Not the ancient reptilian variety, mind you, but rather the ignorant, stagnant subset of internet users out there that are still clunking around the information super highway in old, busted browsers that are clogging traffic in the fast lane for the rest of us. Hilariously, many of these folks are the same people who cause the same sort of problems in the literal version of that metaphor, as well as the figurative. Many of them are older users, people who don’t see a need to ‘upgrade,’ much less understand what that even entails. Many more still are folks who aren’t exactly tech savvy and are just barely managing to make technology work for them.
A good number of them don’t even realize upgrading (or updating) is even an option. And then of course, there are the poor people who have older browser tech forced upon them by their IT department, for any number of asinine reasons, all of which circle back to the ridiculous notion that it’s better not to upgrade to newer, better tools for fear of their barely-stable proprietary systems breaking, rather than, you know, fixing their crap to actually function properly on anything OTHER than IE6.
So far as I’m concerned, each of these type of people (and many more) can easily be lumped into one large group: people whose hits I don’t give a flying f$%k about.
Breaking it Down
Rather than going into great amounts of detail here, I will simply say this. The basic, underlying web technologies that drive every site out there are rapidly moving towards a point at which they will be easily able to mimic behavior and abilities previously found only in advanced design software. The degree of control over typography and positioning of elements is increasing at an alarming rate, and the ease of which these design choices can be executed is the most exciting part, especially for me. Having been trained with a background in print design and methodology, and with the utmost respect for good typography (even though I am not always the greatest example of its use), the ability to essentially make the web look like print while providing a high degree of interaction is something I am eager to make full use of.
A number of popular, mainstream browsers support the things that make this possible already, which is great. I can test most of this stuff out right now. The problem, of course, are the users who for one reason or another just will not move forward along with the rest of the digital world, and are in fact lagging as much as nine years behind those of us who are keeping on top of evolving trends…or at least those of us who actually accept software updates.
So, on the one hand we have some amazing people cooking up methods for us to create great designs purely from code (which is a huge boon from perspectives of technicality and efficiency), and on the other we have a whole barge-load of people who are unable to witness these advances. On the surface, this seems like it should be no big deal; the forward thinkers get to see the goods and the sticks in the mud don’t; and in an ideal situation, this would be the case. The problem is that because of the nature of code, and more importantly, how browsers interpret it, people who show up to look at a site with all of these fancy new bells and whistles won’t just not see the new stuff; they may see something that’s totally broken. It poses quite a dilemma for anybody who is concerned with making their site viewable and usable by the largest possible percentage of people; such is the case of the majority of people who are trying to use a web site to make money (for example, 100% of my clients to date).
The results? One or more of the following:
- Adoption rates of the new stuff slows down, thereby theoretically slowing down the progress made on the technology.
- People still soldier on and use the new stuff, but still have to develop for older browser compatibility as well and end up wasting loads of time on browser-proofing their sites, often generating additional, redundant code.
- People wait to use the new stuff and develop for older browser compatibility using traditional methods, wasting loads of time on browser-proofing their sites, often generating additional, redundant code.
- Last, and least likely: People develop using only newer tech for newer browsers, and either provide minimum compatibility for older browsers, or just leave things to chance.
For the record, I tend to fall in the second category, always wishing instead to find myself in the fourth.
So, What Can Be Done?
Practically speaking, not much. There are a myriad of potential solutions and alternatives, the combination of which allow for more or less consistent display across just about any browser known to man, but the cost is as much as double the development time, and sites so loaded down with extra code that they run the risk of becoming inefficient, and are often more trouble than they’re worth. This could all be alleviated, of course, if larger companies (and smaller ones) would show support for pulling support from older browser tech. Google has recently declared they’re no longer supporting Internet Explorer 6 on some of their sites going forward (after already discontinuing IE6 support for YouTube last year), and while that’s a good start, there need to be more efforts made along these lines.
It’s growing past a point where IE6 (and 7, and sometimes 8 ) are simply adding extra development time (and headaches); they are now literally holding back the advancement of the web, ironically because of decisions on the part of those responsible for making new tech to continue enabling IE6 to exist for so long.
The only way this thing is ever going to disappear (or at least to stop being enough of an issue for people to give attention to) is if developers and companies take back the power from IE6 users by discontinuing support of their platform. And, unsurprisingly enough, that starts on an individual level.
A Fool’s Errand
So, henceforth, wherever possible, I am going to try my damnedest to cease development support for IE6, both on personal projects and projects for clients. I will also be discontinuing support for IE7 when I can manage to. In some ways, I realize some might find my logic shortsighted (or possibly elitist), but so far as I’m concerned, if somebody visiting my site(s) doesn’t have the good sense to be using a modern browser, then chances are I don’t want them as a client, and I certainly don’t care if as a visitor what they see isn’t what I intended. Ultimately, my intent going forward is to leverage new and emerging CSS3 and HTML5 technologies to create and present the best designs possible, so really if you’re coming to sites I make in clunker browsers, you’re missing the point entirely.
My hope is that going forward, I can help contribute to the momentum of newer web technologies by supporting them as fully as possible, and by encouraging my clients to do so as well. Web design is an art form of its own, but like all other art, it requires active participation on the part of the viewer to be truly appreciated. In this case, that participation is characterized by using the proper tools to view the work, and I would love to think that within another 12 months we’ll be at a point where enough people are using the right tools that we can stop wasting such a large percentage of time catering to the ones who don’t. Ultimately, if we demonstrate that there are better ways available to see what’s out there, chances are that we can reach most of the folks who had no idea they were missing out on something better.