A line in the Sand

Millions of wasted man hours, Billions of dollars spent fixing the bugs in Internet Explorer, a product of the largest company in the world. It has me reeling.

I have not done much web work in a while, and things have changed a lot. So Lately I have been reading tutorials on Javascript and CSS. It is Amazing what these two things can do. However every tutorial or book that covers web design, expends between %25 -%50 of the text apologizing for the ugly hack workaround they devised in order to ‘trick’ Microsoft’s IE products so they do not choke on otherwise elegant code. No, I am not exaggerating.

How many man hours have been destroyed by Microsoft’s non-compliance with the W3 and other standards comities? They do not even publish the deviations of their implementation, but web designers have plumbed the depths of IE’s brokenness, reverse engineering their whako-funked up DOM, and crafted for themselves a kind of Rossetta Stone that translates the way Internet Explorer does things, compared to how the rest of the world does things. Every web designer in the world spends half their time fixing Microsoft’s product over and over. Imagine half of the salaries of the worlds web designers added together.

Its as if, a car company had designed a really wide car — wider than the hummer. The car is so wide that in order to accomodate it, towns demolished the sidewalks to make room for an extra slab of pavement, just incase any one wanted to drive this too-wide car. When the next model of the car is made, it has a cog-wheel on the right side, because the town where the car was manufactured had a special cog-rail to help the car go up mountains. Instead of prohibiting the mammoth cog-car from driving on their streets, town committees all over the country decided to graft cog-tracks onto the road. Town officials explained that lots of people drove cog-cars, and they would hate to turn people away.

Back when the web was a bit of a novelty, such hacking made some sense. After all, it was the wild wild west, and the web was mostly an entertainment delivery system completely fabricated by hacks. These days however, the web is an integral part of our infrastructure: It’s where we do business, where we learn, and how we communicate.

By devising sneaky workarounds in order to coerce Internet Explorer to behave like a web browser, designers are encouraging Microsoft to continue to produce a broken product. I can not say what Microsoft’s intentions are, but after all of these years, internet explorer simply does not work. They are a smart company with lots of very talented people working for them. It seems very unlikely that IE’s brokenness is some sort of oversight.

Instead of being accomplices in the demise of standards, designers must encourage reform from Microsoft. Rather than bending over backwards to display a website in its preferred format when viewed from Internet Explorer, we should display the plain unformatted text of the website, and redirect the user to a manifesto which explains that they are using a browser which is broken. The manifesto should suggest that Internet Explorer needs to be repaired, and that while they are waiting, they may use one of the many functional free alternatives. “You need a working web browser to view this site correctly.”- something like that.

It is irresponsible of the web community to keep this game going.

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