Design, code and caffeine

Compatibility: Who’s responsibility is it anyway?

I’m sure you have heard the arguments, the groans, the moans, and the wincing noises of pain at the mention of the words “Browser Compatibility”. Well, I feel the pain – but who’s pain should it be?

Whose responsibility is is that web sites work in all browsers?

some chess pieces on a computer

Firstly let’s assume it’s the people who make browsers, Opera Software, Netscape, Microsoft, Mozilla etc.

“They have to comply with standards – it’s all because they don’t comply with the standards that the websites don’t work”.

So all developers of browsers must comply to standards, the W3C standards must treated as a law rather than a guideline. Microsoft must catch on faster and fix it’s long standing bugs.
Hm… seems
b)it could take a long time before people truly agree on the standard being set
c)this method is making the web developers job easy but involves a bit of effort for the company making the browsers.

I do believe that browsers should comply – but I don’t think we can blame the browser developers for’s javascript incompatibity errors in Netscape 3.

ok so how about:

“It’s the responsibility of the webmaster to support all browsers”.

A webmaster has to take the company goals in mind s/he must balance the business objectives against the development costs – this will in most cases lead to the webmaster deciding on which browsers s/he wishes to support based on their popularity and not worrying about the rest. This is a terrible decision and really they should support all browsers (though not necessarily backward compatibility).

Just look at Natwest online banking – you cant even log in without using IE/Firefox, if you try to do this in Opera it simply tells you to update your browser. If developers that are told to comply to a set number of browsers, that’s all they do – it’s easy! Use a couple of lines of browser detection code and display a useless error message if your browser doesnt match up. This method cuts off lots of people – and I thought the internet was supposed to be for everyone on the powergrid!

“It’s the responsibility of the developer to ensure web sites work”

Developers can very easily use object detection instead of browser detection – this will allow us to write code that works in all browsers even if we are told to only support the top 3. By this method If the browser does not support the object we want to use a specific message can be posted to the screen explaining to the user what the problem is, at least then the user will know that their browser *is* actually old, and not just obscure. Most of the content on the web site will still be viewable, only the part where the necessary object didnt exist will fail, or an alternative may be included in the ‘else’ case.

There is a nice article here about object detection and the different methods one can use to overcome various problems.

I don’t believe that we need to support Netscape 2 or other ancient browsers – but IMO we have to support the latest versions of browsers, otherwise we are not doing our jobs properly.

The WWW is still young, and although some mature elements like standards are being developed now it will take time before hefty and slow multi-national companies will take these standards on board. In the mean time I believe that it’s all up to us as developers.

There are techniques we can use – so stop being lazy and keep the web open!

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Posted in Browsers, Web Standards · October 22nd, 2008 · Comments (0)