A Div by Any Other Name:
Browser Compatibility and How You See the Web

distracted boyfriend meme

Everyone has favorites: favorite piece of clothing, favorite restaurant, favorite movie or book, even a favorite internet browser. But did you know that your choice in browser might affect how you see the web? The fact remains that every browser has subtle differences among them, which means that you might not be viewing the internet the way others do. Browser compatibility issues can affect website visitors across the world, across the country, even across the room from you.

In the Beginning

Remember Netscape Navigator? It was one of the earliest web browsers, along with the recently-retired Internet Explorer (now Microsoft Edge). In those first few years of internet browsing, the focus was less on compatibility and more on which of the two choices could add the most bells and whistles to “enhance” your web browsing experience. Over time, it became apparent that browser development needed to progress at a slightly more cautious pace, including more rigorous bug testing and of course mobile device rendering.

Today we obviously have more than two choices when it comes to internet browsers. And with more frequent software updates and increases in design complexity, it became more and more necessary to create a set of guidelines for developers. Enter the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C. Founded in 1994, this organization basically functions as a sort of quality control for the web. If you’re looking for the most widely-accepted information regarding browser compatibility, this is where to go.

But nothing is foolproof.

Send in the Clowns

Case in point: check out this tweet we discovered recently, showing just how far the mighty may have fallen.

Now granted, much of what we create for the web doesn’t need this same level of intricacy. And it’s difficult to say for certain which version of this render best matches the creator’s intent. But there’s no fancy code being called here, nothing to even remotely suggest that some special care might be needed. Yes, there are standards in coding where you could declare instructions to force certain browsers to show things a certain way. But on the surface, the basic code would appear to be something that would simply look the same everywhere.

Help Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi

So what’s a conscientious web developer to do? Well, we can stick with certain “safer” design choices. That keeps us secure in the knowledge that our creations will be widely received as intended. We could also design entire pages targeted at specific browsers, but that would kill the site’s search engine optimization, which is a bit like throwing out the baby with the proverbial bathwater.

To get the best of both design and experience takes time. And testing. Lots of testing. It’s true, there are a number of reliable certainties in browser compatibility, which I’ve just gotten into the habit of addressing with each build. For example, did you know that if you don’t set a fixed-pixel width on your logo, Internet Explorer doesn’t know how big to make it? This usually results in an exploded logo that takes over the entire site, even if you’ve set a percentage width in an attempt to be flexible. But I digress.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Remember a few paragraphs ago where I said nothing is foolproof? It’s true. It’s also a big reason why we guarantee roughly 98% browser compatibility on our designs. Even with organizations like W3C attempting to standardize how the world sees the web, the process remains ongoing. The only way to stop it (mostly) would be if everyone used the same browser. And while I personally would prefer everyone use Chrome (my personal favorite, at least for the moment), I know that’s unrealistic. What I do recommend, though, is that you keep your favorite browser updated in order to get the absolute best viewing experience you can. And if you’re currently using a browser that’s no longer supported—I’m looking at you, Internet Explorer—it might just be time to find a new favorite.