Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Shooting browsers: Threat or Menace?

Category: Articles, IE

Two articles were shot onto A List Apart this morning. We have Jeffrey Zeldman on the threat or menace of version targeting. Then we have Jeremy Keith on browser shooting.

Both are opinions on the version targeting issue that has blown up on the Web recently.

Jeremy concludes:

Version targeting is not a bad idea. The choice of delivery mechanisms—meta element or server header—is inspired. As an optional feature, this could prove to be a real lifesaver in some development environments. As a mandatory millstone however, it strikes a blow against progressive enhancement.

The proposed default behavior for version targeting in Internet Explorer solves the problem of “breaking the web” in much the same way that decapitation solves the problem of headaches. In its current state, version targeting is a cure that will kill the patient. Version targeting could have been an opportunity for Microsoft to demonstrate innovation. Instead, the proposed default behavior demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the World Wide Web, a place that according to its creator, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, will always be “a little bit broken.”

Jeffrey concludes:

Version targeting is a mind-bender. It shakes our browser-agnostic faith. Its default behavior, although beneficial to skilled and unskilled developers alike, runs counter to our expectations, and seems wrong. And it presents at least one Sphinxian riddle: namely, how can IE8 pass Acid 2 if IE8 behaves as IE7 by default? You can spend weeks on that one and not come up with a logical answer. Call me Lewis Carroll, but I’m okay with it.

He talks about how JavaScript already is opt-in:

And actually, Mozilla has offered opt-in version targeting, first when Firefox 1.5 introduced support for JavaScript 1.6, and later, when Firefox 2.0 did the same for JavaScript 1.7. In both cases, you had to explicitly opt in. The comparison is Mozilla’s favor, for they targeted scripting language versions, not browser versions. But although Mozilla did it more cleanly, both browser makers offered targeting, and for the same reason: to protect developers from unintended behavior as their browsers’ scripting support improved.

Non-standardistas have been writing JScript for years. While the CSS changes in IE7 may have “broken” a site’s layout, IE8’s JavaScript improvements could easily render a site useless. Real DOM support is a game changer. Enabled by default, it would bring many sites to their knees. That would break the web, and not in quotes. Providing IE8’s greater compliance on an opt-in basis is the only way to get everyone over the scripting hump.

But while the opt-in protects old-fashioned coders from a major change in the scripting environment, it also offers unique benefits to even the most die-hard standardista.

The opinions keep on coming!

Posted by Dion Almaer at 7:41 am

3.1 rating from 19 votes


Comments feed TrackBack URI

Since we know the reasons for IE7 failure was corporate intranets, I don’t see what is so objectionable about a solution that a few Server Administrators could account for by turning on IE7 render mode in the web server headers for an entire company.

If Microsoft really wanted IE8 to get massive adoption they would include a “render like IE6” meta tag as well.

I also wonder about the buggyness of sites that will include frames with different rendering modes.

Comment by Chris Phillips — February 19, 2008

I’m still not sure how I feel about the tags. On one hand, I could get a site to work, set it and forget it for the rest of its existence as far as IE is concerned. On the other hand, I’m a perfectionist, so I know will be spending many a day in the future visiting 3+ year old sites I made to test and see if they work in the newest version. I still haven’t decided if being upset about this is a legitimate concern or just FUD related to the unknown future of the web.

Comment by tj111 — February 19, 2008

What I don’t get is why they don’t make IE8 a standalone browser. That would solve the don’t break the “IE7” web problem by allowing people who have to to stick to IE7 for a while, until their sites/intranet/apps migrate to the real standards web.

Defaulting to IE7 mode is just plain wrong.

Comment by p01 — February 19, 2008

What we need is for the new browsers to break the web. We’ll have a fallout of a month or two where the important websites upgrade to meet the real standards, then we’ll be on good footing from there on in.

(I can hope, can’t I?)

Comment by EndangeredMassa — February 19, 2008

“What we need is for the new browsers to break the web.”

What we need is for an entire generation of browsers, released relatively in tandem, all of which share an array of features that are both flashy and significant to business, all of which break the web at the same time, and all of which are pushed to the extent of their respective software update systems’ capabilities.

While IE dominates partly because of momentum, it also dominates by picking up the bare minimum of its competitors’ features and by a relative stagnation of groundbreaking features being produced by said competitors. If the IE team were serious and genuine about getting on board the standards/interoperability boat, it would behoove them to work with Apple, Mozilla and Opera to not only collaborate over new feature concepts but to put together a coherent and effective marketing campaign and deployment plan.

And unfortunately, the IE team is serious (at least relative to their past efforts) but Microsoft is not. It’s no wonder why when one examines the market share trends.

Comment by Trevor — February 20, 2008

p01: “by allowing people who have to to stick to IE7 for a while”

Unfortunately, this doesn’t do us (web developers) much good either; either people get an update to IE8 sooner or later (through windows update or some such mechanism), or they in all probability won’t update at all.

That brings us in an altogether more uncomfortable position of having to support IE7 indefinitely. And that’s something I’d want to avoid at all costs, if possible.

In all reality, it doesn’t matter much what the IE8 team decides to do, unless they would ignore the whole “My website is programmed by my 9yr old, but I still want it to work” thing, but alas, they don’t. And, since they don’t, any and all so-called “solutions” they could and would come up with, would be a slippery slope at best.

People don’t bring their car back to the dealer. Until it breaks down on them. It seems to me, the only (but, I admit, somewhat extreme) solution is to disregard IE all together, where and when we can.

Take a long, hard, critical look at whatever project your currently developing. How much extra development costs will be geared towards making it compatible with IE (assuming you begin with ‘standards’-compliant code)? How much time, money and headaches will it cost relative to developing the project for the standards? Is that percentage in line with the expected target audience that uses IE as a browser? If not, then simply don’t do it. Make sure you inform your IE-specific users in a most gentle way that their browser isn’t up to the task and give them options like downloading an alternative, or complain at Microsoft.

People will only complain when they see something’s wrong. Unless their IE visibly botches up their favorite websites (should be: web experiences), there’s not a cloud in the sky. When it does so, however, they begin to see something’s not right. At that point, they might begin to understand that their browser is outdated. I’d even go as far as to say: simply broken, for it doesn’t do what it advertises: It doesn’t display the web at it’s full potential.

It might not seem so, but most users already understand this mechanism!

Some know that, when they run Windows XP, they can forget playing the latest games that are built on Direct X 10: Their Windows version is simply outdated (or: broken, since the hardware layer is outdated relative to the demands of the newest games) and they either play Direct X 9 games only, or update to Vista.

Some know that, when they watch TV on their old Tube, their programs won’t display at all correctly: They know that their television is unable to show the format (wide screen or HDTV) as it is supposed to, and they can either update that hardware and watch the programs in all their entertaining glory, or stick with what they have. If cable TV didn’t start broadcasting even when the most of the population didn’t have TV sets capable of receiving cable, then we would still have aerial-only transmissions.

Some know that, when they ride their century-old but loved model T, they can’t use it on the highway: it’s simply not fast enough. Their can either use their regular car to cross city boundaries, or never cross them at all.

A few years back, all the new web-related technologies were applauded. They still are. However, people spoke of them as “the potential of the internet”. Wake up! It isn’t the potential any longer, it’s the fact. Or, as some people like to say it: The future is now. Unless you’re using IE.

Comment by DiSiLLUSiON — February 22, 2008

thanks for that intresting piece

Comment by Aphrodisiac — August 15, 2008

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