This post is written in honor of Internet Explorer 9 being released yesterday. Something web designers have great hope for. Granted, we always have those hopes. And they are always dashed. Each version of IE, we’re promised something that is standards compliant. And each version, web designers have to do extra work just to make a website actually function in IE. Pardon me while I may ramble a bit here.
For those who may be confused…
A browser is the software you use for surfing the web. You may use it for checking email such as Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail. You may think of it as “the blue e” you click on your desktop. Or maybe you don’t use the “blue e” (Internet Explorer). You may use another browser such as Chrome, FireFox, Opera, or Safari.
No matter what browser you use, like all software, the creators release new versions. These updates are often overlooked by web users. But they are important for you apply to your browser for a number of reasons.
The biggest reason is security: the developers have applied patches to the old version to cover holes in the software. This does not mean there is something wrong with that software. NO software is hackerproof. Nothing is 100% safe. All software will be upgraded from time to time, and it’s a good sign when a company does that regularly. I am more likely to use software that is patched frequently than something that has been created and abandoned. A major update will mean a new version, which is why you see things such as Internet Explorer version 6, 7, 8 and now 9. (And I remember making websites way before there was a 6!)
Another good reason to upgrade: improved surfing experience. The languages used to create websites are constantly evolving. It may take the web browser a while before it can fully apply the technologies well. For example, Internet Explorer, version 6, is known for having a number of issues, such as in inability to view png files (a type of image file like gif or jpg). Many web designers take extra steps to accommodate these website visitors, such as installing scripts on our site that allow those users to see png images. Later versions of Internet Explorer don’t have this problem.
Which brings me to an important message from Microsoft: Upgrade your browser. To that end, they have a website, The Internet Explorer 6 Countdown. It’s one of the few times you’ll see Microsoft say: we have a product we’d like you to stop using.
What does this mean for you?
Regardless of what browser you use, always update. Not sure how? Just go to Google, type in the name of your browser, download from their home page, install the file. Or you may have an Update button if you go to Help on the top right of your browser (depends on what you are using).
If you’re using Internet Explorer, definitely update. Unfortunately, those on XP won’t be able to upgrade to IE9. But at least get to 8. Or just get a different browser that will upgrade no matter what operating system you use (which, I personally think is the best option).
What does this mean for your website?
It means that some of you who have websites that aren’t designed to work well in IE6 or even the next version or two, will have visitors with an improved website experience. Or so Microsoft tells us.
What does this mean for web designers and do-it-yourself website owners?
It means that for those of us who make you websites, supposedly our jobs may have gotten easier. When I make a website, I know that it can look and behave differently from one browser to another. So I’m constantly testing sites in a variety of browsers as I work. For years, Internet Explorer has practically been a curse word among people who create websites. Often, we make a product that works in all browsers, but due to the way IE works, it would fall apart in that browser. Then we have to do extra work to get that site to function in IE so our clients don’t lose customers who use IE.
Personally, it’s only been the past year that I gave up on IE6. I used to do extra work to make sites work for that browser. I, and many others in my field, have decided that those who use that browser are likely used to a broken web experience. I don’t cater to that browser unless I suspect a sizeable chunk of my client’s traffic will arrive via IE6 (typically, these are an older demographic and/or corporate visitors). Or, if I have a client who uses that browser and of course then we need to accommodate that too.
You’ll notice I don’t have a lot of hope that this will turn out well for me. As I said, we’ve often been told the next version will be amazing, and it never is. For those who have worked on beta, supposedly it is better in some areas. So for me, I guess it’s time to go get my copy of IE9 and start doing some website testing. For me and some others, we may find we have some more work to do.