CSS:The Missing Facts

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I have just been sent CSS: The Missing Manual by David McFarland at O’Reilly Press to review. So I am scouting through the manual to see how informative it is and to get first impressions. And I come across a sidebar comment – Should I Care About IE6. As readers who have visited this site before may well know, I am definitely not an enthusiast for any browser built by Microsoft, and certainly not IE6. So here is what David has to say about Caring About IE6:

“If you are a web designer, you’ve probably got the latest version of Firefox, Opera, Safari or Internet Explorer on your computer. Unfortunately, a surprising number of the world’s web surfers still use IE 6 (otherwise known as the bane of web design)”. According to Net Applications , a company that tracks browser usage, around 17% of people still were using IE6 in May 2009 (http://marketshare.hitslink.com/browser-market-share.aspx?qprid=0)…

Your main goal should be to make sure that everyone has access to your site’s content. If IE6 users can get to your content, view it, read it, or download it without any hassles, then you have done your job. After that, you can worry about how much you want your site to match across browsers.

You can do lots of cool things with CSS that IE6 just doesn’t understand… Even if someone visiting your site with IE6 can’t see a highlighted text field, he can still effectively use your site and fill out that form.”

Now the italics, underlines, bolding are not in the original, they are mine for a reason. Missing Facts.

First, if you are a Web Designer Google Chrome is in the list of browsers you must have and test with. Chrome along with Firefox  is the browser with the best compliance with CSS standards along with being consistently rated one of the fastest. David, as an advocate of CSS, should not miss this fact. Also David must be aware that IE8  is the worst browser for CSS compliance at just over 50% of hundreds of benchmark tests well behind Firefox and Chrome which meet 90% of those tests. Say no more about how well IE6 meets CSS standards.

Second, David uses the connector “or” instead of the “and” imperative. Web Designers truely worth their salt a)know that not much separates the top 4 browsers [Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Opera’s Opera]  in terms of performance but  b)the gap is wider in terms of features and support for E4X, SVG, HTML5 and a host of  W3C plus other Web standards. Web Designers worth their salt will have all 5 of the major browsers in their testbeds to track these feature variations.

Third, the reference to 17% of browser market share to IE6 in May 2009 is flat wrong – my reading of the May 2009 data on the same site is 30% for IE in May 2009 and 24% in October 2009]. Strange 13% discrepancy although the downward trend towards David’s  17% may very well be hit by the end of this year.

Fourth, my main concern is that David like many other Web Pundits is pulling his punches when describing IE 6 features and support for Web standards. Just see what WaSP the supposed Web Standards people are doing or SitePoint is supporting with some of their books. In short, despite being the worst adherent to W3C and other Web standards and now just plainly late or remiss on standard  features ,Microsoft continues to get kid glove treatment from reviewers. I read the Should I Care About IE6 [see the italicized paragraphs above] and see the notion of deference: be happy with what you got from Microsoft’s IE6 , work around it [anywhere from 10-40% of your project time can be devoted to such work arounds], and wait for users to switch to IE8 which still fails on 50% of W3C CSS tests.

With this type kid glove treatment from IT and Web pundits, Microsoft has been able to preserve a “systems run best in Windows” mentality when in fact as computing moves towards the Cloud, Microsoft software is the only major vendor that is seriously remiss on delivering Web Standards. Why? because with  proprietary extensions in  IE8, SilverLight, Azure and other Microsoft “Web software”, the only way to get the most out of Windows apps + the Web  is to use Microsoft designated programs.  So what will be interesting to see is whether:
1)Web writers and experts will have the guts to tell it like it is – Redmond, Emperor of the Web browsers and software, has no clothes;
2)much better browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Safari will finally break the IE8 Windows based monopoly;
3)Apple’s Mac OS/X and Google’s ChromeOS will be able to make any headway against the under-performing bloatware that is Windows 7/Vista beyond mobiles and maybe Netbooks.
Gosh what an auspicious start to reviewing CSS:The Missing Manual book. Stay tuned for that review.

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  1. According to statscounter, this past month IE 6 had a 16.7% market share worldwide last month. (http://gs.statcounter.com/#browser_version-ww-monthly-200909-200910-bar)

    If you change it to be US centric, only IE market share drops to 8%. (http://gs.statcounter.com/#browser_version-US-monthly-200909-200910-bar.)

    3-5% seems to be the tipping point for serious browser support, so hopefully before long in the US we’ll be kicking IE 6 support to the curb. Unfortunately, you just can’t ignore IE 7 and 8 in the near term without losing 50-75% of your hits for many sites…

  2. Net applications revised their statistics gathering system sometime this summer. Before then, apparently, they assigned undue weight to the US compared to the rest of the world. After the revision they projected their numbers all the way back. So all the stats on their site changed. Most probably when David McFarland (not MacFarland) prepared the book for publication, he was looking the old statistics. It is not fair, I believe, to criticize him for not foreseeing Net Applications would do such a thing and extend it to the past without sufficient notification on the site.

  3. Eleman – can you post a link showing when Net Applications made this gratuitous “earthquake earthquake” change to their stats numbers. I shall amend/update my post accordingly. First time I have seen such revanchism in a log time.


  4. SteveP. –
    You hit upon a great point that I have just discovered in nmore detail. The market measuring services are all over the place on market share figures.Not good. My Feedjit shows about a 40 FF vs 60 IE split — but of course that is a small and possibly biased sample (IT savvy people;-)


  5. http://marketshare.hitslink.com/weighting.aspx

    I really do believe you need to question also your cynicism. Don’t you think it’s a bit off to hypothesize that an author of a book, subject to editorial scrutiny and all, alters a statistics to the effect halving it, rather than hypothesizing that a market research firm (which is not the most trustworthy line of business, once you think of it) may alter theirs?

  6. My “cynicsm” is based on the fact that So Very Many in the Web Community [think WaSP, and quite a number of writers for O’Reilly, Packt, McGrawHill, JWiley among others covering CSS, HTML, JavaScript]acquiesced and said absolutely nothing about Microsoft’s grossly egregious behavior regarding Web Standards. Eleman, if you are a Web developer, you should know that Microsoft has failed to keep commitments to implement full HTML, CSS,DOM, and JavaScript standards from 10 years ago. You should also be aware of the effectively 5-7 years of no updates to IE [and many other Microsoft Web related apps vis a vis standards]. You should know that Microsoft has been begging off for 5-7 years moving away from its proprietary extensions in JavaScript, DOM, XML, etc – insisting that it would put a burden on their developer community instead of immediately deprecating those extensions like they are more than willing to do in terms of support for Win2000 or Win XP. You should know that making Web software work with IE and the Microsoft web tools adds any where from 10 to 40% more work on a project making sure all the stuff works in the 5th wheel, Microsoft browsers – and that the biggest source of problems is the IE6, IE7, and IE8 browsers [which still barely gets thru 1/2 of the CSS tests that all 4 other major browsers are more than 90% compliant on].

    Yet despite this deliberate sabotaging of Web standards – a substantial portion of the Web Developer writing community – the Eric Meyers, Danny Goodmans, David McFarlands [and their are many others] have a)either remained silent about the bad behavior or/and b)have recommended to make do and do the workarounds necessary to make it work in IE and other Microsoft software => “There are some crippling IE6 bugs that can completely destroy the look of your website [when using the IE browser] – in some cases even hiding content or making it impossible to read the web page. You will want to fix those kinds of bugs and this book describes how to overcome the most devastating bugs in IE6(and IE7)”

    Note nowhere in this sidebar – [nor the book so far as I have read it, review will follow in week or two]does David call for a)amended behavior by Microsoft; b)use of alternative browser and Web development tools; and/or c)boycotting Microsoft web related tools and programs. And of course, David is not alone – too many in the trade press have tolerated this “abusive behavior”. by Microsoft. And so Redmond is able to create a series of Web tools that bypass ever bigger chunks of standards in favor of their own Windows replacements – no SVG, no E4X, no XForms, no JPEG2000, no SMIL, no HTML5 – but rather their own, proprietary, it-runs-only-in Windows or it runs best in Windows and maybe some selected few other environs and browsers – look at Silverlight for a prime example.

    Now as for a book author being deliberately deceitful – I would ask you to look at the reviews of Vista by Business Week, PC World, CNet, NYTimes, Computerworld and a host of Vista launch books that promised a very good OS – when the reality turned out to be slower than

    Finally – go here [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Explorer#OS_compatibility] for a graphic example of how long Microsoft has supported IE on other OS. So now that IE is “pledged” to support some HTML5 and Silverlight is “pledged” to work on Mac [and Firefox and Safari browsers] and have a one version behind candidate through Novell available on Suse Linux – how long do you expect Microsoft to keep those pledges up?? 1 or maybe 2 years? Well if the community of writers and “savvy Web users” is as pliant as they have been on IE – I would not bet beyond 2 years of Microsoft support unless they are contractually obliged to do so.

    So if I am to be accused of cynicism regarding the “good intentions” of Microsoft and skepticism of the willingness of the Web writing and punditry to effectively marshall a campaign against Redmonds abusive behavior regarding Web standards – so be it. But if you do ignore this and/or engage in Chamberlain-like appeasement to Microsoft Monopoly power behavior – do expect to be called out for it. And note that I am not alone:
    Check the following link for others who do not acquiesce: http://www.catswhocode.com/blog/15-amazing-anti-ie-resources

    Last but not least, the Web development community has two opportunities to change the Microsoft’s abusive behavior towards Web standards . First, they can recommend to clients whom they are developing for to switch to Google’s Chrome Frame which replaces IE6, IE7, and IE8 rendering and JavaScript engines. Second they can offer a discount on work done where the client switches to Google Chrome Frame or any of the 4 other major browsers which are much more standrds compliant.

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