Why the Call For Browser Upgrades Will Never End

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calls to upgradeWeb developers are rarely happy. We’re big critics of our own work, even bigger critics of others, and are never satisfied with the tools we have for the job.

Browsers are our biggest bugbear. People never use the right browser and are reluctant to upgrade even if it’s for their own benefit. How can we be expected to move the Web forward when so many users are stuck in the past?

Internet Explorer 6.0 is the bane of the web developer’s life. The application is still used nine years after its introduction in spite of two more recent editions. Why should we struggle for the sake of a few misguided individuals and companies?

Here’s the thing: it’s partly our fault. We sold the idea of web applications on the basis that they’d solve the distribution and management problems associated with desktop programs. Workers could use a browser and never need any more software or upgrades. Unfortunately, we often neglected to mention that the browser itself would always need updating. That may be easy for us, but novices are less savvy and it’s a major headache for companies with thousands of desktops to support.

The IE6 problem was partially caused by our own laziness. We took shortcuts. We concentrated on the interesting stuff and avoided the mundane. We wrote applications that worked great in IE6 but failed in all subsequent browsers.

I’m sure you’re thinking … ah, but IE6 is different; Microsoft’s dominance and lethargy caused many of the problems we encounter today. IE6-only applications were written because IE6 was the only browser. That’s true, but the same problems can arise in other situations.

Consider web standards. Just as you think vendors are moving toward a common goal, they start disagreeing and implement their own ideas. There’s already browser divergence with technologies such as HTML5, CSS animation, video formats, and offline functionality. In another few years, could developers be bemoaning Firefox’s lack of support for X or Chrome’s poor handling of Y?

So will the end of IE6 make you, me, and everyone else happy? Ten years ago we were calling for Netscape 4 to die (if you thought IE6 was bad, NS4 would have appalled you!). IE6’s death may be imminent, but will we then start demonizing other browsers?

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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