Cross-browser Support – Be Gone With Pixel Perfection

For many years cross-browser support has made Web developers cringe. The very mention of it brings back memories of endless hours spent staring dumb-founded at a browser (IE6 – I’m looking at you!) and letting slip the occasional swear word. All of this to achieve the impossible goal of creating a website that looked and worked perfectly across a the complete range of browsers.
 
With the recent technological advancements on the Web, such as the arrival of HTML5 and CSS3, and fuelled by the early adoption of these technologies by the major browser manufacturers, developers have to reevaluate their need to try to achieve pixel perfect support in older browsers that don’t support these technologies.
 

Recent trends

 
Until a few years ago the general perception was that a website had to look exactly the same in all browsers. However more recently we have seen people move away from this notion for three main reasons:
 
  1. User base – the amount of users using older browsers has decreased enough to validate no longer spending all those hours making things perfect for the older browsers.
  2. Time and cost – trying to achieve pixel perfection has a major impact on time and therefore costs of a project.
  3. New technology – to provide the best and most creative user experience developers have to make use of new technologies that are not available in older browsers.
Take a look at Twitter’s website. Opening it up in both Internet Explorer 8 and Firefox you will see immediately that it doesn’t look exactly the same. While it sports rounded corners in Firefox, it’s all square in Internet Explorer. This is due to Firefox supporting rounded corners via CSS3 while Internet Explorer 8 doesn’t.
 

Internet Explorer 8

Firefox

Other websites go so far as to drop support completely for certain browsers. For example YouTube and more recently FNB’s online banking website have both dropped support for Internet Explorer 6.
 
Even Microsoft is trying to kill off Internet Explorer 6 with its recent launch of http://ie6countdown.com/.
 

Can we finally do away with pixel perfection?

 
Some users are stuck on older browsers, especially at work, due to technical constraints or incompetent system administrators, while others simply don’t know that there is something better out there. 
 
Certainly, we still have to cater for these users and accommodate the constraints of their browsers. The question is, to what extend and for how long?
 
What is important to maintain across all supported browsers is:
 
  • a functional website, 
  • easily accessible information, and
  • true brand representation.
If a user is provided with a website that achieves the above goals, no matter which browser they use, does it really matter that it doesn’t look exactly the same in all browsers?
 
The question now becomes, how do we support users on older browsers if we move away from the notion of pixel perfection?
 

Different approaches

 
In the industry today there are three different possible approaches to providing support for older browsers:
 
Progressive enhancement:
 
This is a layered approach in which you allow everyone to access the basic content and functionality of the website, while providing an enhanced version of the page to users with capable browsers.
 
Graceful degradation:
 
Alternatively, with the graceful degradation approach you provide enhanced functionality by default and then serve alternative content or reduced functionality to users on older browsers.
 
Polyfill:
 
This approach tries to bring functionality to older browsers by using JavaScript in place of the missing functionality.
 
Each approach comes with its own list of pros and cons and choosing one ultimately depends on the project and target audience.
 

Quirk’s view point on all of this

 
We evaluate each project on its merit and will even support the dreaded IE6 if a client requests it, but our default approach is to use graceful degradation
 
Adopting this approach allows us to use the latest technologies to provide the majority of users the best possible experience and still support older browsers. This also allows our developers to always be on the cutting edge of technology.
 
When it comes to browser support Quirk officially supports the following browsers (and we review this list every 6 months):
 
(Sorry Opera, you’re a cool browser, but just do not have enough fans)
 
Also check out:
 

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