Browser wars and you, Explorer vs Mozilla

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Typical browser usage

Typical browser usage

I’ve tried to stay out of this battle for the past 3 years but the last few days have seen me enter the fray. The attached screen shot from Google Analytics for a typical web site shows 55% of visitors have Internet Explorer followed by Mozilla Firefox with 32%. Digging deeper we see that Explorer version 8.0 has 44% of its group with 7.0 at 39% so 56% of these visitor are using older Explorer versions than current.

The point of this is that though Internet Explorer is clearly the market leader in use, I have had nothing but problems with it over the last few months. The Mozilla fans around me are used to getting short change from me when pushing their barrow because its a simple question of “what’s in it for me?” I know Explorer, its familiar to me, what can Mozilla do extra that is worth my time to invest in learning to use it etc?  The answer now is simple, just having a working browser that doesn’t crash or freeze multiple times a day.

Despite nourishing it with all its regular updates and keeping it watered with regular system shutdowns, Explorer 7.0 would constantly stumble with Java scripts and Ajax routines (common programs within sites increasingly used to enhance user experience). The dreaded “Not Responding” threat would hang over me like a sword as I waited those extra few minutes hoping Explorer had just stepped out for a quick fag but the truth hung around like a bad smell building from the corner of the room. Finally, forced shut down for Explorer… do I want to report it and tell Microsoft about it AGAIN?. Sure, that will be the 12th time today but….

With some spare time on the weekend, I decided to bite the bullet and upgrade to version 8.0. Its well out of Beta (pre-release stage) and should be patched up to work properly by now. Install, restart, follow the bouncing ball and all seems to be working fine. Some extra features make it more useable but nothing revolutionary compared with the Mozilla version I’ve been quietly using on the side for special operations secret to Explorer, but a welcome step forward. That is until we crash again…. and again… and again.

Enough is enough, Mozilla is updated, told to take over the front seat with Explorer banished to the cupboard along with the old camping gear that you might need one day. Firefrox seems to positively beam at the opportunity, it flies through updates and refresh compared with Explorer. Any minor hick-ups are dealt with sensibly with warnings and graceful reaction and not one lock-up or freeze in 24 hours of doing largely the same things that would require 10+ Explorer restarts. Sounds like a fairy tale where everyone lived happily ever after…. if only fairy tales were true.

In real life we are forced to deal with compromises and in the last hour I have had to face the reality of this with Mozilla Firefox. A program I use seems to work fine with Mozilla but issues with displayed HTML formatting had me pulling my hair out blaming everyone except my software. As a final desperate measure (and in response to a suggestion from a learned web man) I went back to the cupboard, pulled out Explorer and fired it up with the application. Bingo, no problem and now this specific program looks just like it should.

The moral of this story is that computing and the web will always be about compromise. Expect to make choices about the tools you use and be prepared to have a different shaped hammer in the other draw just in case your day-to-day one doesn’t quite work for something. But as far as your customers go, DON’T run the risk of forcing them to adopt to you and your technology decisions.

  • Always test your site on all common browser platforms (including Google Chrome)
  • Always err on the safe side and make sure it works on older legacy versions, even if it means losing some cutting edge functionality for the moment.
  • If your customer claims they can’t use your site properly there’s a good chance they’re right so investigate it properly.

Google measure web site “bounce rate” as the percentage of visitors leaving within 30 seconds of arrival, make sure your site is not a growing part of that important metric.