Today, I experienced something that, as a web developer, really burns my blood. When I inquired about a specific web application’s flaws within a certain web browser, I was informed that I should be using “browser X” instead. As the doomed Transformer proclaimed when condemned to the Quintesson pit in Transformers: the Movie, “Spare me this mockery of justice!”
There are exceedingly few reasons why you should ever tell the users of your web application to use a specific browser over another. If you’re on the public domain, or, if your users can pick from more than one browser to get to your application, account for it. Don’t force the users to bow to your decision; it comes across as exclusionary and elitist. The days of “best viewed in Internet Explorer/Netscape Navigator” are far, far behind us.
Of course, there are plenty of whiz-bang features in HTML 5, CSS3, etc. that have yet to be adopted by all browser variants. Publishing experimental or proof-of-concept websites and web applications that push the envelope and challenge previous assumptions on how we interact with the web is perfectly acceptable. However, if you intend to have a product that will be used by a broad audience, alienating a key portion of your users will do you no good, especially if the “unworthy” browsers introduce glitches or errors that break a key feature. Even minor flaws will make it seem as though your product is buggy, incomplete, unprofessional, and sloppy.
Now, I certainly don’t advocate building something that conforms to every browser variant throughout time; that’s a fool’s errand. Your web analytics program can educate you about which browsers and variants your audience is using. Pay attention to that data and use it to establish your lowest common denominator. My basic rule of thumb is to code for all browsers with greater than one percent of your total market share. You can also choose to “degrade gracefully,” where any fancy features unreadable or unusable for less modern or less compliant browsers can still be operated effectively and correctly. Check your statistics regularly, as market share can change quickly. Usage can often differ dramatically between countries, so, if, for example, your European users prefer Firefox over Internet Explorer, make sure that version of your website is ready for them.
Pay attention to your mobile users as well. Those folks using iPhones and iPads will show up as Safari users in your web analytics, so keep track of your mobile device usage in tandem with your browser statistics. You may wish to consider a mobile-friendly version of your web application, a dedicated app, or a responsive web design that transitions smoothly no matter where your users are browsing. Again, pay attention to your percentages to decide what path to take. It never hurts to ask your users directly, whether through site intercept surveys, focus groups, or simple e-mail questionnaires.
There are plenty of ways to avoid the “browser X” debacle. Spare us all the mockery of your self-imposed justice and build your web application for everyone. You have no excuses!
Image source, Google Images: http://www.anivide.com/gallery.html?view=158846&pid=1318514144.