What is holding back the web?

An article by Louis Lazaris appeared in Smashing Magazine this week, blaming all versions of Internet Explorer for holding back the web. I know nobody likes Internet Explorer 6, but is version 9 really that bad? Nicholas C. Zakas has already written a great response, but I thought I might add a few points in defence of at least some versions of Internet Explorer.

I would draw a major distinction between old and current versions of Internet Explorer. Old versions, which I would describe as version 7 and below, lack key features and contain major bugs and that means they can be a real headache for developers. Patchy and wildly unpredictable support for CSS 2.1 makes layout difficult and time-consuming. But ten years, three operating systems, and a heck of a lot of websites separate Internet Explorer 6 from Internet Explorer 9. You really cannot put them in the same category.

I will admit that current versions of Internet Explorer (8 on Windows XP, 9 on Windows Vista and above) lack a few features. However, what they do support, they support well. When I view my designs in Internet Explorer 8, they might not have rounded corners, shadows, opacity, or other formatting niceties, but I can rely on them being the right size and shape. The websites still work. And if Internet Explorer 8 isn’t holding my websites back, I can hardly complain about version 9.

So with a bit of progressive enhancement, I don’t see Internet Explorer as a problem. I might even argue that mobile browsers are becoming more of a limiting factor. All the major mobile browsers are tied to their operating systems and a lot of people don’t bother with the upgrade, even if it is available. Android updates are notoriously inconsistent, but I know plenty of people with old iPhones who have never updated iOS. Internet Explorer isn’t the only old browser in the wild.

However, I don’t want to pass the blame on to some other browser. In fact, I don’t think any browser is “holding back” the web. All the browser manufacturers are releasing new versions, new standards are emerging, and more people are using the web in new and interesting ways than ever before. I don’t see anything holding back the web and I think it’s a great time to be a developer.