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Dear user – your browsing experience could be improved….

A little while ago I read an article titled “Dear Web User: Please Upgrade Your Browser” I found the initial read made my blood boil. I then re-read the article and realised this was targeted at web users rather than developers, a rally call to the consumer to update or switch to a newer browser technology if you will – this is definitely not a bad thing… I did however find myself thinking that I should get out approach written up…

On my initial read I couldn’t help but cringe, is this just passing of the buck? Surely it’s our responsibility as developers to produce material that will reach all our consumers. If some get a slightly degraded experience then one would think that eventually those users will upgrade, this shouldn’t prevent them from using your sites. Of course I realise now that this article was more consumer targeted, however as developers I believe we have to have a reasonably fixed stance.

Browser is too old

Just because your browser is old doesn’t mean that the web shouldn’t work. As developers it is our responsibility to ensure that pages function whatever the browser within reason. Granted IE6 is probably the lowest common denominator – if your page doesn’t look good but it still works, that’s fine with me. IE7 has got to be the “Windows Me” to modern browsers, I see no point thinking about supporting this to any extent seeing as most can make the upgrade to IE8.

Now just because there are features missing, does this really mean a design can’t be made to work without huge effort back to even IE6 – sure your transparency won’t work, CSS effects and many html5 goodies just won’t float – but as long as you progressive about how these are applied does this matter?

Ultimately a decision on browser support should be based on the evidence of your current user base is using, the greater number you can support the better and the proportion of users you may choose to discriminate is a commercial decision you need to evaluate. Ultimately educating the minority on the benefits of the latest technology or up-to-date software is probably the best we can do when the issue of a dated user-base versus limitations in our technical solutions.

What’s wrong with older browsers?

They are less secure… Scare mongering is a simple vertical for hardware and software vendors to exploit the consumer. In reality the fact is if you trust a site and are sensible about your browsing this is like saying – don’t ride your bike without stabilisers, you might fall off… Having said this, when your users are less experienced and may not know better should we attempt to educate the user?

Old browsers are slow…

What makes a browser slow are plugins and toolbars and poor programming. A well designed page should wow the senses without busting the capabilities of the browser. I grant you that the latest browsers may add some fantastic new features – however content is king, without good quality material your design is just that.

Old browsers can’t display new websites…

This is the challenge developers face, how do we gracefully degrade an application to function reasonably on older browsers. Should we discriminate against old versions. My view is that within reason definitely not, as long as the site functions there is no harm with some minor display issues.

If your site looks wildly different and fails to inform the user why they may need to update to consume the fruits of your labour; If your relying on the latest standards alone then this is a failure on your part!

New browser options

This is a funny one… I can only speak from my experience with ie, safari, chrome and firefox – as these are the browsers I regularly work with.

Both safari/chrome and firefox automatically update. This means it is very unlikely that users of these browsers are going to be far out of step with the current version.

IE is updated with windows update meaning that the browser is bound to the OS version. Whilst this is true to some degree the situation with IE is a little more dire since Microsoft has a policy of ensuring that you update to the latest versions of their OS to benefit from their latest software and their OS seems to continually demand a greater specification of machine. To a lesser degree this is also true of Apple, if your on PPC architecture your options on browser are probably the most limited out there… Neither Firefox or Chrome support PPC we recently had a problem with a site on this specific mix of hardware/software.

Whilst the independent browsers can have advantages and often provide a better experience, should we as developers ride on this, we should not forget that some find the whole idea of installing software troublesome and many are stuck on corporate networks or on dated hardware – should we discriminate against these…

Chrome frame?

If you can install a plugin then for gods sake – install the browser, plugins simply run the same code within a 3rd party container, this is not a good compromise…

Conclusion

My view is simple – take full advantage of the latest technologies in a progressive way. Alienating your users is not going to win favours. Content is the single most important aspect of a design, as designers it’s out job to present this in an effective and interesting way whilst not alienating the majority with bleeding edge features.

Take the time to understand your audience and their requirements and let that determine the strategy that best suits your business when designing and building a web based solution or experience. Ultimately your website is a communication tool, whatever the context – therefore it is critical to make sure that your users can effectively engage with it.

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Craig

Craig enjoys producing usable and friendly sites that look great and function well. He often also experiments with workflow automation and owns and runs web-engineer.
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