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Web Browsers and the Cost of the Lowest Common Denominator

Web Browsers and the Cost of the Lowest Common Denominator

Web Browsers and the Cost of the Lowest Common Denominator

One of the key aspects of initial Web planning involves thinking about how various Web browsers can either enhance, or detract, from an intended user experience. Modern browsers inherently have up-to-date capabilities and embrace emerging Web developments, while older browsers like Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) present confounding restrictions and a less rewarding involvement with your content.

Playing to the lowest common denominator in any project, especially concerning Web browsers, can quickly become the most costly and time-consuming aspect of the entire development. As an example, the “New York Times” recently produced a stunning work of online journalism, rich in user interactivity and innovative effects. “Snowfall – The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” pushed the user experience forward, allowing readers to truly understand online content in ways that were simply not possible with a generation of previous browsers.

But the cost to support IE8, which is no longer supported by Microsoft, came at a dear price. Jacky Myint, Multimedia Producer/Designer for the project, stated, “From the beginning, we made the decision to not offer the exact same experience across all browsers/devices. This allowed me to focus on the main experience in the more modern Web browsers, while my colleagues focused on different experiences on other devices or older browsers. Josh Williams worked on the iPad/iPhone/touch experience while Jon Huang worked on IE8. We each had to figure out the best experience for the respective browsers/devices we were focusing on and work within their limitations.” One-third of the development effort was devoted to just IE8. Is a small portion of viewers worth that portion of your online marketing budget?

IE8 is in steady decline worldwide with usage at 11% and dropping. In contrast, Google’s free browser, Chrome, is the fastest growing browser, progressively climbing to 33% of total market share with each new release. For some institutions using Windows XP and Windows Server 2008, IE8 is seen as the last version of browser allowed. IT staff reluctant to upgrade their browser choice should consider other available free browsers, such as Chrome, which will continue to run on these end-of-service-life operating systems. (Microsoft has announced complete discontinued support and critical upgrades for XP beginning
in 2014.)

Older browsers often present serious security concerns, which can be desirable doorways for hackers interested in compromising a user’s network or operating system. For designers and programmers alike, the costs mount up: Planning scaled-back interfaces and coding workarounds to deal with inconsistent page renderings begin to quickly add to a larger total expense for development and testing.

The benefits of employing modern Web browsers are numerous. By designing and coding for browsers that comply with established Web standards, budgeted time to develop is reduced, while the overall user experience becomes more memorable. Enhanced user experience isn’t just for journalists; it can make the difference in user interaction and retention – both strong selling points in our current age of social sharing, brand awareness and growing online purchasing decisions.

about Mark Robinson is Creative Director for Digital Innovation at The Ramey Agency

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