otsukare Thoughts after a day of work

Old browsers, does it matter?

In computing, we have a tendency to think in terms of very short lifetime. Ed Bott has published an article on zdnet. He is talking about "Old browsers".

The good news for website developers is that modern browsers generally do a good job of rendering standard HTML. For visitors using recent versions of Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, most websites will just work.

The emphasis is mine. Indeed that's a good point. The ability of browsers to render old markup (aka old Web sites) with all the quirks is a good thing. A lot of efforts has been put in the recent years on being compatible with what the Web is. HTML5 effort was mainly started with this principle in mind.

The bad news is that not everyone is using a modern browser.

Then the author of the article goes into displaying a graphic about outdated browsers and new browsers. His methodology is explained:

A note about methodology: For Chrome, I considered the most recent version, in this case Chrome 31, plus the one immediately prior, as up to date. I did the same for Firefox, with versions 25 and 26. (I also considered any higher versions from the beta and developer channels as up to date.)

And this is where basically where my personal issue with the article starts. An old browser is an issue if it has security issues aka the user is using something which might create a damage when using it (think data theft, taking over the computer, etc). But for the rest, anyone should be able to use the browser of his/her choice be on an old computer. There are many circumstances where someone will not be able to use the most recent version of a browser. Imagine you get a mobile device which is old enough that it can't be upgraded (browser and OS). Or that using the last version of the browser makes the computer so slow that it becomes a subpar experience. In the last 2 years, browsers vendors have shorten release cycles to every 6 weeks to 9 weeks: Chrome and Firefox. The current computer, I'm using for typing this is 4 years old, 208 weeks. On a 6 weeks schedule, it would mean 35 versions of browsers.

People should not be forced to upgrade their browsers. The modern Web sites should be compatible with browsers which have custom capabilities. A browser like Opera Mini or UCWeb has been specifically designed for environment where the bandwidth or the network is not perfect. It is also very effective for saving money when the price of data is too expensive. The capabilities are not the ones of a recent desktop browsers, but still it's a useful browser. Then there are a full area of browsers which are used for specific needs such as accessibility for example. The author continues with:

All those outdated browsers make web development messy,

What makes the Web development messy is bugs in old browsers, not the version of the browsers. I would even argue that the most recent browsers with their incomplete support of non stabilized technologies—Remember flexbox and CSS gradients—make the Web development messy. This creates plenty of Web compatibility issues. The issue with Web development is that people are tayloring their Web sites to specific browsers and very new technologies which indeed in the end creates plenty of issues for old browsers. The key is to make the Web site robust. Time is the key. The Web site will get wrinkles. It will built history.

Finally in his conclusion, the author mentions

they deliver browser updates, ideally decoupling them completely from operating system releases.

To this, definitely a big yes. That's a big issue. For some mobile devices it's even worse, you have to change device for upgrading the system, which will upgrade the browser. It's quite insane.

So to conclude:

  • Old browsers are fine when they don't have security issues
  • Web developers should create robust Web sites

Otsukare!