by Michael Bloch
Sure, it looks great in Internet Explorer 6, but..... A few years ago,
there weren't many different versions of web browsers to choose from. Now there
are dozens. Actually, there's over 100 different browsers, not counting different
versions of the same product. Quite a number of these names I had never heard
of before - here's a list of browsers currently available:
1X, Act 10, ActiveBrowser, Active Worlds, Alice, Amaya, ANT Fresco, Arachne, AvantGo,
AWeb-II, Beonex Communicator, Browse-X, Charon, Chimera, CipherNet, Clickgarden,
CrystalPort, CubicEye, DocZilla, E:ID Frame, Encompass, Enigma, Escape, ezWAP,
FairLighHTML Viewer, Fast Browser, Galeon, Go.Web, Grail, Grasshopper V1, Home
Page Reader, HotJava, iBrowse, IBrowser, iBrowserPlus, iCab, ICE Browser, I-Comm,
iConnecter, InfoScanner, Internet Explorer, IPowerPortal WebBrowser, KBrowser
MIPS Edition, KBrowser Palm Edition, Kidnet Explorer, Klondike Web Browser, K-Meleon,
Konqueror, Konqueror/Embedded, Links, Lynx, Lynx for Amiga, Micro Digital Browser,
Mobile Explorer, Mozilla, MSN Explorer, Multilingual Mosaic, MultiWeb
but wait, there's more!......
Neoplanet, Nestor, Netcaptor, NetClue, NetPositive, NetRaider, Netscape, Net-Tamer,
Newt's Cape, Nokia Wap Browser, oKID Browser, Oligo, OmniWeb, Openwave Mobile
Browser, Opera, Orangotango VirtualBrowser, Oregano, Palmscape, Pendragon Browser,
Pixo Internet Microbrowser, Planetweb browser, Pocket Browser, Palm Browser, Pocket
IE, ProxiWeb, Q.Bati, RapidBrowser, Safari, Safexplorer, SlipKnot, SpeedSeek Portal
Solution, SPIN, StarDesktop, TV Interactor, UltraBrowser, ViOS, Voyager, w3m,
Wapaka, WAPman, Web, WebsterXL, WebPhace, WebTV, WeMedia Talking Browser, Whack
Force, WWW/LX, XBrowser, Yalzer, Yoozee.
Choice is a wonderful thing, but the proliferation of browser software has also
increased confusion in consumers as to what they should use. It has also been
the major bugbear of web developers.
The good news for developers is that the vast majority of web surfers use either
Internet Explorer or Netscape - approximately 95%. The bad news is that there
are over 200 flavours of Internet Explorer and Netscape. Web pages can look totally
different between the different versions.
The common argument used by web developers to avoid dealing with compatibility
issues is that as the percentage of people using Netscape is relatively low, around
the 10% mark globally, - it isn't worthwhile taking those users into account.
This is probably not a wise way approach the issue, especially for an ecommerce
based site. 10% can make a big difference to your bottom line, as it's not only
Internet Explorer users who buy goods and services online.
You may be of the opinion "my server logs show that only 5 percent of my visitors
use Netscape, so I'm not going to bother too much about cross browser compatibility".
Perhaps you would have more Netscape visitors by making some minor changes to
your coding that would better present your web material to them. Netscape users
also have a tendency to switch to IE from time to time. If they have had a bad
experience on your site using Netscape, they may not even bother visiting it again
under a different browser.
Even if you do target your site to a particular brand of browser; you then need
to contend with different versions of that brand. For example; a site designed
for IE5.5 may look different under IE4.
The simple solution is for everyone to upgrade their browser? True, but who are
we to dictate what people use on their systems? Some people do not have the equipment
capable to do this. The later versions of Internet Explorer demand massive system
The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) has been battling for years for software companies
to produce "compliant" browsers. The idea of compliancy, amongst other things,
is to guarantee that a web page looks the same under any browser. Many browsers
circulating now are not "compliant". Unfortunately, the W3C has had an uphill
battle in this but does seem to making some ground.
A visit to the W3C site is mind boggling. Many standards that were introduced
by this organization years ago are only just beginning to become accepted. Added
to this their tendency to introduce new standards on a regular basis, and the
complexity of those standards, I feel that they aren't doing themselves too many
favors on the quick uptake of new technologies.
On the other end of the scale, much of the software used for producing web sites
is notorious for creating non-compliant and garbage code. I use FrontPage, but
to combat some of the garbage that it creates, I also utilize Notepad. Cleaner
coding also makes your pages more search engine friendly. FrontPage is great for
rapid application development, but it contains many features that aren't cross-browser
compatible. I have also trialed other major packages, but found the same issues.
Once again, the W3C has given many guidelines for software developers to adopt,
but the industry is very slow on the uptake. Perhaps the whole process of developing
standards needs to be re-examined.
While there are many sites that will offer you advice on cross browser compatibility;
I still find the best way to deal with the issue is to run a variety of browsers
on a system and test pages as they are being developed under various resolutions.
Then experiment; with the experimentation will come a great deal of learning....
When first attempting to deal with cross-browser issues on my site, I followed
some advice of industry leaders and found the advice to be flawed, and I am still
working out the bugs in my major site. A word of warning - if you are running
a later version of IE on your system, I would advise against attempting to install
an earlier version; it can really mess with your system. The best option in this
situation is to view your site from another system, or ask an associate with an
earlier version to review your site and to send screen captures if a problem appears.
Aim to make your site compatible with all IE and Netscape browsers from version
Ask yourself before implementing that whizz-bang menu system or element that requires
a plug-in - "is it really necessary?". Most people surf the net for information,
not entertainment at this stage - they have a TV for that. "Eye Candy" may impress
visitors the first time around, but after that if it slows down the performance
of your site, it will serve only to annoy them. The exception to this rule of
course is if you are developing an entertainment-centric site.
If you receive emails from angry visitors stating that your site looks like manure;
perhaps instead of disregarding the comments or firing back a retaliatory note,
you should investigate by asking for details. It may prove to be a beneficial
exercise. The site may be looking fine to you on your system, but perhaps it's
not the case with the browsers that some visitors are using.
The truth is, tailoring a site for cross browser compatibility is a pain. "Compliancy"
by W3C standards by no means indicates compatibility with all browsers. But the
benefits of taking that bit of extra time can pay off in the long run by allowing
you to get your message across, or to secure sales from a wider customer base.
About the Author:
Michael Bloch, Taming the Beast.net
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