Meet the New Browser Support

Why Selective Browser Support Is Bad

I have been running into more and more cases of companies that produce highly-specialized web apps only supported on IE. Even more disheartening is the fact that so many of these companies support IE 6 but have built their web apps in such a way that key functionality is broken or absent in Firefox, Safari, and other major browsers. To be clear, these cases are not broad, general-purpose sites but very targeted web apps typically developed for companies in non-tech industries.

Still, such sites are often critical to those using them. For instance, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) is now encouraging people to file their unemployment claims through their new online system – a system which is only supported in IE. In fact IDES even lists supported operating systems, various flavors of Microsoft Windows not surprisingly. What is surprising is that IDES does not include Windows Vista or Windows 7 in that list. The last supported OS was released 10 years ago. And why should a web app really care about the OS version, anyway?

Such practices used to be more common, and somewhat legitimately so. But the gaps between browsers have shrunk, and the toolsets for bridging those gaps have improved dramatically. Additionally, the resurgence of JavaScript has helped the situation. JavaScript and JavaScript libraries offer powerful interface enhancements, more control over dynamic data presentation, and easier methods of dealing with browser differences. At this point in the game, new web applications – especially those whose audiences’ computing environments are not fully known or controlled – should not be built in a way that limits access by users on major browsers.

Why Selective Browser Support Is Good


We do it here at NUAMPS. We tend to give preferential treatment to WebKit browsers when targeting mobile devices. So iPhone and Android users get rich experiences when browsing sites such as Triquarterly Online or the NUAMPS site while a feature phone user or a Palm user… well, who knows exactly what they will encounter. In theory, we design handheld device versions of sites for small screens generally, but there are just so many cool (and amazing) features in CSS and JavaScript available through WebKit that we gravitate towards designing for that experience. We aren’t afraid to include jQuery actions in our mobile sites, for instance, though they are usually non-critical.

Certainly, there is a difference between our selective browser support and that of IDES, right? I believe there are several differences:

  • The majority of our mobile web presentations are secondary presentations. People can always switch over to the primary web site for as good (or bad) an experience as they would have in 90% of the rest of the web on their RAZR.
  • Our mobile web sites are rarely mission critical for the average user. Very few rely on the NUAMPS website for income. In fact there are only a handful of us and we’re all listed on the site.
  • Perhaps most importantly, we are targeting browsers and platforms that are both growing in usage and expanding the possibilities of the web.

Will the phrase ‘supported browsers’ ever disappear from our vocabulary? No. But in the development community we have a responsibility to show the path forward. A client might think that support for IE 6 is far more critical than support for Mozilla or WebKit browsers, but in the long run the client and the client’s audience will benefit more from the growth of possibilities on the web when choosing to design towards modern browsers and techniques.

Besides, all we have to say is ‘Gmail no longer supports that’.