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Why Does Big Tech Care So Much About Which Browser You’re Using?

by Sean P. Aune | April 14, 2010

“This Site Is Best Viewed Using Such-And-Such Browser.”

We’ve all seen that message at one time or another while cruising around the Web, but have you ever stopped to wonder why that is?  A browser is just a browser, right?  The code is code, but the browser just renders the code in such a way that it looks appealing to the end user, and organizes the information in such a way that it makes sense, so why does one browser matter more than another?

If you’ve never played with Web design, you’d be amazed at all the little differences that can pop up between different browsers.  When I had my personal blog redesigned some time ago, the designer I hired put the theme on the site, and he then asked me to check it in every browser I could to make sure I was happy with it.  I used Chrome, Firefox, Flock, Internet Explorer, Opera and Safari, and it looked great in all of them, except for one tiny issue in Safari.  On my search bar, there was an image of a magnifying glass you click to do the search, for some reason in Safari it was totally out of line with the search bar while appearing perfectly in the other five browsers I had used.  It was an easy fix, but still an oddity.

browser alignmentThis happens all the time around the Web.  Look at the picture to the right, this is the same site displayed in Chrome and Firefox.  While it is aligned perfectly in Firefox, the E-Mail image overlaps the “Enter Name” box in Chrome.  Does it make any sense?  No, the code is the same in both places, but due to slight differences in the way the browsers render a page, you end up with these issues.

Now, imagine you’re a big company doing a major deployment.  Your site is going to have all sorts of interactivity, it’s going to do all types of wonderful things for its users and … oh, great, Safari isn’t displaying the right sidebar correctly … Internet Explorer isn’t running some script at the right position … Firefox crashes every time you try to open the site … getting the picture yet?

There are a ton of browsers out there, and you have every right to use any browser you want, but I am sure there are also a lot of designers who wish everyone would settle on just one of them.  Imagine the amount of time and energy that could be saved if they didn’t have to go in and tweak things time and time again.

Of course, there are some companies that make this decision for you.  They just bluntly tell you, “such-and-such feature works only in Internet Explorer.”  Well, fine, IE does control around 65 percent of the market, but there are people, such as myself, that despise the day it was built and avoid it like the plague.  The only reason I even have IE installed on my systems is to check out sites in multiple browsers, and my bank requires it for online banking.

Now with mobile browsers in the mix, designers have even more to think about in making sure there designs work everywhere.  If they want to make sure a site is universally usable, they sometimes have to “dumb” the design down, and no designer wants to do that.  I am sure most designers would be quite content if there was only one mobile browser and one desktop browser, and that was it.  Write for that, push the browser to its limits and, done.  But, until that day happens (which never will), ‘this site will be best viewable in …’.


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Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...


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