Making a stand against Internet Explorer

That Microsoft seems to have turned a corner onto hard-times causes me zero remorse. I don’t ever look wistfully back to the glory days when Microsoft was doing such a great job at this thing or that thing, nor do I fondly remember that awesome Microsoft product I used to own but can no longer get. That’s because Microsoft never made any of those products. The only products Microsoft made were ones that stood in your way: Windows Millennium, Windows Vista, Paint (yes, though you all secretly love it, Paint!), Windows Media Player, and, of course, Internet Explorer.

I was talking to Jim the other day about the progress towards migrating infectionNet from Drupal to WordPress. We talked about some of the major CMS-related things, talked about a new design, and as we were about to hang up, Jim dug the knife in:

—You know it doesn’t look right in IE7, right? He asked, innocently.

And of course I knew it didn’t look right in IE7. I didn’t even need to check before knowing it didn’t look right. How could it possibly look right this time if it has never looks right before?

For years I used to wonder why my websites looked different in IE, wondered why Microsoft couldn’t just get inline with everyone else. At one point I was so perplexed by the state of things that I even wondered why everyone else couldn’t just get inline with Microsoft. Years later, I finally feel like I know why: Because they don’t have to.

For all those years that we spent figuring out clever browser hacks and work-arounds and writing blog posts just like this one, we’re no further ahead. IE9, which isn’t anticipated to have wide global adoption for many, many years down the road, still doesn’t have many of the features that Chrome, Firefox, and Safari have today. (I won’t even link to the hundreds of vocal complaints out there, but please google “IE9 CSS3 support” for evidence).

The astute reader, then, will be surprised to learn of how the design/development community reacted to the news if IE9? Overwhelmingly, it was with lauding and cheers: “A huge step in the right direction,” many claimed. After more than a decade of heel-dragging, disregard for web standards, and a blatant disrespect for hardworking web professionals, we turned around and told the biggest software company in the world that they were making some good first steps. I can think of only one word to describe how this makes me feel: infuriated.

These were not “steps in the right direction,” it’s just more steps in the opposite direction. In 5 (10?) years time, we will still be writing hacks and work-arounds to make our websites look the same in IE as it does in the other browsers. Sure, we’ll be writing different hacks to solve different problems thatn IE6, 7 and 8 presented, but we’ll still be doing the same thing: bending over backwards, trying to accommodate a company that refuses to play by (or even recognize) the rules.

Time for an agressive approach

What might have been if a company like Apple or Google or Yahoo or Facebook or Twitter had shut the doors on IE users. What if, for example, when you went to in IE, you saw a message saying:

—Dear Sir/Madamme: Please go download a modern browser, or get off the internet.

What would happen? Let’s suggest for a minute that it happened to your Nan, or your Mom or your great Uncle. Do you honestly think that your Nan wouldn’t be able to get on Facebook without Internet Explorer? She’d call you up, you’d talk her through downloading Safari/Chrome/Firefox and she’d be back on Facebook in about 20 minutes. Problem solved—forever.

Maybe I’m looking at this too naively. Maybe it doesn’t make sense for a company like Facebook to block out hundreds of millions of Internet Explorer visitors. Or, maybe, just maybe, that’s exactly the kind of gentle encouragement Microsoft needs to get with the program.

We need to stop thinking about this problem as an immovable wall we need to build around. It’s long time for the wall to come down.