Thursday, 28 January 2010

What's the problem with Internet Explorer 6?

Over the past month we've seen substantial coverage of the issues that can arise from using Microsoft Internet Explorer browser version 6. As a consequence, it has again highlighted the problems that web developers face when creating a web site that has to conform not only to web standards, but must also take into account browser anomalies (of which IE 6 has by far the most).

I'd like to take the opportunity to try to briefly explain some of these problems to those who might not be aware of the extent at which these issues run.

Lets use the hypothetical example of a simple web site that runs off a database providing information to customers about localised services. Users enter keywords to retrieve listed information and can submit their details to enquire further.

Key elements of the site construction that encounter issues with IE6 are:

  • Object layers behaving differently (appearing behind or in front).
  • Transparent images are not supported and display with flat colour backgrounds.
  • Certain text, form and table styling is not supported or behaves differently to other browsers.
  • Some page elements cannot be styled at all.

With the above in mind, its quite common for a web designer to end up adding additional files and code who's sole purpose is to attempt to fill the holes that IE leaves behind in its wake.

Why bother doing this?

The answer is simple. Until people stop using IE 6, there is always the potential for a site to be viewed by it, and the developer is at the mercy of this unfortunate reality.

Are there no web standards?

Indeed there are web standards! These are generally regarded by many developers as the best way forward for a more unified and structured experience for business and their customers. If you are ever interested in these specifications you can visit the World Wide Web Consortium's web site.

These standards have quickly become indespensable to web developers and help to speed up the job of a site build by reducing the need to test and fix browser display anomalies. I should note that the latest browser from Microsoft (version 8) does a comendable job at supporting web standards in a way that no previous version was able to.

We use 4 browsers in the majority of our testing; Firefox, Explorer, Chrome and Safari. The latest versions of these browsers bring standards closer together than ever before, so much so that any discrepancies can usually be noted down to user preferences than actual unintended display.

IE 6 really has had its day and I personally look forward to developing knowing that we are all singing from the same standards 'hymn sheet'.

The Web Development Team


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