In Defense of Accommodating “Lesser” Browsers

Among the elite of the web development world, and those who aspire to the elite, there seems to be an increasing push to say¬†“websites don’t have to look the same in every browser.” And I agree with that. Really I do.

But we don’t build websites in a bubble. If we do this for a living, it’s for that reason: to deliver the product our clients want so that they pay us for our time, effort and expertise. So ultimately, it’s up to them to determine how far we need to go to deliver a product that looks the same whether it’s viewed in Firefox or Internet Explorer, etc.

In turn, that client should be considering the users to his site when making the yes and no decisions. What browsers do his visitors really use? Are they going to mind if that element has rounded corners or not? Are they even going to notice?

What takes one line of CSS to do for four of the major browser titles out there takes lines of extra markup, extra CSS, and superfluous images to do in the fifth.[1. For the purposes of this article, I’m not even counting Internet Explorer 9 since more than half of the Windows installations in the wild can’t even run it.] But the ability is (usually) there, and it’s not always a black and white decision as to whether or not the effort should be made to do it.

But if your client (or the executives at your company, same difference) is running Internet Explorer 8 on their computer, you should be prepared to make some accommodations so that the site at least comes close to the designer’s vision, if not matching it exactly. Websites get built for large corporations and government agencies. Large business units such as those are often slow to upgrade their operating systems, and with them, their browsers. But the executives in charge are not going to blame their IT departments when their websites look awful; they’re going to blame the web developer.

What I suggest, and what I try to do for my clients, is find a middle ground. Maybe all the widget boxes in the sidebar don’t really need rounded corners or gradient backgrounds. Maybe squared corners and a color that comes close will do. But if the feature is prominent and is the focus of the page, then I will make the effort, whatever is reasonable, to make that element look the same across platforms.

Let me be clear: I am in no way defending older browsers, or as many know to be true, “buggy” browsers with poor implementations of web standards. But they’re out there. We have to live with them. We have to produce websites for people who still use them. That’s not going to change quickly. And in the meantime, accommodations will still need to be made, no matter how distasteful it may be to our web-standards loving sensibilities.

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