Want better browsers? Make Them Look Good

    Andrew Tetlaw
    Andrew Tetlaw

    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.)