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.
- 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.
- 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.