Microsoft’s announcement that there will be no new versions of IE for the Mac is no doubt sending shivers through many product managers bones. It is yet another sign that the golden age of IE dominance is coming to an end and that anyone offering an online service will have to worry about cross-browser compatibility once more.
But for sites or downloadable products with complex user interactions, multiple browsers mean a significant amount of additional work throughout the development, testing, and customer service processes.
In the past two weeks customers of the subscription bookmarking business I own, BlinkPro, have discovered browser-specific problems with Mozilla, Firebird, and Safari. Some of these bugs were frankly our fault — that is, caused by out-of-date code. But others were simple minor differences between browsers which forced us to change code, patch our releases, and otherwise incur costs which were avoidable in the IE-only era.
As an example, we have a browser-specific page on our site which gives instructions on how to export your bookmarks to a file. This page is generated dynamically, depending on your browser and version. The instructions for both Netscape 6 and Mozilla said:
Select ‘Manage Bookmarks…’
Select ‘File -> Export’
This worked great for Netscape for two years without complaint. Well, the Mozilla people moved the Export function from the ‘File’ menu to the ‘Tools’ menu so those users were confused. Worse yet, I heard that Firebird moved it back!
Look, no one likes Microsoft’s arrogant dominance of the marketplace, and in many ways the new browsers are improvements over IE. We should all just be clearly aware that there are costs to divergent platforms, and that these costs are borne by the companies creating applications and content.