[thelist] other browsers

Simon Willison cs1spw at bath.ac.uk
Tue Sep 16 10:20:16 CDT 2003

Tom Dell'Aringa wrote:
> On top of all of this, there is a disturbing trend with my clients
> this year. It's called "IE5+ only development." If the project is
> under any kind of quick deadline, its always IE5+ only. Or its "if it
> works in NS/Moz that's fine, but don't put extra time into it." (as
> if writing compliant code take all kinds of 'extra time'). So I end
> up developing with IE anyway and writing IE specific code which
> doesn't even work in other browsers (which is a bummer, because the
> Moz JS debugger is sweet). Generally these are specific applications
> for intranets or installed desktops - but not always. - but that is
> another topic.

In my opinion, developing for IE5+ only is a sure sign that the company 
in question has completely failed to understand one of the biggest 
benefits of web technologies: thanks to well supported (if 
misunderstood) open standards they offer a way out from platform lockin.

Let's talk about in-house development. A few years ago, if a company was 
going to develop a system for itnernal use there was a good chance they 
would develop it as a client-server Visual Basic application. VB 
programmers are cheap, development is relatively quick and "no one ever 
got fired for buying Microsoft". Today, a strong contendoer for 
developing in house applications is to create them as a web application 
available over the internet. Deployment is far simpler (simply install 
the application on the web server, no need to roll out a client app as 
well), support is cheaper and the limitations of an HTML interface 
probably won't be a problem since most in house applications are 
basically pretty front ends to a database somewhere.

Now consider Linux. 6 months ago the idea of a large company moving to 
Linux was almost laughable - then the city of Munich made the switch 
back in May and suddenly Linux doesn't look so silly. If you think about 
it, many workers don't actually need a full PC workstation with Windows 
XP, Microsoft Office and all the trimmings. If they aren't working at a 
desk all day long they probably only really need company email and 
access to a few custom applications that are needed as part of their jobs.

Imagine you're a big company about to open a new manufacturing plant. 
You need 1,000 new PCs, but thanks to your internal software running as 
a web application they only need to run a web browser and an email 
client. A combination of Linux, Gnome, Firebird/Mozilla and Evolution 
(an open source email client) could save you a massive chunk of 
licensing fees, not to mention support costs (Linux admins may be more 
expensive to hire, but some studies have shown that while you need one 
Windows IT support guy for every 30 Windows boxes, a Linux guy can 
usually handle upwards of 100). Of course, if your web applications were 
all developed to only work with IE you're back to square one.

It's not like developing cross platform applications is even 
particularly difficult - the W3C DOM is well supported by most modern 
browsers and the most popular IE extensions (innerHTML and 
contentEditable) are supported by recent versions of Gecko as well.

Vendor lockin is never a good thing. Until recently it has been 
unavoidable when developing custom applications, but the web was built 
on a principle of universal access (Tim Berners-Lee originally invented 
it to allow machiens running different operating systems at CERN to 
share information) and finally allows the development of systems that 
don't tie you down to a particular vendor. Unfortunately, it seems the 
single vendor mentality is so ingrained in corporate IT culture that 
many companies are failing to realise how much freedom this gives them.

Disclaimer: I've never worked for a big company - the above is based on 
common sense, talks with people who DO work for big companies and 
reading far too much slashdot ;)



More information about the thelist mailing list