2001 was almost a decade ago, yet we are still developing for Internet Explorer 6 which was released nine years ago. A lot has happened in the last nine years. Cell phones are smaller, DVDs became the primary video format, people started using MP3s, and internet connection speeds went from dial-up to the broadband we have today.
The web itself evolved as well things like streaming audio and video became possible along with trends like modal windows. Yet Internet Explorer 6 is the same as it was in 2001.
One of the greatest challenges Front End Development faces is adding these new features to modern browsers, then finding clever ways to make them work in older browsers that have more limited features. This part of the process can take up to 30% of the overall development time. FED has an Internet Explorer 6 machine that we test websites on as a part of the development process. Microsoft built in a way to use special style sheets that filter out IE6, IE7, and IE8 so it’s easier to target just those browsers, and make adjustments as needed. Typical adjustments compensate for more modern styles that are unsupported and the large number of quirky bugs the browser has.
People have asked about iPad development as a secondary browser, but the iPad really doesn’t need any special treatment aside from maybe something acting as a Flash substitute (or just not using Flash in the first place). The version of Safari bundled with the iPad is designed to use full sized websites and scale them properly. We do test websites on the iPad in FED’s mobile testing lab, and it does in fact scale them well.
Another reason we have the mobile testing lab is because when we develop mobile websites we can test on Webkit browsers like on the iPhone, as well as different Blackberry models. Some Blackberries are very limited in what styles they can use so multiple style sheets are set up like for Internet Explorer.
So why have these browsers on the statement of work if they’re so old? People are still using IE6, and many are at jobs with an intranet that requires it and restricted by an IT department that won’t allow them to upgrade. It may cost thousands of dollars to upgrade an internal infrastructure to meet current standards, and many companies would rather just stick with their current system. This keeps the market share for IE6 lingering somewhere around 5%.
Specific fields tend to do this more than others, the medical field tends to have more outdated browsers because their priorities lie elsewhere, and browsers like Internet Explorer that don’t automatically update themselves rely on the person using it to upgrade which isn’t something people think about very often, if ever.
This is one of the reasons cutting edge features like HTML 5 and CSS 3 aren’t being used on every site in development. Whatever the modern browsers do, the older browsers must also do wherever possible. Little details like rounded corners and drop shadows are easy to add with CSS 3, but require alternate background images and or styling to work in IE6 which takes longer to set up.
People using older browsers deserve as much of a good user experience as everyone else, and the FEDs do what they can in order to keep the designs as integral to the originals as possible. Internet Explorer 9 is going to add in a lot of modern features which will hopefully shift the market share enough so we can better use that 30% of development time devoted to legacy browsers, or eliminate it and move on to do more projects.
A lot of development time and effort goes into perfecting templates in the secondary browsers. If that work was done well, just like quality Photoshop work, no one will notice.