Are your Web apps ready for the next-gen browser war?

Webkit, Firefox, and Internet Explorer are all scheduled to update their browsers in 2008. Are you ready for Web dev test fest 08?

Webkit, Firefox, and Internet Explorer are all scheduled to update their engines in 2008. Are you ready for Web dev test fest 08?

The Web as a platform for development has always been a rocky road. Remember the early days when there was one browser, which made testing easy. One platform means less points of failure and less support and more time to spend optimising pages to load under 50Kbps of data on a dial-up modem.

Then came the Netscape vs. Explorer era. When developers built two different websites for each respective browser and users had to choose which version to enter.

Luckily, since that time some standards have been formed and many lessons learnt on how to write cross browser websites and applications. It's still difficult to support these multiple platforms, and many business applications still refuse to support anything except clients using Internet Explorer.

However, with the increasingly higher use of non-Microsoft operating systems and the surge of Firefox and Safari, it's getting harder to know exactly what browser your clients are going to be using. While some enterprise developers are lucky to standardise on one browser, many aren't.

This year will see significant launches with Firefox 3 due out sometime this month, IE 8 due out in August, Opera 9.5 looking to be out before September, and WebKit is currently overhauling its JavaScript interpreter.

As applications become increasingly webified, cloudified, Web 2.0ified, AJAX'ed and UGC'd (user generated content) then support for multiple browsers and platforms is going to be increasingly tricky. Even if you write standards compliant code, or use standard libraries this isn't going to be a sure measure of an application working with a new release of a browser.

Unfortunately, the only real way to make sure your code will work is the mundane task of testing. While boring to most, testing also adds quite a significant increases to development time, especially if there are multiple platforms involved like browsers with their own quirky rendering behaviours.

However, if you don't have time or the budget there are ways to cut corners. For enterprise developers who can control the client environment then picking one or two browsers to target can still be the best solution. A controlled client environment can mean faster build time for applications, less testing, and possibly more security.

For developers who have to build Web applications to an audience where the client browser or operating system is unknown then there is less room to cut corners for testing. However, if need be, one can tailor Web applications to your core audience.

Using Web analytics, one can see which browsers are the most popular for your application or website. Find out which one(s) are the most commonly used, or find out which ones are the most commonly used by the customers that matter most, and narrow your support of platforms.

While it would be ideal to have a true cross platform and a totally uber-cool Web application, it isn't always feasible. It's okay to be a square in Web 2.0 development even if you can't show off your work to your skivvy-loving Apple Safari friends.