The version problem of today: browser compatibility

David Berlind reports on a case where 35% of developer time is spent on browser compatibility issues.

It’s a huge problem, though I’m cautious about attaching too much weight to a singe anecdotal report. Of course it’s nothing new. Browser compatibility issues are as old as the Web; it was getting better, until AJAX and a new focus on the web-as-platform meant greater stress on advanced browser features. For that matter, version issues are as old as computing. Yesterday, DLL Hell. Today, web browsers.

What’s the solution? All use the same browser? Not realistic. The browser developers could fix the incompatibilities? It’s happening to some degree, but even if Microsoft came out with a 100% FireFox-compatible IE8 tomorrow, there’s still a big legacy problem. My web site stats for this month:

IE7 24%

IE6 22%

IE5 4%

FireFox 2.x 22%

FireFox 1.x 3%

Opera 3.9%

Safari 2.3%


Interesting that the FireFox folk seem to upgrade more quickly than those on IE – but even so, there are a lot of older browsers still in use. I suspect a lot of those IE6 users are corporates with conservative upgrade policies.

Another idea is to use AJAX libraries that hide the incompatibilities. That makes a lot of sense, though if you stress the libraries you might still find compatibility issues.

Finally, you can bypass the browser and use some other runtime, most likely Java or Flash. Unfortunately this doesn’t remove all version issues, but at least it means you are mainly dealing with one vendor’s evolving platform (Sun or Adobe). Silverlight could help as well, though its “cross-platform” only means Windows or Intel Mac at the moment, which is not broad enough.

This will be an important factor in the RIA (Rich Internet Application) wars.

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