Archives » July 20th, 2003

July 20, 2003

Oh no they aren’t. Oh no they aren’t.

My head is swimming. I’m getting flashbacks to the bad old days. I’m seeing “This Site Best Viewed In” banners spinning around my head. It’s all being brought on by pages like this, and the accompanying banner. It’s all part of a noble, if misguided, switch campaign targeting Internet Explorer. The page says, in part, “If you were looking at this in any browser but Microsoft Internet Explorer, it would look and run better and faster.” And that may well be true (although, in the case of that page and the site it’s part of, it’s not). But that’s not the message we should be trying to get across. Sure, IE6 lags behind Mozilla in a number of ways. But for all intents and purposes, for the majority of pages and sites, they’re at a point where they render HTML and CSS identically. Which is what we want. Which is what we’ve been fighting for all these years. And now that we’re there, starting some kind of anti-IE campaign, especially one based on rendering, undermines the work that has been accomplished.

I find myself torn in standing against this campaign. For one thing, its goal is to drive more users to Mozilla, which is something I wholeheartedly support. And for another thing, this round of the campaign was started by Tim Bray. A co-creator of XML, Tim Bray is one of those people that’s seen as a giant of the internet world, much like Tim Berners Lee. And in reading his weblog, ongoing, I’ve rarely found anything that I disagree with. That is why I was both joyed and dismayed to see The Door Is Ajar, his take on the “browser wars”, such as they may still be. Most of the data points he makes are sound, that IE7 will be bundled with Longhorn, that most people who move away from IE never look back, and that his own stats show IE with only a 60% share. But there’s an undercurrent to his writing that IE should be killed off, and that can be accomplished through a grassroots FUD campaign. The WaSP once felt the same way about Netscape 4, and they came up with the Browser Upgrade Campaign. It served its purpose, Netscape 4’s numbers declined, and then they brought the campaign to a close. That’s the key point. They consciously chose not to move the BUC to the next level, targeting IE6. But this is exactly what Tim Bray is proposing, the Browser Upgrade Campaign, Phase 2.

He’s fighting the wrong war. The battles we need to engage in first are ones that encourage developers to write sites that look good in all browsers. That way, it won’t matter if the visitors are running IE or Mozilla or Opera or whatever. They’ll get the same experience no matter what. Yes, it’s true that only a small number of web users are running anything besides IE. But it’s also true that a small number of web developers consider anything besides IE when writing their sites. They still use tag soup methods from five years ago. They still make heavy use of nested table layouts and font tags. They still think of Netscape as a loser, something they test in at the 11th hour to make sure it doesn’t break too bad. Mozilla isn’t even on their radar. And until these developers are educated and start writing sites that work equally well in all browsers, it is a little premature to drive the unwashed hordes to Mozilla or Opera.

I’m torn on this issue because I know Mozilla is better. I know it has better CSS2 support and a faster rendering engine. And I know that when Firebird hits 1.0 it will blow Mozilla out of the water. IE is old and buggy, and soon it will hold the reviled position that Netscape 4 has these past years. So, yes, people should be encouraged to move off of IE. But it needs to be done without evoking memories of “This Site Better In…” It needs to be pulled off without the hostility of some of the fringe supporters of the BUC, who shouted “Your browser sucks” from the highest mountain. And it can’t be done by making claims about the site looking better, because unless you’re using advanced techniques like Eric Meyer’s CSS/Edge, a well-written site will look identical in IE and Mozilla.

If you’re going to sell Mozilla, sell its true advantages. Tabbed browsing, better security, etc. And learn the reasons why people use IE. Sure, a lot of people use it because they don’t know or care that there’s anything else. But people do prefer IE, even ones who are familiar with Mozilla. IE’s famous integration with Windows can be an advantage, depending on what you’re doing. Internet Explorer easily morphs into Windows Explorer, which can come in handy at times. I wouldn’t dream of using Mozilla to view FTP sites, because of IE’s “folder view” that allows drag and drop. And shoot me if you will, but I’m kind of excited to find out what new capabilities will come out of the deeper integration in Longhorn. This campaign shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing proposal. Our aim should be to educate, not coerce, and a person who doesn’t switch shouldn’t be seen as a failure.

Above all, don’t spread the word that sites look better in Mozilla. In the worst case, they still look worse. In the best case, they look the same. So, the words “looks better” should not be a part of this movement. We’ve been down that road before, and we’re not going back.