By Mandy Barrington

How to Stop Wasting Time Developing for Internet Explorer

By Mandy Barrington

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 Therefore, most of the tips below will be directed at the outdated versions of IE.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Time Waster: Developing for outdated IE when your audience isn’t even using it.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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