Browser Compatibility

Alpine's Most Recent Statement Regarding Browser Compatibility

browser compatibility, standards support

October, 2004

"The web design should support backward compatibility with industry standard browsers and operating systems."

This is a request, one of many, in an rfp we are working on right now. How would you answer this question?


Alpine designs completely support browsers that support web standards. Most of these browsers are mature pieces of software that have been around for a number of years. Internet Explorer 6, for instance, first became available in December, 2001. People have had nearly three years to upgrade to this browser, which we support fully.

Now, the dangerous ambiguity comes in what is meant by "support backward compatibility." If fonts are the wrong size in ancient browsers, that shouldn't be our problem. If the website is ugly (but is still completely legible) in ancient browsers, that shouldn't be our problem.

Unlike many web designs that actually block users of "old or alternative" browsers (including designs used by some huge companies that shovel drifts of money into their website), Alpine websites will never block anyone. Period. The site may not look pretty. If they look at it in Netscape Navigator 4 it will be black and white and unstyled, though all the content will be completely accessible and legible.

These days, I can typically achieve complete compatibility with the following browsers:

The following browsers will typically look great, but compatibility with them will not be actively supported by Alpine:

These guys will typically look okay. Again, compatibility with them will not be actively supported by Alpine:

These are the dredges. Content will be available, certainly, but design is definitely not supported:

A Statistical Justification of Browser Compatibility

browser compatibility, browser statistics, standards support

This article is an outline of Alpine's basic browser compatibility offering. From there, if further compatibility is a large concern, more rigorous testing in more browsers can be purchased.

Brian put our compatibility statement similar to thus: "Alpine's basic offering includes a public website that works consistently in the current version of the following web browsers, on their most recent platforms."

What that means is this: We will make sure your site works in Internet Explorer 6.0+ on the most recent version of Windows (XP/2000). We will make sure your site works on IE 5.2+ for the most recent version of Mac OS (OSX). We will make sure your site works in Safari 1.2+ for Mac OSX. Additionally, we will also support IE 5.5 for Windows, for it still has an installed base of 18% of all internet users (according to ).

As you can also see by these stats, supporting IE 6.x and IE 5.x on Windows and Mac means our sites will work for 95% of all users out there. Also, since Alpine designs sites that take advantage of web standards, we'll usually be able to support the next 3-4% as well. The last 1-2% are wildcards that we can work on supporting (again, if it is a concern and the client wishes to be billed for that time), but we do not guarantee it with our base offering. Which, to reiterate, is this:

  1. IE 6.0 Windows
  2. IE 5.5 Windows
  3. IE 5.2 Mac OSX
  4. Safari 1.2+ Mac OSX

That's it. And that supports 95% of the Internet user base. What's important to consider, however, is that content will most definitely be available in other browsers, in the last 5%. Alpine does not use draconian JavaScript to block users, or rely on proprietary Internet Explorer code that doesn't work in other browsers. However, Alpine cannot guarantee the look-and-feel in browsers beyond this spec (unless additional compatibility is valued enough for the additional work to be financed). We do not design websites FOR Internet Explorer, we design websites that WORK in Internet Explorer.

I hope this clears up any concerns.

Degrees of Browser Compatibility

browser compatibility, standards support

Alpine is fortunate enough to have enough geniuses around that we are able to design websites that are compatible in numerous browsers, and a lot of this compatibility comes free in the way we are designing websites.

However, if we are to live in accordance to the laws of diminishing returns, we must make clear the degree of compatibility the Alpine agrees to when we commit to a site design, and what levels of compatibility will be supported at an additional cost. Yes, some browser compatibility comes for free, but this "freeness" comes only through time, resources and skill. We are able to easily support multiple browsers only when we dedicate time to supporting them, have the necessary resources to test our sites on them, and only if we know (or are able to learn) how to fix cross-platform problems that crop up.

Anyways, it comes down to this. I am certain that Alpine can confidently offer complete compatibility in the following browsers:

  1. Internet Explorer 6.0+ - Windows PC
  2. Opera 7.54+ - Windows PC
  3. Mozilla 1.7+ - Windows PC
  4. Firefox 1.0+ - Windows PC
  5. Netscape 7.1+ - Windows PC (Netscape, Firefox and Mozilla are all Gecko-based browsers, so really, if a site works in one of these, it works in all three)

I am also certain that Alpine can offer our clients complete content availability in the following browsers, though due to browser limitations, the content will be unstyled and will not resemble the actual site:

  1. Netscape 4.x (any platform)
  2. Internet Explorer 4.x
  3. Lynx

Okay, here's where things get sticky. Alpine definitely has the ability to support the following browsers, but due to the factors mentioned above we cannot automatically support complete compatibility for them. I perceive these browsers as extending beyond Alpine's basic offering, and if there is concern about support for these browsers, the additional work demands that we adjust our quote repspectively.

Alpine can support the following browsers, but due to limitations of time, resources and skill, they can be difficult:

  1. Internet Explorer 5.1 - Mac OS 9 - It can be a cranky browser, as it was the first one to seriously attempt to support web standards
  2. Internet Explorer 5.2 - Mac OS X - Easier to support than 5.1 for OS 9, but still has some serious bugs in how it renders some CSS
  3. Safari 1.2 - Mac OS X - Good standards support, but to test against it requires that you have a Mac with OS X
  4. Internet Explorer 5.0/5.5 - Windows PC - Cranky support for standards that makes IE 5.1 Mac look like a saint. Additionally, you can't run IE 5.x and IE 6.0 on the same machine, so one needs to dedicate a particular machine to running IE 5.x exclusively

Anyways. Just because I didn't list a browser here, doesn't mean we don't support it, or refuse to support it, etc. Because of the way we design, a lot of our sites will automatically work in Konqueror, or Opera for OSX, or all kinds of browsers installed on Linux boxes, or whatever.

Additionally, the designs on our sites are future-proof, in that no one in the forseeable future will upgrade to a new browser and see an Alpine site blow up. Our only issue is in supporting older browsers, who every day are getting thrown into ravines and quarries across the globe in greater and greater numbers.

Current Browser Use Statistics

browser compatibility, browser use, statistics

A good summary of current browser statistics. IE6 is the king of funk, XP is the godfather of soul, and strangely enough, a smidgen more people are browsing the web from a Linux platform than from a Mac platform:

Click through, and you can browse additional stats with the navigation on the right.

Of course, it's always important to keep in mind that 90 percent of statistics are misleading.