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Weblog Entry

Browser Support 2004

February 02, 2004

thecounter.com’s stats live again. Not to be used as a final word, but as good an indication as you’ll find of the global climate, their stats are aggregated from a widely distributed hit counter script, and presumably sample a broad cross-section of the population.

There were some trends I was following before they went MIA in May of last year. (Note: disregard stats for June to December 2003, they finished off with May and misreport the rest of the months.) Observed: IE5 users are dropping, as they switch to IE6. NN4 is history. (MSIE1.x is reportedly being used by almost as many as NN4, but this is an anomaly). IE dominates, and while the browser eco-system is getting interesting again, the numbers are still heavily skewed in favour of Microsoft’s dormant flagship.

Which all raises the question: which browsers should/shouldn’t one spend the energy supporting now that we’re in 2004? The answers will vary depending on a) a site’s users, b) what you’re trying to accomplish, c) budget and time contraints, and d) personal philosophy.

Browser users are split into two groups: those who run whatever comes with their OS, and those who seek out a new browser. The former dominate, and will continue to do so. The latter are generally well-informed and vocal, and will speak up when your work doesn’t function in their browser. The former get stuck with older technology for far longer than you’d like. The latter generally stay on top of updates and new releases.

Should you support both groups? As best you can. Is it always possible? No. Should you use your best judgement? Always.

For what it’s worth then, my own list, and the reasons why I do or don’t cater to the browser in question. By catering, I mean testing with and making sure it renders the layout reasonably well.

Pre-Installed Browsers
Internet Explorer 6 (Win)
Yes. Don’t question. Just do.
Internet Explorer 5/5.5 (Win)
Yes. Still used by 15 to 20% of the population. Dwindling, but still very relevant. Will re-evaluate in 2005.
Internet Explorer 4 (Win)
No. 0.x% of the population run it, on the same level as NN4. Not worth the time or headache. Same goes for any version prior.
Internet Explorer 5.2 (Mac)
Yes. The whole world isn’t on OS X yet. Safari, Firebird, and Camino don’t like OS 9. Though its rendering engine (Tasman) is aging, it’s still remarkably good. It’s really not that hard to support IE5/Mac. So I do.
Internet Explorer 4.5 (Mac)
No. IE5.2 is a low enough baseline.
Safari 1.0 (Mac)
Yes. The new default for Mac users. Thanks to a clever move by Apple, 1.1 isn’t available to anyone who hasn’t upgraded to the latest and greatest. 1.0 is the baseline, and will continue to be for some time.
Downloadable Browsers
Mozilla 1.x (All)
Yes. I generally use Firebird to do my testing, and assume the latest Mozilla suite will render similar or better. This isn’t the best way to test, but it usually works. I’ll fire up Mozilla 1.5 occasionally.
Konqueror (Linux)
No. I don’t have a Linux install handy. Konqueror doesn’t do that bad a job, all things considered. I find its font handling odd (due to inexperience) and it makes an absolute mess of this site, so it’s not perfect. I’d support it if I had the spare box. So, the intention is there, the ability isn’t.
Netscape 7 (All)
Yes. See Mozilla.
Netscape 6.0/6.1/6.2 (All)
No. If my code works in 7, it stands a chance of working in 6. I don’t explicitly tailor anything to work in 6. It’s assumed users of 6 will have upgraded by now.
Netscape 4.x
No. It’s over. Same goes for any version prior.
Opera 7 (Win)
Yes. As best as possible. Opera is a relatively good browser, and I don’t mind spending a bit of extra time to make sure 7 will render my code properly. Sometimes I can’t figure it out after spending a large chunk of time on it, and throw my hands in the air (see this very site’s drop-down menus as an example.) Other times I have better luck. Opera will keep getting better, thus, easier to support.
Opera 6 (Win)
No. It’s assumed Opera 6 users will upgrade to 7.
OmniWeb 4.5 (Mac)
Yes. It uses the same WebCore rendering engine that Safari uses. Easy to support.
iCab 2.x (Mac)
Nope, sorry. Its CSS support is still too young.
Amaya (all)
No. Keep dreaming.
Lynx (all)
Yes. I don’t explicitly test in Lynx, but when I become aware of problems I generally try and fix them. This site should be humming along in Lynx just fine.

Again, this is my list, and my reasons for or against. Your list and reasons may vary. If you’re catering to institutes that have standardized on older technology, and still haven’t re-evaluated by now, you may have to support NN4.x or another horribly ancient browser on that list.


Reader Comments

February 02, 01h

I have not tried it, but it seems there is a native port of KDE for OS X: http://dot.kde.org/1073009304/

LintHuman says:
February 02, 01h

I’m in complete agreement with your listing and rationale, Dave. Having said that, I am prepared to tweak should a user of Old Browser X call me up (rare).

I’m Windows-based for the most part and yes, Joseph, I have a G3 (Yosemite) at home for the Mac stuff (though I’ve not managed to get OSX running on it yet - that’s another long, painful story…). On my Winbox I run VMWare with a Linux VM for Konqueror. I used to assume that Konqueror gave an indication of Safari’s behaviour, but seeing Safari in action changed that assumption.

Wot? No screenreaders tested? OK. OK. Can of worms. Move along, please.

3
Hugo says:
February 02, 02h

I would also recommend testing commercially-oriented sites in a web-enabled phone or phone simulator.

I confess I don’t do it myself yet (that Openwave installer has been sleeping on my desktop for a few weeks now, lazy me) but it was in my New Year’s resolutions.

Justin… I find that rebooting my WinXP machine once in a while to run Knoppix (thus Konqueror) doesn’t do too much harm – besides, it’s better than cluttering my hard disk with yet another seldom-used app…

February 02, 02h

So, not much has changed then.

It’s disappointing to see Mozilla outranked by “Unknown”, which I assume categorizes web crawlers and very obscure browsers. What kind of marketing is Mozilla doing against IE? I encourage every IE user I know to try Firebird, and they stick to it 9 times out of 10. I tell them to tell their friends. According to 6-degree theory, this should cover the world in 6 iterations. We’ll see about that. ;)

Ian says:
February 02, 02h

I stumbled across a goldmine of great tools built into Opera 7. Within view–>style there is a list of some render options like text-only, accessibility layout, and other little features. Another feature called “small screen = SHIFT+F11” appears to show the screen as it would appear in a handheld or web phone.

jasc says:
February 02, 03h

KDE3.2 konqueror is rendering your page just fine (even the menu, unlinke opera 7.,5). Anyway, it has the same core layout engine as safari (actually the other way round: Safari uses KHTML, which was devleoped by KDE), so testing in safari should get it running in latest kde as well.

7
Jed says:
February 02, 03h

Can anyone suggest the best way to install IE 5.0 and 5.5 on my XP machine without messing anything up?

I want to test some web pages I’ve made.
Thanks :)


P.S A few days ago, you mentioned that Mozilla Firebird is not *Safe*, actually so far it is, The exploit (hijacking) in the article turned out it was an exploit in IE :)
http://a.wholelottanothing.org/archives.blah/007662

8
Dylan Bennett says:
February 02, 03h

I develop in Windows on a Windows-only network. I often need to test a design in Safari, but we have no OSX machines available. (At least not hooked up to the Internet.)

If you want a really great way to test your site on OSX in Safari, check out Daniel Vine’s iCapture.

http://www.danvine.com/icapture

Basically, you feed it a URL, it takes a PNG snapshot in Safari 1.1 on OSX, and then it posts the PNG on the site for 24 hours. How cool is that?

February 02, 03h

For installing IE 5.0 and 5.5, just check the downloads and documentation here:
http://www.skyzyx.com/archives/000094.php

February 02, 04h

I’m glad you’re talking about this, cos I came up with a cute little tool last week and I’ve been scratching my head trying to figure out who to tell about it.

http://flurf.net/only/ is a simple page that will tell you what browser you’re using. It does so using CSS filters - a surprisingly small set of filters will correctly identify Safari, IE5/Mac, IE4/5/5.5/6, Mozilla 0.6-1.1/1.2+, and a few others. It doesn’t work with Opera as far as I know, but I’m sure there are plenty of people here who can test and suggest. Have a look and play with different browsers and tell me what you think.

Incidentally, in answer to Jed: I develop here at work on Win2K using Moz 1.7a and IE6. I run IE5.5 on WinNT4 via a Citrix terminal window, but everything else I get from VMWare. It’s only a couple of hundred bucks for a license, and it’s incredibly good. Using that and Dan Vine’s iCapture, I can test a huge variety of browsers with no trouble.

MikeyC says:
February 02, 05h

“Can anyone suggest the best way to install IE 5.0 and 5.5 on my XP machine without messing anything up?”

“For installing IE 5.0 and 5.5, just check the downloads and documentation here: http://www.skyzyx.com/archives/000094.php”

Once you’ve assembled your stable of browsers (IE6, IE5.5, IE5, NN4, MOZ, Firebird & Opera), check out MOZiE which offers the ability to link them all together in a semi-seamless manner: http://www.zeit.ca/mozie/ or check out LaunchPad: http://zeit.ca/archive/20040201/

February 02, 05h

Yeah that’s pretty much the same list I have as well. However, BrowserCam does make it easy to test all sorts of different browsers, although it’s expensive.

By the way, there’s a typo in the article:
“Iíll fire up Mozilla 1.5 on occasionally.”

13
Aled Davies says:
February 02, 10h

Actually if you want to cover OS 9 users then you should be supporting IE 5.1 as IE 5.2 does not run on OS 9. 5.1 has several major shortcomings compared to 5.2 and is a lot more difficult to support as it has several major bugs that are fixed in 5.2.

This is one of those interesting situations as you have to decide whether or not it is worth support a browser than is no longer actively supported by its maker, which is running on an OS that is no longer actively supported by its maker. Personally I think unless that is your target audience, its not worth it. But it depends on time and effort whether or not you feel that its worth supporting such a small segment.

Personally I would go with:

IE 6 and IE 5.5 (90% of your browser audience)
Mozilla and Netscape 7.0 (about 5%)
Safari and Omniweb (about 3%).

Netscape 6.2 is trivial to support but the availability of 7.X makes the exercise somewhat pointless.

If you can support IE 5.2 and Opera 7.0 then I would also go for it, but given that nether typically trouble more than a single percentage point of a typical browser audience time and resources may be better spent elsewhere.

February 02, 11h

I’ve learned my lesson in browser availabilty recently. I work at a large university hospital and as a gesture for our users I made a flash movie and some PDF documents for support of a MIS environment.

Turns out a lot of people are still working on old 486 PC’s with Netscape 4 that won’t run anything above Adobe’s acrobat plugin version 4 and won’t install flash at all, while others get brand new Dell pentium 4 machines with a 15” TFT screen.

Don’t assume anything about your users, even when you have some accurate statistics.

Neil T. says:
February 02, 11h

I’d pretty much agree with your list, Dave. You may like to mention minority browsers like K-Meleon, Galeon, Beonex and Ephiphany, which should work in the same way as Mozilla since they’re all Gecko-based. I get the odd visitor who uses one of those.

16
Milan Negovan says:
February 02, 12h

I really wish Microsoft broke silence on their plans with IE in Longhorn. Being a Microsoft-oriented developer myself I find it hard to believe the rumors that a stand-alone browser may become a rich client yet again (http://news.com.com/2100-1032_3-1011859.html). So much for browsing free agency.

17
Matthew Farrand says:
February 02, 12h

These days I cut off styles for all version 4 browsers and have had no complaints from anyone in the last year for doing so. IE 5/Win remains the baseline and I fear it will remain so for some while yet.

My difficulty is that I have access to OS 9 machines and an OS 10.3 box but have no access to OS 10.2. This makes testing on Safari 1.0 difficult.

As to other browsers, I tend to think that people who choose a browser like Opera or Mozilla will tend to upgrade regularly so I tend to leave testing to the most recent versions.

huphtur says:
February 02, 12h

on a different note: ive been trying to educate people outside of the webdesign comunity about the profits of having a better browser. let’s hope it helps. http://www.esfootwear.com/news/2004/1/soft-launch/

tim says:
February 02, 12h

I agree with most of what you’ve said, although I think the fact that Netscape “5” (actually 6) has a higher share than Netscape “6” (actually 7) goes against your assumption that NS6 users will upgrade.

Joseph says:
February 02, 12h

It was really good to read your current take on browser support. I am somewhat new to the XHMTL/CSS arena, but my list compares favorably with yours.

Oddly enough, I have become a real lover of Lynx throughout this journey. Seeing a page displayed linearly is an interesting experience, actually, one I am beginning to favor. I suppose that is why so many blogs favor the linear approach.

A question I have been pondering is how everyone goes about testing their sites. I use a PowerBook and am able to test all Mac browsers and PC browsers with Virtual PC. I really wonder how PC developers are testing their sites. Spare Mac? Really seems that it is a great time to be developing on a Mac!

Really enjoy the site.

ray says:
February 02, 12h

Your rules of thumb for testing pretty much mimic my own. All I have to do now is quit buggin others to test my work on their macs and save up for one of my own :)

This is a great set of guidelines for those just gettin into CSS design and are unsure how to properly test.

Nice work.

Justin says:
February 02, 12h

Sometimes it’s nice to see that we go by similar rules for browser choice. With the endless ‘little’ decisions that have a huge impact on the project it’s always good see others going by the same rules of thumb.

If you really did want to test in Konqueror, aside from using a Knoppix/MadrakeMove distro (on 1 machine the rebooting would be inconvenient), there is
Cygwin [http://cygwin.com] which lets you run Linux under Windows. Combine with KDE on Cygwin [http://kde-cygwin.sourceforge.net/] and you could have it witout leaving Windows.

I just heard about it and haven’t tried it, but it might be another useful developer tool to consider when time allows (and that’s really the hard part).

February 02, 12h

I agree with your list, with the exception of IE5/Win. I do support IE 5.5, but I won’t go out of my way to fix issues with IE 5.0x.

I do, however, feed Netscape 4 and IE 5 users a “please upgrade now” message to encourage them to make the move to something worthwhile.

s t e f says:
February 03, 01h

re: Bill Mason’s comment: Unfortunately the IE5.0/IE5.5 hack to have all three versions does not seem to work on non-english Windows (like mine).

re: the whole thread (while I’m at it): Did you know there seems to be some rendering differences between IE5.5/win98 and IE5.5/w2k? I realized it last week and have been tearing my hair ever since, trying to have kind of the same display in both. I’ll post a test URL sometime in the future, hopefully.

Isofarro says:
February 03, 01h

Hmmm… no mention of _supporting_ speech browsers? Its disappointing to see people playing the numbers game when it comes to browser support. Speech browsers are used by a minority group, so always get excluded in “market share” analysis. Remember disability discrimination is about the protection of minority rights. Using numbers as an excuse is just mindless indifference.

Why support speech browsers? If anything to avoid the inaccessible practises of the Fahrner Image Replacement technique: http://www.alistapart.com/articles/fir/ . How many CssZenGarden layouts use FIR? http://www.mezzoblue.com/archives/2003/12/12/accessible_i/index.php

blufive says:
February 03, 02h

My experience browsing thecounter and other stats backs up most of your version distinctions. Netscape 6 and opera 6 are now seriously outnumbered by their version 7 counterparts. Which is good, as both browsers got quite a few major fixes/enhancements in that period. You’d be amazed how many things work fine in NN7 and fall apart in NN6.

Tim: from my experience, thecounter’s browser-sniffing is very dubious. However, I think when they say “Netscape 6” they mean it (their historical records suggest this - NN6 appears at about the right point in time), and “Netscape 5” is more likely mis-identified Netscape 7. Every stat source I’ve ever seen that appears to accurately distinguish the two has NN7 way ahead of NN6 nowadays. Their NN5 number is actually way down on what it was in April 2004 - probably because Mozilla has been split out, where it used to be included.

Also on past experience, the “unknown” figure is way high. It’s presently about 2.1%, compared to a more typical 0.1-0.2%. Either there are a lot more bots out there than there used to be, or there’s one or more undentified browsers lurking in there. (want a giggle? go look at their stats for september-november 2001, where “netscape compatible” briefly soars to 11% as the sniffing takes two months to notice the existence of IE6.)

As well as the “unknown” figure, there’s The Browser With No Name at 0.9% I reckon one or both of the Unknown/Unnamed figures will be revealed in the near future as a browser not currently on the list. My wild-ass guess (so don’t shoot me if I’m wrong) is Safari and/or Mozilla Firebird.

blufive says:
February 03, 02h

arg! In composing that epic, I forgot my other point - in the blog world, stats can vary quite wildly - a lot of counters on blogs are showing “Netscape 5” at 15-30%

I would guess that Moz & family are getting a disproportionately high market share amongst heavy ‘net users (Early Adopters?)

February 03, 04h

Thank you all for the Windows testing input. Good information to know. Fortunately, I am doing all my work on a Mac, but if I’m ever in a Windows situation, at least I know the options.

Thanks again.

29
Tobias says:
February 03, 07h

s t e f: I’m runninge multiple versions of IE (5.01, 5.5 & 6.0) on a Danish version of Windows XP with no problems.

Dave S. says:
February 03, 07h

Isofarro – perhaps you’d better have a head-to-head with Kynn Bartlett, who recommends not testing in JAWS unless you’ve committed a huge amount of time to learning it – http://www.maccessibility.com/archive/000843.php

Or Joe Clark, who says in the article that you cite that developers need access to inexpensive versions of screenreaders – http://www.alistapart.com/articles/fir/

I’ll follow Kynn’s advice and write to WCAG, and let the screenreaders catch up to me, thanks.

31
Aled Davies says:
February 03, 08h

Re: Speech browsers

Personally I would love to support as many standards compliant browsers as I can, and that includes wireless and speech and if I had an infinite amount of time and resources I would. However I have neither and so we can only go so far with what we have.

In practive it is difficult to get the business people to support anything other than IE as anything else is seen as not worth the investment. Mention supporting people with disabilities and typically you will get the “that is not our target market” speach or other common misconceptions. It’s a sad nature of the world, and I suspect that only a major lawsuit or additional regulation will change that view.

However what I have found is that if you design your sites using well formed XHTML and CSS, use the image replacement trick that uses text-indent: and overflow: hidden, avoid the use of Flash, follow general good design and implementation practices then your site will by in large be usable on most screen readers with little extra effort.

A bigger problem for screen readers is getting implementors to produce pages that can be read on a screen reader in the first place, as still too many web designers do not understand CSS, refuse to learn and fall back on old school table based layouts, but that is a topic for another time.

32
james says:
February 03, 09h

In addition to jasc’s report, I find Konqueror 3.1.0 (KDE 3.1) does very nicely, except for inline lists here and elsewhere. (If you’d care for screenshots, I’d be happy to help). Furthermore, shouldn’t it go under pre-installed browsers, along with Mozilla 1.x? Those are what came with my distro, afterall (lynx and links not withstanding).

ppk says:
February 04, 01h

Two comments:

1) According to theCounter stats, in May 2003 IE 4-6 held 94% of the market, in January 2004 it held 92%. Now this may be a statistical fluke, but it does strangely confirm a trend I’ve been seeing in other statistics.
IE seems to have lost a tiny sliver of market share in 2003. It’s in the 1 to 2 % range, so not particularly much, but it would be the first time ever IE loses any market share at all.

2) I disagree with your evaluation of IE 5.2 Mac OS X. It’s really a pretty bad browser, especially in JavaScript, but also, though to a lesser degree, in CSS.
IE 5.0 and 5.1 on Mac Classic are still pretty much OK, 5.2 isn’t.

Kris says:
February 04, 02h

I wonder why you don’t mention Opera 6 for Mac.

35
Harley says:
February 04, 03h

Re: testing for Safari 1.0 on a 10.3 box:

Since Omni chose to “hard code” web core into their browser rather than “tap into” OS X’s web kit, can you not just test on Omniweb 4.5?

(Assuming that in version 4.5 they hard coded webcore in … I read that they did on 5.0beta, but not sure about 4.5)

February 04, 04h

Harley: Omniweb 4.5 and 5.0 are both based on WebCore. I’m not sure how much Omniweb changed the WebCore code, and how many of Safari 1.0’s rendering quirks are shared by Omniweb 4.5/5.0.

Dave S. says:
February 04, 04h

Opera 6 Mac (which is abandonware, as far as I’m aware) I simply don’t test in. It’s probably worth a quick look to make sure your site isn’t completely unusable, but I can’t see anyone other than an Opera+Mac user making the argument for bending over backward to support it.

OmniWeb/Webcore/etc. – Harley makes a good point above, even the new OmniWeb 5 beta ships with the same version of WebCore as Safari 1.0 (not 1.1 or 1.2) – http://daringfireball.net/2004/02/omniweb_5_public_beta – see ‘OmniWeb’s Core Problem’.

38
Doug says:
February 05, 08h

Your support list is more like my support wish list. I wish I had a Mac to test on. I wish I didn’t have to support NN4. But (a) I make zero money on web design so I can spend up to and including zero money on a new Mac “just for testing;” and (b) my most active user is stuck with NN4 at her workplace, and since I’m married to her, it looks like I’ll be stuck supporting it. But as a great man once said, “Let it be a challenge to you.”

39
TikTokk says:
February 05, 08h

Doug, if you don’t have a Mac to test on, and just want to get feedback on whether things are working or not, go to a mac forum (maccentral or macnn) and ask people to test it for you. If you tell them that don’t have a Mac, but want your site to work well on them, you’ll typically get good feedback.

February 06, 08h

Check out knoppix.org for Linux bootable from a CD room. Its just another good way of test your site without installing any other software on your machine.

Good article aswell

Luc says:
February 07, 08h

I was wondering why you are saying that Opera will get better. I’m not talking about the fact that IE dominates the market, but i’m only looking at your comment from a CSS point of view.

Opera supports the standards far more better then IE, so i wonder why one might have trouble usig CSS in Opera. In my experience, it’s always a hassle to let IE behave as it should be?

42
Tanny O'Haley says:
February 07, 12h

Re: Disabled users.

I remember (I’m old) when there were no wheelchair ramps or wheelchair accessible bathrooms or elevators in a two story building in the US. Then all government organizations had to be accessible to those with disabilities. Then soon enough businesses (even small businesses in L.A.) had to be accessible to those with disabilities.

Why do I say this? Well in the U.S., government web sites have to be accessible to those with disabilities. Do you see the writing on the wall? I think as long as we try to comply with 508 or whatever other standard there is at least we can say we tried, even if we don’t have the resources to buy screen readers or other devices, that’s all we can do.

As far as browsers, from the stats I looked at it looks like IE (All versions) are used by 95% of our visitors, Netscape 2.7%, other 1.6% and less than 1% for Opera.

I’ve had loads of problems with floats and clearing in IE Mac I just finally gave up. Safari changed with the latest release and didn’t even keep some backward compatibility with the last version.

I’ve finally gotten so that I start developing with Mozilla Firebird, then I make IE 5.01, 5.5 and 6.0 work and lastly Safari. I haven’t installed Opera and I’m not sure that it will be worth my time to make our sites compatible with Opera. Any thoughts?

February 24, 08h

I quit caring about Safari the second time I designed a page that worked fine in 1.2 but not in 1.0. My apologies to users who resent being left flapping in the wind by Apple due to tying their browser to OS releases, I don’t see any sensible recourse for them but to pay the annual AppleTax or pick a more sensible browser.

February 27, 01h

Why are still so many people use 800x600?
http://www.thecounter.com/stats/2004/January/res.php
I dont understand. Older notebooks?

cu
thomas

45
Charles Gerungan says:
February 27, 11h

In my experience it’s a lot of government users that depend on a sluggish IT department (or should I write budget).

Bruce says:
March 01, 01h

Do not trust thecounter.com’s stats. It does not recognize spiders-robots.

According to me, browser users are split into three groups: those who run whatever comes with their OS, those who seek out a new browser, and those who seek the best browser.