Given the overwhelming use of IE in its various versions I'd like to hear how news site producers decide which browsers to support, when to use applications that shut out non-IE users and when to upgrade your sites to new versions of browsers/applications. I'd also like to hear about any developers who have stopped supporting other browsers as they upgrade. ... I'll post the link when my column on this subject is published.
I felt a strong need to respond. What follows is my e-mail to Staci. If you'd like to send her your thoughts (and I encourage you to), e-mail sdk [at] ojr [dot] org or post a comment here.
It's quite simple, really.
Web designers shouldn't design to support particular browsers. Instead, they should design to support particular standards -- Web coding standards put forth by the World Wide Web Consortium.
Here, in a nutshell, is why:
The W3C lays down the HTML law. It decides which tags to add, which tags aren't needed anymore, and which tags are worth keeping around.
As the W3C releases its recommendations, browser vendors try hard -- some harder than others -- for their products to reflect the W3C standards. But, inevitably, browsers are released with rendering bugs. And inevitably, some browser manufacturers make up their own standards, adding and subtracting HTML tags and behaviors.
Multiply those inevitables by the four or five major browser vendors, and you've got a slew of subtly different flavors of HTML. Which is why most Web designers either go crazy trying to support each one, or just say "screw it" and code their pages to look nice in the top two (or three, if they're feeling particularly kind) dominant browsers, ignoring everybody else.
Thanks to this ignorance, perfectly legitimate readers who use less popular browsers such as Mozilla, Opera, Lynx or JAWS aren't able to get news -- arguably the most important information commodity obtainable online. For a news provider to ignore these users is utterly unacceptable.
That brings me to your question.
You wrote, "I'd like to hear how news site producers decide which browsers to support." No doubt you'll get several responses from online-news developers who will happily -- stupidly -- report that their sites are intended only for Internet Explorer version 5 and up, or for Netscape version 4 and above. No doubt you'll write about that in your article. And no doubt others in the industry will read that and say, "Hey, so-and-so news site only cares about Internet Explorer 5 and up! If that's good enough for them, it's good enough for us."
See where I'm going with this? If you publish an article detailing the various extents to which news sites support certain browsers -- in effect, endorsing such techniques -- you will have done the Web design community a great disservice. Designing to a particular browser, or set of browsers, is poor practice.
So what should you write about? Easy. The importance of standards.
There's a trend -- although I hesitate to call it that -- going on right now in Web design circles. It's called the Web Standards Movement, and an organization called the Web Standards Project (http://webstandards.org/) is leading the way.
The WaSP and thousands of Web-designer converts are committing themselves to using only W3C-standard code. It makes sense, when you think about it: Why design to accommodate five different browsers when you can design to a single standard -- a standard that makes your Web pages accessible to any graphical browser, text-only browser, screen-reader or other Web device capable of rendering HTML?
This is the future of Web design, Staci, and I implore you to discuss it in your article.