One browser to rule them all...
July 8, 2002 8:11 PM   Subscribe

One browser to rule them all... Looks like IE's win in the browser wars is strengthening its position as the de facto browser as more and more developers code to IE and IE only. I know a lot of MeFiers are developers. What do you do when you develop your sites?
posted by TNLNYC (47 comments total)
netscape 4.X.....

Seriously though, I really wish people would use a standard. I love the new Mozilla browser, and it seems to work with MOST sites..........just that every now and then you get a strange IE site.....
posted by ericdano at 8:16 PM on July 8, 2002

I design first for the general layout following standards, when tweak to get it looking right in Mozilla, IE, and Opera. IE may have won the majority, but it's hardly "one browser to rule them all."

Developing for IE only is easy, so more people will do it.
posted by Nothing at 8:19 PM on July 8, 2002

This pretty much says my thoughts on the matter.
posted by bkdelong at 8:21 PM on July 8, 2002

I develop mine all to standard (or as close as one can reasonably), and always find the site will work in Mozilla1.0 before it will work with IE.

Of course, I only use Mozilla now, and have made several converts. Strangely, I hated Netscape for a long time and was a strong IE supporter. I also managed to convert a lot of people who were tired of the IE/Outlook's bugginess and security problems. I would have agreed with the "everyone uses IE" statement 2 months ago, but now I'm seeing a change in "technically inclined" users to use or at least look into alternatives. For Joe Internet though, he'll use whatever was installed on his PC till he buys a new PC.

I don't like the idea that Microsoft now has control over Internet standards. With 90%+ market penetration, who knows what gimics and crap they will throw in the next browser release. Just like Danelope said in a current thread, Microsoft has a tendency to screw things up.

I remember when Frontpage was the de facto before Dreamweaver came along. I would use it to get basic design down, then hand code the rest, and fix MS's mistakes. What seems to happen when MS gets a stranglehold on a paticular market is they get lazy and make people upgrade to fix their mistakes.

This is what I fear will happen to IE. When it was competing with Netscape, it improved itself and really brought up the standards of what people expected browser to do. I fear now it has no reason to comply with anyone and make everyone comply to them.
posted by geoff. at 8:25 PM on July 8, 2002

Why Netscape has been the main competition to IE I'll never understand. Maybe just because it's been around longer. It runs slow, it's way too sensitive to coding irregularities, less functionality, and has too many weird kinks. I haven't given up on Opera and Mozilla though.
posted by destro at 8:40 PM on July 8, 2002

We handcut all non-static sites. We usually test on various IE flavours in Windows, IE for MacOS, Mozilla, and try to ensure that things aren't actually broken (as opposed to ugly) on NS4. Yeah, for static sites we do use both Frontpage and Dreamweaver, and clean up the worst offences by hand.

We put most effort into "graceful degradation". That is, sites may well look best on IE, but they should be usable/readable on other browsers.

I have serious objections to putting business logic in Javascript on the browser, so any serious functional stuff is happening on the server anyway.

My firm does a fair bit of public sector work, so accessibility is a legislative requirement. People with disabilities rarely use IE.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:42 PM on July 8, 2002

[This Jim Clark was gutsier!]
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:43 PM on July 8, 2002

I still design for NN4. I use CSS only for "extras" that won't break the layout. In other words, I use it only for font-related stuff, not positioning of page elements. I still have a hard time liking CSS-only sites. Some of them, anyway. They just don't feel right to me. They feel slow and cumbersome. And they have lots of dotted lines and bizarre choices of mouse cursor.

Also, I use NN4 under Unix frequently at school, and I've seen its interpretation of CSS-only sites. It is not pretty.
posted by Succa at 8:44 PM on July 8, 2002

I code in XHTML 1.1, browsers be damned :) Actually if you use it right, you can make the layout look the same in all 6.x browsers.
posted by riffola at 8:55 PM on July 8, 2002

I design to standards, and design loosely enough that I don't care if a particular element moves by 5-10px in any direction. After coding, everything most often works fine in 5.0+ browsers, and I've basically given up on making designs pixel perfect in Netscape 4. As long as NN4 users can read the text and still use the site, I don't care what it looks like to them.
posted by mathowie at 8:56 PM on July 8, 2002

Yep; I code to standards before I even look at it in a browser, then tweak for Mozilla (cause it's what I use) and then IE. I used to use Dreamweaver, but after a while I actually found it easier to code standard-compliant stuff by hand. As for what I use to browse, Netscape lost me with 6.0 because it was so huge, but Mozilla 1.0 took me back from the clutches of IE.

Of course, this is what I do for the sites I do myself. On work hours I am actually told that we only support IE and everyone else can take a hike. Build your own boat, eh?
posted by transient at 8:56 PM on July 8, 2002

As a dedicated N4.79 user who still hasn't figured out how to make Mozilla 1.0 run Flash and Shockwave files, I offer my humble and profound thanks to you all.
posted by Lynsey at 8:58 PM on July 8, 2002

joe's spleen...what is the breakdown for browser use among the disabled? Is there a breakdown by disability as well?
posted by yonderboy at 9:04 PM on July 8, 2002

for me: HTML 4.01 transitional or XHTML 1.0 transitional (depending on various factors), with CSS used for font- and color-specifying but not positioning. Works great for me, and it can be made NS-agreeable with not much extra effort.
posted by s.e.b. at 9:18 PM on July 8, 2002

Netscape 4 must die, and die now.
posted by delmoi at 9:34 PM on July 8, 2002

About a year ago I was designing for IE (for no other reason than it was installed by default) then tweaking to make sure the site looks just as good in Moz/Opera and NS4. However, since coming to grips with and learning to love XHTML/CSS, I now try to design to standards, pretty much. I expect my sites to look good in IE, Moz and Opera, and to at least be readable in NS4. In some cases I have a server-side script redirect to an ugly-looking plain HTML page if a non-compliant browser is detected, just so they can read the content. The thing is, it's so EASY to design to standards now days - if you know how CSS2 works you never have to worry about all the tricks and traps you used to need in the IE4/NS4 days.

I think so many web designers are so proud of all the little tricks they know, and all the browser-specific javascript code they rely on, that they almost don't WANT to welcome in a world where it's not necessary. Another problem that's not covered in the article is over-zealous security checking. I went to a site to pay a bill a couple of weeks ago, while using Opera 6 (my favourite browser), and was told I couldn't enter as my browser was not NS4 or IE4, and hence didn't have the necessary encryption level! This is rubbish, of course. Opera 6 can handle the encryption as well as any of those browsers, but rather than welcoming any browser with adequate encryption, it rejected any browser that didn't fit it's slim definition of what was popular in 1999.
posted by Jimbob at 9:37 PM on July 8, 2002

I code with Opera or Mozilla on Linux and I've found that they follow the W3 standards quite well. Then I see how it looks in Windows with IE, Opera and Mozilla, followed by ICab, Opera and Mozilla on the Mac. Lastly, I check Lynx and Netscape 4.7x on Linux and as long as it doesn't look awful, I leave it. If the browsers would just stick to the standards, sites would look nearly identical on every browser out there, but sadly, that's not likely to happen.
posted by jaden at 9:46 PM on July 8, 2002

To all of you developers: please support Opera! I like Mozilla but it's still kind of funky and IE is good only for compatibility. Opera on the other hand is small, fast, and full of neat-o features. I love the little guy.
posted by velacroix at 9:49 PM on July 8, 2002

I usually hand-code to XHTML 1.0 Transitional/CSS 1 & 2, which usually works well for IE5 and up, and Netscape 6 and up. Depending on the project or client, I test in Netscape 4, but I don't make any tweaks for Netscape 4 that would keep the code from validating. (For example, I won't add border="0" to a form input button just to turn off the blue border in Netscape 4.) When I have to support Netscape 4, I put most of the styles in the main style sheet, and overwrite that with correct code for good browsers using @import.

Netscape 4 is a crappy browser. It was released over five years ago, it violated the rule that browsers should ignore markup they don't understand, and it's got lousy support for web standards (or, if you insist, recommendations, but they're de facto standards). Standards which, by the way, were released years ago (HTML 4.01 in December 1999, XHTML 1.0 in January 2000, CSS 1 in December 1996, and CSS 2 in May 1998). Still, there's a misconception that you can't follow web standards and have your site work in Netscape 4. I've done sites with CSS positioning that work fine in Netscape 4.

I wouldn't code just for Internet Explorer, though, because things could change. AOL is considering changing the built-in browser to Mozilla, and if they switch, people that built IE-only sites are going to be bumming.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:52 PM on July 8, 2002

I think so many web designers are so proud of all the little tricks they know, and all the browser-specific javascript code they rely on, that they almost don't WANT to welcome in a world where it's not necessary.

This just about summarizes the situation where I work. After a long hiatus from hands-on coding, I'm diving back into it for this intranet project where the client has specified that all their users will be on IE 5+ for PC only. Which means I can use XHTML/CSS -- no tables! And I'm coding it to be standards-compliant so it should work in other modern browsers as well.

But one of the reasons why I'm doing this (even though coding has long since ceased being part of my job description), is because everyone here is just too attached to tables, and (ack!) single-pixel spacer GIFs and other garbage like that. The back-end developers get it, though, once I show them how compact the code is, and how much easier it will be for them to encapsulate the logic.

So this IE-only mindset pisses me off because it's just another variation on the "must-have-pixel-perfect-layout-in-all-browsers" attitude that is ultimately not about good code and, by extension, good, extensible web applications.
posted by nstop at 10:00 PM on July 8, 2002

It depends. For my personal pages I shoot for XHTML 1 transitional validation. Professionally I shoot for standards validation and Netscape 4.7 compliance. Netscape 4.7 because of its overall pice of shitness pretty much has single-handedly held web design back by quite a bit.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:15 PM on July 8, 2002

I code XHTML transitional with a few non-standard tags/attributes to help the usability in old browsers.
posted by holloway at 10:18 PM on July 8, 2002

I disagree with the article. I'm finding fewer and fewer sites are a problem with my browsers of choice, Opera and Mozilla. I've used Opera since 4 and Mozilla since 0.92 and used to have to load IE often because sites wouldn't let me in or wouldn't work without it. Not so these days. I now rarely use IE except for testing. And I no longer spoof my UserAgent to tell the world I'm IE. The different browsers are more similar than they've ever been.

I now aim for Mozilla first and tweak for IE and Opera. It's easier to get a site designed for Mozilla to work in IE than the other way around. Accomodating NS4 is a pain no matter what modern browser you aim for. With AOL switching to Mozilla looming I expect that Mozilla will become the default target for a lot of developers.
posted by TimeFactor at 10:22 PM on July 8, 2002

Sigh. Such a pleasant thought...

Threads like this always remind me of how amazing my first Web experiences were, browsing with Lynx. The joy of instant sideways leaps to pages thousands of miles away was indescribably thrilling. Text! Acres and acres of it! My brain could jump around like a grasshopper on fifteen cups of coffee; god it was fun--almost a relief, really. Finally, a medium that understood me. Funny that folks are still active on the lynx-dev mailing list. Do visually impaired folks really use it that much?

Wow. For a minute there I was actually nostalgic for a text-only browser. Time for bed.
posted by mediareport at 10:33 PM on July 8, 2002

For work -- My sites work in all 5.x + browsers, including Mozilla and Opera. My sites will be perfect in Mozilla and IE.

For home, I follow standards. That means that Mozilla is perfect (most of the time) and IE's broken box model throws things off. I use a browser detect script to display messages to users explaining the 'bugs'.
posted by SpecialK at 10:53 PM on July 8, 2002

it makes me sad to watch netscape go like this but it really sucks having to build sites that look right in netscape 4.X b/c it clutters your site with unnecessary code and forces you to abandon the majority of the functionality and efficiency of css. even netscape 6 is a turdball. it loads slow, runs slow, looks too bubbly, and still had problems interpreting css. poop on netscape. as for the other browsers... i'm glad they're taking the time to code a functional browser and as long as they follow the current standards then they should be able to properly see the sites i build but i'm not taking the time to fix the ones that don't b/c they are such a small share of the market.
posted by ggggarret at 11:55 PM on July 8, 2002

At work we only support IE5.0SP2 and up and NS4.x and 5.x.

For cost reasons and user demographics (we are accessed almost exclusively from coporate environments where IE is even more dominate).

We are working quickly to close some security issues with NS6.2 so that we can stop supporting NS4.x and immediately cut our development time almost in half and focus on making everything look and flow better.
posted by obfusciatrist at 12:07 AM on July 9, 2002

My focus of web development is internal company applications and e-Government.

For the most part, clients dictate IE5.5 as the browser. I try to make my site look/work good in Mozilla. As for Opera, puh-lease, it may render OK, but with no real Javascript support, it's just not an option.

I would prefer to have all sites be completely accessable from either Mozilla or IE, however since we use ActiveX to accomplish a lot of functionality (scanning, bar-coding, encryption), it basically breaks down to IE/Mozilla for viewing information, and IE only for data entry.

I don't try and support older browsers since my applications tend to be the sort where the browser can be easily dictated. I think people actually underestimate the impact Mozilla 1.0 will have. For the longest time developers gave up on supporting multiple browsers, since to get anything to work in Netscape 4.x was just incredibly kludgy. With Mozilla 1.0 and IE >5.5, I can write CSS, Javascript, HTML and pretty much assume it works in both browsers.
posted by patrickje at 12:30 AM on July 9, 2002

Patrickje: As for Opera, puh-lease, it may render OK, but with no real Javascript support, it's just not an option.

You and I are in the same boat. Opera is a sexy browser, but since I help develop large-scale browser apps with complex GUIs, I've had to restrict most of my development to those browsers with excellent (and similarly exploitable) DOM support. Meaning Mozilla 1.0 and IE 5.*.

And I feel for ya, trying to mimic the ease of use for complex ActiveX stuff is rough, rough, rough.

I think people actually underestimate the impact Mozilla 1.0 will have.

I would add that Mozilla's impact as a cross-platform thin client to large HTTP apps could be particularly significant. I increasingly find that interfaces I design in Mozilla 1.0 on Windows work as expected on Mozilla 1.0 for OSX and for Linux. Which is very nifty when compared to the amount of massaging and branching which seems required when writing complex Javascript (or CSS) for IE5/Win and IE5/Mac.

And, randomly, I just had a thought about specific browser tricks: How come more sites don't use the alpha filters available in IE and Mozilla? Speed? Don't like effects?
posted by massless at 1:00 AM on July 9, 2002

I often use alpha, I'm guessing many developers just aren't aware of it (especially if they're using WYSIWYG tools).
Technically, Opera's a mess. Try doing anything advanced with layout and scripting and watch it struggle. If anything it's setting back the cause of standards and compatibility, not advancing it.
I develop using XHTML 1.0 Transitional with CSS for layout wherever possible (I resent having to resort to tables and spacer gifs nowadays!). Sites are built to look their best in Win IE5/5.5/6, Mac IE5 and NS6, then bodges (e.g. alternative style sheet inserted via JavaScript) are added later to make the site usable with NS4 etc.

Anyone developing a consumer-facing site just for IE is either lazy or ignorant. Yes, there may be specific features only possible with Windows IE, but there's no good reason to build whole sites that exclude other browsers.

Many developers seem to have little or no pride in their work and so probably don't give a toss.
posted by malevolent at 1:14 AM on July 9, 2002

...either lazy or ignorant

I'm both! Do I get some kind of prize?

The last webby development I actually got paid for was for an IIS/ASP website with an SQL/OLAP/Exchange backend, served up into an instance of IE 5/6 hosted within Outlook 2000. But it was an intranet KM solution thingo, not something that was outward-facing. And we knew 100% of the client base was using IE. So even though I am both ignorant and lazy, it wasn't because of our browser-support choices.

But yeah, I like to try to make my for-fun stuff look reasonable in as many browsers as possible. That said, screw NN4.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:42 AM on July 9, 2002

This was written by Jason Kottke last week, about some tweaks he made to his blog:
"the time has come to say goodbye to some older browsers. I have no idea what looks like in Netscape 4, and I really don't care. It works in IE 5+ and Mozilla on both the Mac and PC...that's pretty much what I'm shooting for."

I am on the record as being totally against it, but my client has me making a site with a dhtml navbar right now. The "make it look like this" URL she sent me crashed my browser (IE5, Mac) immediately, ha ha.
posted by planetkyoto at 2:24 AM on July 9, 2002

I do very limited development, strictly personal stuff and sites for entities with which I have some kind of affiliation. I am not the web developer in the family. (That's my brother's bit.) For my personal stuff, I've been going XHTML 1.0 Strict with CSS positioning, and validating the heck out of everything before doing cross-browser checks on IE 5, Moz1 and NN 6 for Mac, IE 5.0, 5.5 and 6 and NN6 on Win95/98/NT. I serve up positioning hidden from bad browsers with the @import trick, but I cascade basic style info (colours, fonts, etc.) in a sheet that all browsers can see, so at least NN4 users get that. Small concessions to my few friends/colleagues who can't/won't upgrade. Very small.

For the non-personal stuff I've been doing, I have been finding it difficult to go back to table-based layouts and font tags and all of that rigmarole. It's limiting and time-sucking, and completely non-intuitive now that I feel I've figured out how to do it right.
posted by Dreama at 2:26 AM on July 9, 2002

Developing for IE only is easy, so more people will do it.

Developing for IE is also cheaper. The cheapest site my employer's customers will get is one that is guaranteed to work only in IE 6+. If that's all they can afford and still keep the features they require.

For the clients with less limited budgets, or who are willing to drop some features / design elements, we'll code pages that will run well in every browser. Even CSS only pages that rely on intensive javascript/DHTML and are pixel perfect in NS 4x.

The main point in my mind when discussing which browsers will be supported by a particular business site is the ratio of extra cost for supporting a given browser to the likely number of extra users gained by supporting said browser.

Of course, I'm usually writing the backend code that generates the HTML. I usually only run into compatibility issues if I'm programming tricky DHTML elements.
posted by syzygy at 4:52 AM on July 9, 2002

At my last job, the network administrator was kind enough (he was a grouchy, little fart) to pull the report breaking down browsers hitting our website for the past six months. IE was virtually 100%, Mozilla had hit a few dozen times, but we had only 5 hits from NS. Needless to say, multibrowser support went out the window that day.
posted by mischief at 5:02 AM on July 9, 2002

I'm overseeing an office of Macs and am now heartily sick of IE5.1 on OS9.2. Just falls over too many times.

So now I'm testing Opera [Love it for speed, altho' the JS problem can be a pain. Make sure you allow documents to open windows if you are having problems with JS pop-ups not working BTW.] and just finished d/ling Moz1.0 to see how it works [Liked 0.9 until bits of the menus started falling off!]. Currently I'll use Opera for everything until I come up against a site I can't use & then IE fills in. [BTW, Opera are hiring...]

Access to the main site I oversee (constructed & coded by others) breaks down like this:

IE 6 - 32.4%
IE5.5 - 25.9%
IE5.1 - 10.1%
IE5.0 - 21.1%
IE4 - 0.7%

NN3(?!) - 3.3%
NN4.7 - 1.2%
NN4.0 - 0.4%
NN5.0 - 0.8%

AOL7 - 1.6%
AOL6 - 0.6%

Opera 5.0 - 0.4% (This could be me)

& 1 solitary hit from 'Moozilla' (prob. me again)

Looks like Explorer gets 90% altho' most of the visitors will be top sports facilities managers who may not be perched on the severed-edge of 'net technology.

As an aside, can any of you code ninjas recommend any good site for a page-coding novice (very, very basic grasp of HTML) who wants to start out with good habits & CSS, designing fairly simple sites? I'm chugging thru WaSP at the moment. Ta.
posted by i_cola at 6:07 AM on July 9, 2002

i work for a non-profit that gets several million pageviews a month and we are still seeing approx. 10-12% NS4.x

this makes me sad, but with that percentage going down less than 1 point a month, we'll be coding for NS4 for quite some time...
posted by gwint at 6:49 AM on July 9, 2002

I code XHTML transitional with a few non-standard tags/attributes to help the usability in old browsers.

I thought transitional was "transitional" because it had the stuff (particularly td widths) that were necessary in older browsers.

I'm a software engineer, not a web designer, so maybe I'm missing some "obviously necessary" tweaks, but in my experience transitional is sufficient. Plus JavaScript (checked for NN6, IE>=5.5) for business logic that is duplicated on the server (so that users of those browsers get faster response).

And I´m slowly managing to hammer home that CSS is a good idea to the designer I work with...
posted by andrew cooke at 7:09 AM on July 9, 2002

Yeah, gwint, same here. Non-profit site with a few hundred thousand visitors a month.... and we get around the same number of NS4 users. NS4.x actually dwarfs the number of people who have upgraded to 6.x by a huge margin...


We even get a fairly significant # of webtv hits...

-- jon
posted by ph00dz at 7:16 AM on July 9, 2002

Up until about two or three months ago (the last time I was able to generate stats for our main portal site), most of our traffic was coming from IE, and about 3% from NS4 or lower.

That said, I don't think developing specifically for IE is any kind of solution. I personally strive to develop to the standards first and only add CSS hacks if the text display is badly broken in IE.

Something related to this, incidentally, is the lack of proper semantic markup. Good markup, combined with @import, should take care of NS4 or other bad browsers (sure, it won't look pretty, but it will be accessible).
posted by Kikkoman at 7:35 AM on July 9, 2002

As an aside, can any of you code ninjas recommend any good site for a page-coding novice (very, very basic grasp of HTML) who wants to start out with good habits & CSS, designing fairly simple sites?

These are good general development sites: I learned a lot from and Webmonkey; they don't get updated much anymore, but they're good for the basics.

These are good for CSS: Because most of the CSS layout sites don't let Netscape 4 load their style sheets, you might get the impression that you can't do CSS positioning in Netscape 4. You can, with a lot of testing. Whether or not the extra work is worth it is another question.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:52 AM on July 9, 2002

i_cola, in addition to kirkaracha's excellent links, the NY Public Library's Style Guide is a very nice simple introduction to XHTML/CSS.
posted by TimeFactor at 9:10 AM on July 9, 2002


You might also want to try:

The Web Standards Project

Dive Into Mark (which currently has a great series on accessibility discussed earlier on MeFi)

and of course The Noodle Incident CSS Panic Guide
posted by TNLNYC at 9:11 AM on July 9, 2002

I work for a major cultural institution and we design for the two biggies (IE and Netscape) on both PCs and Macs. Of course, I know there are more than two browsers and two platforms but, given time and worker constraints we follow our stats (majority are IE).

Also, we have to design for internal use. If someone can't see our sites properly within our institution, we hear about it pronto. Up until recently most were using Netscape 4.7x. So, while we now code in xhtml 1.0 transitional with some CSS (no positioning, but CSS within tables as a transition), we do pay attention to what it looks like on 4.7x. Luckily, that's changing as the "image disk" used to service our computers is now upgrading everyone to IE 5.5 or 6 and Netscape 6.

Gwint, our stats show that about 12% of our users are still using Netscape 4.7x. Someone comically pointed out that that stat probably represents mostly internal users! That created a big laugh!

For those still walking the fine line between later browsers and Netscape 4 you might want to check out Makiko Itoh's book JavaScript +CSS +DOM Magic. She offers some good tips on developing "modern" code with Netscape 4 in mind.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 9:45 AM on July 9, 2002

Was it really that long ago when the phrase "You need to get NETSCAPE!" appeared on something like every other page?

I was stubborn. I used Mosaic for a long time, until it no longer was feasible. : )
posted by SisterHavana at 10:28 AM on July 9, 2002

I thought transitional was "transitional" because it had the stuff (particularly td widths) that were necessary in older browsers.
There's td background="" that, I think, was never accepted by any standard. Other guff too.

For me, the sites I do are dynamic, so it doesn't matter much if I'm filling a DIV or a TD with content. It's equally easy to maintain. The main reasons for CSS-P (printable pages, other styles at the flick of a stylesheet) are done with different urls, and this way old browsers can use these features too.
posted by holloway at 12:34 PM on July 9, 2002

kirkaracha, TimeFactor & TNLNYC: Many thanks...
posted by i_cola at 10:07 AM on July 10, 2002

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