Programming
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By Kevin Yank

The Browser Wars: Not Taking Sides

By Kevin Yank
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The following is republished from the Tech Times #151.

Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2 logosThe past week has seen the releases of both Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2. The browser wars are back on, and for the first time in a while, it’s our duty as responsible developers not to take sides.

In response to the IE 7 release announcement on SitePoint, I was surprised at the proportion of comments vowing to “stick with Firefox”, some even suggesting they wouldn’t bother installing the IE 7 update at all!

Thanks to its versatile extension system, Firefox is likely to remain the primary browser on most web developers’ systems, I’ll certainly grant you that. But these latest releases are in no way justification for us to treat Internet Explorer as a second-class citizen in the work that we do! If anything, we should be looking to embrace any browser that prioritizes support for web standards by basing our work on those standards.

And in that respect, Internet Explorer 7 is most certainly a very respectable stride in the right direction. I just don’t understand how people can claim that IE 7 has “horrible CSS support.” Microsoft has done an excellent job of fixing the most significant shortcomings in IE 6’s CSS support with this release, and based on recent progress of these two browsers’ CSS support, I find myself beginning to doubt Mozilla’s ability to maintain its lead over Microsoft in this area. And heck, if I was only going to use the browser with the best CSS support today, I’d be hitching my wagon to Opera.

In terms of the work it’s doing today to support standards, Microsoft is right up there. Microsoft has plenty of ground to make up, and it remains to be seen whether these current efforts will be sustained, but if we consider which browser vendor is doing the work that will most benefit everyday web developers (as opposed to the more esoteric features appearing in Firefox 2), Microsoft is arguably doing the best work in browser development right now!

Internet Explorer 7 is a landmark release, in that it will allow us in a year’s time to look back and wonder (as we wonder today at the limitations that Netscape 4 used to impose on us) how we ever got by without things like PNG transparency, min/max-height/width, and :hover on all elements (not just hyperlinks).

Don’t get me wrong: Firefox 2 is an impressive update, completing Mozilla’s hat trick of three major Firefox releases in as many years. Some of the exciting technologies buried under its hood (particularly in the JavaScript engine) hint at an exciting future in which they are more widely supported. With this release, Firefox has truly solidified its position on the desktops of developers everywhere.

But for the first time in years I believe it is our responsibility as developers to let our users make up their own minds about which browser they prefer. By building standards-based sites that will ensure the browser makers’ continued interest in improving standards support, we can step back and let the browser wars be fought not on the basis of which browser renders sites most correctly (they should all render them just fine), but rather on the basis of which browser can offer the best user experience for its particular user base.

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