Eight nine ten, here we go again
Within stylesheets (CSS), IE10 also takes some steps to bring it into line with other browsers. This includes implementation of gradients of shade, for example, which gives subtle elegance to web pages. IE has long supported gradients in CSS, but used its own proprietary syntax which caused no end of compatibility issues for developers. Likewise, all modern browsers allow websites to use their own fonts, but it is only with IE10 that Microsoft supports the same font standards as other browsers rather than its own proprietary format.
Microsoft's implementation of the standards, although late in the day, appears to be comprehensive. That should be good for web development, but deliberate choices by Microsoft now creates a dilemma for developers.
If you run Firefox or Chrome then you can, (and should) be running the latest production versions of those browsers, whatever desktop operating system you are using. There is no good reason not to. The version of Firefox which runs on Windows7 and 8 has all the same features as the version which runs on old XP machines. Likewise with Google Chrome. Not so if you choose to run Internet Explorer. IE10 will only run on Windows7 or Windows8. It will not work if you try to install it on a PC running XP or Vista.
40% of desktop computer users are still using Windows XP and it was only in 2012 that XP was finally overtaken in usage by Windows7, yet Microsoft regards XP as long obsolete. Not only will IE10 not run on XP, but neither will IE9. Around 5% of computer users have Vista, and that fares slightly better than XP in that it will run the slightly better IE9 but not the upcoming version 10. So that's 45% of windows users who do not have the option of running the latest version of IE.
Microsoft argues that it would be too expensive to produce versions of IE10 for each operating system, yet other browser makers seem to have little trouble producing a browser which runs on all versions of windows, as well as on Apple Macs, and even on a mobile phone. Microsoft's suggestion to get the best web experience is to buy a new computer, (which naturally means buying a new copy of Windows). A lot of users are realising that they can get the best web experience by changing to Firefox or Chrome, and that works out a lot cheaper and is a lot less hassle. Nevertheless, at the end of 2012, around 30% of all web users were surfing the web using IE6, 7 or 8.
How long should web developers support the older Microsoft browsers? Structuring code so that it works on Microsoft's older browsers increases development and support costs. It also means we are limited in how we can use the usability features of modern browsers to improve the user experience and instead have to design to the lowest common denominator from Microsoft. Increasingly, web developers are unwilling to do that and customers are unwilling to pay for that. Google, for instance, no longer supports IE7 or older at all on its products whilst Facebook provides only limited support for IE7 and lower.
If Microsoft really cared as much about promoting web standards as it claims, it would release the IE10 rendering engine for all its platforms, but that looks highly unlikely. The alternative, if you or your business still has older machines running XP or Vista and you are still using MSIE, is to try out Firefox or Chrome. You might be surprised at how the web looks better than you thought.
25th March 2013
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