Nothing gets a web developer’s hackles up quite like older versions of Internet Explorer. The web browser we all love to hate still manages to hang around after all these years — in the case of IE 6, the persistence is strong enough that even Microsoft has a website dedicated to getting rid of it.
While almost no one likes older versions of IE, most of us still need to support it to varying degrees. Mobile web expert Peter-Paul Koch recently ended an informal survey of web developers asking them which versions of IE they supported, tested in and whether or not they charged extra to support older versions of IE.
The results — from nearly 18,000 replies (1,150 for the least answered question) — are surprising in several ways, like the fact that 2 percent of web developers surveyed still support IE 5.5. That might not sound like many, but consider that IE 5.5 is nearly 13 years old (it was released with Windows ME in July 2000) and predates most of CSS 2, let alone CSS 3.
The overwhelmingly popular way to detect for older versions of IE is to use conditional comments, with 79 percent of developers reporting they use them.
Roughly two-thirds of developers surveyed are now charging extra for clients that require IE 6 support and 42 percent say they do the same for IE 7 support. Supporting IE 8 (which is admittedly not nearly as difficult as previous versions) remains just another part of being a web developer.
As Koch writes, “it’s clear that the market for IE6 information is collapsing, even though IE7 is still a going concern.” Be sure to check out Koch’s QuirksMode site for the full rundown on the survey.
Add-ons account for more than 70 percent of browser crashes in Internet Explorer 8, according to Microsoft.
The company released a whitepaper this week titled “Enhancing the performance of Windows Internet Explorer 8″ that outlines the various factors influencing performance and speed in its flagship browser. The whole report is available for download (as an MS Word .doc file, if you can believe it).
The other 30-odd percent of crashes in IE8 are caused by the browser, one of its subsystems (such as the download manager) or by malware.
When confronted with criticism about performance, especially crashes, browser makers are always quick to point their fingers at add-ons. And rightly so — add-ons are sometimes buggy and poorly tested. As a result, browser makers are now subjecting add-ons to a more rigorous testing process to vet their stability and safety before giving them the stamp of approval.
In a detailed analysis of Microsoft’s report at our sister site Ars Technica, Emil Protalinski argues that the third-party add-on culture around IE isn’t as robust as those surrounding Firefox and Chrome.
Protalinski chalks it up to IE being a poor development platform.
Microsoft’s two biggest competitors in the browser market, Firefox and Chrome, both put a big emphasis on add-ons. Microsoft claims that IE add-ons are very easy to develop and that it made sure the developer tools are not a separate download. That may be true, but IE still isn’t as good an extensibility platform as other browsers: it’s harder for plugins to intercept web traffic and so add-ons like NoScript are much harder to port.
During his keynote address at Microsoft’s recent MIX10 developer event in Las Vegas, IE general manager Dean Hachamovitch said that one of his team’s goals is to significantly improve the browser’s extensibility in the next version.
IE9 is due around the end of the year, but you can test drive it right now.
Every few months, we see a new set of statistics or a new report showing how Internet Explorer is losing browser share, becoming increasingly irrelevant or dying on the vine. This of course sets off ripples across the tech blogs, which gather into a wave of “Death of IE” posts that we all tweet, Digg and generally take pleasure in passing around and commenting on.
Which is not to say these blog posts are at all wrong or untrue. Internet Explorer is losing browser share, relevance and vitality. And more so lately than ever before — the most recent wave of “IE’s Dead” posts, which hit us this week, includes some sound analysis and stats that show IE is losing serious footing on the open web.
One key event was the inclusion of the browser selection screen for European Windows users, which Microsoft was forced to add following a recent ruling by the EU (We posted a preview of the screen last month). The browser choice screen gives users the option of downloading an alternative browser, and the immediate result of the feature’s rollout was a dip in IE’s market share.
Early data from Quantcast shows an immediate five percent decline. IE’s loss seems to have stabilized at around the three percent mark after a few days, though (maybe some of those who switched actually missed IE). The big winner among browser-makers seems to be Firefox, which saw around a two percent jump after the choice screen debuted.