The Browser Wars Are Back! You Can’t Run Or Hide So Here’s What To Do

Harley-Manning_small [Posted by Harley Manning]

 

The customer experience team at Forrester is currently updating our Web site review methodology, which will get us to Version 8. I’ll write more about that in a subsequent post but I wanted to get it on the table (or in the blogosphere – pick your metaphor) by way of explaining why we’ve been looking at which version of what browser to use as our default for conducting research.

 

In trying to answer that question we had one of our Researchers – Rich Gans – talk to people at Mozilla, Microsoft, Apple, and Google to get insight into where they’re going with their browser offerings and how they advise site developers to deal with the current landscape.

 

What he found out was fascinating (to me anyway) and I hope for you, too. For example, Microsoft has gotten religious about standards compliance. And we’re talking official standards here, not de facto standards they create and put out into the marketplace.

 

And here’s another little “ah ha”: I always thought that the browser makers had some super secret way of estimating browser market share. But if they do, they’re not talking. Instead they all pointed us to some of the same publicly available data that we’ve been looking at for years on sites like W3Schools, Net Applications, and Stat Counter. The browser makers tended to favor the Net Applications data, so Rich talked to someone at that firm and we verified that their methodology is, indeed, pretty reasonable. We were going to feature some of their data in our report but we weren’t able to comply with the Net Applications citation policy. So unfortunately you’ll have to go to their site and see for yourself.

 

Not that overall trend data matters all that much. The real answer to the question, “which browsers should we design for?” is to look at your own Web analytics data to see what browsers your customers use. As it turns out, even the free Google Analytics product can give you decent insight into that.

 

And checking the data is something you can’t neglect to do because for the foreseeable future we’re going to live in a world of proliferating browser versions. The only way to play it safe with your site is to test the site on all the relevant ones. Of course, you’ll also want to follow some basic design practices that will help you avoid a situation where you have to fix fundamental coding issues post QA testing when your deadlines are looming. We also offer some advice on that in our report – I hope you find it useful. Please Comment or drop us a line and let us know.