This is a topic I started including in my previous post about developing for IE9 but I decided to split it off into a separate article because it was drifting off the original topic.
The Internet Explorer Nightmare
Microsoft is creating a nightmare for the web development world, IE6, 7 & 8 all have significant market shares still so need to be catered for. IE9 is much better of course but won’t run on anything older than Windows Vista which means that over half the world’s computers will never be able to run it, obviously this will change as people upgrade computers but at the time of writing IE6 still has nearly 10% of the browser market and Windows XP has over 50% of the OS market.
And now it seems that IE10 will only support Windows 7, not even Vista, this means that there will be another tranche of customers with Vista machines who are unable to upgrade beyond IE9.
It is very difficult to run more than one version of Internet Explorer on the same machine, I use VirtualBox to run several virtual Windows machines but that does mean that I need a separate Windows licence for each machine.
So my full browser array (on my main development machine) is;
- Opera – my default browser (I like Dragonfly)
- Chrome – almost always open too
- Firefox 6 – for all the great extensions
- Safari -mostly for testing
- IE6 – if it works here it usually isn’t too bad in later versions of IE
- IE7 in an XP machine under VirtualBox
- FF3.6 in the same XP machine under VirtualBox
- IE8 in another XP machine under VirtualBox
- IE9 in a Windows 7 machine under VirtualBox
- IceMonkey under Knoppix under VirtualBox
You may notice that I didn’t refer to different versions of Chrome or Safari, that is because by default these browsers keep themselves up to date so the “tail” of older versions is very short.
Opera & Firefox do the same but the user has to actually agree to download major version changes, hence the tail of FF3.6 users, people have to agree to update to FF4 (but I think FF is now changing to the Chrome model for deployment). The same applies to Opera but as its user base is quite small and quite geeky (I use Opera as my default browser) it tends to look after itself.
Of course the major problem in the browser world is Internet Explorer. Usage of versions older than IE6 has fallen enough that I now ignore them when developing websites but all the later versions still need to be catered for (in my opinion – some developers take a much more aggressive view). It is possible that IE7 usage will also shrink to almost nothing but I can’t see IE6 disappearing for quite a while yet and of course Windows XP still has a huge user base for whom IE8 is the best that can be installed. And there are a few million Vista users who can never go beyond IE9.
I’m sure Microsoft are aware of the mess they have created, I just wish they wouldn’t keep on doing it. If Chrome/Opera/Firefox etc. can run on any version of Windows (and Mac and Linux) it doesn’t seem too much to ask that Internet Explorer should do the same.