On my last evening in Sydney, I was talking to a couple of web developers of similar vintage to myself, and after we polished our ear trumpets and harangued passers-by with shouts of “You young people don’t know you’re born. We fought in the Browser Wars you know” we sat back with a sherry and a custard cream to begin reminiscing about the old days, way way back when Internet Explorer 6 was a good browser.
Because it was, you know. Back in its day it was state of the art. With its super DOCTYPE switching, it managed to be backwards compatible with the broken IE5 box model, while also being super standards-compliant going forward—a trick that HTML5 is just managing to pull off.
Maxine suggested that I document this fact before history records that we all hated it from the second it was released: we didn’t hate it at all. We loved it.
For those who already knew that, it’s considered axiomatic that the trouble with IE6 was not IE6 itself but but that once IE6 was released, Microsoft stopped innovating. And that’s true — but it’s only half-true. It gives the impression that designers and developers were immediately begging Microsoft to release an upgrade, to standardise all the proprietary flim-flam that they’d built into the browsers.
But they weren’t. While designers eventually began bemoaning the three pixel trouser-flambé peekaboo bug and the lack of
:hover on anything other than links, developers were actively propping up IE6 for years and continued churning out IE-only code for ages because it was much easier for them to assume one platform and even code to its bugs rather than code to standards or cross-browser access.
In fact developers of browser-based applications were so desperate not to move on from their IE6 platform that when Microsoft eventually announced IE7 and IE8, it had to ensure all the legacy browser-based systems wouldn’t break by using some magical metatags and heurisitcs.
To spell it out: IE6 didn’t become a zombie despite designers and developers; it became a zombie because of the active support for a monoculture by application developers.
We can look back now and smile at the idea that IE6 was best of breed. We’ve moved on so much! It’s impossible to imagine a world now in which developers proudly browser-sniff to check that the customer is using the “right” browser on the “right” operating system, while they race to code applications that revolve around non-standard “extensions” thereby locking themselves and their users to one browser because it temporarily has the shiniest proprietary extras. That’s absolutely unthinkable as we approach 2011.
The old days eh? Who’d go back there?