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14 May, 2004

Regrettably useful

A web page properly written to meet web standards should be rendered flawlessly and near-identically in any modern browser.  Conversely, a poorly-coded page might be displayed oddly in some browsers, if at all.  However, Internet Explorer is a very forgiving browser, able to compensate for sloppy coding which technically shouldn't work, so may display some page elements or even whole pages which other browsers can't.  That's a fault of the page author, not the browser, but having acknowledged that, ascribing blame doesn't solve the problem.

IE itself doesn't comply with web standards, so in order for pages to render as intended, it may seem an author has to deliberately deviate from the standards, optimising exclusively for IE. That's somewhat short-sighted, and not recommended. There is a view that since IE is the market leader, an author's efforts should focus on it, but as I said in the first line of this posting, valid code should work in all browsers anyway.
A trivial example: today I found that IE placed a <h3> page title flush with a header graphic, where as Firefox left a decent gap. I could have inserted a <br /> line break so that the page looked okay in IE, but that would have added excessive padding in all other browsers. The alternative was to use CSS to specify spacing around <h3> elements, which is effective in all browsers.
In order to identify such issues, it's necessary for an author to view new pages/modifications in IE, even if he/she ordinarily uses a real browser.

A third issue is that IE supports its own proprietory coding and integration with 'back-end' software, so a small number of websites really are IE-only, particularly those involved in e-commerce (e.g. some web stores, banks and utilities companies). Hopefully software evolution and customer pressure will remove this incompatibility eventually.

Although I'd always advocate that people switch from IE to a modern browser, clearly there are cases when one really does have to use IE. Hence the ieview plugin for Mozilla and Mozilla Firefox: a simple extension which opens IE and loads the current page or a selected link. Very handy, but I hope it won't get much use!

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