Time to look to the future?

Cast your minds back almost 10 years, the first generation iPod was only just on the horizon, those Harry Potter kids were unknown and the latest games consoles were Sony Playstation 2 and Nintendo GameCube. This is when Microsoft released Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) and began a decade of headaches and wasted hours for developers across the whole world.

To put it simply, IE6 is broken. I’ll not go into details, I’m positive if you punched “the problem with IE6” into Google you’ll find a wealth of articles and posts discussing it’s shortcomings. For designers and developers, it’s meant many a long day or late night applying fixes and hacks to make sites work correctly in that specific browser. The world is changing at a rapid pace, should we still be spending hour after hour catering for a browser which is almost old enough to attend high school?

The obvious answer, if 10% of your visitors are IE6 users, is of course yes we should test sites in IE6, but to what level of support should we be catering for in the new decade?

The web is constantly changing and evolving and our websites should be evolving with it but there is only so much we can do if we stick to the mantra that “all websites need to look the same across browsers”. I’ve recently had my eyes opened to a new way of thinking about the way we approach the front-end development of our sites and applications which doesn’t focus on making sites pixel perfect across all browsers. Instead this approach uses the latest technologies and techniques to make sites and applications work for their particular level of capabilities.

The television analogy

Imagine all web browsers were televisions. Browsers who support the latest capabilities like Firefox, Chrome and Safari are the 42″ HD ready TVs. Internet Explorer (including version 8 ) are the next grade down. They are 42″ but they aren’t capable of showing HD programmes. The TV shows available are the same, it’s the same content, the same drama, only the viewers with HD get an improved viewing experience. Continuing with the “all websites need to look the same across browsers” mantra means we’re holding ourselves back and sending standard viewing to everyone, including those with HD.

This is the problem we are faced with. We’re being held back by the constraints of IE6 when we should be concentrating on creating the best solutions possible in HD whilst providing standard viewing to lower grade browsers.

Changing our approach will result in lighter, faster pages that are easier to maintain whilst freeing up developers to spend time more efficiently creating better results rather than spending time trying to emulate modern browsers using outdated means.

The web is fast paced. If we don’t look towards the future, we could quickly find ourselves stagnating in the past.