The Whole World Uses Windows and Internet Explorer

- November 8, 2009 - by , in Digital Project Management, with 17 comments -

Warning: Controversial post alert

This may make your blood boil, but if it does, please feel free to add a venomous comment or two after reading.

PCs suck! Microsoft suck! Windows sucks! IE sucks!

Oh my, how often do those of us working in the web industry hear this from the community and colleagues? I would take a guess at daily, and they’re all probably right.

Although not a Mac user myself (cool points totally lost I know), I know enough people, whose opinions I respect highly, that say Apple and Macs are far superior in every way to PCs and Windows – I believe them.

I was a front-end developer and have spent days and nights (mostly nights) pulling my hair out, shouting and swearing at bugs in IE from what I know to be solid clean code – from this perspective I know how this browser can at times seem like a demon sent straight from hell to torment us all and make us doubt all that we know to be good.

An illustration showing all the popular browser logos as characters mocking Interney Explorer 6

The post isn’t about IE6 alone, but this made me ‘gigglesnort’

But, as a Web Project Manager your perspective of this whole topic has to shift dramatically because guess what – as much as most who manage, design and build websites loathe to say or admit it…

THE WHOLE WORLD USES WINDOWS AND IE!

Ok, maybe not the whole world, but a bloody lot of people.

The Evidence

Now while I imagine pretty much everyone reading this article will know this to be a fact, I still think it’s important to show the figures to really ram it home, because it seems to me, the more the web industry production teams out there move closer and closer to an all Mac environment, the attitudes to catering for anything Microsoft become more negative, to the point of being damaging to a business commercially through decreased bug fixing competencies / speed and lowering team low-morale.

A table of statistics showing the OS usage statistics for 2009

OS Usage in 2009, with Windows at about 90%

A table of statistics showing the browser usage statistics for 2009

Popular browser usage in 2009 – hmm no Netscape ;-)

This last table says about 40% of people use IE with Firefox now the market leader at 46.6%, huzzah!

But wait, I would hazard a guess that if you take a look at the Operating System and Browser combination analytics for your client’s sites, not your own (unless you only make sites for cool kids only) these aren’t the figures you’ll see.

I’d bet Windows and IE combinations are way ahead of any other – on average the combo splits on client sites tend to lean overwhelmingly towards Windows and IE combos, usually around 70% and upwards of all traffic.

Please, take a look at your client’s analytics and tell me I’m wrong. I’m basing this statement on only stats I can see, which is a lot, but this is one instance where in a way I’d love to be wrong and look like a complete Muppet…

10 Reality Check Facts

Of course I completely understand, and empathise, that by pampering to the makers of IE it can feel like we’re possibly postponing the evolution of the product to what most would consider acceptable standards, but I’d like to point a few things out to web production teams that I believe to be perhaps uncomfortable truths:

  1. We primarily design and develop websites for non-web industry people, not cool kids
  2. Most clients do not give two hoots about, or even understand, the IE vs. Firefox vs. Safari debate, they just want a site the majority of their users see as the designs they paid for indicated
  3. Most clients do not accept progressive enhancement as an acceptable solution when confronted with stats that tell them two thirds of their traffic is from IE
  4. Testing and bug fixing in IE is just as much of an important part of a developer’s job as is cracking that awesome innovative piece of new code
  5. It’s commercially pointless to be able front-end develop at warp speed for Firefox and Safari if subsequent fixing for IE takes an age due to lack of knowledge, experience or enthusiasm
  6. No matter how much you scream, you will still have to fix those IE bugs so why not accept it and see it as an important part of your job rather than a chore – to deliver a solid product for the client and their customers
  7. Leaving IE testing right to the end, after creating some really complex CSS and JavaScript, is asking for trouble. Maybe don’t fix till the end, but just have a few quick peeks during development to see just how broken things are so you can adjust your strategy early if need be
  8. Saying client’s and their customers “Should use a better browser” is just not an acceptable or constructive response or attitude, despite it being completely true
  9. Quality developers want their work to be perfect in all browsers, and despite resenting it, will work tirelessly to accommodate IE out of sheer pride and determination
  10. And most importantly of all… Please try to realise and appreciate how lucky we are to work in such a cool industry and in jobs we love!

I’ll take full-time IE bug fixing over a dead end job I hate any day! How many people do you know who live THAT life…

Seriously guys we are SO lucky!

In My Defence…

Now let’s get one thing straight here, I’m not defending IE here, I would love as much as anyone to see it go away never to be seen again. It causes me, and anyone in Web Project Management, endless amounts of headaches, but, being on the front-line with clients and their KPIs means I just can’t ignore the reality right now.

This article is not meant as a rant at designers and developers, but really a plea on behalf of all Web Project Managers to the web designers and developers out there to just take a step back from the in-house, ‘in-industry’ red mist that surrounds this topic for a moment and appreciate the bigger commercial picture – the one Web Project Managers and web agency owners have to live in on a daily basis.

Let’s all keep trying to spread the word about using more standards compliant browsers, continue to educate clients we meet on the benefits of using Firefox over IE, inform everyone about the Google Chrome Frame, Progressive Enhancement and Graceful Degradation, but…

Please try to realise the commercial reality and support us in getting web projects finished on budget, on time, with minimal in-house stress and making client’s, and the large majority of their users, really freakin happy – which the for the time means accommodating IE in all its dominant form.

To a Web Project Manager, while it has such a large market share, getting it right in IE is just as important a part of the project as getting the designs signed off on time or making sure as much JavaScript as possible is un-obtrusive – we have to set personal feelings aside, be tenacious and get the job done.

Trust me, we Web Project Managers understand that Microsoft, Windows and IE completely suck when developing websites and applications, but as we openly empathise with you, please try to empathise with us, accept the amount of people that still use them and the position that puts us in when managing the delivery of websites and web applications.

So come on, quit with the un-constructive negativity and stop dragging your heels when it comes to getting it right in IE, it adds nothing positive to the atmosphere or morale of a web agency team – set your personal feelings aside, be tenacious and get the job done.

Ok, time for me to put my riot gear on…

17

- Comments -

  • Rob Smith

    Just to add some fuel to the fire, we work with some of the top retail brands here in the UK at Blueleaf, and as a sample of two of those brands IE is still used by 75-80% of people, and of that percentage, 13-15% of them are using the deadly and poor IE6. That’s far too significasnt to pay lip service too! Oh and Windows is 90% of users.

  • bjawnie

    Good post. I would just like to add that the statistics you got off of w3schools.com are from their own site which means that it represent webdesigners and developers more than anything else. So the numbers are probably even more in favor of Explorer than shown there.

  • The majority of sites I oversee are for small business and across the board show a strong Firefox presence beating IE as the browser of choice taking around 47% of the share with IE trailing at 40-42%.

    It’s great to see such a large share for FF but I think the real issue people have is the fact that IE users don’t update as much as their counterparts. If we didn’t have to support IE6 then I don’t think the IE hate would be as prevalent. I’d say 85% of my IE bug fixing time is spent with IE6 but then I only work on smaller projects. I’d be interested to know how this is for those working on larger development projects.

    Hopefully Microsoft and their big push to get the corporate sector out of the dark ages with Windows 7 will work and we can start finding all the problems to complain about with IE8!

  • @Rob Smith @bjwnie cheers for that input on some big brands stats and my sources!

    @Paul Boag, well that’s a “picky” comment if ever I’ve seen one ;) Nah, on reflection it’s a very good point and probably more shows up a regular oversight on my part to enlighten clients to the benefits of Progressive Enhancement (the Rawnet dev team will thank you for pointing that out :)

    @Atomworks, interesting stats input there. It’s encouraging to hear FF taking the lead for sure!

  • You had me almost the entire way Sam. I agree with every point bar one. I believe that clients can be convinced of the benefits of progressive enhancements and regularly do exactly that.

    Essentially we give our clients a choice. We can (like most other design agencies) role in the cost of testing and supporting IE6 to the point where it looks identical in IE6 and Safari OR we can build with progressive enhancement and accept minimal differences (absence of drop shadows and rounded corners) in return for a saving in testing and fixing.

    For most clients they are entirely happy to save some money for the sake of loosing a few design extras on a browser that will ultimately disappear.

  • Just a quick note to say: great post, nice research :)

    I honestly can’t see the need for the defensive stance on this – you’re pointing out truths and there’s no reason whatsoever to blame you for them. If there’s a failure anywhere it lies with the web industry in general for not being better at telling people that IE does suck, that it’s really not an OK browser, and that there are plenty of free alternatives out there both better, more secure and equally free. We’ve made the journey into the better world ourselves and then complain when the rest of the people haven’t – without realising why they haven’t and that we should be the ones to help them get here.

  • DebJudy

    Your post is spot on. We see upwards of 70-80% of our traffic from the IE family and including almost 20% of that from IE6. We also see the other problem in that something behaves differently on a Mac in either FF or Safari than it does on a PC in IE or FF, and we are faced with trying to explain to our designers why we won’t fix the Mac problem when Macs represent less than 3% of the traffic to our sites.

    I’m with @Atomsworks in hopes that Windows 7 moves the needle and leads to IE6’s demise. It is not the users choice to stick with IE6 (or any IE version), but their corporate IT staff is enforcing it. Maybe Windows 7 will be the answer.

  • My experience working with users of online learning apps for CPD also shows that the percentage of non-IE users is tiny. Being embedded in this industry makes it hard to imagine/remember that most people are content to use the browser that comes with their computer and let the automatic updates take their course without having to think about it. Some corporate clients with locked-down PCs are even mandated by their IT departments to carry on with IE6 (but that’s another whinge for another day…).

  • Education is a key part of our job as Web PM’s. Yes, we should be continuing to educate clients about “better browsers”. Yes we should be continuing to educate clients about how progressive enhancement is a sensible way to approach the problem of less able browsers.We also need to help them understand that the most important browser isn’t necessarily the one they use. (It’s still not uncommon for large organisations to be languishing on ie6).

    Our teams need educating too. The general internet using public still use IE in various guises. There is nothing we can do about that. For now, as you so eloquently put it;

    “… quit with the un-constructive negativity and stop dragging your heels when it comes to getting it right in IE, it adds nothing positive to the atmosphere or morale of a web agency team – set your personal feelings aside, be tenacious and get the job done.”

    Great post. Thanks!

  • @Fake51, Thanks for your comments. I think the world is finally catching up though, so big progress made, IE10 is the one ;)

    @DebJudy, agreed, getting people motivated to get it right in IE is challenging, and your point about FF having a few differences to FF on Windows is perhaps one I should’ve mentioned – it’s pretty much the same but not quite.

    As for Windows 7 helping the demise of IE6, it sure will help, but I can’t honestly see I.T. teams upgrading to 7 for a verrrrrry long time unfortuntaley.

    @Architela @Rob Borley, that’s a point I was trying to make, the longer you spend in the web world, talking and working with web folk, the easier it is to lose sight of average joe who is perfectly happy with the browser installed on their machine.

    As Web Project Managers it is esential to keep this firmly in mind, and as you say Rob, keep your team aware of this fact too… no matter how much it hurts.

  • First up, I’m a client, and I’ve been “IE sober” for three months – I made the switch to Firefox in August (Cue round of applause).

    I think the issue is that most people in such a wide range businesses do not actually require any of the features that make Firefox better than IE – the web is still very much one-way for the large majority of users, despite what it can feel like whilst immersed within its more advanced intricacies.

    A common economic principle is that of hurdles – most often used for setting prices; you can have a cheaper train ticket if you cross the hurdle of booking in advance, online. The underlying factor is that of Microsoft’s browser monopoly, and that unfortunately, is not something the web design industry can do much about.

    Despite the EU competition commission recently stating that something must be done about this, any change is a long way off. Even if computers came bundled with other browsers, allowing users to choose the one that matches their requirements, where would the line be drawn as to which ones are included and which are not? At some point, such a regulation would fall foul of its own mission statement – should Google then include MSN Search and Yahoo in Chrome?

    How annoying is this monopoly for web designers? Well, I’ve often heard of the notion that designers are not artists, they are problem solvers. If IE wasn’t the challenge, it would just be something else. What if IE adoption was only at 5% – would this 5% of the client’s market not then be considered?

    IE conquering will be a part of a web designer’s job spec for some time to come. Why not then revel in this challenge and boast about how well you can design sites across all browsers while your competition jumps on the anti-IE bandwagon and bothers their clients by trying to wean them off the one they’ve always used with no problems? Exploit the gap and invest in the long term.

    Great article Sam!

  • @Tom Aylward, nice comments Tom, and an interesting twist on things – using the willingness to build for IE as a USP…

    I’m not 100% sure most clients would appreciate this as one, but an interesting perspective. However I’m in complete agreement with you about differentiating yourself from agencys that are on the anti-IE bandwagon!!

    That comment is blog post length Tom, maybe one for yours ;)

  • Nice post Sam :-)

    I’m a web designer and I don’t really see what all the fuss is about. Developing websites that are cross browser compatible is all part of the job like you said (and it’s a great job). Yes, IE6 is a bit of a pain in the arse at times but a lot of corporates still use it. Developing sites IE7 and IE8 is pretty simple in most cases, it’s nothing to get flustered about. So I think web designers should just stop complaining and start practicing their coding and they will find that developing for IE is no big deal.

    And regarding your point about Mac’s being better than PC’s, I think it all depends what you are using it for. As a web designer my PC does everything I need it to do and more and I have no interest in paying more money for a shiny new Mac machine that I don’t need. Long live the PC! ;-)

    Check out the Mac or PC debate here: http://www.macorpc.net

  • @Cre8ive Commando, thanks for comments. It’s funny, I was hoping to get some responses from the die hard designers and developers who don’t agree with the “it’s just a part of our job” attitude! And oh lord, the Mac vs. PC debate… If I go to that site I may never return!

  • Tom Aylward

    The European Competition Commission must have read my comment on here Sam:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8524019.stm

    That said, I believe all those who currently have IE will have the option of changing, but again this is a hurdle most won’t bother with.

  • Oooo interesting Tom. I defintely think the ECC are regular visitors to my blog ;)

    Although a hurdle it’s certainely positive news!

  • NeverSoft

    i use firefox ie is really slow and is getting outdated

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