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.
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!
iCab is efficient, and clever in some ways, but limited in others. If iCab was a person, it would be a fussbudget proofreader or bureaucrat, doing its job without fuss, but sniffing at you if you break the rules and refusing to do things it considers are outside its job description. Great to have as a colleague but terrible as a boss or spouse.
Opera is standards-savvy and speedy but its Mac version has some peculiar rendering bugs that I’ve mentioned in other columns, and it is properly unforgiving of markup errors. If Opera was a person, it would be intellectual and urbane, but with some personality quirks and a tendency to take everything you say too literally. His or her house would be impeccably decorated, all clean lines, surfaces and European minimalist elegance. This style doesn’t appeal to everyone, and indeed only appeals to 2 percent of MacEdition’s readers.
OmniWeb is great-looking and has some really nice interface features, but the bugs and rendering silliness infuriate after a while. If OmniWeb was a person, it would be that gorgeous person you met in a bar, who you thought was amusing until you realised she was completely lacking in intellect and common sense. Sorry, Omni Group, but your browser reminds me of a bimbo. To be fair, more recent beta of Version 4.1 suggest that OmniWeb as a person has gone to college and will come out like Reese Witherspoon. At the time of writing, though, she hadn’t quite submitted her dissertation. (I know how she feels.)
Netscape 6 and Mozilla have all the tricks, but they are also bloated and tend to instability. Things are getting better, but it’s taking a long time. If they were people, they would be high-maintenance friends. They’d be smart and have many admirable traits, but Netscape 6 would let you down too often, failing to turn up to appointments, and Mozilla would always be questioning your commitment to his or her pet causes. Dinner parties at the siblings’ house would be gourmet affairs involving worthy conversations, but you’d end up feeling bored and exhausted at the same time. I’m warming to the open-source siblings, especially the most recent builds of Mozilla, but they’re definitely an acquired taste.
Netscape 4 is old and tired, but still hawking itself around the download sites in a new Version 4.79 outfit. Bloated, buggy and standards-hostile, Netscape 4 is like the belching, belligerent slob you used to be with, but can’t stand any more. Now that you divorced the idiot, you wonder what on earth you were doing with him in the first place. If you see a Netscape 4 in a singles bar, run. You don’t want to see the way he deals with the kids on access weekends.
And IE? Bland, inoffensive, dependable. Not super-fast, but not slow. Not rock solid, but doesn’t crash that often. Supports standards, but not their more obscure reaches. IE is the girl or boy next door. When you consider how many people end up in a relationship with the girl or boy next door, or from down the street, or from their high school or college class, it’s no wonder that many people would use IE even when they have many other choices. Going back to IE5/Mac after using Netscape 6 is like going to your high school reunion and realising that your high school sweetheart isn’t so bad, compared with the emotional blackmail artist you’re living with in the big smoke. Hollywood loves those kinds of stories.
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.