation should be something which layers extra usability over an already usable site, one that works entirely without JavaScript turned on (Google, I’m looking at you here, again), this shouldn’t matter…but it does, really. Both authors have, to their credit, acknowledged that their code doesn’t work, and implied that they’re working on that, but we of the standards compliance flags and warcries need to be careful that those cries really were for the standards and not against the Seattle juggernaut.

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  • http://www.webwerkz.ca andrewcook

    Paragraphs can be your friend.

  • http://www.lowter.com charmedlover

    I think designing fun things like the examples you gave are fine to do if they aren’t needed for anything except experimenting. But yet one doesn’t work in Opera so I’m a little displeased.

  • sde

    i feel where you’re coming from, but what about all the proprietary scripting you can do with IE?

    so developing for just IE would be like just developing for Firefox. not the answer.

    most viewers of my sites are on IE, .. and i would bet that a lot of them are technically challenged enough and probably don’t really care about ‘tools’

    don’t get me wrong, .. firefox IS like sliced bread, but unless you can control what people view your site with, then abandoning IE would be fatal to your web viewers.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    Maybe we need a 10 commandments of DOM manipulation.

    1. ‘Thou shalt speak unto the all the little browsers, that of both paupers and kings’

    2. ‘Thou shalt not found thy entire house on the shifting sands of JavaScript!’

    3. ‘Thou shalt not covert CSS3′

    Ok,.. three commandments doesn’t sound quite as good, but I’m sure they’ll come up a treat if we can chisel them into some rock or something.

    Any other commandments? ;)

  • http://www.practicalapplications.net bwarrene

    Thou shalt break all rules necessary to achieve client happiness. ; > )

  • Andrew

    But totally rad DHTML wizardry like Sitepoint’s first-click-on-the-page-gets-you-a-popup works cross-browser, baby!

  • Mark Wubben

    Actually I’d say the wall is Safari and Opera. Those two browsers have made for almost all cross-browser problems I’ve encountered while working on sIFR. Of course Mozilla is more advanced than IE, but for me I haven’t run into the differences yet.

  • jbot

    You should be coding for all browsers and all occassions. Blocking a browser with 95% market share is frankly idiotic and not good commercial sense. Come on, Sitepoint are capable of writing far better articles than the nonsense in this one.

  • John Pennypacker

    I design my sites according to the W3C recommendations, not according to renegade browsers.

    For commercial sites, I do ensure IE6 compatibility, but for everything else, I could care less about browsers that do not support web standards.

    guerilla webfare, baby. As long as IE6 renders every page properly, IE6 is a good browser in the eyes of its users. And as a developer I know that IE6 is a brat. So, if IE wants to play, IE will have to adopt CSS2, and all of the W3 DOM.

  • Tim G

    Um, 95% market share? That’s a forgotten dream that will never come round again. Nonetheless, your point is dead-on. People who don’t design for IE won’t be in business long. No client wants a developer who doesn’t fully support the most commonly used browser.

  • sil

    jbot: I thought that I was advocating *not* abandoning IE for Firefox-specific code? Perhaps you might want to read the monograph again?

  • Seinfeld

    I used my own implementation of re-orderable lists to help users re-arange scenes for panoramic virtual tours.
    I followed the same paths like Tim Taylor,youngpup’s code for drag and drop and the base of Simon’s code. It also uses XMLHTTPRequest for instant deleting of scenes.
    It works on IE, Gecko and it’s functional on Safari.
    check it out at http://www.vtstar.com and tell me you opinion (registration is with manual confirmation of our team so please be patient).

  • mcjimbo

    John Pennypacker, I think you should consider a different career. Our jobs as web developers is to make our app’s as cross browser compatible as we can. Don’t wave the W3C / CSS2 flag.. by not finding a work around for IE or Netscape or Firefox you are really not doing your job. Clients don’t care about W3C / CSS2 compatibility what they want is to make sure at least 100% of their users can view their site Legibly and without problems!

  • Rick

    Here we go again. will it never end ?! Always push the envelope; but let everyone see you

  • Marty

    Css expressions in IE simply rock. I use them anyway, and write extra js for FF. Of course, the “standard” code written for FF does not perform nearly as beautifully as the expressions do in IE, but they DO work.

    Besides, 90% of my users get the splendid magic, and you 10%ers can have the less than stupendous “standards” version.

    I wonder why css expressions are not a w3c candidate? Such simple sweetness should not be ignored…

  • Tim Taylor

    I take no offense to the article. To the contrary, it contributed to my 15 minutes of fame. I agree with the reader comments that a technique that doesn’t work in IE is at most an interesting experiment. Which gets right to the original purpose of my Drag & Drop Sortable Lists. It was an interesting experiment. It happened just like this: one day I came across Simon Cozens’ sortable lists. “Neato,” thought I. Followed by, “I could make some improvements…that would be fun.” I did and it was.

    Brief history of my personal platform dogma: Windows Bigot, Linux Revolutionary, Linux Refugee/Mac Snob. Where we arrive at today with me still using a Mac. But I’ve settled into a Whatever-Platform-Works-for-You zen comfort zone with occasional bursts of “Nyah nyah, my Apple product works better than your suxx0r wannabe product”. Take anything “iPod” for instance. Anyhow, that my examples currently only work in Safari and Firefox is coincident with me being a Mac guy. A lazy Mac guy even, since my partner’s Toshiba laptop was sitting on the coffee table the entire time I worked on those examples. I’m imagining somewhere in the multiverse another me is typing away on his Windows laptop describing why his DnD Sortable Lists currently only work in Internet Explorer, guiltily looking at his partner’s PowerBook G4 sitting idle…

  • http://www.ideasfreelance.com manoloweb

    You can also edit live with this kind of application:

    http://www.ideasfreelance.com/lab/instant_edit

  • Alberto Brunoni

    The UNIVERSAL SOLUTION to all of your troubles: LEARN MACROMEDIA FLASH!!!!!

  • http://www.lunadesign.org awasson

    Really cool ideas here and good article, monologue, etc… Love the quote: “Internet Explorer is the new Netscape 4.”

    Stuart, your point is well taken. Just because IE on Mac/PC doesn’t support standards according to W3C doesn’t mean we have the luxury of ignoring it. IE no longer owns 95% of the browser market share but it still has the majority.

    With a good base of SitePoint, ALA and DevArticles to draw upon we (usually) code for standards compliance and then write hacks for IE, Opera and Safari (when required).

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  • miles

    reminds me of when I coded an entire webpage to look perfect in IE for Mac at 800 by 600 and that it was just barely legible on everything else. Why that configuration? Because that’s what the client had running on his desk.

  • ben332211

    Flash is a useful tool, I concur, but so often misused…

    When misused, as I’m sure we’ve all seen so often, usability drops through the floor and content is impossible to get to, all for the sake of a nice looking design.

    Of course design is more important in some niche scenarios; But on your typical website design should be there to help the user find content, and to highlight and direct the user to areas of interest… Not to make a glorified pretty picture, where any useful content is minutes of working out the interface away… And you can’t link directly to a sub-page… :)

    -Ben

  • Bob Folkerts

    Even if the techniques don’t work on IE, it is useful to demonstrate just how powerful CSS & Javascript can be. There are a ton of developers that build ASP.Net sites and have no idea that nesting tables and autogenerated server controls with name mangling to make Javascrpt a pain in the rear is not the only way to develop for the web. Showing them sites that blow their minds and leave them slack-jawed can be very useful. Unless ‘Developers, Developers, Developers!’ start hammering MS for CSS support is isn’t going to happen. So even a ‘proof of concept’ site is useful.

    As a second point, it does happen that once you can show a great feature in Firefox (or Opera, or Safari, or Konqueror,…) that you can justify playing with htc files (or bizarre CSS) in order to get IE into the fold of ‘supported browsers’

  • Therin Irwin

    There’s a pretty reasonable argument that the answer to that question is: never. Don’t do FF-only things. Waving the banner of “standards compliance” and saying “well, it’s the IE development team’s fault for not bothering to implement all of CSS” is pure sophistry, and you know it.

    Well, yes, but a well known Ralph Waldo Emerson seems to think otherwise:

    Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.

    (Self-Reliance 1841).

    We should be ourselves, our own body, and escape to whatever we think is true and good in our own mind (which is NOT internet explorer). No one should be shot down because they don’t conform to YOUR intentions.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    Ralph hated IE.