Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

As part of a series on IE, C|net has an article on the problem of browser incompatibilities.

According to the article, users of ‘minority’ browsers like Firefox and Opera are unable to escape IE entirely due to IE-only sites:

For many people, using a non-Microsoft browser such as Firefox is now a must for secure Web surfing — but most still keep a copy of Internet Explorer around just in case.

The problem is that many Web developers create their sites so they work best with Internet Explorer (IE), but not to work as well with browser software used by relatively tiny groups of potential visitors.

C|net’s not entirely wrong: there are indeed sites that don’t work in browsers other than IE. However, I almost never open IE for anything but testing.

I’ve been using a Gecko-based browser for most of my surfing since 2001 and Mozilla 0.9.4; returning to IE now is just painful. Besides which, my primary personal computer is a Mac, so IE/Win isn’t a realistic option for me at home. If a site requires IE/Win I take my business elsewhere and, if I can find a contact addy, let the losing vendor know why.

I can think of only two execptions to the rule. First, my electric and gas supplier, Powergen. Their offline incompetence (speaking organisationally; no offence to any particular employee intended) has me looking to better-deal them as soon as they get my account straightened out anyway. The second is MaximumASP, the web host used by my employer. Their account management app simply falls down in Firefox — no surprise given their focus, I suppose. But if I were in charge of selecting hosting vendors at work, I’d have us at another host faster than you can say ‘best practices.’

What’s particularly frustrating about sites like Powergen and MaximumASP is that it really doesn’t have to be that way — C|net’s assertions notwithstanding:

These incompatibilities between browsers are as big a headache for developers as they are for Web surfers, some professionals say.

“It’s definitely a problem,” said Noel Briggs, a developer at Web design company NetTensity. “The time we waste on addressing browser incompatibility problems easily amounts to a significant percentage of our payroll.”

Pardon me if I call ‘baloney.’

When the WaSP was founded in the dark days of 1998, we estimated that browser incompatibilities added 20% to the cost of developing a web site. Back then, Netscape Communications was by far the worst offender in terms of standards support. The flaws in their Navigator browser and Communicator suite are the stuff of legends. IE was no picnic either, but Microsoft was trying and it showed: IE was neck-and-neck with Opera in terms of standards support, even a bit ahead where the DOM was concerned.

Today, both Navigator and Communicator have given way to a new Netscape browser based on The Mozilla Foundation’s outstanding Gecko rendering engine. Meanwhile, web developers have developed standards-based methodologies like WaSP project leader Steven Champeon’sprogressive enhancement.’

Together, better browsers (including IE 6/Win, warts and all) and better practices have slashed the time I spend hacking around browser incompatibilities to something like 10-15% of total development time. And that’s just 10% of development time; it doesn’t account for design, IA, project management, photography, copywriting and so on. Those aspects of site development are only minimally impacted by browser incompatibilities.

So the percentage of total site development cost spent on browser incompatibilities these days is probably under 5%, at least in my experience. On scripting-intensive projects the total may be a bit more — as much as 10-15% of the total, even. But that’s still a significant reduction from the bad old days.

This reduction is almost entirely due to the adoption of web standards by browser makers and site developers. How do I know? Because testing and debugging all but the most complex sites in the most standards-compliant browsers — those based on Mozilla’s Gecko engine, KDE‘s KHTML and the Opera browser — can be done in an hour or six. On a large project, the team probably spends more time than that making coffee or ordering pizza. The lion’s share of the debugging time and effort is spent on the less standards-compliant IE/Win and, to a (much) lesser extent, the officially-moribund IE/Mac.

Bottom line, if IE/Win were brought up to snuff on standards, browser incompatibilities would largely be a non-issue. And even as it stands, devoting 5% of costs to support a group of browsers that comprises more than 5% of the audience (according most recent web statistics I’ve seen) looks like a bargain to me.

Return to top

Post a Reply

Comments are closed.

All of the entries posted in WaSP Buzz express the opinions of their individual authors. They do not necessarily reflect the plans or positions of the Web Standards Project as a group.

This site is valid XHTML 1.0 Strict, CSS | Get Buzz via RSS or Atom | Colophon | Legal