It doesn’t matter what web developer you talk to but if you want to keep your head you are best not to mention Internet Explorer (IE) – especially v6.0. While the majority of users might not even care what browser they are using or if it is the fault of the browser that a web page doesn’t display correctly the developers of those sites by a very large majority hate IE with a passion.
If you walk by a web development business and you hear people screaming at the top of their lungs or weeping in the corners then chances are they are having to deal with IE issues in their website.
In contrast browsers like Firefox and Safari are the preferred browser of all web developers for a variety of reasons but primarily because they aren’t Internet Explorer. The interesting thing is that the rendering engine used by Safari is based on an open source renderer called WebKit and is generally considered to be an excellent solid engine.
Firefox on the other hand has its own rendering engine called Gecko and from what I’ve read they have no intentions of switching away from it. this has been even more interesting recently when Google released their own browser called Chrome, which like Safari uses the WebKit engine.
So here we have basically three different browsers that dominate the web and they all pretty well treat the rendering of the web differently. this difference is probably the biggest headache developers have and can lead to an inconsistent user experience for people using these browsers to make their way around the web. One has to wonder why in this day and age; plus the importance of the web we are still having these problems – especially with Internet Explorer.
Well this must have been on the mind of one student attending a developer conference in Sydney Australia this past week because this was the basis of the question he put to Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, who was speaking at the conference. As Prince McLean of Apple Insider wrote in his post
The student put Ballmer on the hot seat by asking, “Why is IE still relevant and why is it worth spending money on rendering engines when there are open source ones available that can respond to changes in Web standards faster?”
“That’s cheeky, but a good question, but cheeky,” Ballmer replied, according to a report by TechWorld. Ballmer explained that Microsoft would need to consider the future of the browser and determine if there is any lack of innovation for the company to capitalize upon with ‘proprietary extensions that broaden its functionality.’
“There will still be a lot of proprietary innovation in the browser itself so we may need to have a rendering service,” Ballmer said, adding, “Open source is interesting. Apple has embraced Webkit and we may look at that, but we will continue to build extensions for IE 8.”
This idea of IE switching over to using the WebKit engine is interesting on a couple leverls. First this would put two main browsers on an equal footing as far as rendering ability which would make for a much easier development cycle. It would also make for a better browsing experience for the users as developers would no longer be forced to program against the vagaries of IE.
If you consider that by moving to the WebKit engine Microsoft would be giving an incredible boost to an open source product as well the number of developers that would begin getting involved in making the engine better is huge. Consider that in this case WebKit would now the default rendering engine being used in IE, Safari and Chrome – that means a shitload of developers are now available to improve the common engine. It would also leave Firefox out on its own and with it’s mortal enemy IE able to claim open source and compliance rights thereby taking away the major arguing point firefox has for getting new users.
The chances of this happening I think though are next to nil but you gotto admit it would be and interesting thing to have happen. It certainly would change the dynamics of any browser war that might be going on.
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