Browser Wars, Part Deux13 May 2009
Remember when everyone had AOL, prodigy, or Compuserve? Those were the days of the original browser wars. Internet Explorer battled it out with Netscape Navigator while websites proudly displayed badges to support their chosen weapon.
While that debate has faded, there is a new browser war going on, this time it's Web Designers vs. Internet Explorer 6. You don't have to look far to find blog posts by designers and developers using vile words to describe IE6. For the un-initiated, IE6 has issues displaying websites built to current standards. This makes make building websites that work for the majority of users much more difficult. Advancements have been made by Microsoft in subsequent releases of IE 7 & 8, but there are still far too many users that have not upgraded to modern browsers. Most power users have moved on from IE to Firefox, Safari or others that are built to facilitate standards based web design, but the IE6 contingency is unfortunately too large to ignore.
What's a designer to do? Some have taken elitist stance of serving an empty page to IE6 users with a message to upgrade. Others provide a stripped down text only version of their site. This may be justified from the designer's perspective but isolates IE6 users, many of whom are stuck with it by enterprise IT departments. Sites that must cater to a wide audience go through the tedious effort of adding IE6 specific tweaks to make things work. These tweaks add extra cost and complexity to the development process, resulting in increased distain for the enemy browser.
Some interesting new approaches have emerged that are gentler than the forced methods and bring needed attention to the issue. IE6update.com and pushuptheweb.com have devised tools that attach a message to your site that is only viewed by users of IE6. This message suggests the user upgrade their browser to get the maximum experience. I prefer this kinder approach to bringing users up to speed instead of punishing them for being out of date.
Despite these methods, IE6 isn't going to die as fast as designers would like, so we have to deal with it for now. It helps to reminisce about the progress that has been made in the past years thanks to the web standards movement. Be glad we are past the time when every site had a flashing "under construction" graphic, and a 56k modem was cutting edge.