Every site I make will work on every modern browser. You’ve probably read my article about the various different internet browsers there are available for you to use, but how does this affect you as a website owner?

Software

This might be obvious, but it’s worth pointing out anyway… When you have a booklet printed you know that it’ll look the same to everyone who reads it as it’s a physical object in itself. A website can perform the same function as a printed booklet but the issue here is that readers have to view the site using a program on their computer and not everyone has the latest and greatest version of the software for viewing the internet installed on their machine…

A numbers game

As time goes by, more and more people buy new machines with more up to date software installed on them. Bingo. On top of that, more and more people are being persuaded to change to better browsers like Google’s Chrome or Mozilla’s Firefox.

So number of people using older software is dwindling.

Which browsers are the problem?

‘Older browsers’ is a bit of a tricky term. By older browsers I’m really referring to Internet Explorer versions 6, 7 and 8.

Internet Explorer (IE) is quite often the victim of many a web-designer hate campaign, which I’m not about to join. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really not a fan– I just reckon it’s part of the job to cater for (if not pander to) these browsers. Even Microsoft themselves believe that the older of their currently used browsers has has well and truly had its day!

Internet Explorer 8

There are still a massive number IE8 users. This is due to the massive number of people and organisations using Windows XP, since it’s the highest version of IE available to these users. Windows 7 ships with IE8 as its default browser too, so these users have to upgrade to IE9 or above manually, which is a big ask for the majority of users. Good one, Microsoft…

So with IE8 hogging so much of the market, it’s only prudent that I ensure the websites I build display properly on this browser. They won’t look as polished as they will in current browsers, as IE8 doesn’t understand a lot of commands that have been—necessarily—introduced over the last 3 years. Things like rounded corners, gradients and drop-shadows involve only a line or two of code in modern browsers but they need an awful lot more in IE8!

You could argue that users of older browsers like IE8 won’t know any different anyway, as they won’t have the website in a current browser to compare the site with! As long as your message is delivered and they are able to use the site perfectly, what’s the issue!?

There are ways of forcing the matter

If, however, you do want IE8 to look the same as modern day browsers this will involve a lot of extra work, so expect to pay a premium for this. But this is not the only cost: it will also mean that the page has more code and, potentially, images to download so your pages will load more slowly in IE8. This could drive away visitors and it won’t help your search engine ranking at all.

Internet Explorers 6 and 7

These browsers have a very small market share. IE6 is almost redundant and IE7 isn’t far behind. Because of this, and to keep costs down for website owners, I don’t believe catering for these browsers is important at the outset.

However, if I’m redesigning your site you may have statistics that show that a larger portion of your visitors than the average site were using one or both of these browsers to view your old site. If this is the case, it probably makes good business sense to make your site display properly for these visitors!

Similarly, if I’ve build you a new website, you can keep an eye on the browsers the visitors to your site are using and, if the number of IE6/7 users is higher than the average site, it would probably be worthwhile investing in making their experience better.

Future-friendly

I won’t use the term ‘future-proof’, as there’s no such thing: how can anyone really know what’s around the corner? What we can do is use cutting edge code that will be used by the newest browsers to provide their users with the best possible experience of the internet.

I believe we’ve reached a point in the internet’s evolution where standards that have been emerging over the last decade or so have been agreed upon by the powers that be and have therefore been implemented by all browser makers. Even Microsoft have promised to be good! So the chances of a site made with current standards in mind being out of date in a couple of years is much lower than it would have been a few years ago.

Catering for older browsers is in some cases essential, but they don’t have to look as slick as the ‘real deal’, which can prove costly in more ways than one!