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Educating clients about browsers

Recently I have had some success in changing browser usage within a client network. Here's a short summary of what I have learnt.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Table of contents

A disclaimer

Before I start I should note that I do not spit every time the word Microsoft is mentioned. The advice I give to clients is purely based on the quality of products and I am not running an agenda that Microsoft is bad whatever they do.

Explaining browsers

I have learnt to assume that clients generally have no knowledge of the choice they have in the browser market. It is normal for most clients to be using Internet Explorer 6 or 7 and that this will be their only experience of using the web. In proposals I list the browsers that will be supported on the project and even when this is explicitly stated in proposals clients do not understand that there is more than one browser in the market. Whether clients choose to take my advice or not I see part of my job in a web project is to ensure clients understand that there are different browsers in the market and what this means for the end user.

Explaining security

I have a real world example of a medium to large sized arts organisation whose network was entirely compromised by using Internet Explorer 6. This was in part down to the IT setup but according to the IT company who took over the contract, would have been prevented via the use of Firefox. Through naive user actions a virus compromised the network including financial data, and sensitive commercial information. With Firefox being regularly updated for any security faults and the fact that these patches are pushed immediately to users I recommend that IE6 networks switch to Firefox, or at very least upgrade to IE7. Following this discussion several clients have switched the default browser they use within their network.

Explaining display

Clients do not understand that different browsers display sites in different ways. It is relatively simple to point clients to examples where Internet Explorer underperforms other browsers, although I find it is more useful to do this with the client. Explaining that some browsers are more capable of understanding and presenting Javascript and CSS is hard work but well worth it. I often discuss browser support by using the Yahoo Graded Browser Support Chart and by using client data from Google Anaytics to show which browsers are commonly being used in a similar industry. This discussion is not going to drop support for IE6. But it will help clients to understand that IE6 has a poor rendering engine compared to other browsers on the market.

Product v. Market Share

Clients are often amazed that there such a clear disparity of product and market share (this is still the case with IE7). In any transparent market, market share is driven by cost and the quality of a product. With browsers there is no cost so it is purely down to the quality of the product. It is clear however that on display and security the market share does not reflect the quality of the product. Every single client I have explained browsers to has understood the presentation of facts and made their own conclusion. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article I am not anti-Microsoft, I merely present the facts. Opera are looking to do the same with their antitrust action against Microsoft. Quite how this progresses will be very interesting as for me the browser market is not transparent and users do not realise they have a choice.

The browser market is broken

We have been through Browser Wars and I have no doubt we will continue to see huge competition in the market. It is simple for me to explain the browser market to clients. They understand the facts and make informed decisions. I wonder though why this should be necessary? Through real world experience I conclude that it is because clients do not understand they have a choice. In any other industry in the UK the government would ensure this was not the case. All I am looking for is a transparent and fair browser market where the best product rises to the top. By any measure Microsoft has the worst product with the biggest market share. This is an unsatisfactory situation for both users and the web in general and one that I will continue to help my clients understand.

Have an update or suggestion for this article? You can edit it here and send me a pull request.

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