I’m not a conspiracy theory type of guy, and today is no exception… but let’s just consider something for a moment. I realize the average person is not too familiar with the gory details of web design, so I’ll try extra hard to tone the nerdage down enough that the typical reader (I say ‘reader’ in the singular because I know I’ve got only one, and that’s assuming mom figures out how to turn on the computer) can relate.
Ok, so… Microsoft. Whoa! See what I did, I used up around 90% of my allotted nerdiness just by mentioning the big M-word. Ah well. Anyway, we’re all familiar with Mr. Softy and the fact that, as a whole, the company sucks. Graphical, icon based operating system? Apple. Mouse? Apple. Web browser? Netscape. These are not three little things. If you have used a computer any time since 1985, it’s likely that these three things are the aspects of the PC which you are most familiar with. Microsoft, despite controlling a gigantic share of the operating system and browser markets, pioneered none of the most basic components of the home computer.
I should point out that I’m a Windows XP user. It is stable. It is smart enough that my camera, mouse, etc. work the way they are supposed to as soon as I plug them in. And until Service Pack 2, it didn’t even try to do too many things behind my back. In other words, no, I am not a disgruntled Mac user. Just a disgruntled web designer.
Obviously not all Microsoft products are horrible. Regardless of what anyone says, you don’t get into an industry dominating position without some degree of quality in whatever it is you’re selling. Internet Explorer, though, is pretty thoroughly horrible. See, following several years of “browser wars” (this is an actual term, I promise I’m not that much of a loser) between Netscape and Microsoft, several organizations came together and decided what we needed were concrete standards for anything meant for the Internet. This way, programmers could be confident they would not have to design 17 different versions of each thing they built, and Joe User could see content the way it was meant to be seen.
How do you think Microsoft felt about this? Having won the browser wars mostly on account of packaging Internet Explorer with new computers, it’s fair to say Microsoft saw little reason to comply with standards. Why allow for new competition when you control 85% of the market? This, apparently, was Microsoft’s reaction. Now, years later, Firefox is finished. And it’s free. And it’s faster, more secure, simpler to use, has better features. Now you can see where I’m going with this.
Firefox is better from the Internet user’s standpoint, and it’s nice to people who build websites. If you design a page, and your design is good, and you put it together the way you’re supposed to, that should be it. End of story, ship it out, open for business. Nope! Because Internet Explorer breaks or at the very least briskly jostles numerous attributes of even relatively simple designs, it’s not uncommon to spend twice as much time fixing IE errors as you spent designing the page from scratch.
“Woops,” Microsoft might say. “Couldn’t fix that whole not-working-the-way-it’s-supposed to thing. We’ll try and get that straightened out by version 8 billion.” In older versions, there was actually a weird sequence of commands that you could use in order to trick IE into doing what the other browsers were doing already. In the latest editions – this is it, this is the conspiracy, this is my evidence that this post is not completely out of left field – Microsoft fixed the workaround. The errors caused by their crappy program are still there. One of few options that web designers had for fixing them: GONE.
What can you do? As a designer, you can’t put something together in Firefox and tell Internet Explorer users to piss off. They are, after all, 80-some percent of your audience. Which is why, if you haven’t already, you should download Firefox. And tell all of your friends to do the same. And, while you’re at it, put a copy on your parents’ computer; as long as you import their favorites, they’ll hardly know the difference.