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IE Slowdown = Standardization

March 31, 2004

Think about it.

What makes CSS development so aggravating? Inconsistency across the browsers.

Which are the worst offenders? Older browsers, and Internet Explorer.

What’s happening in today’s browser market? Absolutely everything is making leaps and bounds in improving its CSS support, except Internet Explorer.

The install base is slowly but steadily moving away from 5.0 browsers. One day we’ll reach the point where we don’t have to officially support them anymore, and can give them the NN4 treatment. Not today, not tomorrow, maybe not in the next 2 years. But it’s coming.

Given every other browser’s improvement, this is what we’ll enjoy one day (assuming production-site-ready CSS, and not bleeding edge) — testing against the standard, and testing against IE. That’s two, instead of today’s 5, 8, 12, or 23.

Internet Explorer’s slowdown is a nuisance for sure, but it’s hardly tragic. Thanks to progressive enhancement and MOSe, the web will become segregated between the haves, who get to experience the high-end visual effects and extra usability tweaks, and the have-nots who get plain vanilla content with a far simpler style.

It’s a shame that the latter category is so large, but welcome to the next ten years.


Reader Comments

Adam Rice says:
March 31, 01h

IE comes with my computer, why do I need to get anything else??Perhaps you could respond “because it feels so good when you stop hitting your head against a wall.

MS has historically had a good reputation with third-party developers, at least in sectors where they’re concerned about market share. Now, perhaps MS doesn’t care about market share in the online arena, but if you are a web developer, that’s your platform, and MS should be trying to woo you. I think web developers can make a case to MS in those terms.

It just so happens that for MS to make web developers happy means playing by rules and supporting standards that they don’t own.

ppk says:
March 31, 01h

Isn’t this discussion a bit one-sided? People seem to forget that IE’s JavaScript support is excellent.

Progressive enhancement doesn’t just mean CSS, it means JavaScript, too.

When it was released IE5 was far, far in advance of all other browsers in both CSS and JavaScript. In the five years that has passed, it’s been overtaken by all browsers in CSS, but only by Mozilla in JavaScript.

I agree with Lars that JavaScript efforts like the IE7 library might cancel out IE’s lack of advanced selector support and help advanced CSS along.

Better still, we can rely on the average IE user not to switch off JavaScript because he doesn’t know it’s there and can be switched off.

I don’t see IE as a fundamental show-stopper, more as the next problem to be solved, mainly by means of JavaScript.

I don’t see any technical reasons for IE users to become have-nots, while there are plenty of non-technical reasons to make sure they’ll see every website in its full glory.

So, sorry Dave, but I disagree. There’s no reason to serve IE users plain vanilla flavours.

Dave S. says:
March 31, 02h

“Isn;t this discussion a bit one-sided?”

Isn’t that obvious? I was talking about CSS support.

“I don’t see IE as a fundamental show-stopper, more as the next problem to be solved, mainly by means of JavaScript.”

Which is fine if you’ve bought into using scripting to solve display problems. The HTC hacks floating out there, particularly Dean Edwards’ IE7 – http://dean.edwards.name/IE7/ – may very well get the job done in a lot of cases.

I just don’t believe in fixing display problems with script. To enhance functionality, and add non-critical effects like menus etc., Javascript is nice. For the basic page layout? Thanks, but I’ll pass. Your mileage may vary.

4
daedlus says:
March 31, 02h

Let me re-itterate what I said in different words. Microsoft is far from a stupid company, they have a whole marketing branch as big as if not bigger than the combined volume of all the 900 pound gorillas being kept in zoos in our day and age.

They also want to make money. This of course goes hand in hand with marketing. Now, one would think I’m saying that Microsoft always does what the consumer wants. That’s not true, just look at how they are/were funding SCO Group Inc. and their legal crussade against IBM and Open Source in the broader sense. People didn’t like that one bit, but it didn’t stop them from doing it, simply because they had more to win by killing the OSS movement. This isn’t the point though.

Think about it. Microsoft is caught in a sea of browsers. Nowadays people could have 1 browser each and you could meet a group of 10 people where each and every one uses a different browser. It has to compete against all of these. Granted, IE does have 90% of the market share, and they have ALL the power in this case, but we aren’t talking about right now.

10 years from now, imagine what all these little browsers will have become. There are hoards of people that will support standards or die, and we know for a fact at least 10% of the new browser developpers (at least) will want to support standards in some way for their browser. This will thus give us a sea of somewhat-to-very standards-compliant browsers. If IE get’s caught behind, it will be the proverbial black-sheep of the lot. That’s not good generally.

Over the years, people will start going more and more Open Source. This is a fact, they have been doing this for a couple years now, and I can only suppose it will continue, at least for a bit. Microsofts market share might have decreased by 10% by then, making them more vulnerable. They will need to keep the little guys in check. Sure 80% of the world will still use Windows w/ IE, but there’ll be a whole 20% of us that will be screaming for standards because “IE is t3h sux!11!1!!one”.

I don’t know if any of you have done a lot of math but, given a pool of 20%, the number of times that the message “IE sux!” will be heard every day will be exponentially greater than if it had been 10%. It’s not just 10% higher, it’s 10% exponentially, because it causes a web effect. If Fred tells 5 people, those 5 tells another 5, that’s 25 people in one shot, even though it originated only from 1 person. 10% is a pretty low market share to work with, true, but ask any analyst how much better 20% is, and he’ll tell you at least 40 or 100 times better. You have more weight, and that’s what counts.

Microsoft won’t be ABLE to fart around anymore, because if this trend keeps going, they would be under in the next 20-odd years, and they don’t want that to happen. By starting to support standards in IE, they would save themselves a HELL of a lot of problems down the road, and THAT is why they will switch for standards-compliant IE. They might not do it today, they might not do it this year, but they might start supporting standards on ALL IE version through Windows Update next year. Who knows? If they aren’t stupid that’s what they’ll do. If not, it’ll just be another blow towards their demise. A self-inflicted blow at that.

Rimantas says:
March 31, 02h

Javascript? Are you talking IE DOM or W3C DOM? If latter, I wouldn’t call support excellent. And it gets no better while other browsers keep improving.
Another side to discuss is relative importance of Javascript compared to CSS. And using Javascript to do CSS job – well it works sometimes, but most often I’d say it’s not worth we trouble.
Plain vanilla for IE is another extreme (yet), but I don’t mind serving IE users nice, tidy, working version while users of FF, Opera, you name it, can have richer experience. Those attribute selectors are so tempting ;)

Eric says:
March 31, 02h

Page layout should never have to be done with scripts. That is not what programming languages are for; just as tables for page layout is not what HTML is for.

Unfortunately (and this is not a new discussion…) the cycle will never end. Clients need IE functionality (and maybe even full-features) and won’t stand for their site not working as well just for the sake of “the way things should be.” Designers want to code well and not be held back by what one certain browser can’t handle. We’re stuck, and short of a “browser upgrade campaign” or some other way of converting people, which probably won’t work (my mother is never going to upgrade her browser), the pure fact of MS’s dominance in the market ensures that we must write pages that work seamlessly in it. Unless the number crying for standards reaches a critical mass, which I don’t see happening anytime soon.

I will not resort to scripts/browser sniffers/etc to make a page work, so in that sense I will stifle my design agenda somewhat.

I will continue using enhancements for browsers that can handle it, but serving a less-than-great page to IE6 simply gives the impression to 90% of the world that I’m a sucky designer. I keep trying to find away around this unfortunate fact of life, but so far have had no luck.

March 31, 02h

Dave, maybe your site’s users are still using IE5, but most of the sites I work on tell a very different story… most people are using IE6. I think this mainly has to do with the number of windows people switching from 98 and other versions of windows to XP… which, if you look closely pretty much makes you install IE6. I can’t speak for the mac side of things though. I think the important thing is that the desginer/developer looks at the log files and not popular critics about what browsers are in and what browsers are out… traffic analysis is a lot more effective than the general “browser popularity” metric for a given site.

beto says:
March 31, 04h

Dave: “Breaking usability for the sake of ‘purity’ is completely against what the standards are about. You build for what people use, not for what you wish they’d use.”

Agreed - but in this case I wasn’t talking in a “wish they used Firefox instead” sense - it is just that, as you and we know, there’s so much of advantages and support that truly standards compliant browsers gives us developers… and that IE gives us not. If 90% of users still use IE, fine, sites must work there, that goes without saying. However we have seen and come to appreciate what browsers with better standards have us to offer, and you can’t just resign yourself and go back to battling with IE’s quirks without at least wishing things were a little different. That was my point.

March 31, 04h

I have a sneeky feeling that we may see some big leaps forward for IE in Microsoft’s next OS release come late 2005.

They’ve had time to see what the competition is coming up with - and it’s clear to most people that new generation of browsers are leaving IE in the dust in every department.

They came out saying that there would be no major standalone updates - but that doesn’t mean there will be no updates full stop.

By 2005-2006 they will have some serious browser competition and they know it. Maybe that will push them to spend some serious development time on IE - and come up with a browser that we don’t have to curse every 10 minutes.

March 31, 05h

Joey said -
“I’ve often heard, “But, IE comes with my computer, why do I need to get anything else?” “
“How can you convince someone to get something else that is totally different from what they are used to?”

I use this monologue for business people. They often get it…
- Your (windows) computer comes with Wordpad, doesn’t it? But do you use Wordpad to write your documents? No, you use Microsoft Word because it has more features. Same thing. Get Mozilla :)
Obviously that’s an abbreviated version, but anyone reading this will get the idea.

Keep on Pushin’!

March 31, 06h

With IE5/Mac being far more standards-compliant than IE6/Win, it’s obvious that MS *can* make a standards-compliant browser whenever they wish. But the problem is that they don’t want to. They’re going to enjoy having the number one browser with its proprietary standards for as long as we (the users) allow them to. Standards evangelism and better features in other browsers (tabs, for example) are the only way to get rid of IE.

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sLIVER says:
March 31, 07h

Hey Scott J - Interesting how MS stopped making IE for the mac eh?…Err, at least I saw an article about it somewhere…

13
daedlus says:
March 31, 11h

The fact is, if IE doesn’t start to get the CSS right like everyone else, it runs the possibility of losing a fair bit of it’s user-base simply because things “display weird on Internet Explorer”. They currently hold the position of DeFacto browser, and to lose that title would be a tragic marketing move from Microsoft and they know it. They’ll keep that title at all costs. And when their users start switching to Mozilla because things look better under Mozilla, they’ll realise and update Internet Explorer in accordance with that trend, so as to negate it and keep their title. If people start switching to standards, Internet Explorer will HAVE to switch too, or perish. It’s that simple.

March 31, 11h

Sadly, even if in two years we can give IE < 6 the same treatment we give to the old NN4, we will have an entire new crop of great browsers, supporting XHTML 2.0 and CSS 3.0.

But, it will not last long, I suspect. Microsoft will release their new OS, with their new browser, and that will bring back the same old problems and hacks.

15
Paul Hart says:
March 31, 11h

“If people start switching to standards, Internet Explorer will HAVE to switch too, or perish. It’s that simple.”

I beg to differ. So long as Microsoft has the monopoly on desktop operating systems, and has Internet Explorer bundled with every installation and made the default web browser, it will be a “standard” that everyone has to work towards.

Most people that use the Internet never bother to change browser from the one they’re given. I’m sure that’s as much the case for Mac users (of which I’m one) as it is with the Windows folks. Of course, Safari is a far more standards-compliant browser :)

I’d love to see everything move towards higher standards-compliance, but until Microsoft has a business case to do this (and remember, the company makes its fortune from the premise that “proprietary is good”), there will be no movement in the direction we desire.

If Internet Explorer is no longer being upgraded, then it’s best to consider it a static target. Anyone got a single resource they use to list all the bugs in the current IE editions (5.x and above)? Given that we are unlikely to be able to move the mountain that is Microsoft, perhaps we just need to make a very simple map for moving ourselves.

Gordon says:
March 31, 11h

Hmmmm - so what is the market force for this change?
daedlus suggests that if enough people switch FROM IE it will force Microsoft’s hand. Won’t it be too late by then? If you switch to a ‘standards’ browser, why would you want to switch back? Well it wouldn’t be anything to do with standards support I would venture.

The same reason I prefer Firefox over IE. Tabs, extensions and yes (but latterly) better CSS support. Joe user doesn’t care about CSS, or standards, they want content and sites that work and look ‘quite nice’. Which fits nicely with Dave’s point.

Dave S. says:
March 31, 11h

Paul, I wrote about some of IE’s deficiencies last month – http://www.mezzoblue.com/archives/2004/02/25/sidestepping/ – which contains a link near the bottom to Position Is Everything, and their IE bug list.

Lars says:
March 31, 11h

Dave, you’re so right. It’s a pity that one can not neglect IE’s market share - but what shall we do at the moment?

I think the best solution is writing standards compliant code giving browsers like Mozilla, Firefox & Co. anything it can handle - and try to achieve the same by heavy use of javascript for IE (see IE7 .htcs).

And: Be sure to convince any customer you know to chose Mozilla, Opera etc. Not only because they’ll get more beautiful web sites - convince them it’s safer and faster, too. A long way to go, but the direction seems to be correct. I really don’t want to wait for Longhorn and the “real” IE7.

Best,

Lars

March 31, 12h

Paul said it right with:
“I beg to differ. So long as Microsoft has the monopoly on desktop operating systems, and has Internet Explorer bundled with every installation and made the default web browser, it will be a “standard” that everyone has to work towards.”

Look, for example at the “.doc” format. It is NOT a standard, it is Microsoft’s format, and everyone has tried to play nice with it because it has so much market dominance. What ever happened to “.rtf”? Sure you can tell word to save your files as “.rtf”, but it still doesn’t use the true “.rtf” format. I would love to live an ideal world where we could, one day, hope to ignore IE (and MS apps) all together but I know I should just plan on getting struck by lightening sometime before then.

Derek says:
March 31, 12h

I think it’s quite possible—perhaps even probable—that the next version of IE will do sufficiently well supporting standards that most of us would be happy. The problem is that the new version of IE will be included with the next Windows OS, but previous versions (XP, 2000, Me, 98, etc.) won’t be able to upgrade to a standalone version. So the old problems will persist as long as those OSes hang around.

Since I’m still using Win 98 with IE 6 on my one Windows box, that could be a long, long wait. So it will still be “test to standards, and IE 6,” at least.

beto says:
March 31, 12h

We can complain at how come such a crippled browser with flaunted CSS and security standards support as IE still commands the lion’s share of the browser market, but why we then go thru leaps, bounds and hacks just to get our pages working in IE? To avoid the wrath of our clients whose corporate settings are built around MS-centric solutions?

If that’s something that keeps CSS from making further progress, it is precisely this “commitment” to try pleasing both sides at the same time. If we just ditched IE and try to explain our clients the reasons we believe there are better choices out there, perhaps we won’t be able to convert them all, and it is definitely not as easy as it sounds, but at least it would be a good start.

Dave S. says:
March 31, 12h

“why we then go thru leaps, bounds and hacks just to get our pages working in IE?”

Uh, hello? 90% of the market share?

Breaking usability for the sake of ‘purity’ is completely against what the standards are about. You build for what people use, not for what you wish they’d use.

Joey says:
March 31, 12h

Lars Said:

“And: Be sure to convince any customer you know to chose Mozilla, Opera etc. Not only because they’ll get more beautiful web sites - convince them it’s safer and faster, too. A long way to go, but the direction seems to be correct. I really don’t want to wait for Longhorn and the “real” IE7.”

How can you convince someone to get something else that is totally different from what they are used to?

Even if Firefox and Mozilla provide better asthetics for a site, the user cares about comfortability and familiarity. I’ve often heard, “But, IE comes with my computer, why do I need to get anything else?” At that point, the common user will not make any effort to download another browser, nor will they care about standards or CSS. They will only care about their site looking well in the browser they use.

Until then I agree that one solution is: “writing standards compliant code giving browsers like Mozilla, Firefox & Co. anything it can handle - and try to achieve the same by heavy use of javascript for IE” like Lars said.

24
Michael R. Havard says:
March 31, 12h

I heard someone once say that a company only moves on an issue at a tipping point. Typically that tipping point is 15% of x, but could be lower depending on the margins of the business or the greed of the company. For instance the RIAA started going after p2p when they had lost around 7% of their sales. It may take another 8% dip for them to begin looking at the real reason sales are slipping.

Likewise it may take MS losing 15% of the browser market to Moz before it takes any serious action. Then again they may already be underway with serious action (just not in the timeframe we want).

I’d be very interested to find out the real statistics for the browser market. I have a feeling that we’re much closer to that tipping point than people generally think or that the statistics show today.

I personally feel that more pressure should be put on the middle men companies that help enable MS’s domination of the market. I.E. Dell, AOL, Earthlink, etc. that ship and promote the browser to a great degree (AOL’s propaganda - 35 million customers) . Any major agreement with a company like that could shift browser market share significantly. Then we might see some movement.

ppk says:
April 01, 12h

>”Isn’t this discussion a bit one-sided?”
>
>Isn’t that obvious? I was talking about CSS support.

Even so I feel you can’t leave JavaScript out of the equation, just as you can’t ignore XHTML while considering CSS. These three (should) form a unified whole.

>I just don’t believe in fixing display problems with script.
To enhance functionality, and add non-critical effects like
menus etc., Javascript is nice. For the basic page layout?
Thanks, but I’ll pass. Your mileage may vary.

Depends on the problem, depends on the script. Using JavaScript to generate whole pages is obviously not a good idea, but neither is refusing to use it entirely.

I feel people are too quick to ignore, sometimes even to condemn, JavaScript. It’s just a tool, like CSS is just a tool. It can solve some problems, but not others, and it has drawbacks, just like any other tool.

Could you give a practical example of an IE selector problem you’ve encountered? It’d be interesting to see if a script might help, and if so, what it should do and which new problems it creates.

26
Michael C. says:
April 05, 04h

Posted by Michael R. Havard at March 31, 2004 12:58 PM:

“I’d be very interested to find out the real statistics for the browser market. I have a feeling that we’re much closer to that tipping point than people generally think or that the statistics show today.”


Here’s some stats for March ‘04 from a website (which shall remain anonymous) that does not cater to bleeding-edge web designers or anything like that, so there shouldn’t be any bias in any direction. It’s a small shopping site. It’s not a huge base for precision data computations or anything, but it does get the point across:

Browser Version / Unique Visitors / % of Unique Visitors
Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 / 1912 / 81.01%
Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5 / 162 / 6.86%
Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0 / 151 / 6.39%
Netscape 7.0 / 46 / 1.94%
Netscape 6.0 / 35 / 1.48%
Safari 12 / 11 / 0.46%
Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 / 10 / 0.42%
Netscape 4.7 / 10 / 0.42%
Safari 85 / 7 / 0.29%
Opera 7.x / 5 / 0.21%
WebTV Plus Receiver 4.0 / 3 / 0.12%
Opera 6.x / 2 / 0.08%
WebTV Internet Terminal 4.0 / 1 / 0.04%
WebTV Internet Terminal 3.0 / 1 / 0.04%
Safari 10 / 1 / 0.04%
Netscape 4.6 / 1 / 0.04%
Netscape 4.5 / 1 / 0.04%
Netscape 4.0 / 1 / 0.04%

Or, to keep things simple:

Browser / Unique Visitors / % of Unique Visitors
Microsoft Internet Explorer / 2372 / 94.76%
Netscape / 99 / 3.95%
Safari / 20 / 0.79%
Opera / 7 / 0.27%
WebTV Plus Receiver / 3 / 0.11%
WebTV Internet Terminal / 2 / 0.07%

April 14, 02h

I agree with PPK. Javascript is an important tool. My history site is an example: it has a huge behaviour layer increasing usability. I use Javascript to change the font size, place a “top of page” link before every HR, etc. I viewed my site with Javascript turned and with older browser off and it was still accessible.
I disagree with PPK on one part: IE has as good Javascript support as Mozilla.