Because Internet Explorer is a Failure, That's Why

About once a month since Firefox came out and was promptly recognized as a six-gallon bucket of awesome I read a blog post about how developers are lazy, shiftless bastards because they don’t want to support Internet Explorer anymore. Most recently I read Brian Reindel make this claim, so I’m going to pick on him while I rebut this insult.

Yahoo defined the term “graded browser support”: popular browsers get A-grade support, less common ones get C-grade support, and a tiny number of almost-unused browsers get X-grade support (which is an obfuscated way to say “no support”). It makes sense to formally specify where you’ll spend your time. Reindel manages to turn this whole definition around, though. He writes about A-grade browser support, then drifts into talking about “A-grade browsers”. These are not at all the same thing.

Developers can choose to give A-grade browser support to Internet Explorer because it enjoys a huge (if declining) market share. Users can’t tell whether they’re seeing IE’s misfeatures, flaws, and bugs or our website’s, so we work late into the evening to make IE behave enough that we don’t look bad. Sometimes developers decide that IE isn’t worth the trouble, and Reindel opines that it’s because they’re unprofessional or incompetent. No, it’s because Internet Explorer is a failure, what’s why.

Internet Explorer is not an “A-grade browser”. It has a large number of painful and common bugs that were left to fester for five years between IE 6 and 7 — and then many still are unfixed. The rise of Firefox (and, to a lesser extent, Opera and Safari) has shown developers how good browsers can be, to say nothing of how well browsers can support developers. It’s normal and healthy that developers reduce IE support. Aside from the pure professional joy of tools that work, it doesn’t make business sense to keep spending the majority of your time working around the problems caused by one browser unless that one browser has a strong majority in your userbase.

When building the moderately-complex layouts for NearbyGamers I realized I was wasting time supporting IE for a tech-savvy audience who likely wouldn’t be using it. Even though NG is a professional site and the current highlight of my portfolio, with IE’s 32% share it would be a mistake to spend time tearing my hair out over it instead of improving the site in general. My analytics show that IE users view the same number of pages, visit for the same length of time, and convert in the same numbers as users of A-grade browsers. Yes, in IE the fonts are weird, elements are mispositioned, text spacing is inelegant, and there are probably many other small bugs I haven’t even bothered looking for. The site isn’t hemorrhaging IE visitors, so IE is getting more support than it’s earned.

This behavior isn’t the straw-man “laziness” that Reindel attacks, it’s the highest professional business sense and commitment to productive quality. Microsoft ignored our half-decade of “constant complaining” because they thought they had a lock on the market. Developers who publicly reduce their support for IE are using their voice and their practice to push for better support from the browsers.