A New Ball To Juggle

January 30, 2007 at 8:24 am | Posted in Coding, Design | 1 Comment

A few days ago, I recently received a Microsoft automatic update containing Internet Explorer 7. This automatic roll-out coincides with the release of their new Vista operating system for purchase earlier in the month. However, I didn’t really appreciate the full ramifications of the roll-out until yesterday, and earlier this morning.

One of the more important technical aspects of developing websites is the support for the W3C’s CSS standards amongst the myriad of browsers available to the public. Microsoft haven’t had a very good track record with their support of standardised CSS, and considering that Internet Explorer 6 is the dominant browser among the Internet user-base, the standardised CSS support of IE 7.0 was a hot topic.

The current list of CSS bug fixes in IE 7 is quite long, and on the surface, this may appear to be a very good thing for web developers. However, as stated earlier, there are quite a few ramifications that I personally didn’t really consider, the lack of full compliance aside.

I was on the way to a meeting with a client, in an attempt to finalise a run-away project. 5 minutes after leaving my office, I recieved a call on my mobile from said client.

“It all looks wrong”

Long story short, what had happened is the client had also received the same update that I had received a few days ago, containing IE 7 . Subsequently, his optimised-for-IE-6 website had broken. While most of the errors were picked up by my developing primarily for Firefox and using an alternate style sheet for IE 6, there were still a few quirky things that broke, layer padding and margins to be specific. And the client, in all rights, pointed out these errors, and refused to meet until they were fixed, citing that they were “simple, common sense layout stuff.”

I ask how many developers in the community employed CSS hacks to get around annoying IE 6 bugs. From my experience learning CSS, hacks are very prolific, and many developers opted to use hacks over using alternate style sheets. The release of IE 7 will likely break many websites designed and coded using CSS hacks, and these websites will need to be fixed, especially when the client finds out when they check next. And, considering the previously linked stats, IE 7 is by no means the dominant browser yet – IE 6 still reigns. And likely will for a while. Why?

Going back to my experience, upon hearing that the website had broken due to a forced release of IE 7, I thought:
That’s easy. I’ll just install the update I had been sitting on and restart my computer and I’ll just fix it, easy as that. Until the IE 7 install started checking the validity of my Windows XP install. Which lead me to find out that 22.3% of all XP installs are pirated. Which, to me, is a huge percentage.
What that means in a nutshell is that roughly 10% of your IE 6 users will not be able to upgrade to IE 7.0.

10% may not seem like a lot, but as of January, 45.3% of users are still using IE 6 or earlier, and the current trends show a 3% change per month since October last year, which was when the final Release Candidate of IE 7 was released for public consumption.

With those sort of statistics, it doesn’t make much sense to replace IE 6 CSS hacks in favor of IE 7 valid CSS, due to the fact that at least 20% of the current viewers of broken websites will not be able to upgrade at all. The likelihood of those 22.3% of people running out and buying a legitimate copy of Windows XP is pretty low, considering they have Windows Vista to pick up, and their computers likely can’t run Windows Vista well enough yet. People don’t like buying software that has already been superseded. What it essentially means is that these people will stick with IE 6 until they upgrade their computer some time later this year, or next year.

Microsoft have attempted to do a good thing with the release of IE 7, especially for web developers, increasing their standards support. However, things will not pan out quite as smoothly as most developers thought. Microsoft have introduced yet another ball to juggle in the browser compliance world. Before it used to be Firefox and IE 6 and below, now it will be Firefox, IE 7 and IE 6 and below.


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  1. great share

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