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Should we be designing for legacy browsers?

Web designers have been on the frontlines of the browser-war battlefields for some time now, dodging the shells of legacy browsers exploding all over carefully-crafted pages. Even the design of a simple page would require the designer to have an arsenal of hacks and tricks to ensure cross-browser compatibility.

But is it time for the designers and developers to stop fighting the good fight and move the industry forward by refusing to design for legacy browsers?

Certainly with the advent of Internet Explorer (IE) 7, some great strides were taken towards a more compatible infrastructure in terms of how designs are rendered in different browsers. IE8 is now up there with Firefox, Safari and Opera (and to some extent Chrome) in applying web standards to the display of HTML and CSS.

This is all well and good, but there’s still a propensity to keep an eye on the market share of IE and try and design accordingly. IE8 is gaining ground, certainly, but there are still a few skirmishes out there and a good designer still needs to at least think a few versions back when it comes to designing for IE.

So, is it not time that we as designers and developers take on the responsibility of moving the industry forward by building sites that ignore the legacy browsers, and focus on the more modern versions?

This could sound like a bit of laziness dressed up as social conscience, but it isn’t that at all. With a web designer, it has always been a matter of pride that a design is compatible with almost any browser in the world. Anybody with access to a computer and a modem, no matter what system they’re using, should be able to get the same amount of value out of a website as the person with the most up-to-date systems. It is hard work, but it is useful and necessary work.

But, on the other hand…

The problem, however, with continually referring back to previous browsers is that it leads to stagnation. CSS3 techniques, for example, have been around for quite some time, and are still not regarded as something that can be widely-used.

It doesn’t make sense for such a fast-moving industry to be mired in past systems. Perhaps it’s time for the actual pages that get displayed on the Internet to be the catalyst for change. It’s not difficult to download and install a new browser version, or in fact to switch to another browser. With the browser-detection techniques developed out of necessity during the browser wars, we should be showing notices, providing links, and educating the average web user about the options available.

The global design theory also doesn’t really stand up. It’s like looking for the universal equation — there are just too many factors to take into account. At last count there are more than 30 different types of browsers being used on the Internet. It’s not possible to design for all of these.

Five years ago we were having this discussion about IE5.5. Does anybody today actually still try and design for 5.5? What then, is the difference between not designing for 5.5 and killing yourself to make sure that IE6 displays your pages correctly? Or IE7? Or Safari 1.0? Or Netscape 2?

There is also an argument that major corporations have written internal systems that only operate on specific types of browsers and cannot justify the expense of upgrading their programming so that their workforce can access Facebook for example. This, too, doesn’t stand up really. Simply provide an alternative browser to use. There is no reason that somebody cannot use IE6 to access that crazy internal accounting system and Firefox 3.5 to browse the web.

It’s a bold move, however, to become so forward-focussed, especially when developing for clients who will expect to have as much coverage as possible. This could be solved with a little education and communication. It should be made clear to a new client what the options are, and how you as a company approach this issue. Should the client request that their website be compatible with legacy browsers, then this can be taken into account when drawing up the project quotes and specifications.

It is time for designers and developers to take a more active role in taking the industry forward by educating their audience about browser-compatibility and the options available.

This can only be beneficial to the global user population who will have better internet experiences. For the clients who will have a lower bill at the end of the day. And for the designer in the trenches who can finally say that the war is over.

  • ProductManager

    I think it's safe to say that IE6 is on the way out. Microsoft support for this browser officially ends in July this year, and its market share has already dropped below 5% according to latests statistics. Stop whining about IE6 – just take a bold step and stop supporting it.

  • With the video selection menus on OGGTV not rendering under IE8 and IE9 now, with a scrambled video menu, (while every other browser can show it properly, including Links Graphic), website owners have to develop for the majority of web browsers.

    Should a website designer get frustrated over one browser in the industry, which cannot render websites like the rest?

    The pages are compliant, so what else is a site owner to do when their website looks scrambled on IE.

  • Borntolive2000

    >The pages are compliant, so what else is a site owner to do when their website looks scrambled on IE.
    Realize that the browsers that the your customers use are not the latest ones you would like and make your site work with what customers have. This is not different from many other industry. Stop blaming your customers for what they use, make your site work. The vast majority of sites do. You can too.

  • Hmmm….

    Seriously the cost for an IT department to support a new browser (training, help desk) are huge. They will make the change in the timeframe that works as part of their overall upgrade plans. Most consumers only change browsers when they get new laptops or desktops. Reducing a web site's available market will not impact that. It only reduces a web site's available market. If that loss of visitors is justified in reduced cost then it makes sense as a business decision. Otherwise it does not. For the vast majority of sites, dropping support for legacy browsers will have no effect on the browsers out there for either companies or consumers.

  • Galen777

    Finally, someone agrees. IE is the oncoming train at the end of the tunnel. A constipated one, at that… As long as we tolerate it it's going to frustrate our every effort to speed up the internet using CSS2, 3 and HTML5. Yes, speed up the internet with code, plain and simple. Clean, pure, simple, beautiful code. It's even making JavaScript redundant! Wow, that really is something to be proud of (Thank You all at Mozilla!) and the little red fox (logo icon designed by Jon Hicks – a CSS coder!) is leading the way. So, in the words of the song, “…you better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone…” for the times, etc…

  • Galen777

    Finally, someone agrees. IE is the oncoming train at the end of the tunnel. A constipated one, at that… As long as we tolerate it it's going to frustrate our every effort to speed up the internet using CSS2, 3 and HTML5. Yes, speed up the internet with code, plain and simple. Clean, pure, simple, beautiful code. It's even making JavaScript redundant! Wow, that really is something to be proud of (Thank You all at Mozilla!) and the little red fox (logo icon designed by Jon Hicks – a CSS coder!) is leading the way. So, in the words of the song, “…you better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone…” for the times, etc…

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