Browser Support, Again

With a high-profile portfolio of websites like Google Apps dropping support for IE9 the question of browser support inevitably resurfaces. Many will see this news as justification for their own abandonment of a legacy browser.

As I’ve said time and time again, external decisions and aggregated statistics are irrelevant if you have specific numbers for a domain. If I’m building a website that sees significant traffic in IE9, I support IE9. And by support I referring to accessibility, usability, and active testing thereof.

Progressive enhancement means I can give an appropriate experience to users of every browser I support (one that can be different to other browsers). Sensible development practices mean that unsupported browsers have a fighting chance. Browser support never need be boolean. When you consider that the long-tail of visitors may represent hundreds of devices, it may be time to rethink what support means.

I don’t criticise Google because that’s clearly their business decision but simply following suit is ignorant. My advice is alway thus:

  • build for the reality of the website in question
  • address the definition of support feature by feature
  • don’t try to design and develop for one canonical experience
  • test and assess as you go (climbing up a waterfall isn’t fun)

It’s all about the mindset. Trying to maintain a list of supported browsers will just as likely cause problems as opposed to preventing them. While it will always be true that at some point older browsers just have to be abandoned, be aware of how you’re making that decision. Only after I have a grasp of a websites objectives and budget do I go on to design and build an appropriate solution — one that reaches as much of the target audience as possible.

Time and cost are always the big factor so comparing websites is next to impossible. When it comes to browser support, make a pragmatic but intelligent decision.

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