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29 July, 2004

Cross-browser design

Doug Bowman at Stopdesign offers a useful article about CSS-based web design.  I won't go into detail about his central point, that tables-based design is obsolete and to be avoided; the part I want to highlight regards a suggested approach to web design for all browsers.  It begins in the second paragraph after Doug's screenshots of the Microsoft home page, if you'd like to read his full text (as I'd recommend).

To paraphrase: several websites solely function in the Windows version of IE because designers claim that's the browser, used by a majority of people, and that it takes too long to develop sites which render and function in alternative browsers. There's an overlapping claim that development for non-IE/Windows is too expensive.
These erroneous impressions often arise when initial development and verification work is done in IE, then only checked in other browsers as a final stage. This leads to the perception that any 'bugs' are in the other browsers, when it's IE that's idiosyncratic, and the developer has built in the flaws to accommodate its foibles.
IE's interpretation of css is less strict than its competitors, so is more forgiving of bad coding. Consequently, designing in IE means problems with development work will be missed as they arise. Starting with IE then retrofitting for other browsers will indeed increase overall time and cost. So:

Start with the stricter, more compliant browsers that (usually) render things how they’re supposed to render. Get everything working there. Then, double back and create a few 'patches' for IE. Development is much faster this way. It may be counter-intuitive to initially avoid the browser that represents the majority of your traffic. But the process is much more fluid and efficient if you don’t become accustomed to - or depend on - IE’s relaxed rendering behavior. Start with IE, and you may start with bad code that takes much longer to fix for other stricter browsers.

Code generated for Firefox will almost certainly render perfectly in IE, but the reverse is drastically less certain.

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