The Browser Wars – Compatability Wins

Dear Browser Makers, Please make all of the browsers work the same way. It will make my life easier and save companies a lot of money, since they won’t have to test web apps across multiple/different browsers. It will also standardize on questions the Elves are asked about how to use the new toys.
Thank you,

“The Browser Wars” refers to the continuous leap-frog update and improvement of web browsers, leading to some (OK, most) browsers working in different ways. This adds complexity to our job of developing and testing web sites and applications. This is especially important now that the web browser is a near-universal application interface. Testing in multiple browsers is one of the biggest development challenges we face.

Rather than citing the history of web browsers, let’s generally summarize (you can choose to agree or disagree here) that there have been three generations of web browsers:

  1. New Technology (The World Wide Web is invented)
  2. IE as Standard (Microsoft’s Windows installed base makes IE the default web browser)
  3. Modern Browsers (~2002 courts declare IE monopolistic, opening the door for other browsers and standards)

So – how do improvements in web browsers make Developer and QA life more difficult? There are many compound dilemmas that we face due to the differences in web browsers:

  • Many people still use Windows based PCs and therefore use IE (once 86%+ of browsers.)
  • Websites developed for IE may not automatically work correctly on non-IE web browsers.
  • Many websites were developed for full-size PC screens.
  • Mobile devices have introduce new screen sizes and browser adaptations.
  • Websites developed for full-size PC screens don’t automatically scale for smaller screen sizes
  • Tablet PCs implement new ways to interact with websites, such as touch screens instead of a mouse.
  • Websites must be tested across these variations of browser versions, screen sizes and form-factors.

Which browser is best? The one that you prefer? The one that came installed on your new PC/Tablet/Phone? The one that is your company standard? There is no one best browser and you may not always have a choice about which browser you use and which one you develop or test for.

When will life go back to normal (i.e. develop once, test once, run on many platforms)? Not anytime soon. In fact, Tablet PCs and mobile phones are going to multiply the dev/test complexity matrix even more!

As a QA or Development Professional, what can you do about browser compatibility? Your resume will always look good if you understand the issues affecting your role and industry. Cross-browser and device compatibility is a global technology issue, requiring companies to adapt and invest. We cannot adapt to these changes overnight but, you would be remiss not to plan for them.