IE9 – are we looking at the new IE6?

This one’s webdev related rather than SEO, but then I’ve always been a web developer as well and I’ve always believed you can’t be a good SEO without being a good developer, and vice-versa.

IE6 used to cost me a LOT of time chasing bugs. I’ve always said the only correct way to code a site is to build to web standards first and then test in a range of browsers and build the fixes for those that don’t work properly. For many years after CSS became the preferred method of design that generally meant that everything worked pretty much as expected in Firefox, Safari, and Opera, and then you tore your hair out finding and fixing the bugs in IE6. These were usually traceable to the hopelessly non-standard “haslayout” property which could destroy a design if you weren’t aware of its effects – whole sites like Explorer Exposed were devoted to the arcane and mysterious machinations of this web design nightmare. (Thanks guys, you saved us all many times over!)

When IE7 came along we were promised life would be much better – except it had loads of bugs too, just different ones, and since IE6 didn’t go away we had to deal with two lots of problems. IE8 was better, but everyone hated Vista so few upgraded and we had to deal with 3 lots of bugs. Thank heavens with the advent of Windows 7 that IE6 usage has declined to such an extent that it’s now viable to either ignore it or at least tell the client that the design will be different but acceptable for its remaining users and that there’s no real alternative if they want the latest features and looks at a reasonable price.

With CSS3 and HTML5 causing great excitement among developers we’ve all been hoping and praying that Microsoft’s promises of standards compliance and CSS compatibility would come true and we could all finally move forward in reasonable confidence without screeds of IE conditional statements. I had largely ignored the beta versions of IE9 although a programmer friend had tried it and removed it because some many of his regularly visited sites broke in it.

Now it’s finally been released and what do we find? Well without going into too much research it’s not looking so good. Two relatively simple CSS3 properties that designers have been banking on (and which are well supported elsewhere) are text-shadow and background gradients. Neither is supported in IE9. Come on guys, if you can’t handle those what right have you to call it a modern browser?

What abut HTML5? There’s been a lot of discussion (ok, flaming) on numerous forums since Microsoft touted the results of a series of W3C tests that showed IE9 coming out ahead of all its rivals. Sadly those tests were but a small subset of the full HTML5 feature set and biased towards things that IE9 handled pretty well. Lots of other features are apparently much less well supported if at all. Earlier today I looked at a site about HTML5 forms, and was astounded at what was reported there – almost complete lack of support for any of the new form features.

Ok, I accept that HTML5 and CSS3 are not finalised specs, but actually they may never be because of the way standards are now developing – the web world is moving too fast for standards to ever be set in stone. To use that as an excuse not to support features which designers and developers have been crying out for for years is a poor response.

Now when I finally get some time to do some properly detailed research I’ll present a much more in-depth comparison here, but so far I have to say that I’m less than impressed, and it seems to me that once again we are going to be stuck with a major browser, that will inevitably be used by a substantial number of people, that holds back progress, provides a poorer user experience, and costs developers and their clients vast amounts of time and money to support and work around. Remind you of anything?

If the best they can say about IE9 is that it’s better than IE8/7/6 then I’m afraid that isn’t enough. Firefox, Chrome, and Safari are going to kick its butt!

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