Please don’t read this in IE

I have recently become interested in web-design.  Having been a software developer (ahem, craftsman) before moving into training and facilitation work I frequently find that I miss being a hands-on coder.  There was nothing (software-oriented) I especially wanted to develop though, as all my interest and work in the world of Scrum pointed me towards paper-based tools and human collaboration.

But then, a few things occurred, all around the same time: two friends asked me to design/build websites for them, I began creating a web application to run Welfare CSM auctions and I decided to improve the look and feel of my own Agile Thinking site.  Small undertakings, all, but enough to inspire me to read, play and discover the cool world of front-end technology.  One nice outcome of this is the discovery that inside the hacked-up mess we call JavaScript is a beautiful, elegant OO language waiting to be unearthed.  It is quite a joy to work with now.  The main downside of this small venture of mine is the (re)discovery of just how awful IE is.

Why is it awful?  Well, apart from the fact it is bloated and slow, the makers decided to create their own standards (I know, “own” and “standards”, oxymoron, right?).  Almost everything that renders as required in all five of the other browsers I test on (Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera and Arora) renders differently in IE — and usually looks a complete mess.  Now there are workarounds, which is good, but it does mean that for every page designed maybe 20-50% of extra design time is spent tweaking and re-testing on IE.  And so accepted is the fact that IE does things differently that instead of fixing the problem, Microsoft have added a proprietary workaround (the comment-buried conditional if[IE] statement).  And no one complains.  Yes it works, but no it is not smart.  It is ridiculous.  And unusable, of course, by any other browser.

It would maybe be acceptable if each subsequent version of IE improved.  But it doesn’t, each version just adds a whole new set of quirks that have to be learned, and supported, and continues to leave out some very basic support

So, in frustration one day I just switched off IE access on one troublesome page of my WelfareCSM site.  I figured that if people wanted what I had to offer they could take the trouble to use a real browser to read about it.  And if they didn’t want to take the trouble, then maybe I didn’t want to work with them anyway.  I also felt it was my duty to educate people that IE was not their only choice (some people do not actually know this).  The IE alert on WelfareCSM redirected the user to the Firefox download page.

This action of mine triggered off a short twitter discussion, which I found hard keeping up with in 140-character bursts, so decided to expand it into a blog post.  I have since re-allowed access to WelfareCSM in IE (for now) but only while I contemplate a more thorough exclusion of IE by all my web apps backed up by a ‘browser discovery’ program.  You see, when things don’t change they tend to stay the same.  And as we all know, change isn’t what someone else does, change starts here, now.

By our current actions –supporting IE– we say to Microsoft, yes what you are doing is okay, we can live with it. We’ll continue cleaning up your mess for you, and spend many wasted hours pandering to your uncooperative spirit, your arrogance and your superiority of market share.

But it isn’t okay, and I don’t want to support it.  My proposed action may be tiny, but it is action, and if done right it could be an interesting experiment. I’d certainly want a way to get feedback from those affected by the IE ban.  Ideas?

Eric Willeke kicked off the original twitter discussion, 4 Nov…

[erwilleke] Ok – I can’t believe actually REFUSES to render in IE… thanks @tobiasgmayer

[tobiasgmayer] @erwilleke I am considering making all my websites refuse to open in IE. Someone has to take a stand

[erwilleke] @tobiasgmayer Even if just frustrates some techies and drive away the “extra guest” types you require on the WelfareCSM? What’s the goal?

[tobiasgmayer] @erwilleke IE==60%++ more webdev time to support the worst performing browser. And everyone should have AT LEAST Firefox, for choice.

[erwilleke] @tobiasgmayer We always saw the flip-side b/c of market share. FF & Safari(mac) had “enough” to justify supporting it, most others didn’t

[tobiasgmayer] More web designers should refuse to pander to IE. Stop wasting time. Shut it down. What will you do with your extra 50% of life?

[tobiasgmayer] @erwilleke almost ALL browsers except IE follow the same standards. Support one you get all the others for free. IE is an arrogant bully

[tobiasgmayer] @erwilleke If a required web page snubs IE and the user is shown an alternative he will likely take it, and voilà! one less IE user 🙂

(a couple of RTs…)

[ravinar] @tobiasgmayer Can you explain your “pander to IE” tweet?

[BillyGarnet] @tobiasgmayer “pander to IE”? The reason we care about IE is that a lot of Internet users are using it.

[tobiasgmayer] @ravinar yes. IE is a piece of crap, that makes up its own standards. There are many better, trustworthy (and free) browsers available.

[tobiasgmayer] @BillyGarnet (IE) and we have the ability to change that. After all, supporting something because the majority does has a bad track record.

18 responses to “Please don’t read this in IE

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  2. Tobias,
    Thank you for sharing your perspectives. If nothing else, maybe Microsoft will listen to movements like this and finally “fix” their compatability (which they claim to have done with IE8, but there are still misses).

    I personally use IE for casual browsing because that’s what most of the web was built against. When I’m developing, I almost exclusively use FF because of the rich development tools available and because, as you say, things tend to render as you’d expect there, leading to better clean HTML before I do all the fancy stuff. I use Chrome for Wave… nothing else 😉

    This is to say, there is a method to my madness of using IE, and I actually had refused to use it for a two or three year period before I realized that I didn’t want all my developer stuff running when I was just casually browsing… I didn’t care how long each asset took to request when reading my mail… etc.

    Thank you!
    Eric (@erwilleke)

  3. Hi Tobias,

    Add to this the annoying habit of IE users not to upgrade.

    Pete Marks and I presented “Serious JavaScript” at SPA a few years back – we had people building object systems, aspects, functors, and even (for a few brave souls) monads 🙂 Essentially a CS 101 in three hours, in JavaScript. You’re right, it’s a very interesting language!

    • Nice! I’d liked to have joined that workshop. Some other time then…

      It is scary for IE users to upgrade: everything breaks. If they learned a new web browser though, the fear would largely subside. Rather like moving from a command-driven approach to a trust-driven approach 🙂

  4. Bravo!

    Anyone measure how many billions IE’s noncompliance has cost the industry?


  5. we are working on a big portal and we see numbers for users having ie dropping each month 😉
    The management at MS is simply too arrogant to decide on a standards compatible engine …. lamers

  6. The thing to consider about IE, particularly IE6 (which is the most annoying by far) is that some people on corporate machines can’t do anything about it – the IT policy is that browser, the users don’t have admin rights on their machines, so they are pretty much stuck with it.

    • Hi Ian,
      I understand that. And the more websites that don’t (or won’t) work in IE the more the corporate administrators will have to rethink their strategy. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, right? And while on the journey, bring your own laptop 🙂

  7. Hi Tobias,

    Thank you for getting this discussion going. I believe discussions help to improve things.
    Here are my 2 cents in a larger then 140 char format:
    a) A surprise for everyone, I use IE AND Firefox. Firebug is a great tool. If you don’t know what it is and your doing any CSS work, your missing out. IE is integrated better for .Net work. Yes, I know I can browse with Firefox but I find that IE has less hickups. So I use both. I think it raises my quality.
    b) The different design models that Microsoft and Mozilla are following ensure that Firefox will be the winner, if not today, if not tomorrow, then the week after, imho, so this problem might go away.
    c) As Ian Barber mentioned, many people are inside firewalls and only have IE6 at their disposal. Two points to emphasize here: 1) IE6 is the real problem. IE 7 and 8 don’t cause pain or waste “50% of life”. 2) Can / should we help these people. Should they help themselves and demand an upgrade from their tech departments?
    d) I build sites for certain audiences. If the audience was Mozilla, I probably wouldn’t even test it in IE. Sometimes my clients have been inside intranets using only IE6. I have given them value sooner by only making the sites work in IE6. Not so hard if it doesn’t have to work in Firefox as well.
    e) You should be very concerned about accessibility. Javascript is not so wonderful in this department. Investigate screen readers and have people who have vision concerns (lots of the population) check your site. Have someone over 60 look at your website. Ok, I’m off subject a bit here but good things to know.

    Important point is that I build sites for a target audience. I match my designs and compatibility to my target audience. If there was a movement that caused all browsers to magically work the same, wow, that would save us all some grief, agreed. But, that’s not reality. What if I made a new browser that did lots of cool stuff but ignored standards totally. Would I get some users, yeah if it was cool enough. We’ve seen this with Flash. For those of you who have flash only please try browsing on a phone. The thing is, different people (Microsoft, Mozilla, you and me, our clients, W3C and other standard bodies including government and corporate) all have different goals and objectives AND target audiences…so we view browsers differently.

    Where does this leave us? I don’t know. You can find lots of friends for Microsoft bashing. I recommend Java, Linux, and Apple forums to get started but I won’t join in.
    Maybe you will get a movement started to get everyone to work a certain way.

    My view is that this is a perception issue.

    You have every right to restrict your site to certain audiences. They have every right to not go to your site. That’s it really. Do you want them to visit? Are you willing to do the extra work? Is it worth it? Maybe, maybe not.

  8. I have some sympathy for Microsoft (don’t shoot me!). They’re trying to dig themselves out of a hole whilst ensuring all those non-compatible sites built with IE6 in mind still work. Damned if they do and damned if they don’t. IE still dominates the browser market, IE6 is still worryingly prevalent, and I don’t see any corporate customer facing site telling there potential customer they have to download another browser first – because they’ll go elsewhere.

    Personally I use Chrome, I find it the most ergonomic, but every so often I have to dig out IE for a site because Chrome doesn’t work everywhere. I could dig out Firefox I suppose but in end-user mode (as opposed to my technical hat) I don’t really care about the browser or whether it’s rendering to standard, I just want to get at the content.

    Not sure what my point is there… except maybe a more gentle approach might be to allow all browsers to access your content whilst maintaining a “best viewed in ” approach?

    • Phil, the gentle revolutionist 🙂 I am trying to imagine a gentle approach to overthrowing corporate oppression. It sounds very Monty-Pythonesque… “yes, we’d like to overthrow your government, but thought you might like to join us for tea and crumpets first.”

  9. I don’t get it. It’s like rejecting clients who want to pay with credit card. Hey, credit cards suck because Visa cuts their 2-3% share out of each transaction. This means lower margins.

    The only problem is people want to use credit cards and they’ll go away if they aren’t allowed to pay this way. They don’t care about the hassle you have with processing credit cards and share you have to pay Visa.

    Similar situation is with browsers. Many people feel comfortable with IE. They got it pre-installed and installing another and switching to different GUI isn’t something they want to invest their time in.

    They don’t care how much tweaking is needed to put together a page which works equally well in different browsers. They don’t care about additional costs.

    Of course no one forbids to say no to every IE user the same as no one forbids you to say no to credit card user. But these aren’t your clients who feel the pain – they’ll probably easily find an alternative in the next shop/site. However if you reject to deal with one third of your customers (in case of Software Project Management share of IE is almost exactly 1/3) you probably are doing something stupid.

    That’s my opinion.

    And before you ask, I use Firefox.

    • Agreed, if one person takes that action it can easily be construed as stupid (and probably is). If everyone takes the same action if may be considered as obvious, maybe even honorable. At which point, I wonder would an IE exodus cross from stupidity to honor.

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  11. Just found the CNN article, Web citizens trying to kill Internet Explorer 6 It does seem that IE6 is the main culprit for internet incompatibility. Having a message and redirect for IE6 (or lower) browsers seems like a good solution — even a gentle one, like Phil suggests 🙂

  12. I am on board. This is a focused concept now. Rid the web of IE6.
    Let’s spread the word and get these people to upgrade. Tell them the world is coming to an end if they keep using IE6! Seriously though, it’s not our tech savvy buddies on IE6, it’s our parents, businesses trapped in the past, lazy IT guys (responsible for hundreds of desktops), and people with old computers who don’t know how to upgrade…we need to help them.
    Let’s delivery this value to the web…no more IE6.
    After that success we can discuss next steps like making sites more friendly to mobile devices, increased accessibility and ideas to make the web more useful.

  13. As a IE6 is by far the worst of all AND there are no more security updates to it, I do believe that IE6 is a security risk.

    Therefore I suggest to display a notice saying: “Your browser is out of date and no longer supported. Please consider an update to enhance your personal security and browsing experience.”

    Then offer the user a few choices: either to download the latest version of IE, Chrome, Opera or Firefox. I’m fine with all of those (though I still dislike the whole IE-series).

    BTW: I personally dropped support for IE6 just about 2 years ago and never installed IE8. Esp. since IE8 replaces my Windows file explorer with it’s own code and tries to take over it’s plug-ins, which results in a complete mess.
    (E.g. it tries to load a file explorer plug-in that shows a button to open a command prompt on the current page, which is of course complete non-sense in a web browser. But disabling or removing the button in IE8 will also disable it in the file explorer as both share the same code basis.)

    My 50 year old mother however dislikes Firefox because she believes it is “complicated”. So I suggested to try Chrome instead.
    She however insists on using IE6 – with all consequences.

    (But she is obv. not to be taken that seriously as she also believes Open Office is more complicated than MS Office, which is definitely wrong, esp. when compared to the ugly Office 2007 version.)

  14. Amen! Down with IE. I’m 100% with you on not supporting it in any way. I don’t even want to bother with actively refusing IE. I just want to pretend like it doesn’t exist. Out of sight. Out of Mind.

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