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Strategic insights
The Browser hasn''t changed in 10 Years

Written by on March 26, 2005

More and more web development companies state they will no longer support anything but the latest browsers on the market. Some go even further and state that they will only support 5% of the market, e.g. Firefox.

I think that is a mistake.

The reason is that the average person has no reason to upgrade. The user experience in browsers really hasn't changed in the last 10-15 years. Sure it has changed a lot for us web developers - but that is the technical side of it. The things we notice. The user do not look at the technical side, they look at the user-side of it.

Browser User Experience

How does the average person use a browser? How do Mr. John Doe and Mrs. Jane Doe browse the internet?

Simply speaking, they do not use any of the additions made to the browsers in recent years. Instead they only use:

  • The address bar to get to a specific site
  • Sparingly the favorites, which usually only contains 10-20 sites (the local bank, and sites for any hobbies they might have).
  • Occasionally the back button.
  • The home button (to get back to Google).
  • ...and they click on links in the main content area.

That's it.

When I look around me, at colleagues, friends and family - all of them is only using the above features.

In general, this is today's user experience in browsers - 3 buttons, an address bar, and a content area.

Let's compare

In terms of user experience, how does the old browsers compare with the latest versions? Well, astoundingly enough, there no difference between Internet Explorer 1.0 and Firefox. You click on the same buttons, you navigate the same way, and it is organized and structured similar (buttons at the top, main viewing area below).

They do the same - and this is why people are reluctant to upgrade.

Why upgrade?

We, as web developers have ample of reason to make our visitors upgrade their browser:

  • It is faster (which it isn't - the first browser could render a page much quicker than any modern browser)
  • It cuts down on development time
  • It supports the latest standards
  • You can change how it looks
  • You can add extensions and plug-ins
  • You can use tabbed browsing
  • You can do advanced scripting
  • ...bla bla bla

None of these have anything to do with the visitors, it only has something to do with you and I, as web developers.

People generally do not care about how long it took you to make a site; instead they care about your content. They do not know what this "standards thingy" is. They do not care about the look of the browser in general, as longs as it keeps the look as the operating system.

From your visitor's point of view, there is nothing in it for them - it is only about you.

Why upgrade from the people's point of view?

There are legitimate reasons for your visitors to upgrade, and it is these reason you need to tell them. You need to explain what is in it for them, not what's in it for you.

One major reason is spyware. If they upgrade to the latest version (IE6 / Firefox / Safari), they will be less vulnerable. But, to really get secure they need to upgrade the operating system as well - use Windows XP SP2 or Mac OS X Panther. And, get an updated anti-virus subscription.

Another reason is less problems with websites. Since many web developers do not consider their users, you will experience a lot of problems using an older browser.

A third is improved usability. Standards and advanced scripting offers you a highly improved user experience. Websites can be made to solve workflows in an efficient way, it can improve visual feedback, it can provide you with a clearer picture and it can be made to automate tedious or timely tasks.

A fourth is a pop-up blocker, which removes all those pesky pop-up advertisements.

All of these are relevant for your visitors, and some might see them as relevant enough to actually do something about it.

But, always give your visitors a choice. Do not force them to use something new just because you might think it is good. Either convince them to switch, or leave the old system in place or probably both.

Remember it is their workflows, their way-of-life, we want to change - not yours.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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