How important is Cross Compatibility?
Seems like a pretty silly question. Of course it’s important that all your designs render attractively regardless of the browser viewing it. Thus quantitative QC testing is always a big budgetary concern. It takes time and effort to ensure your webpage works regardless of viewport. How can you be responsive if you can’t show up on IE6?!
Well, actually there are very few IE6 users left, and those that are… how many are visiting your site? Chances are almost none of your traffic is using ancient technology to view your websites. And even if they are, is this really your target market? There’s always something to be said about broad appeal, but going after the computer illiterate as your target market for an ecommerce business doesn’t exactly sound like a winning strategy.
Today, we’ll be talking about the other side of the cross compatibility argument and examining whether or not it’s as important as many of us have been led to believe.
Let’s start simple. There are 5 major browsers:
Of these 5, the one that really burns up testing time and developer patience is IE. Elder versions of IE are buggy and seldom updated. Unfortunately, it’s also a browser that many people still use, though its prevalence has suffered a sharp decline in recent years.
Even so, it’s still the third most utilized browser, which means concessions need to be made for its benefit.
Or do they?
Microsoft no longer offers support for Windows XP. As a direct consequence, the slow, buggy, and technically inferior web browsers of yesteryear (IE6, IE7, and IE8) are falling farther and farther to the wayside. IE9 still offers a bit of a hurdle for cross compatibility, but IE10 and IE11 aren’t actually that bad. Moreover, they’re updated automatically, just like Chrome or Firefox.
This is great news because it means the vast majority of users will have browsers which adhere to web standards, and that any additional inclusions to HTML5/CSS3 can be implemented with breakneck speed compared to times past.
The real question when is the tipping point? When will enough users have switched over from the ancient browsers to the new wave in order to justify the wholesale ignoring of IE’s older iterations?
Let it Die
Despite the discontinuation of its support, global usage for IE6 is still hanging out at around 3.8% (thanks China). Which is a step in the right direction, but it really needs to fall below 1% before we can all start celebrating. Encouragingly, IE7 is right above 6, and 8/9 are both fading fast. The latter two falling below 10%.
These aren’t massive numbers, but they’re enough that it can be a cause of concern for anyone looking to reach a broad audience. Still, the good news is you’re looking at a major uptrend in more web-dev friendly browsers such as IE11.
IE8 is the culprit really holding up the compatibility revolution, but most websites could afford to ignore both IE6 and 7. Whether or not you can skip ahead and dismiss compatibility issues with IE8 (and to a lesser degree 9) depends mostly on your site’s features, audience, and analytics.
Does Your Site Need to Be Cross Compatible With Old Versions of IE?
As I’ve mentioned, the decision on whether or not to devote significant amounts of time and money to being fully cross compatible is largely determined by your target audience. Are you looking to market your products or services to:
- Senior citizens?
- The technically impaired?
- People searching for better browsers?
If any of the following apply, then it might be a good use of your time to make your site cross compatible.
Really though, it’s still only going to be worth your time if your site isn’t too feature heavy, or if the features that won’t render on older versions are superfluous in nature. You’ll lose a little in UX, but as the numbers show, at this point that’s more the user’s fault than yours.
Cross Compatibility Testing Resources
If you do find the need to make your web design as accessible as possible, then you’ll need to test out browser compatibility, preferably without having to download every version of every browser ever. Here are a few tools to help you on your way:
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