My Apologies to Internet Explorer Users

I rarely pass up a chance to either make fun of or otherwise denigrate Microsoft's browser, especially the older versions (I'm looking at you, IE6...and also you, IE7, and to a somewhat lesser extent you, IE8. IE9, you seem to be an OK dude.). The strange behaviors and outright bugs in those browsers create a kind of special hell for web developers, and it's an ongoing struggle to decide whether to go to the extra, often significant trouble to make a website look and work the same in those old browsers as it will in modern browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari, or to just let the IE users see a funky, stripped-down version of the site. More and more, I lean toward the latter approach.

It's never my intent (or a good idea) to cause a site to be completely unusable or inaccessible to an IE user. That's just spiteful if done intentionally, and no good purpose is served. But, sometimes things happen inadvertently, and, embarrassingly enough, that has been the case with this here blog-like thing for a number of months.

I found out today (via my wife, whose employer uses IE7 as its standard browser) that the main page of the Gazette suffered from a syndrome that I've coined "The Incredible Shrinking Text." It seems that as you scroll down the last eight or ten entries on the home page, the font size decreases until it's all but illegible by the time you get to the last entry.

This issue doesn't appear in the "modern" browsers I mentioned above, and I was unaware that IE was having a problem, since Microsoft stopped building a Mac version of IE years ago. I immediately knew what was causing it - in theory anyway; it had to be caused by a relative font-size declaration in the style sheet for the blog's main template that wasn't being cleared, and thus continued to iterate into smaller and smaller text as each subsequent post inherited the proportionately smaller font styling. (Don't worry if that doesn't make any sense.) However, it took me a while to track it down and fix it. Believe it or not, I have better things to do than troubleshoot my own blog.

Interestingly, from one perspective IE was actually handling the coding error properly by recognizing it and trying to apply it. The other browsers were assuming that it was a mistake and ignoring it. While the ends justified the means for them in this case, you could make a solid argument that we really don't want software second-guessing us. (I hold up auto-complete on smartphones as Exhibit A for this argument.)

Regardless, I apologize to any of you who suffered eyestrain from trying to read the increasingly small text on the Gazette. I suppose the fact that this has been going on for months and I just now learned of it could be due to the fact that not that many people are still using old versions of IE, or that those who do were keeping current with the blog and thus not discovering the problems with the older entries. Or, no one is reading.

2 Comments

Of course, I know that there was intentional snub on your part, Eric, but I just had to get this out...

It might seem like an exaggeration, but as an IE user, I feel like some kind of leper. I still use IE because it’s what I have to support at work – both during the day & after-hours too.

More often than you might imagine, mission-critical web-based apps that are hard-coded for IE. The vendors who wrote those have little or no fiscal incentive to write new, browser-independent versions of their apps. If we fire up those web-based apps in another browser and there's a problem we need support on - regardless of whether the problem has anything to do with the browser from which it's being used - we can be (and have been) denied support.

Consumers can afford to be cavalier about browser (and OS) choices but these decisions have very real, very swift financial implications for businesses so you're often stuck with the vendor-supported browser - and that's overwhelmingly IE.

I’ve been an IT guy for over 25 years. I’m not naive nor (generally) change-averse but I am sensible enough to use the tools required to earn my living. And y’know, in spite of the lack of hundreds of glossy plugins, widgets, and greasy monkeys available for it, IE gets the job done.

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on May 31, 2011 5:14 PM.

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