If you were using the internet ten or so years ago you’ll probably remember the “browser wars” when Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Netscape’s “Navigator” browsers were slogging it out for market share. In the end Internet Explorer triumphed, capturing 96% of the market, not least because IE came bundled with the Windows Operating System and users had no need for an alternative.
As a result, mainly due to lack of funding, development at Netscape all but stopped while IE continued to be developed until IE6 which came out in 2001. After that Microsoft abandoned IE development except for a few service pack updates, notably for Windows XP in 2004.
The lack of serious competition led to a stagnation of web development and innovation. Although internet technologies and web standards were being developed at a furious pace, without a browser that supported them they couldn’t be used, a situation that lasted for the best part of seven years.
The arrival of Firefox
Firefox 1.0 was released in late 2004, supported all the latest technologies that Microsoft abandoned with IE6, and was fully web standards compliant. However, the big problem for web designers has always been that the new technologies and web standards couldn’t be widely adopted because IE6 had the bulk of the market share. What we needed was an up to date version of Internet Explorer!
(It should be noted at this point that Opera and Safari web browsers have good standards support.)
Putting the pressure on Microsoft
Right from it’s introduction, web designers and developers everywhere promoted the merits of the Firefox browser and started pushing for Microsoft to get their act together and update Internet Explorer. Finally, in 2006, and at the same time as Firefox 2.0 appeared, Internet Explorer 7 was released with much improved support for web standards – it wasn’t perfect but it was a huge step in the right direction, not least for the much needed security enhancements.
Internet Explorer 8 and Firefox 3.0
2008 is going to be a good year for web browsers! Firefox 3.0 is due for release any day now and IE8 is promised for the 3rd quarter of this year. Both browsers have many improvements but most importantly IE8 looks as if it will have all the standards support we’ve been waiting for. Hurrah!
We’re not out of the woods just yet!
At the time of writing web designers still have to accommodate IE6 because it still shows at anything around 10-30% of browser usage. Only when this figure drops to single figures will we really be able to move forward on a big scale.
IE8 will ship in “standards mode” by default, but with the use of special tags embedded in a web page it will render the pages in “quirks mode” to accommodate old sites where numerous hacks or poor coding has been used to accommodate IE6.
However, this presents a dilemma for any sites that haven’t been made with standards compliant code – if that’s the case then you’ll have to use quirks mode, and that means your site really needs to be rewritten to bring it up to date. Conversely if quirks mode is not activated your site may break in IE6.
Despite this, any site that’s already been coded to web standards will not have this problem – chalk one up for web standards!
by Rob Allen | Filed in Software