Sunday, October 29, 2006

Web Purism I

For those few of you that read this blog on any regular basis, I am about to tackle a subject that you probably won't care about. However, for me it's reached critical mass.

You may or may not know that I am, by trade, a web developer. My "specialty" is web applications; web sites that do things (not just look pretty). I have been working in IT since the mid 80's and building websites since about '94 or '95 when I built my first website using straight HTML and no web design software (just good 'ol notepad) for a Church. Since then I have done some really cool stuff that's displayed on a web browser. I really enjoy it, it is a great release of creativity and also pays the bills.

Over the course of the last 10 years, a lot has changed in how I work, what I use and what I can do. However, I want to address an ugly trend in the web world that is driving me crazy.

Back in the late 90's Microsoft won the browser wars by crushing Netscape like a bug. You may not like that it happened, but happen it did. You may think that Microsoft used it's leverage as the provider of the most popular Operating System on the planet to get this done, but it still happened. That is history.

I believe this was (is) a good thing. It "standardized" the world of web development and site display for quite a while. I have worked for a number of companies in the last 10 years and ALL of them mandate that not only their Intranet "browsers" (the employees, not the software) use Internet Explorer, but that any clients that want to use their mission critical applications use it also. No support for other browsers...period. If you call our support desk and we find out you are using another browser we just tell you to open the browser that came with your computer. In fact, they have all mandated that our clients use a minimum VERSION of IE (usually 5.5 or above).

Why would we do this? The reason is pretty simple. It's obvious and correct.

It costs too much to do otherwise.

Lately, I have read some really unrealistic people spout off on message boards that are telling newbie developers that they need to be developing their websites and web apps against FireFox or some other newer browser and when they are done go back and "kludge" it to work with IE. This is really ridiculous...actually ignorant. It comes from a "purist" attitude. The feeling among a small group of developers is that Mozilla-type browsers like FireFox are HTML standard compliant.

The truth is they are not...and even if they what! The last time I checked, about 80%-90% of all hits on the web come from some version of IE. What purists don't think about are numbers...specifically numbers with $ signs in front of them. What they want you as business people that need websites and web developers is to pay a lot more to make sure that you can get to the roughly %15 of people out there that have installed one of these newer browsers on their computers.

What a joke! If I went to the business units that I work for and told them I wanted to do that they would laugh at me and I would lose credibility. Yes, cross-browser compatibility may be neat, but IT IS NOT NECESSARY. Every Windows computer that hits your site STILL HAS Internet Explorer INSTALLED ON IT. If it doesn't work with "Joe-Bob's Browser", then all they have to do is click Start, Internet Explorer and they are good to go. As has been complained ad-infinitim, short of hosing your whole computer, you can't get rid of IE on a Windows computer.

Purists, don't think about businesses needing to make a profit, they just want to show the rest of the world that they can get it perfectly right (in their eyes). In my eyes, right is a very subjective state that is based mostly on whether or not my client is happy and feels that they got a good value for the money they paid.

Just as a parting shot, I asked a recent client (who at first was trying to check out a website I was working on for them with some really weird Mozilla-based browser that I had never heard of) WHY she was using this browser...what was so special about it that she needed (expecting her to tell me some feature that it had that IE did not) and her answer was "because it's different". When I asked her to use IE, she said.."OK..." No problem. Since she really didn't care either way it didn't her. Of course, she isn't a web-developer purist.

Purists...wake up, get a big bottle of Mountain Dew and loose the attitude...think about your clients...they deserve at least that.

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"...Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:7-18