Websites and browser compatibility

About six months ago Mozilla altered it’s Firefox release schedule to aim for one release every other month or so. So whilst the time span from Firefox 3 to Firefox 4 was around three years, that from version 4 to 7 was just six months.  With version 10 scheduled for early 2012. This seems to be a direct response to Google’s Chrome upping its major version every few weeks. It is now on version 16. Obviously bigger is better – Mozilla are perhaps afraid that users will perceive their progress as slow with respect to others. On the other and that has never bothered Microsoft which took a decade to move from IE6 to IE9.

The point of this article though is to think investigate what this means for web development. Clients used to have requirements that included a browser compatibility list such as:

  • IE 6, IE 7
  • Firefox 3
  • Opera 9
  • Safari 4

Obviously with version numbers changing every few weeks, this is no longer meaningful. Nowadays clients are more likely to say “Must work in all current browsers” and then, in the web version of small print, add: “and IE6“. Argghhh…

Of course nowadays, with the mobile browser landscape even more chaotic than the desktop one ever was, targetting anything but recommended web standards and best practices would seem pointless. After all, why target the iPhone’s Safari browser? You might as well write a native iPhone app – it will be more usable and easier to code. Likewise with other smartphones. That is not to that you should write native apps, just that you may as well do so if you are anyway targetting a specific device.

So perhaps clients need to have a new compatibility list, which is not about browsers, but standards and especially best practices. Much like there is a manifesto for agile software development, we need something similar for web development. The compatibility list might then include items such as:

  • HTML 5 compatible
  • Responsive design
  • User centered design
  • Mobile first
  • Progressive enhancement
  • Graceful degradation

I see that a had full of prominent web developers have recently started something similar with the Future Friendly website. It would be great if they could capture their thoughts on that website in one paragraph a little like the agile manifesto did. Something that you can point your client to or fit on a small flyer to give them to take home.

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