Don€™t lose your temper with cross browser support


Applications and code failing to work on particular web browsers is nothing new. Users have suffered because of a lack of cross-browser support since the 1990s browser wars between Internet Explorer (IE) and Netscape Navigator.

The issue gets worse if analyst predictions about mobile internet usage come true; then, we will also have to cater for mobile internet browsers.

And now, another new kid is on the block - will Google Chrome cause issues for cross-browser support or are we entering a new era of compatibility?

First, the bad news – the new release of Chrome is just the tip of a much bigger iceberg. Many users are already struggling with multiple versions of IE and popular open source alternative Firefox, not to mention the Apple-flavoured Safari.

Researcher Market Share reports IE has about three quarters of browser market share, with fast-growing Firefox at about 20 per cent.

Such proliferation causes inconsistencies in the way browsers display information, meaning low quality web viewing for users.

Traditionally developers have fixed issues as they come up with “code forks”, that is writing specific functionality for specific browsers. Whilst a valid approach, the need to add code increases as an organisation grows it’s site and browser-based applications.

The simplest approach to dealing with the code forks issue is to ensure compatibility for the majority-adopted browser, currently IE. But as we’ve seen already, the balance is shifting and IE has already lost ground to Firefox, and will lose more ground to Chrome.

The ideal approach is to abstract the task of cross browser rendering outside of page/application to a “rendering layer”. The rendering layer identifies the browser - this is a simple check of the http header information - and makes pages specific to browsers.

Such a layer would require constant evaluation of new browser releases and testing and most corporate IT departments will opt for “buy” versus “build” of their rendering layer – delegating responsibility for browser compatibility to a software house.

Programmers, therefore, need a helping hand. And the good news is that quality assurance technologies can also help web developers view their applications in multiple settings and ensure high usability is prioritised. The use of automated test scripts can also assist to ensure both forward and backward compatibility of browser support, without having to extend test cycles to ridiculous timeframes.

Cross browser compatibility issues are here to stay, the question is do you build or do you buy?

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