Gilles Vandenoostende

Hi, I'm Gilles Vandenoostende - designer, illustrator and digital busybody with a love of language, based in Ghent, Belgium.

Internet Explorer and the prefix-drama

It’s no secret Internet Explorer is losing market-share to other, better browsers everywhere. And I applaud this, mostly out of spite at Microsoft for screwing us over for almost 10 years with IE6. I also believe Microsoft is best at the stuff it’s not the market-leader in[1] so I’m glad they’re losing ground in the browser-racket.

But now they’re lamenting the fact that a lot of webdesigners are optimizing their work only for Webkit-browsers. Apparently, this bothers them so much that they are planning to modify their browser to support hitherto webkit-only CSS3 by abusing the vendor-prefix convention[2]. If you’re not a web-developer, you might not understand why this is bad, but it is, trust me.

I can understand the browser vendors though. It seems like a moment doesn’t go by without some new CSS technique being published that was obviously built for Webkit first, and for others second. That’s gotta hurt, especially when you’ve got so many highly skilled programmers working to make your browser engine just as good, only to see their hard work ignored by the developer-community[3].

But is potentially breaking the internet the answer to winning developer hearts and minds? No!

So I decided to investigate. I myself am probably one of the people Microsoft aims to convert, since I use Google Chrome as my primary browser, both for personal use and testing my work[4]. So I asked myself: what would it take for me to switch from Chrome to IE as my primary development browser?

And aside from Chrome just being faster, nicer looking, having good development tools built-in, always being up to date and generally just being a better experience, there’s one elephant in the room that Microsoft is totally ignoring: it’s cross-platform.

I can run Chrome just as well on my Macbook as well as on my Windows PC. And there are no major rendering differences between the two versions, aside from font-rendering, which is tied to the host OS anyway. Even Apple’s Safari is cross platform in this way! But Internet Explorer is Windows-only. Highly inconvenient for many of us developers who switched to Macs years ago.

Personally, I sacrifice dozens of gigabytes worth of hard-drive space to install a plethora of Virtual Windows Machines, just to be able to run Internet Explorer on my Mac so I can test my work. It’s that or buying separate, dedicated testing PC’s. A big source of friction for just testing a website!

So here’s my advice to Microsoft: You want more web-designer support? Release a Mac version of Internet Explorer, this time one that’s 100% identical to the Windows version[5]. I shouldn’t have to run 4 Virtual Machines on one laptop just to test websites.

If you can do that Microsoft, I’ll start using the -ms-* prefix when possible, okay?


[1] Just look at the XBox, Windows Phone 7, or even the Metro interface: they’re all good products designed to penetrate areas where Microsoft is an underdog. Contrast that with how horrible Windows and Office are, products they still have a quasi-monopoly in, and you can see my point.
[2] Mozilla and Opera are also threatening to do this, but this post is all about Microsoft.
[3] Microsoft even resorts to paying developers to make web-apps to showcase IE’s power.
[4] Naturally, I do test my work in other browsers, and – apparently unlike a lot of people – I do take the effort to write my CSS3 for all supporting browsers. I also use Elements.less to save myself from having to write all those prefixes by hand.
[5] I’m talking about the rendering engine, the UI should be native to the host OS, naturally.

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