26 March 2009

Why no one should ever again use Internet Explorer

The reason is simple: so the Internet can grow.

Web pages, which by my reckoning are the core use of the Internet, unfortunately don't magically spring up. A person has to create those pages. A person then has to maintain those pages. If a page feature is difficult to get working or is not supported in all browsers, then that feature gets abandoned. Thus, if a browser lags behind, and a lot of people are using that browser, then developers have to forsake features, or worse hack them in, to target the maximum audience.

This brings us to IE, which is by far the furthest behind the curve, both in terms of standards-compliance and features. Take a simple feature like rounded corners, which have been available in other browsers since IE was at version 6. For a developer to add rounded borders in FireFox, Chrome, and Safari is a couple of simple lines of styling. IE 7 and 8 releases passed by without this simple feature, and Microsoft's recommendations (put out in 2005, and sadly still relevant to IE8) on how to emulate this feature all complicate and bloat site design and maintenance.

Some developers will still choose to implement features like this. And as a result, they will spend a chunk of their time implementing and maintaining the hacked-in-for-IE feature rather than developing other features. The end result is that the users of the site lose out. All the time the developer wasted on adding in an IE-specific hack could have been put to a much more constructive use.

So far I've only mentioned absence of features. IE has a number of rendering problems that cause a developer to spend a lot of time trying to get a site to work in IE. All browsers have rendering issues, but IE is the very worst in my experience.

With the recent release of IE8, some of IE's hackiness will supposedly be eliminated, but it is still very far behind in terms of features.

So, from a developer standpoint, IE is severely limiting. Not only does it not have time-saving features that other popular browsers are supporting, but years will pass before they update the browser, and then they don't add much, or even get anywhere close to catching up to the state-of-the-art, from a developer perspective.

The best way for the web to move forward is for IE to be abandoned wholesale by users. Then developers can turn the time they would ordinarily waste hacking things into their code for IE into more time creating, innovating, and improving the web. If users dropped IE en mass, I believe that web developer productivity would increase by no small amount. Which in turn means that the end user has a better experience.

If you use a PC (IE is currently only available on PC), do yourself and the rest of the Internet a favor and use IE only once: to download some other browser. Firefox is probably the most popular. Safari is great if you like simple interfaces. Chrome is currently my favorite and is produced by Google.

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