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Internet Marketing and Web Development in Higher Education and other tidbits…

How Do You Decide Which Browsers Your Website Should Support?

05 Jun 2012

written by Kyle James

How Do You Decide Which Browsers Your Website Should Support?

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).

browser market share 300x157 How Do You Decide Which Browsers Your Website Should Support?

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

The modern web browser requires HTML5, CSS and JavaScript. To build the incredible, engaging, user friendly experiences that our visitors expect we need these modern technologies. We also should be expected to support multiple versions indefinitely.

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

The content of this post is licensed: The post is released under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa 3.0 license

About the author

Kyle James

Kyle is the CEO & Co-Founder at nuCloud and formerly the webmaster at Wofford College. He also spent almost 4 years at HubSpot doing a range of jobs including inbound marketing consulting, sales, management, and product management.  Kyle is an active contributor in the social media spectrum. Although his background is technical, he claims to know a thing or two about marketing, but mostly that revolves around SEO, analytics, blogging, and social media. He has spoken at multiple national conferences and done countless webinars on topics ranging from e-mail marketing to social media and Web analytics. He's definitely a fairly nice guy.

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This post was written by - who has written 274 posts on .eduGuru

  • Erik Runyon

    We base support on a site-by-site basis by checking analytics. If a
    browser is below 4%, it will only get passing support. As long as the
    content is accessible, it doesn’t have to look great on edge-case

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  • Scott Cushman

    Analytics for your site is the way to go. Statistics gleaned from other websites are interesting, but not all that relevant. For example, even though Chrome may have surpassed IE elsewhere, on our campus, the top place is between IE and Safari, with Chrome in third place. For me, as long as a browser is getting 2% or more, we need to support it to some degree. The user experience can degrade, but the information and basic functionality has to still be present. (That percentage would normally leave Opera out, but since it’s a favorite with the Web team, it gets supported anyway.)

    For us, many of the hits from the most outdated browsers (e.g. IE6) are from college employees due to old computers and leaving computer replacement scheduling up to departments to budget for (and some worse at it than others). We’re happy to not be supporting it at all IE6 at all now, but for a much longer period than we’d hoped for, we were having to bend over backwards with conditional CSS since “employees with ancient computers that can’t be updated” is still an important audience, even if they account for a small percentage of hits. 

  • George

    It depends if your website will contain advance design, graphics, flashes and coding. But as long as your website can run on any browser, then it’s fine to support them. A single traffic can be a potential advertiser.

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