An Interesting Debate on Browsers


Browser Wars. That is one boring discussion. Isn’t it? IE lovers (if they exist) will ignore such discussions because they continue to favor IE (for reasons unknown) till death do them apart. Firefox users will always have something which will give Firefox an edge when compared to Chrome. Lastly, Chrome lovers will continue to love Chrome no matter what. But, this discussion isn’t about IE, Firefox or Google Chrome (not even Safari). It isn’t about their features. It isn’t about how they perform and how (dis)honestly were they coded. This discussion is about something totally different. It is about surrendering to the ever-changing browsers or give up supporting them. It is about two different schools of thought, those that believe the browsers should change, and those that believe the users should. It was sparked by interesting discussion between Aral and John.

Who are Aral and John?

Good question actually. Why have I (all of a sudden) picked their debate to discuss? Well…

Aral Balkan has been involved in the Internet for over 20 years and, in my opinion, is an all-round genius. As quite often happens when people have this much experience, Aral has his own company (an idea factory as he calls it). Read more about Aral Balkan here.

John Allsopp is another veteran in the field of design. While reading his bio I did feel like we had a bond for a moment as he calls himself a Software Engineer. Well my company calls me a Software Engineer (it is Senior SE after my recent promotion) and somehow I am part of that group of Software Engineers who don’t want to be one. John is what a true Software Engineer should be, he is a Software Engineer who thinks about, designs and creates software. He is involved for the entire life cycle of any software that he is a part of.

[images via Net Magazine]

And, Who am I?

I have to explain my perspective on their ideas before I actually dive into the discussion and let you guys rip me apart. I am the daily Internet surfer. I am that someone sitting in rural India still using IE 6 because Firefox slows down my 8-year-old machine and Google Chrome freezes it at times. I am that someone who still hasn’t seen most of the amazing, cutting edge design on the Internet. I am part of that other six billion.

But, I am also part of that class which is trying hard to grow. I am that someone who wants to be what John and Aral are already.

NOTE: Currently I own a Toshiba 2 GHz laptop with 3 gigs of RAM. I have two 1 TB HDDs and I am always online using my BlackBerry bold. It is just that I have spent many years of my life in that part of rural India where buying a laptop is still a dream. I have been there (and spend my holidays there too) and I know the scenario there. Henceforth, I am assuming that I will be able to judge the viewpoints of Aral and John from every possible perspective. 

So, what is this all about?

All this started with a tweet by Aral on 1st June. This is how it goes:

#oneversion #manifesto My websites will only support the latest versions of browsers. It’s the browser makers’ duty to get users to upgrade.

[image source]

There were a lot of positive (and negative) reactions to that tweet. One such reaction was by John when he published his article The Next 6 Billion. Basically, John wanted to point out how Aral’s tweet was not in support of those Internet users who are not using (because of various reasons) the latest versions. The discussion resurfaced when Net Magazine published the respective views of Aral and John on the age old discussion.

What alternative do I suggest?

I suggest a version smack in the middle of both ideas. I totally agree with Aral concerning weird browsers that force designers to forgo creativity in order to make their websites browser compatible. But, this does not mean that we give up supporting such browsers and create websites that support only the best browsers. This approach will result in a fallout of those users that could also be my potential visitors as was (indirectly) pointed out by John.

Browser manufacturers are the reason behind the current browser version chaos that has entrapped the Internet. The browser manufacturers had enough intelligence to envision the current mess but they didn’t bother to try and avoid it. Rather, they continued to release versions with downsides that resulted in multiple features of various websites not working as they actually should. The result is a divide between some genius designers like Aral and John.

Now that the browser manufacturers have made our lives hell why can’t we take on the task of doing something that will make them realize their mistake. Something that will force them to rethink their strategy and work together to come up with that (perfect something) platform where every website will run smoothly. I know that I am aiming for something which is unreal but I am just trying to shoot for the moon. At the very least I should be able to hit a couple stars right?.

How do we do make a stand against browser manufacturers?

We, as designers, can do a lot and start to voice our dislike. Here are some ideas I have come up with ever since I started to try and visit quality sites in less than quality browsers:

  • Start a common platform which combines the features of various browsers. If there is one then please let us know, because we’re unaware of one existing.
  • Let the general public have a platform where we can discuss browser features. Spread the awareness.
  • Time to drop the bomb. Use code that can detect the browser version and start upgrading some of the new features automatically. I don’t know if I will receive any positive feedback for this idea, but I wanted to share the thought with you anyway. Someone has to start something, right? How much longer are rural internet users going to be forced to kneel down in front of (oh I don’t know) Microsoft!

Look, my vision seem unreal to you but I can assure of one thing…people sitting in rural India (and similar places) are dying to grow. It is just that they don’t get the same access or opportunity as people who live in metropolitan areas do..

As cool as it is that there are a lot of designers pushing modern browsers to their creative limit, what is the use if it can’t be enjoyed by a large number of people? It might be time for us to band together against browser makers. They’ve created a confusing mess, but with some time and communication, surely a browser that is more accessible and universal can be created.

Conclusion (a disclaimer of sort)

I am saying this again. I am a nobody. But, that does not mean that I will sit back and relax when todays opinions might just shape the design industry of tomorrow? I might not make a lot of sense to you, but to me I do. You know why? At times my designs are all broken in old browsers. I don’t have issues, really. But, my friends call me and tell me that my design isn’t worth it. Now, how do I tell them that it isn’t my design, but their browser that isn’t worth it? I saw a way out and presented it here. You have other solutions? Please do share!

I could go on and on about this, but then it will turn into an eBook on the Browser Wars.