A Majority in the Minority

I’ve deployed a couple major web projects recently, and one of the biggest pains has been cross-browser testing. Most developers, including me, use Chrome or Firefox for development. They’re both very fast browsers with excellent development tools, and are on the leading edge of web standards support. But then there is always our special-needs friend, Microsoft Internet Explorer, and version 8 in particular. We’ve spent a hell of a lot of time trying to get some beautifully designed sites to play nicely with the abomination that is Internet Explorer 8.

After one of the larger sites went live, I had a chance to check out the Google Analytics data for the site and review the user agents hitting the site. I was curious if the effort we put in to making the site play nicely with Internet Explorer 8 was worth the effort. We also spent a lot of time creating a responsive design, so that was another set of clients I was curious about. I ended up being pretty surprised by the data.

This site is not a technology site, and your mileage may vary, but the visitor traffic is probably pretty representative of an average American adult population. I anticipated Internet Explorer to account for around 50% of the user agents. The actual number was much lower.

user-agents-new

Internet Explorer effectively held the majority among the minorities. The really interesting one was Safari. If we combine the in-app and regular version, Safari was actually the winner. This probably comes from the fact 30% of the site traffic came from mobile sources.

Since Internet Explorer has a major problem with users clinging to outdated versions, I was also very interested to see the breakdown of versions in use:

ie-versions

On the bright side, a strong majority are on IE9, which can almost pass as a modern browser. But nearly 30% were still clinging to IE8, a horrible, abomination of a browser that Microsoft should still be embarrassed about. In spite of the “millions of copies” Microsoft has shipped of Windows 8, only a tiny percentage of the users were on IE10. In fact, IE10 only beat IE7 by one percent.

So here are some insights from these stats:

  1. The days of Internet Explorer owning the show are over. Test for it, but don’t pander to it.
  2. IE10 doesn’t matter (yet?). This is going to be a huge problem for Microsoft, but no one outside the wild-eyed cult of .NET developers gives a damn about IE10 right now. For today, test for IE9 and you’re fine, unless you are specifically targeting some IE10 touch features.
  3. IE8 is the new IE6. The browser is an eon behind anything else out there and will be the bane of web developers for years to come. It, alone, is enough to drive someone to an iPad or Android tablet.
  4. You must embrace responsive design. From a pleasing-your-users standpoint, a responsive design that renders correctly on a phone or tablet is even more important than being IE8 friendly.

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