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Don’t Tell Your Readers What Browser to Use

Don’t Expect Your Readers to Use Your Preferred Browser

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I regularly browse in Chrome, both on my Mac and on my PC. I prefer this web browser for many reasons and think that most people who try it out would probably like it. But I don’t design my pages just for Chrome. Nor do I put up notes on my pages saying “this page is best viewed in Chrome—since you are not using Chrome you won’t get the most out of this site.”*

On the other hand, I know that it is possible to view my site on a mobile phone or with a browser like Lynx, Netscape 4, or IE 3. I don’t design my pages to be perfect for any of those browsers. Instead, I have a tiered system that looks at statistics of my customers and what I can support, and that’s who I design for.

Tiered Browser Support

The key to tiered browser support is to look at your web logs and find out what browsers are hitting your web site. If 99.9% of your customers are using Internet Explorer, then you should design for that browser, even if you prefer not to use it yourself.

But don’t just think about the percentages. After all, if you’re getting 1 million unique visitors a week, and only 1% uses Chrome for Windows, that’s still 10,000 people you’re shutting out if you design only for Internet Explorer. And this goes for small sites with only 10,000 unique visitors a week as well. Do you really want to shut out 100 people every week? If you’re an e-commerce site or funded through ads, can you afford to shut those people out?

Once you know your browser statistics, you can design you support plan. For one of the sites I build, the support plan looks something like this:

Tier 1 Browsers

Tier 1 browsers will receive full support and functionality on the web site. All DHTML, AJAX, and dynamic functionality will work as designed. All designs will look correct, with the correct proportions to the design. Tier 1 browsers are:

  • Chrome (Windows and OS X)
  • Internet Explorer 9 and 10 (Windows)
  • Opera 12 (Windows)
  • Safari (OS X)

Tier 2 Browsers

Tier 2 browsers will receive limited support and functionality on the web site. All DHTML, AJAX, and dynamic functionality must be available in a way that is usable by the customers, not necessarily using the original programming. All designs will be functional and readable, and as close to the correct proportions as possible without moving away from standards-based design. Tier 2 browsers are:

  • Internet Explorer 7 and 8 (Windows)
  • Netscape
  • Opera 8–11 (Windows)

Tier 3 Browsers

Tier 3 browsers will receive no direct support. These browsers should not crash when the web site is loaded, but dynamic functionality and design may be severely limited. The design should be readable by the customers. Tier 3 browsers are:

  • Internet Explorer 5 and below (OS X)
  • Internet Explorer 6 and below (Windows)
  • Opera 7 and below (Windows)
  • Text browsers such as Lynx (all OS)

Test Your Browsers

Once you have your tiers set up, you need to test your pages in the browsers and operating systems you’ve chosen. It is possible to test your page with various browser emulators available on the web.

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