Browser investigate

Web devs: IE8 is the enemy

It doesn't matter whether Chrome or Firefox is more widely used, as long as IE8 continues to be the newest Internet Explorer available for Windows XP.

Attention, web developers: how many lines of code did you change when you learned that Chrome was about to surpass Firefox in usage terms? I'll even arrogantly assume that if Chrome suddenly claimed 51 per cent of the browser market, then you wouldn't change a thing. In fact, if Chrome did have that percentage of users, you'd be even more frustrated that your ability to take advantage of its capabilities was restricted by the install base of IE8.

To see what web developers are up against, here's a graph from StatCounter that shows IE8 usage way out ahead of the competition, with 24 per cent of the market.

Now take a look at the Trident column of the HTML5-compatibility matrices — the magic number that represents IE8 is Trident 4.0 — anything green and with 5.0 in it just isn't going to cut it.

In case you think it looks reasonable, take a peek at the compatibility for the Canvas tag and the various HTML5 media tags; Canvas and media tags are where a lot of potential lies within HTML5, and developers are restricted from using it easily and natively in production thanks to the quarter of the online population using IE8.

The answer for how we got here is easy; Windows XP's usage currently sits at a little under 50 per cent, and, despite the efforts of Microsoft, it refuses to quickly go away. There are ways to hack around IE8's limitations, and a lot of them involve Flash, but it's nice to know that an ageing operating system will still be providing an attack vector for nefarious operations, and keeping the ignorant and careless doubly exposed.

HTML5 promises to do away with much of the pain of web development, and if one could restrict development to Chrome, Safari, Firefox and IE9 and IE10, it could be a glorious wonderland of possibilities. Instead, developers need to constantly consider the experience in a browser that passes the Acid2 test, but fails at Acid3. At least IE8 gives full CSS 2.1 support; deprecating and ignoring IE8 isn't an option, and will not be a viable one for a while.

Prototypes, tech demos and sites with limited use cases will be able to embed Canvas, SVG, and video tags with little ill effects, but the big players on the web will still have to cater for the most popular browser version on the internet.

Up against IE8, the bickering of whether Chrome or Firefox has the biggest number of users is simply arguing over scraps at the dinner table. Instead of looking at moving users to a particular brand of browser over another, there needs to be a push to move users onto a modern browser platform, from any vendor. Internet Explorer 9 is as acceptable as Chrome in this case.

When modern browsers become the overwhelming majority, I will welcome it heartily, but that day is at least a couple of years of compatibility libraries and workarounds away.

It could be worse; we could still be dealing with IE6.

About

Some would say that it is a long way from software engineering to journalism, others would correctly argue that it is a mere 10 metres according to the floor plan.During his first five years with CBS Interactive, Chris started his journalistic advent...

32 comments
andrew232006
andrew232006

I think microsoft intentionally ignores standards to make pages coded for IE display incorrectly or not work in other browsers. And as long as IE has the market share, web developers have to code for IE if they want a large audience.

richardh_123
richardh_123

Despite advances in safety, emmissions and fuel economy people still have old cars. Despite advances in power use, durability and lifespan people still have incandescent light globes. Despite advances in technology people still have old computers. Are we really so surprised? Supporting legacy technology is a fact of life even if, as technologists, we like to have the newest shiniest toys all the time. Most people outside the industry couldn't care less what browser they are using, or whether it supports canvas tags or embedded video - they just want a pleasant experience. If you can't do that AND support IE7 (or 6) then you shouldn't be in the game. Imagine a petrol station refusing to sell you petrol cause your car is too old - it's no surprise the rest of the world views the IT industry as elitist. I watched a 1 hour presentation today with PowerPoint in design mode the whole time. Slick? No. Did it make any difference to the material? Not a shred. Get over yourselves and deal with the fact you can't just build things for the techno elite.

runningcommentry
runningcommentry

What the Author fails to mention is that the only reason MS is so far ahead of other browsers in the browser race, is purely to do with the fact that windows by default comes with IE and IE is so integrated into windows that the average user just doesn't know how to get rid of it. Infact, you really can't un-install IE, so to a general user it seems silly having two browsers on a single pc. This is where things really need to change. It should be illegal to force people to use software, when an OS should be just that, an operating system which enables the use of additional types of software. Office isn't an OS. Media player isn't an OS, why should IE be such an integral part of the OS?!?! Just MS trying to stop bing from being bung I guess!

alfred
alfred

Being retired and not wanting to spend a fortune I have stuck with XP as it does all I want. Apart from the retail cost of Win 7 I would have to spend hundreds of dollars to buy update versions of three programs I have used for years. I have a lot of legacy files. The updates may have more fancy bells and whistles but they offer me no advantage in usability. I have always used Lotus Smartsuite for which the nearest equivalent is IBM Symphony but it is slower and clumsier. I dread the time when I will have to buy a new PC with only Win 7/8 drivers available. I am not against advancement but I don't want expensive forced upgrades caused by incompatibility. Unlike bigjude I use Chrome as I am willing to change when I see an advantage but don't want to be forced to change.

bigjude
bigjude

At our house we have three Toshiba laptops running XP which are in constant use because we're old and don't have enough other things to do (except garden.) The alternative OS when these laptops were new was Vista and we didn't want that so we had XP specially installed. We have some reasonably sophisticated software running on these laptops.. I have Adobe CS3 on mine.... and they handle it adequately. I reckon there must be millions of other users doing the same. And Yes, we use IE8. To upgrade our operating systems we'd need more RAM in order to use our existing quite satisfactory software and our present machines won't take more RAM. So we really can't run these computers on anything but XP or (God forbid) Vista. And why would we go and buy new ones when these function perfectly? I reckon that people like us are a sizeable part of visitors to commercial websites. (I seem to buy from amazon.com on a daily basis.) They say that Newtonian physics owes its structure to the popularity of the (recently invented) clock and that generations of computer programmers structured their software the way General Motors structured its company. Some people even believe that the present generation of quantum physicists think the way they do because of the way data is stored on computer discs. No doubt Bill Gates considers himself a powerful force in the world but I wonder whether the person who decided on the formula for IE9 realised that they were directing the thought processes of generations yet unborn? The way our Toshibas are holding up we'll probably will them to our great-grandchildren. You know, I've tried all the other browsers but I really don't like them because Microsoft has brainwashed me into liking IE. I'm sure there's something philosophical in that.

net.minder
net.minder

Most IT departments would love to upgrade everyone to the latest IE, but we get roadblocked time after time. For several years we had to stay on IE6 because our timesheet and expenses web app had too many issues on IE7 and IE8. (Among others, nobody could print their expense report.) It was part of our old corporate financial system, and the company was not ready to implement the new one. This also happens with in-house-developed web apps written with three-year-old Microsoft programming packages. If the consultant programmers have moved on it's a non-trivial project, so there may be nobody in management who is willing to stick his/her neck out to request a budget to redevelop it for a new version of IE in an economic downturn. So when IT in your company tells you that they can't let you run the latest IE, it's probably because management won't pay to upgrade the other stuff that is truly business-critical.

merlyn
merlyn

In my Facility our EMR forces us to stick with XP for the time being. Until we can afford to move to the next software version ($180,000) we are stuck with IE8 as well.

KeithAu001
KeithAu001

So a word to Microsoft - Fix the issues for gods sake, you might just find that you 'may' win back some of the customers if you make IE as compatible as the rest! There is no point in making the browsers work in XP if they do not meet Web Standards. If web developers have to create Sites which meet Web standards (W3C Compliant) then why is it that Microsoft doesn't have to do the same with their browsers. Granted, with all the great new bells and whistles, not all of them work in the other browsers (Most Do - some don't), but I will bet my left one that the other browsers are working on fixing their browsers so that they do work, and I would go so far as to say that within the next couple of months they will be releasing the versions that do work. AND I'll go even further and say Microsoft will still have issues that the others have overcome. MS is supposed to be such a huge organisation, why can they not fix these problems, or is it that they THINK they are so huge they don't have to???

KeithAu001
KeithAu001

Even IE 9 in win 7 is not compliant, there are CSS functions that work seamlessly in Firefox 3,4,5,6,7,8 and Chrome, Opera and Safari, yet they do not work in IE 9 without additional coding or even sometimes with additional coding. So it's not just IE 8, all of the IEs to date have been arrogant of compliance. Which makes it very difficult for Web Developers to make sure their product works in all browsers. It is time Microsoft got off their high horse and played nice! They may make OSs but they DO NOT have the right or Authority to control the Web! Some companies and organisations do not allow browsers other than IE to be installed on their machines some don't even allow flash addin to be installed which further complicates things as the page will only operate on HTML, CSS and alike, again causing problems with IE machines. Why some places do not allow other browsers to be installed is beyond comprehension, as the other ones are as good if not better.

birdmaniw
birdmaniw

Microsoft should stop trying to blackmail PC users to upgrade to windows 7 and take their responsibility for maximum security on the web seriously by making IE9 available for XP users.

rickscr
rickscr

For MS to relegate XP users to the backwater of the browser world? If all the other modern browsers run on XP why can't IE9?

TNT
TNT

I understand the author's argument that, because Internet Explorer 9 and up do not operate on XP, the XP user base will largely be unable to take advantage of new web standards. But whereas IE 9 will not run on XP, Chrome and Firefox will. So why not use previous methods to direct users to newer technologies? In the past, web sites would offer tips at the very top of their home pages, "For your best experience with this site, use" such and such browser or app. Rather than slow innovation, build those amazing HTML 5.0 sites and put the onus on the user. Those who chose to stick with an older OS will have to suffer the inconvenience of changing browsers to stay current with Web technologies.

Ricky Tandiono
Ricky Tandiono

I don't think that IE8 will gone that fast. Maybe in non corporate world it can be faster but for the corporate worlds, that still few years to come as I even see corporates with IE 6. And if you build web app for those companies, you are only at the mercy of IT dept to upgrade their corporate standard browser. this not only impact usability but also performance of the application.

bboyd
bboyd

Microsoft has done as much damage to their own business model by lack of standards and browser train wrecks as anyone else. How many intranet web page tools do companies use that keep them from upgrading. Just a note some companies are still dealing with IE6 legacy. As for IE of any flavor I'm tired of cleaning up malware that it welcomes in.

pkwooster
pkwooster

"Imagine a petrol station refusing to sell you petrol cause your car is too old" I had that car, it was a '66 Buick Wildcat, it required leaded gas, that hasn't been available in North America for decades. To run it needed an octane booster, quite expensive and never quite like it ran when my granddad bought it. Driving that Buick was like using my old XP that lives in the basement and runs IE7, nostalgic, but not as smooth as this Mac or the Toyota Camry in the driveway.

techrepublic@
techrepublic@

Stay with XP and upgrade to Firefox, Chrome, or Opera. Would that be an option?

daviddag
daviddag

XP is already more than 10 years old, and has passed it's expiry date. Microsoft keeps extending XP support (currently until 2014), due to pressure from the corporates that cannot move on to a newer OS for whatever reason. I liked XP and was still content using it last year until I started finding more and more of the newer applications & software upgrades that don't support XP anymore. The same can be said for new hardware. Even Google & Android app developers are not supporting the older versions (vers 1,5 /1.6) of Android anymore.

Snak
Snak

There's no doubt Win 7 is better than XP, but if you can't or won't upgrade, your best (and only real) option is to get a standards-compliant browser. Firefox, Chrome, Opera (I really like Opera) are all good options. And they're all better than any version of IE.

gechurch
gechurch

It's a great theory and the temptation is there to subscribe to it. The reality is it just won't happen... history has taught us that. When someone goes to a web site and it says "This site doesn't work with your browser because it sucks - you have to go and install another one to make it work" what do you think people will think: a) "Wow, you're so right. I can't believe I've been using a dud browser for so long. How can I have been so blind... I'll go upgrade right away." b) "Every other site I go to works fine and this site says I have to upgrade something to make it work. What a crappy web site." If you answered a, you're living in la la land. Placing the onus on the end user to do anything is a bad idea... remember, most people don't even read alerts that pop up. They dismiss them by clicking the X because "computers are too hard". Expecting them to go off, download a program they've probably never heard of, install it (assuming they even have rights to), setting it as their default, running through the wizard to import their bookmarks, then getting back to your site again is just too much for many computer users.

Phil Haney
Phil Haney

I have XP and am stuck with IE8. You have no idea how frustrating it is when that phrase pops up (and it does), and I can't upgrade to IE9..... (at this time, purchasing a laptop with Win7 or upgrading my current OS is not an option - it's like back when I had a 386DX and all the good software required a 486, sigh...)

adornoe
adornoe

and, if a website is worth using, then, telling those users that, using a better or more modern web browser, won't really be a burden, as long as the browser designers don't make it a burden to "upgrade". So, if the big sites, like Facebook and Google and Amazon and eBay and the major news and information sites, made it known to their visitors that, they would have a much more enjoyable and fruitful experience on their sites by "upgrading" to the more modern, up-to-date browsers, then I'm pretty sure that there would be a huge migration away from IE8 (and any other older browser). That is the only way that Microsoft, and any other browser designer, would try to keep up with current standards, or even future standards.

MyopicOne
MyopicOne

In regulated industries where a QA department has been IMO overly empowered, they can stop corporate-wide upgrades in their tracks because one of their applications (such as a document management system) is not compatible with anything newer than IE 6. Like my current employer, for instance - although the very same thing happened at my previous employer, too. If you're in IT in the validated world, you have much less control over your network than you should because the revalidation effort to upgrade such a system is expensive, takes a long time, and requires a lot of resources.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Why did it have to run leaded gas?

JCitizen
JCitizen

with my old '77 Harley. I never switched the cylinder heads to take unleaded gas, so I had to either use Marvel's Mystery oil as a gas treatment or buy aviation low lead illegally to run my bike! Man that old hog sure run good on 125 octane av-gas!!! :ar!

JCitizen
JCitizen

and let's face it; with the virtualization like XP mode built in to Win 7 business, there is really no excuse not to upgrade to a newer OS anyway.

joels
joels

Yes, it's a problem for some to install a new browser and to import all of their bookmarks. But it's cheaper and easier than microsoft's method of strong-arming you into replacing the entire computer or upgrading the OS to run the newest browser. Our company has a browser based program running that requires IE. Unfortunately, it will not run on anything newer than IE7. So we have to use both IE7 and FF on all computers. Of course MS won't fix what they broke. Running two different browsers is the only method. They're forcing people away from IE, and into an alternate browser by doing so.

aaron
aaron

Just install Chrome or FireFox. Both work just fine on XP. You have no reason to stick with IE at home. What is really frustrating is when people KNOW they can use something different but refuse to learn how to use something else.

adornoe
adornoe

unless your problem is that, you aren't allowed to use anything but IE at work.

JCitizen
JCitizen

only work on the big three browsers. Chrome is doing a better job keeping all plug-ins working flawlessly despite a rigorous update cycle. I am gladly partial to Chrome because of that, and just about everything but my Logmein Central console works better on Chrome. Even then it only hiccups once on that plug-in for the rest of the session it works better than ever.

beaverusiv
beaverusiv

It would be awesome if facebook and youtube overnight were IE9+. Imagine all the work that would be done where people only have IE6 at their desk??? (Also there would be a huge mass upgrade in homes that night)

JCitizen
JCitizen

Hi Slayer - good to hear from you! I don't remember the year, but here in the US we had to change the way all regular commercial vehicles built their cylinder heads to make them work with unleaded gas. Before then the auto industry here was getting away with using softer metals for the valve seat area of the engine. After that, either the block itself had to be made hardened or the valve seat made into a hardened insert, to take the pounding of the valves. I didn't want to convert it, because I keep the mileage on it low, and it is not worn out yet. When I get maybe 30,000, or so miles on it, I might change the heads. I should have bought a set a long time ago when the HD company was required by the government to offer cheap replacement heads. I just procrastinated too long!! :p

adornoe
adornoe

Opera and Safari, and whatever else is out there that is better than IE6/7/8 and other older browsers. BTW, it would be just a suggestion to the users that, certain websites would provide a more enjoyable and fruitful experience by upgrading to the newer and more standards compliant browsers.