Princeton into the Perfect Storm

Information Week has a great article on doing Cross Browser Web Development. But like the people at WaSP, it has one glaring myopia. I copy verbatim the commentary of one party :

“I have been a web designer and web developer for almost ten years–about as long as Web has been around! I have followed changes in browser dominance and web languages and technologies, and do not particularly favor any company or technology except as far as it is actually superior to its competitors.

That said, despite its general helpfulness for the aspiring designer/coder, I must take this article to task for not making it clear that these are not merely “differences” between browsers. These are INTERNET EXPLORER BUGS. There is no debate or uncertainty about this among web developers. Internet Explorer, and its parent company, has willfully disregarded for many years a wide array of crucial web standards to which all other browsers faithfully adhere, and has ignored severe–site-mangling, productivity-killing severe–bugs in its software which its competitors would never allow to survive without rapid interim software updates.

It is hard to devise an analogy which can capture the damage that browser has done to my productivity and income–on some projects as much as 75% of my work has been in finding outlandish ways to circumvent Internet Explorers deficiencies so that people can see the sites I designed and transact business on them. Imagine if housefires were allowed to burn twice as long, causing twice as many casualties, just because the manufacturer of the fire hoses used by 90% of the worlds firemen produced faulty equipment. Such a situation could never be tolerated; could never persist; could never exist! But because of the obscurity of web technologies–their invisibility to the public due to the hard work of designers who struggle to master them–such a situation existed for several years (and still exists despite the lower percentage of users) with Internet Explorer. That browser has damaged my work, and damaged my industry, and hurt the public in ways they do not see or understand, since it lays behind a screen of technologies which are uninteresting or incomprehensible to them.

Internet Explorer is the cause of this problem, and the article should have made this clear. Frame25

Reaction of the IT Community to IEs Continued Deficiencies

The Web World did get from the CTO of said company, Bill Gates, a one line “mea culpa” and literally nothing else. For example, despite the fact that Microsoft is aware that one of the key attractions of Firefox is its fast upgrade cycle, the closest one can get to an upgrade date anywhere on Microsoft websites for IE7 is before 2010. Yet added to its own shortcomings, there are now known compatibility issues and problems with IE7 and Vista. Just Google “IE7 Vista Problems”. Here is one of many websites reporting the IE7/Vista problems.

Now given the problems with both IE6 and IE7, one would think that individuals and particularly organizations would be making the move to other browsers post haste. Firefox , Opera, and Safari all have much better implementations of JavaScript, CSS, DOM and other Web standards. Also Firefox has cool customizations and the biggest set of very useful 3rd party add-ons while Opera continues to innovate in gestures and other browser GUI goodies while Safari has one the lightest and fastest of browsers. So especially large organizations should be able to benefit from these broad set of browser advantages and IE problem avoidance.

Well there is a problem – call it the Physics of IT Inertia. And who better to explain such physics than the University that Albert Einstein taught at and which has been voted the best University in the US by US News and World Report yet again for 2007/2008 – Princeton University. Princeton has decided to convert en masse all Windows machines to IE7 on August 06, 2007.

The Princeton Office of Information Technology is walking into a perfect storm. First, most new students coming onto campus with new computers will be using Vista which has serious continuing networking and compatibility problems. Second, IE7 and Vista as previously noted do not get along. Third, other browsers which are free and can also be deployed en masse, are clearly better. And fourth, Microsoft is being very coy about when it plans to update both Vista and IE7 to save Princetons bacon.

Now I am not privy to Princetons reasoning on why to go out into the IE7 Perfect Storm; but I am sure if you ask you will get a series of arguments that match or align with the ones being offered by your IT organization. After all, in the US at least, IE has managed to hold onto 70% market share despite its manifold and manifest shortcomings. Call it a 6 figure education.