Simon Willison’s Weblog

Missing the point

The Register’s coverage of the end of development for IE on the Mac makes some worrying conclusions:

Had Apple worked with inspired vigor since January to improve Safari, users might feel safe without IE. This hasn’t happened. Plenty of improvements have been made, but Safari still lacks the widespread Web site compatibility needed to be the sole browser of choice.

[...]

In addition, the horrid state of IE makes life without it seem a rather pleasant concept. Who needs a rectangle with no tools when add-blocking, fast, feature-rich options like Safari and Opera exist?

Sadly, Apple users do.

Unless Apple can prove without question that it can handle any Web site with its final release of Safari, users should start to get very nervous and hope Opera and Mozilla developers take charge.

This misses the point entirely. The problem isn’t the quality of the browser, it’s the quality of the web sites themselves. IE for Windows has a ridiculously loose HTML parser that will interpret and display just about any garbage you care to throw at it. Since its market share is so high (more than 90% for many commercial web sites) lazy web developers write for IE rather than writing standards compliant markup. The only way a competing browser could render those sites in exactly the same way as IE would be for it to reverse engineer the IE rendering engine in its entirety, which kind of eliminates the point of having a different browser in the first place.

Safari’s most important feature (at least according to Steve Jobs) is its speed. This speed is achieved mainly thanks to a highly optimised rendering engine. If they were to add in enough code to completely emulate IE’s broken behaviour, the speed advantage would be gone.

What worried me is that a publication with more technical awareness than most could misunderstand the issues this much.

Incidentally, the only way this problem is going to get any better is through persistant advocacy to the many sites that have broken HTML. If a site doesn’t work in a modern standards compliant browser, tell them! The best way to do it is over the ’phone (if they list a number on the site) as that will cost them more in terms of customer service expenses, but a polite email to the right address is almost as good. If you don’t get a favourable response, the Mozilla Tech Evangelism team may be able to back you up (especially if the problem is with a major site)—see this page for details of their procedures.

And finally, if you develop sites yourself learn to code to the standards instead of coding for a specific browser. A one-browser web would be a very boring place indeed.

This is Missing the point by Simon Willison, posted on 16th June 2003.

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Previously hosted at http://simon.incutio.com/archive/2003/06/16/missingThePoint