In case you haven’t seen the news, Chrome recently surpassed IE to become the most popular web browser. It’s probably worth spending a little time to talk about what goes into the decision process of which browsers your website will support. For any of us who build or develop on the web all the time this doesn’t cause nearly the kind of ripples that it once did. Modern web browsers have come a long way in the adoption of web standards (thank you, W3C).
But the problem still exists that every browser renders HTML in slightly different ways. Some, *cough* IE *cough*, render much differently than others. Microsoft has done some over the years to correct this with IE8 and now IE9, their most standard web browser to date. With billions of people using the web there are lots of users and visitors out there surfing with their preferred browser and computer. The question for us is to decide which of these browsers to support? I know this is a problem that we run into when we are asked why something doesn’t look the correct way on browser X.
Tackling the Big Four
The first big observation is that Chrome, IE, Firefox and Safari control over 95% of the market. A standard approach is to tell anyone who doesn’t use one of those browsers to go pound sand. A devil in the details might be the recent discussions about Facebook looking to buy Opera. This has the potential to seriously change the whole landscape.
There are plenty of people addicted to Facebook who would go with something for a deeper experience. After all it wasn’t even four years ago (can you believe it was only on September 2, 2008?) that Google Chrome released their first beta version. Through their deep integration with their suite of products (Gmail and YouTube mainly) and blazing fast speed, it has become king of the hill pretty quickly.
So right now you are probably safe just supporting the big four, but be careful what you wish for.
So Many Versions
As I just said the big four take up the majority of the market, but even then each of those browsers has different versions to deal with.
- Chrome is the newest browser but it is already up to version 19
- Internet Explorer (IE) is on version 9
- Firefox is up to version 12
- Safari is at version 5
Of course each of these main versions also has sub releases like Safari, which is currently at 5.1.5. Many of the updates and new releases aren’t always about fixing bugs. They are also about incorporating new features and updated web standards, especially around HTML and CSS.
With so many versions rolling out faster and faster (thanks to the Chrome vs Firefox battle) you have to draw a line as to how far back you will support. We do see this happening with Facebook and Google both saying that they no longer support IE7.
Dealing with IT Rollouts
A big challenge for modern web developments is supporting local browsers. For a college or university this means having web applications and sites that are supported on all the computers on campus. Where this becomes a big problem is all of the older computers that are still running IE7.
I wish I had better advice on this one besides saying get with your IT people ASAP and set a deadline to upgrade to IE8 on XP or IE9 on newer machines. If that won’t happen then maybe they can install the latest Firefox/Chrome/Safari on these computers and have people graduate to a “modern” web browser.
My Takeaway and Advice
I really like Google’s official statement saying, “We’ll support the current and prior major release of Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari on a rolling basis.” This has become our statement around browser support and it makes a whole lot of sense.
I’m curious though. How do you decide which browsers are supported? What challenges do you face that limit your choices?
Main Image Credit: John Martz