The Internet Explorer browser causes dilemmas for many people. Let me count the ways.
Which browser should I use?
The biggest group with an Internet Explorer dilemma are the Internet surfers. They’ve mostly used Internet Explorer but now Microsoft is suggesting that they upgrade to version 7. Some accept Microsoft’s advice with reluctance and in this case some commentators have expressed concerns with version 7. So the take-up rate has been slow.
Often techy friends may be recommending some other browser to avoid security issues with Internet Explorer. Often that other browser is Mozilla Firefox. So it’s not surprising to see a headline such as Firefox now a serious threat to IE in Europe. Anyone in North America will be somewhat surprised to see the figures:
A study of nearly 96,000 websites carried out during the week of July 2 to July 8 found that FF had 27.8% market share across Eastern and Western Europe, IE had 66.5%, with other browsers including Safari and Opera making up the remaining 5.7%. The July market share represents a massive 3.7% rise since a similar survey in March.
A particularly worrying sign for Microsoft is that in some key European markets FF is threatening to overtake IE as the market leading browser. In Slovenia (47.9%) and Finland (45.4%) FF usage has reached parity with IE, while in Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia and Ireland, FF has either reached or is nearly at 40% market share.
These figures may well presage the growth that Firefox usage will show in North America.
Which browser should I design for?
More competent web designers have been designing Web pages to give a satisfactory user experience with all the common browsers for some time. Others took the view that since Internet Explorer is by far the majority choice for browser, then this was the only one to check. Within the last 12 months there has been a significant change in website traffic. Although Internet Explorer version 6 is still most often the majority browser used, Internet Explorer version 7 and Firefox taken together will probably deliver more traffic. The dilemma here is that web pages that display well in version 6 may not do so in version 7.
The recommended approach is to design based on Web standards and such web pages will display well in IE version 7 and Firefox. Such a web page may or may not display well in IE version 6. However there is an increasing literature on the ways of getting around the typical problems. One practical problem is that it may be difficult to have two versions of Internet Explorer (version 6 and version 7) running on the same computer. A small help is given by IE NetRenderer. This allows you to check how a web page is rendered by Internet Explorer 7, 6 or 5.5, as seen from a high-speed datacenter located in Germany. (Tip of the hat to Henry.) It only shows the webpage “above the fold” but this will alert the designer to any major problems.
What should we do now?
This of course is the dilemma that faces Microsoft. It has accepted the legacy commitments imposed by websites designed for prior versions of Internet Explorer. The ideal would be to bite the bullet and help the world to move as quickly as possible to IE version 7. However the legacy of all those IE version 6 web pages is an onerous burden. There are no easy answers.