There was a time, five years ago, when Microsoft’s “Internet Explorer” web browser had such a dominant market share that it was hardly worth web designers worrying about what websites looked like in other browsers. Remember those “Best Viewed in Microsoft Internet Explorer” badges you’d see on some sites? That was an attempt by designers to persuade as many users as possible to standardise on one browser, so they’d never again have problems with display incompatibilities.
Unfortunately, Internet Explorer never really adhered to the agreed web standards, and that reached a low point with version 6. If you want to read the full story of what happened, I’d thoroughly recommend this comic-strip version of the story on Smashing magazine.
Today, anyone using Internet Explorer 6 is probably somebody in a corporate environment ruled by an IT department with some very conservative ideas about upgrading. Or perhaps your Mum. Internet Explorer versions 7 and 8 have taken strides towards adhering to the web standards used more enthusiastically by other browsers such as Firefox, Safari, Opera and Google Chrome. They’re not perfect, but any good designer can now come up with a site which you can be confident will look good in all of the major browsers which your clients might use.
However, the fixes which need to be made to keep the sites operational in Internet Explorer version 6 are making the code behind a site less efficient, and at worst, compromising the design itself. Many designers are suggesting to their clients that they quietly drop support for the tiny minority of users left running “IE6”, and accept that those people might see a broken version of the site in order for the masses to have a better experience. I think the point when your analytics shows that just a tiny percentage of visitors are using the browser is the point when you can agree to that. But for our website, it’s still – amazingly – over 10%, and I have to ensure the design looks OK for them.