Rise & Fall of a Superpower Browser

by Dan - Web Design

The fight for dominance in the ever changing landscape of Web Browsers has been going on for over two decades. From the humble beginnings of early graphical browsers such as Mosaic in the early 1990s, the rise of the infamous changing Internet Explorer series, to the modern browsers we see today.

Whilst the browser battle encourages improvements in rendering, performance and security, there is still one nagging frustration for web designers / developers across the globe. The bag of tricks and fixes to cover the increasing count of older versions still remains.

There is however a blue-tinted light at the end of the tunnel…

So what is a “Web Browser”?

Let’s first clarify exactly what a web browser is. Although in recent years we have seen an increase in awareness when it comes to web browsers, there are still many active internet users who are completely unaware of what the term web browser actually means.

Internet Browser logos

Internet Browsers

A web browser (often referred to as a browser) is the piece of software on your computer that allows you to view websites, web pages and other online content. You will visit Google in your web browsers, watch videos in your web browser and, for many, check your emails on your web browser.  A web browser can be found on desktop PCs, laptops, Macs, mobiles and tablets, among others.

There are actually dozens of different browsers, but the key players in the browser marketplace include Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera & Safari.

If you needed to ask the question “what is a web browser?” it is likely you are using Internet Explorer (IE). IE has the lion’s share of usage when it comes to browser usage across the globe; varying from about 45% in the UK to 85% in China1.

OK, I’ve got it; what’s all this about a dying Superpower?

The Superpower in question is one of Internet Explorer’s versions – Internet Explorer 6.

Officially released on the 27th of August, 2001, Internet Explorer was the default browser that came supplied with copies of Windows XP and was a radical improvement over its rivals at the time and its own predecessors.

IE6

Internet Explorer 6

IE6 included new features that outweighed other browsers including enhanced support for Cascading Style Sheets that Web Designers could use to layout web sites and an improved interface.

Within 2 years of its release, Internet Explorer 6 enjoyed almost 90% of total market share worldwide, and the Internet Explorer series had 95% of the share.

Internet Explorer 6 was dominating the browser war, but holes started appearing in the make-up of the software. Security of the browser became a massive issue, to the point where major technology reporters encouraged people to switch from Internet Explorer 6 to newer browsers, branding it “[possibly] the least secure software on the planet”2.

Competition

More often than not, Superpowers are turned upside down by one foe; themselves.

This is partially true of Internet Explorer 6.

During the early period of the Internet Explorer series, Microsoft was at all-out war with a rival browser; Netscape Navigator. In the mid to late 1990s, Netscape dominated the browser scene over Internet Explorer (about 80% – 20%).

Over the coming years, Netscape and IE would battle it out to gain the biggest market share for web browsers. New features for each browser upgrade were all the rage, and with new features being fed into the software, bug testing suffered.

The long and short is that Internet Explorer’s fight for dominance left it with gaping holes in its security and functionality.

The Fall

Internet Explorer usage stats

Stats courtesy of ie6countdown.com

Internet Explorer 6’s dominance would soon go into free-fall, with the release of Internet Explorer 7, Mozilla and other browsers hot on its heels many found themselves switching from IE6 to safer, more secure browsers.

However, free-fall wasn’t quick enough for many, and toward the end of 2009 and the start of 2010, many large companies would jump on the band wagon to stop support for Internet Explorer 6. The likes of Google, 37signals and YouTube all officially stopped support for the out of date browser.

Although Microsoft, the creator of Internet Explorer 6, have stated they will continue to support the browser until 2014, the usage of Internet Explorer 6 fell below 1% in the United States.

How does this affect Adtrak and me?

Adtrak ensure that all their websites are compatible and display accurately on as many browsers as possible. From standard desktop browsers like Chrome, Firefox, IE, Opera and Safari, to mobile platforms like Android & Safari Mobile. We also test on different operating systems such as Windows XP, Windows Vista/7 and Mac OS; all can give varied results.

Adtrak are constantly monitoring the usage of different browsers so that we can provide the best user experience for the end user, but at the same time utilise the most up to date technologies available to us.

As a result of the fall of IE6 usage, Adtrak now no longer fully supports IE6 which has allowed our Web Designers to fully use the web’s potential without having to worry about fixes and hacks in IE6.

For example, IE6 has no support for transparent PNG images files which can be used for a multitude of reasons. By being able to use PNG images without having to worry about the lack of transparency support or having to hack the browser, Adtrak can design better looking and functioning websites.

Internet Explorer bugs

Courtesy of eatmybytes.com

IE6 also has numerous bugs that render sites completely different to other, more modern browsers. A double margin that would push elements further than it should would often break sites, rendering the website useless to the end user. Not only that, but without having to find tricks and hacks to make IE6 behave, Adtrak’s Web Designers can focus more time on getting the site functioning fully and focusing on the end result for the end user.

And for you? If you are still using Internet Explorer 6, we would strongly suggest you upgrade, by visiting the Browser Choice website here: http://www.browserchoice.eu/BrowserChoice/browserchoice_en.htm

[1] Stats accurate as of February 2012 & covers time period Feb 2011 to Jan 2012.
http://gs.statcounter.com/#browser-ww-monthly-201101-201201
[2] http://www.pcworld.idg.com.au/article/73575/rip_internet_explorer?fp=2&fpid=1
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