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Do you drive the Default Car? Why run the Default Browser?

October 6, 2009 Leave a comment

My colleague likes Internet Explorer. There, I’ve said it. It’s probably not his fault, he likes Windows 98 too. Crucially, he doesn’t develop websites, but software drivers. He uses the web as a tool to find information, for entertainment, etc, just like an ordinary user. He doesn’t like Firefox, Chrome, Safara, Opera or any of the other browsers, as IE is the dominant market force. He thinks there’s no point in coding for anything else, as ‘Most people use IE as it’s the default browser’.

As a company, we are developing an increasing number of Web Applications. We need to use technologies such as Ajax, Javascript, JSON, XML, etc to power these systems, and like to give the users a rich user interface, nicely designed, with subtle animation effects that help guide them to choices, respond to them, and generally make their life easier.

Internet Explorer *has* to work for them. Even IE6. This makes twice as much work for us. Nice transparent .PNG file overlays, subtle smooth animations, etc are all impossible in IE. Yes, you can replace the .PNG files with .GIFs for IE6, and yes the animations will work in IE, but you get horrible black borders, the font smoothing breaks and has to be restored after the animation, and the layout gets broken unless you shove in a myriad of custom tweaks for IE6, IE7 and IE8. Great, three versions of the thing to have to cope with.

In the mean time, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, etc are advancing in leaps and bounds. Chrome and Safari now support native CSS3 animation effects, with Firefox bound to catch up in the next version. IE… Nothing. Nope. Can’t do. Load a few hundred K of Javascript and you can get it going. Rounded corners in IE, no problem. Simply code a few tens of lines of Javascript, CSS, create custom image files for every type, poke their layout until it hurts, after a few hours coding per case, there you go. Easy. Oh, you want them against a blue background now? Fine, no problem, I’ll just go and create a new set of images, redo the layout, rewrite half the code…

Firefox and Safari? Er. Really hard. You have to put in a whole one line command in the stylesheet. That takes at least 10 seconds.

Imagine you wanted to buy a new car. You go to SuperCars Showroom where they sell every possible make and model of car. You go in and say “Here’s my money, give me the ‘default’ car”. Ludicrous, in yet that’s what millions of users happily do with Internet Explorer. Large corporations stick to the tried and tested Default Car, because it took them so long to get it working 5 years ago, and they’ve developed lots of highly custom roads to meet its special needs.

Your ‘Default Car’ isn’t bad, it does 0-60 in about 15 seconds, has ‘reasonable’ fuel economy, and handles okay. You need three keys to unlock it, and a code to start the engine, because it’s been made ‘more secure’. Occasionally, whilst driving down a new road, the car will stop and demand several more keys are used to continue. It’s that secure. However, in the bad parts of town, you’re innocently driving along when the car takes control of itself, and drives you straight to the nearest brothel, casino or porn shop. But that’s fine, these things happen, it works most of the time.

Hopefully, as Microsoft’s browser market share continues to fall, Microsoft might be forced to do something. Javascript acceleration, HTML5, CSS3 anyone?

Either that, or every web developer like me will tell Internet Explorer to run Google Chrome Frame and suddenly it’ll work perfectly.

Categories: Web Design