Friday, 13 August 2010

Which Browsers to Support in 2010

Filed under: Just Great Software,Cyberspace — Jan Goyvaerts @ 11:37

When redesigning a web site, one of the first considerations is which browsers the new design should support. When dealing with an existing site, the best way to find out is to check your web logs.

Though there are plenty of dedicated web log analyzers out there, I tend to use PowerGREP to analyze our web logs. It’s all part of our strategy of “eating our own dog food” as much as we can. You can use the trial version to run the PowerGREP actions linked to below.

First I used buynowbrowsers.pga to get a list of all browsers used to access the buynow.html page on each of our product sites during the previous month. Since the ultimate goal of the site redesign is to sell more software, I want to look at which browsers are used by people who buy rather than which browsers are used by people who just browse.

I found that 46.4% use Firefox, 43.5% use MSIE, and 9.2% use Chrome. The other browsers in my search (Safari, Opera, Netscape, and Konqueror) had (almost) no hits.

Then I used buynowbrowserversions.pga to run the same search and include version numbers in the results. I found that 96.8% of all Chrome users were using very recent releases. The fact that you can’t disable Chrome’s automatic updates must have something to do with that. 92.6% of the Firefox users were using either version 3.6 (the latest at the time) or 3.5. So I decided to check the new design only using the latest versions of Chrome and Firefox.

The picture was different for MSIE users. IE 6, 7, and 8 accounted for 20.1%, 25.6%, and 53.3% of the MSIE users. Thus 8.8%, 11.2%, and 23.4% of all visitors use MSIE 6, 7, and 8. Though Windows Update delivers new versions of IE, it does not install them automatically. The user has to accept a license agreement. I guess that’s why many people are still using IE 6 even though that browser is now almost a decade old. It was released in 2001.

Given these numbers, and the fact that IE 6 is much less standards-compliant than all the other browsers that showed up in our logs, I decided that the new design should look good on IE 7 and 8 and be usable on IE 6. With “usable” I mean that everything should be readable and navigable, but that the site doesn’t necessarily look pixel perfect.

When all was said and done, it turned out that all these browsers render the new design just fine. Even IE 6 correctly handles the HTML4 (strict) and CSS2. Browser-specific issues only cropped up in the Javascript code that sizes and positions the background image. IE 6 users have to do without the background. IE 6 also doesn’t render transparent PNGs correctly, resulting in unintended shades of blue around the images. The non-transparent parts of the PNGs still show up properly, so this still fits the “usable” bill.

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