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Internet Explorer is the girl next door

April 22, 2002

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I have dozens of different browsers on my system for testing purposes. With all the browser bugs in the world, I have to have as many versions as I can. Browsers aren’t just for testing, though. Sometimes I actually surf around like a relatively normal person, and I have to decide which of these browsers I will use. I find I’m often not very happy with the choices I have, numerous though they might be.

Netscape 6 – too slow and flaky, though its Mozilla sibling is better. I could barely use it on my old G3, although that was a few milestones ago, and I resent using a browser that requires a G4 and great gobs of RAM to work properly. OmniWeb – looks great, nice features; but it still doesn’t properly render a large number of sites that I visit frequently. Opera – nice and fast, but the px-unit bug annoys me, and although I’ve never had the problems with stability that have plagued others, I’m sure there’s something wrong with the way it handles cookies and logins. iCab – fast, lightweight, a great checking tool; but it’s unfinished, so there are still too many bugs and gaps in its support for CSS and ECMAScript. Netscape 4 – oh, don’t even mention it.

So although it doesn’t make me entirely comfortable, I often find myself coming back to Internet Explorer. I don’t want to contribute to Microsoft’s intended Web hegemony. I know only too well that using other browsers would help dispel the myth many designers believe that one can “target” one or two browsers and leave the design at that. If I used something other than IE, it would be one small step to breaking Web design out of the Two-by-Two-by-Two mindset of designing for two versions of the two major browsers for Mac and Windows (or even Two-by-One-by-One – IE5 and 6 for Windows!). It would help make people realise the diversity of the Web, and ready themselves for the diverse browsers that are becoming more important.

Don’t get me wrong – IE5/Mac is a good browser. Using IE under Windows would be contributing more to the Web monoculture myth than using the Mac version, so that’s something. Its CSS standards support is better than its Windows sibling, too. (There, that should satisfy the IE developer who wrote in and complained last time I wrote about IE in detail.)

Introducing the MacEdition Guide to IE5/Mac CSS bugs

As discussed below, MacEdition is pleased to announce our Guide to IE5/Mac CSS bugs. You won’t find a more comprehensive collection of obscure CSS bugs in this browser anywhere else. Comments, suggests and new bug reports are always welcome.

We also recently updated our Guide to CSS2 Support in Mac-only Browsers (OmniWeb and iCab) for betas 2–4 of OmniWeb 4.1.

Calling Carl Jung

Of course, it doesn’t matter which browser I use for day-to-day surfing. I am only one person. Anyway, I spend a lot of time with multiple browsers open, doing cross-testing. My discomfort with using IE made me realise that people do form relationships with software they use for long periods. Browsers, PIMs, email programs, text editors and word processors are all applications that people might use for long periods of time, so they need to get on well with them. Software exudes personality in its design, and if that personality grates on you, so will the software. Interaction designers already know that. They create personas to represent the intended users of their products. In doing so, they create software that people like those personas will get along well with. If you don’t believe me, check out the emotional debates on which browser is best, or the emacs versus vi holy wars, or the OS wars. Geeks being geeks, they try to dress it up in facts and figures and features, but in reality it is all about emotional response to the interface, or projected personality.

So this is how I react to those browsers. Those reactions reflect my personality, and no doubt you’ll have different views. Feel free to share your views in the Feedback Farm below; I’ve no doubt many of you will!

Not without her faults

Of course, after 20 years, 20 extra kilos each and a few kids, the person next door’s good points might start to get overshadowed by the flaws. Nobody’s perfect, and neither are browsers. So in the interests of informed consent, I present for you, by popular demand, a compilation of CSS bugs in IE5 for the Mac. Because IE5/Mac is produced by an entirely different team from its Windows counterpart, it really needs to be treated as a separate browser. Like other Mac-only browsers, there is less detailed information on its standards support in the standard resources than there is for the PC browsers. WebReview’s CSS1 MasterGrid and WestCiv’s House of Style both include IE5.0/Mac, but contain no information on the differences between Versions 5.0, 5.1 for OS X and 5.13 for OS 9. RichinStyle’s CSS bug guide doesn’t seem to cover the Mac version of IE5 at all.

Microsoft has never claimed full CSS2 support for IE5/Mac, so it’s no surprise that most of its CSS bugs are in positioning elements, like the horizontal scrollbar problems and the issue with fixed positioned elements not showing their links. Still, they are minor compared with some of the flaws in other browsers. Some people won’t use the bland browser on principle, the same way some inner-city types wouldn’t dream of shopping in a mall in the suburbs, but they’d be hard pressed to tell you what was actually wrong with the mall.

If they ever make a browser that’s like a brilliant college professor from the other side of the world, that will be the browser for me. Until then, I’ll bounce around between them all, always coming back to bland, but never really satisfied with it. I’ll be monogamous but poly-browser. Thankfully, we have choices about browsers. The browser next door might be perfectly fine, but don’t forget whose parents tried to force you into an arranged marriage.

— CodeBitch (codebitch@macedition.com) is the grumpy cow who does the HTML production for MacEdition. Read other articles by CodeBitch

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