Browser War II

Even the evergreens

We may think the bad-old-days of IE6 are long behind us but are we jumping for joy – no. Yes, there are far fewer cross-browser compatibility issues to deal with now IE6 (and pretty much IE7) are out of the picture but now IE8 has become the new whipping-boy. And you know what, there will always be a whipping-boy because we cannot force everyone to use the latest and greatest (and nor should we). The problem is not Microsoft’s fault, nor is the issue exclusive to Microsoft. Whilst the advent of evergreen web browsers like Chrome and Edge are heralding in a new era, they cannot solve the problem that everyone is not using the shiny new edition web browser.

It is my contention that whilst the first Browser War was between manufacturers, the second (and far more challenging) Browser War is being fort by all manufactures on their own fronts between versions of the same browser – even the evergreens.

The Battle

For the last 20 years I have been developing enterprise solutions for some very large customers. In the past 15 years or so our solutions have almost exclusively been web-based; primarily as an easier approach to deployment and maintenance. In my world we are not focused on content delivery like the majority of the web world, so my perspective is unlikely to be applicable to all.

My bubble is primarily concerned with providing business functionality (applications), operating in a controlled environment. It is quite usual for the customer to stipulate which web browsers the application must run on; in deed down to the version. The larger the client the more conservative they tend to be and the slower they are to adopt ‘the shiny new web browser’.

Consequently, we are seldom developing applications able to employ the latest developments in web standards but our target delivery platform is known and controlled. I can understand why; maintaining a consistent product deployment across large, distributes organisations

My current bug-bear is MS IE8 and not for the reasons you might think. Yes its compliance the HTML5 and CSS is a bit behind the curve. No SVG and event attachment/listening – enough said I think. But that aside, the difficulty I have is the difference between the client’s IT strategy (IE8) and our (as the supplier) internal IT strategy (IE9 minimum.)

Government Protection

Here in the UK there are government-backed (and industry supported) initiatives to ensure companies (especially those supplying government) are resilient to potential cyber threats. CyberEssentials and CyberEssentials Plus having a significant, and justifiable, impact on the IT strategy of companies like mine. So, our policy of not using IE8 on our equipment is well founded, but creates a new problem.

As I stated earlier, this issue is not limited to Microsoft. Our client also permits the use of Google Chrome (hurray) version 44 (boo), long discontinued.

Our solution – containment

Our approach to this problem is to contain the MS Windows 7, IE8 installation we require for target platform testing in a virtual machine with very limited network connectivity. This configuration will permit controlled exchange of data between a development station and the test VM. It will also permit connection from the VM to the application web server and very little else. This enables us to test the forbidden target platform without compromising our organisational cyber protection.

In closing

I pity those that think the path to ‘cross-browser compatibility’ nirvana is through the demise of IE8, or IE altogether, or all but their favoured web browser. There will always be browser incompatibility whilst more than one version of a single web browser exists in the wide – so dream-on.