The IE Factor?

Interesting article at StopDesign describing real work experience in getting CSS layouts to work across platforms. As those who have been reading the Web Design department through my last redesign will attest, this is a non-trivial challenge; some apparently easy CSS styles will work well in one browser while not working at all in another.

But why is it the IE Factor? That is, why does IE get the blame for non-conformant behavior? That’s the question some of my coworkers might ask. After all, it has CSS support; after all, it’s the minority browser. And after all, other browsers have their own quirks. Why single out IE?

Based on my experience and StopDesign’s article (and Bryan Bell’s Designers Against Stagnant Internet Explorer (DASIE) manifesto), I think IE is getting heat for the following reasons:

  1. IE 6 was released in 2001. The most recent major revisions of the competing browsers, Mozilla/Firebird and Opera (as well as other significant browsers like Safari and OmniWeb) were all released in the last six months. That’s two solid years of designers actually using CSS and documenting their problems.
  2. Mozilla is open source; Safari is developed by a guy with a weblog where he responds to customer comments. The IE team has so far kept a very low profile about the future of their products; in fact, they’ve committed publicly to infrequent releases of new features, in line with the Windows software development cycle.
  3. Adding insult to injury, not only does IE not incorporate two-plus years of real world customer feedback, it’s the dominant platform. So it’s held to a higher standard—any flaw gets dramatically magnified.

Why are we in this boat? I think, after Netscape imploded, a lot of people thought that innovation and change was gone from the HTML space and attention shifted to the web services space, where presentation isn’t as important as XML, namespaces, and actual programming languages.

But I think IE has competition again. More importantly, I think the various campaigns to get people to upgrade to modern browsers have led more designers to push the envelope of what can be done with (X)HTML+CSS. And I think that’s a good thing.