Want better browsers? Make Them Look Good

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browser-ecosystemThe web industry supports an interesting ecosystem that highlights a tenuous relationship between browser makers and who I like to collectively call web professionals, comprising web developers and designers. Browser makers want to make the best browsers for their customers, web professionals want to make the best sites for their clients. Hence, the end experience for all users of the Web is ultimately a collaboration between browser makers and web professionals.

This collaboration is often an uneasy one. When browser makers think they have the advantage, they attempt to coerce web professionals to make sites use proprietary features. When professionals believe they have the advantage, they attempt to force the browser makers to support more web standards. We’ve seen the seesaw tip both ways in recent history.

However, the only way web professionals can really have what they want — increasing standards support generally — is for there to be a healthy browser ecosystem. And the only way to achieve this is for websites to look and function as well as they possibly can in all browsers.

In short, if you want better browsers, start using their stuff!

This has been true of CSS layout, Ajax, and now HTML5. Keep experimenting, apply progressive enhancement; give each browser a little bit of love and make the browser look good in the users’ eyes.

If a browser has added support for a particular property, use it — even if it means only users of that one browser will see it. If a browser has a new feature that increases the usability of your site, use it too. For example, sitepoint.com uses the IE Web Slices feature, and in our recent site search project we added an OpenSearch description file. This makes it easy to add sitepoint.com as a search provider in browsers that support that feature.

Some professionals might lament that this means more work, and others might cringe at the thought of applying enhancements for specific browsers. But you need to continuously push the envelope because the health of the browser ecosystem depends on it.

(Feature image adapted from a photo by Swami Stream.)

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  • Isamtron

    “Want better browsers? Make Them Look Good” seems like a title for a post about themes :S

  • Justen

    Here here! The whole “It must look the same way in all browsers” thing has got to be the most obnoxious, backward-assed idea to ever hit the web. Why bring down the exceptional for the benefit of lowering the average so that the weakest can pretend to be less weak? It sounds vaguely… communist. So yeah, here I am, declaring war on you egalitarian pinkos! It’s progressive enhancement for me!

  • arts-multimedia

    Clients want their site to look the same on all browsers and there is a viable reason for that, namely branding.
    So, this idea of using proprietary elements per browser is nice for personal experiments, art sites and so on, but not for people who actually want to make a living from their site.
    As good web developer we should remember that. The more whistles and bells a site has, the less it performs.
    I think too many web developers and graphic designers want to look clever, reg at the costs of the client.

  • JGarrido

    I’m not entirely sure I understand or agree with the author’s claim. I don’t think implementing the marquee tag for IE helped advance the state of browsers in anyway. Did Safari’s implementation of text-shadow cause other browser makers to follow their lead? I don’t think so, they are just continuing their adherence to the standards already set forth by the CSS3 specs. I also don’t think it wise to use every property that is available for ever browser just because it exists. That isn’t going to help anyone’s cause.

    Do you miss me yet???

  • W2ttsy

    When I read this article the only thing that jumped out to me was the early browser wars between IE and netscape. Using proprietary tags goes against the grain of everything that we have been preached to in the last several years. Open standards, looking the same across all browsers, making the browser work for the site, not the other way round. Isn’t the whole proprietary nonsense the reason we are stuck with IE6? Oh look, some webkit features, fast forward 10 years: “bugger, we have to continue to support safari 4 because of x”. I guess it must be opposite day at sitepoint or something.

    Also by continually supporting lesser browsers (begrudgingly i know) we are ultimately saying “we dont need you to fix your browser, we will just work around it”. Funnily enough, certain software houses relish this attitude and continue to not do anything because we will continue to slave to their whims. Of course, trying to convince your client that by excluding a certain browser that its for the common good of an industry they dont care about is another thing. I dont think Nike or GAP would be too happy if you produced sites that shunned particular browsers.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com/articlelist/487/ Andrew Tetlaw

    Personally I think the days of clients insisting a site looks the same on all browsers are coming to a close. Education will show them that it’s in their best interest that they don’t insist on such a silly thing. branding does not mean must look identical in every medium.

    Also I think the days of the Netscape/MS-style browser wars are over. Having more browsers (than 2) will prevent that from ever occurring, and they only way to have more browsers is to encourage browser makers to keep making browsers. Web standards are still our baseline, our foundation, but we can still make use of features from all browsers. It’s the best of both worlds I think.

  • arts-multimedia

    Personally I think the days of clients insisting a site looks the same on all browsers are coming to a close. Education will show them that it’s in their best interest that they don’t insist on such a silly thing. branding does not mean must look identical in every medium.

    Most clients accept small differences like small differences in font size and so on, but it’s another kettle of fish if you change behaviors across browsers. That is not acceptable for most clients and they are right in hat respect.

    Also by continually supporting lesser browsers (begrudgingly i know) we are ultimately saying “we dont need you to fix your browser, we will just work around it”.

    Alas, yes. But as you rightly say, clients complain if their site doesn’t look right on major browsers. It’s a Catch #22 situation. So, I still think that emphasis of browser innovation should be to comply fully with web standards. This is still not the case. Look at Opera and Safari and IExplorer how different they approach those standards in many areas.
    CSS is evolving nicely, if all browsers keep up with it, there is no need to push the envelope with proprietary gadgets. Browsers can compete with other functionality, like add-ons and so on. That has real value for everyone. Anyway, that’s my ideal :-)

  • Lars

    Hopefully it is not like we were all working for Apple or Google or Facebook ;) (in a way web dev are all working for them now)

  • arts-multimedia

    Hopefully it is not like we were all working for Apple or Google or Facebook ;) (in a way web dev are all working for them now)

    Not in a million years, my friend :-)

  • bsmbahamas

    i agree and disagree. i’m just now after coding for 10 years jumping on the standards band wagon, and i’ve even started seperating html/content/css/javascript/php into external files.

    personally i code for the latest browser versions, and if they are not pixel perfect matches too bad, as long as they are clearly the same site and everything is not re-arranged, lol. slight differences shouldn’t affect branding.

    on the other hand using proprietory stuff is a gray area. perhaps if you could tell exactly which browser and version they are using you could apply some sort of conditional coding, but i wouldn’t go overboard with it.

    nowadays css/javascript can do a lot of fancy stuff without using too any propritory stuff.

    just as software vendors and high traffic authority sites always offer updates, i see no reason why we should support ancient browser versions, just the last 2-3 should be fine.

    i don’t take that lightly though because some businesses like the one i work for was using IE4 for several years when IE7 was almost released, so sometimes the individual can’t upgrade to the latest version – but they are expected to upgrade everything else like their anti-virus and microsoft office, so why support the ancient browsers?

  • alank44

    i can’t figure out what is so special about google chrome.
    it is really hard to do things with it .
    sure it’s fast but you lose time doing other thing on it so for me i think it sucks.