Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Compatibility: do we need to consider IE7 support?


I recently had a interesting conversation with a friend of mine. He develops web sites and we were talking about compatibility. Or, to better put it, how many situations a developer should consider when testing a new site. We started counting browser versions, and then we considered all the possible screen resolutions. After that, we added tablets and smartphones with related browser mobile versions.
We ended up with a long list and we were quite bewildered. If you stop for a moment and think about it, developing a new site, ensuring full compatibility, is a complete and utter madness.
I tried to shorten the long list of possible situation and the first thing that came to my mind was Internet Explorer, which, we know, is the most problematic browser. My friend said that we could remove IE7 from the list. I was not so sure. Then we made a bet: let's see how many 'major' web site do support IE7.

It has been a dirty job, but someone had to do it. And I did.
I tested a lot of corporate web sites using Internet Explorer 7 in a Windows Xp environment with a 1280x1024 screen resolution. However I would like to show only the following sites, that might be worth mentioning:
  1. BBC;
  2. Facebook;
  3. Google;
  4. HP;
  5. Sony;
  6. Nokia;
  7. Twitter.

Would you like to see the results? Ok! Follow me.

I will explain the findings, following a strict alphabetical order because this is not a worst web site compatibility list.
Please note that the test has been carried out on a specific pc in the mentioned environment. The results are therefore not to be taken as absolute, but as a statistic. Other environments might behave in a completely different way.

BBC is a news web site. Mainly the site has a good compatibility, except the bottom menu, which in some pages doesn't show correctly:
As you can see in the text flow something's wrong. Not much eh? Yes it is, however... if your client or boss see something like that, will he/she accept it?
Moreover, content in some news boxes is cut and unreadable.
Oh, by the way, do not try to use the main menu, otherwise you will see lots of JavaScript errors.

Well, this is big. I mean, it seems that everyone is on Facebook. But look at what happened to me!
I should not say that JavaScript was actually enabled on the test browser. The assumption that JavaScript was not enabled, made the whole site almost unusable. After reloading the main page, the problem went away. And then reappeared. I'm not sure if that was a browser problem or else, anyway that's what I got.

Google has a working fallback when browsed with IE7. The left hand side menu changes and adapt to new situation.
The rest is working, even if some features are obviously missing. But that's ok, isn't it?

HP site has a nice centered stage where products are displayed like in many other commercial site. But, just after that, towards the bottom of the page...
HP Home page
Just a big black hole... what a waste of space...

Sony web site has been a disaster. When viewed with IE7, everything was pushed on the left hand side, with the following effect:
If we scrolled the page down, we saw that everything was compressed in a long and narrow column, making the web site almost impossible to browse. After a few reload, the browser was probably recognized and the page was displayed as expected.

Nokia site is quite good. Unfortunately in the support home page, a bottom menu is cut:
Nokia bottom menu

Together with Facebook, Twitter is one of the most used web site, today.
As you can see from the image above, the first time I tried to access Twitter, I couldn't do anything: log-in and search were not working and the page was somehow cut. After pressing refresh a few times, the page finally displayed correctly... after a few JavaScript error pop ups. I can't explain why...

I must say that generally speaking, most web sites have a quite good IE7 compatibility. The main problems I encountered were related to JavaScript which threw errors sometimes (in many cases a site has started a chain of multiple scripting errors).
The overall rendering of the pages is good and most of the sites I tested are fully browsable.
The above is true especially for big companies. Smaller firms have more problems, but I believe that it is quite understandable.

However, the results are not very encouraging. When we deal with web site development, we apparently still need to consider IE7 full compatibility. We can decide to charge more for that, or include it in our first offer. In any case, we need to consider the extra costs for all the needed fallbacks, and we should be ready for a lot more work.

What is your experience on the matter is a great deal to me. Please share your thoughts and experience!

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