Least common denominator browser

I first tried moving to a CSS-based layout a couple of years ago to shed my use of multiply-nested tables used for positioning. While I was ripping everything apart, I added some fancier stuff. The site looked great in Firefox, Safari and even Opera. My enthusiasm was folded, spindled and mutilated when I previewed the site in Internet Explorer.

IE implements CSS very half-assedly, partly because the standards were incomplete when IE was launched, but mostly because there’s little incentive to keep innovating a product that’s “given away” yet has a commanding market share. Google offered dozens of workarounds for some of the problems. Each involved using arcane CSS options, JavaScript chicanery or maintenance of multiple style sheets. Conclusion? It’s too much work and I don’t do web design for a living. I abandoned some of the more interesting ideas and considered myself fortunate enough to get rid of nested tablery.

I was curious how much the user population has changed. Last July, 74% of visitors to my site used IE variants (or browsers pretending they were IE), compared to 5% FireFox. This month, it’s about 61%/20%.
Of the IE users, almost a fourth are still using pre-Windows XP systems. They will not be upgrading to Internet Explorer 7 whenever it’s released.

I’m not really sure how much I should be concerned about this least-common denominator. I’d be tempted to just abandon trying, but I’m reminded how much I hated seeing Factiva.com tell me I couldn’t use Firefox because its programmers coded to IE quirks.

6 thoughts on “Least common denominator browser”

  1. A problem occurs with Blogger sites about the sidebar not being inline with the articles due to a discrepency in all default template’s code.

    You have to add more code to get it working.

  2. I’m one of those wierd people using XPSP2 and IE6. 🙂 I trade off to Firefox when I have to check to ensure CSS looks good between the two browsers, when I’m desiging.

    Firefox is a pain in the butt to code CSS in. Trust me. IE almost anticipates what I want. Firefox needs EVERY last detail. “You want a column 500px wide? Oh! Let me pick how long it will be!” IE does not have to ask that question. It already knows to make it the length of the darn text… darn it.

  3. I was pulling stats at work this week in preparation for a vendor migration and I noticed somethng interesting: for the first time in my professional career as a web geek a non-IE browser (rendered in by our stats program as “Mozilla”) surpassed identified IE using visitors. Not by much, but it’s still an event in a world where IE comes pre-installed on the dominating operating system for personal computers.

    As for Firefox vs. IE and CSS: I have to disagree with Lisa. IE is a giant piece of crap that renders the box model inconsistently with W3C standards. Every CSS problem I’ve ever had has involved having to do a “work around” because IE renders something in a way specific to its own standards. (Can we say Holly Hack anyone?)

    Should you be concerned about the least common denominator? I went with no on that when I upgraded and redesigned earlier in the year. I suppose if I were trying to make a living with my blog or using it as a serious journalism outlet it would be more of a concern.

  4. I agree with woodstock re: IE’s non-standard behaviour. To point out yet another inconsistency, have a look at


    Some web-based database interface we use at work also show up some severe rendering problems in IE for MacOS X – a page that Firefox displays in less than a second take nearly 3 minutes to render in IE. Yet oddly enough IE for MacOS 9 doesn’t have the same problem. I don’t even bother installing IE on the MacOS X machines any more.

  5. Joe: A problem occurs with Blogger sites about the sidebar not being inline with the articles due to a discrepency in all default template’s code. You have to add more code to get it working.

    So I’ve seen. WindowManager has been dealing with this for a few weeks.

    Lisa: IE almost anticipates what I want

    This is a problem, though, because the syndication engines aren’t as forgiving when you leave off close tags or are missing a quotation mark. I can usually tell when my site traffic drops that I’ve screwed up a closing html snippet.

    Steve: non-standard behavior

    As Woodstock said, the boxes are what get me, but Rach’s example is pretty funny. For example, this snippet:
    <font color=”jim_carson”><font size=+3><b>Jim Carson</b></font></font>

    renders as a green font on IE, default on Firefox.

  6. The snippet renders in green in IE under Windows, but blue in IE under MacOS 9 and X.

    So, cross-platform inconsistencies in non-standard behaviour – why am I not surprised? 🙂

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