Building a website can be a daunting task. It's not uncommon to hear of an individual offering to design and build a website overnight, but usually those offering such promises have little or no experience from a design or development perspective. Amateur web solutions are only appropriate when literally anything will do. It's also easy to find organizations that sell an assortment of pre-built websites, which sounds nice for those in a hurry, but when your competition shows up brandishing that exact site it can be embarrassing. Many of these "site mills" know what they are doing to an extent, but generally work from an Internet-Explorer-only perspective and are designing sites that conform to that particular browsers rules. As a result, the customer fails to notice their website crashing in the vast majority of other available browsers.
Cross-browser compatibility is what we are addressing this month. Building a website that displays on an equal footing across multiple browsers is not as easy as one might think and despite the popular belief that Internet Explorer "is the internet", there are a great many other browser options available.
To begin, let's discuss a few of the more popular alternatives, some of which may seem odd but more than likely one of them will have features that are enticing enough to make you consider switching.
The bane of all designers and developers, Microsoft is currently the farthest behind in when it comes to modern web standards and with good reason, they have the most widely used browser available. If they were to release an update and quickly caught up, a huge chunk of the web would stop working. I can think of a few corporations that wouldn't be too happy with this decision simply due to lazy IT departments and the massive costs involved.
Netscape was at one time a major contender in the browser marketplace. Unfortunately just this year, they have shut thir doors, giving way to the ever growing popularity of Firefox and other Mozilla-based browsers. Though some still cling to this once great giant, the end is near with the majority of web designers no longer pushing code in its direction.
With continuous updates and features, such as tabbing and optional add-ons and plug-ins, Firefox has taken the browser world by storm. Even Internet Explorer has adapted many of the features Firefox has to offer. Considerable improvements have recently been release with the advent of Firefox 3, due to its open source nature. The community constantly improves it for free, so it is usually on the cutting edge of technological changes and trends.
Popular among Apple users, iCab is clearly named in the same vein as so may other Apple products though not supported by them. This is a wonderful alternative for users running older Macintosh Operating Systems (think OS9) and is even available for users of 68K Macs. Regardless of its limited usage, iCab still has a large portion of dedicated web users.
While we're talking about Apple it's only appropriate to mention Safari, Apple's WebKit browser. This browser comes standard on new Macs just as Internet Explorer is standard on the majority of PCs. Even though you might not have heard of it, those using a Mac have and, if not using it permanently, have used it in the past.
Opera, one of the more rarely heard about web browsers on our list Opera has a massive base. It's perfect for web developers in that it comes standard with debugging software, CSS (Cascading Style Sheet), and DOM (Document Object Model) inspectors. It also offers a variety of other features that make it an excellent and speedy companion for both Mac and PC users alike. Don't forget that any user of Nintendo's Wii is well aware of browsing the internet through Opera; it's built into the system.
The list goes on to include: Flock, Konqueror, Wyzo, Sunrise (one of our personal favorites as it actually takes over your entire monitor, though this can be a little strange for those not used to it), Amaya, OmniWeb (another Mac-based browser with excellent add-on features, perfect for the work environment. Unfortunately it is purchase-only and is one of the few remaining browsers to actually do this). The list could go on and on.
While we can't expect a developer to code for every single browser available, it is common practice to code for the more popular ones in an effort to catch the largest base of visitors to a particular site. This is just one of the reasons why it is important to have a statistics log for your website. Not only for the purpose of traffic count but to see which browsers are accessing the site.
Another major issue is how Internet Explorer reads and displays pixels versus how a Mozilla-based browser reads them. Each browser picks up slightly different nuances in height and width to a perfectly positioned object on the page. It is because of this that a coder should, in good practice, develop a secondary style sheet specifically for Explorer 7, Explorer 6 and Explorer 5.5. Developments below 5.5 become futile due to lack of support and the simple fact that it is extremely outdated.
The differences continue to shrink with each release of major browsers and the continued effort to reach a web standard, but these factors all play a major part in a designer and coder's completion schedule. Such considerations can greatly increase the amount of time spent on the development of a professional website.
Keep this in mind the next time you're looking for web design work. Professional websites take time. Just because fly-by-night site mills make web design look easy it's important to understand that you're paying for a sub-standard product that can quickly become outdated. For serious companies it's always worth investing a little more in a website to ensure that you get the professional experience and peace of mind that your site is optimized for the majority of browsers and won't need to be constantly repaired.