Why IE7 Compatibility is No Longer an Issue

Internet Explorer 7 Logo

Damn you IE7!

Nearly 6 months ago, many front-end developers (myself included) were furious at the decision of the jQuery team to drop support for ie7in future releases. Now, it’s seems their decision was actually pretty indicative of near-future browser trends.

According to the latest browser statistics from StatCounter, Internet Explorer usage has fallen to .87% of users after first falling below the 1% mark a month ago. In my humble opinion, if you’re a front-end developer, you can officially stop struggling to make your websites IE7 compatible. Considering the drastic improvements that IE7 saw from its previous iteration, this compatibility issues aren’t nearly as prevalent, but they certainly still exist. One bug that continues to trouble me to this day deals with randomly disappearing divs. What the hell.

Before everybody jumps on my back, I’m not telling you to never check for IE7 compatibility when producing a website. As with any web project, you should take your audience into consideration. For example, small business, office buildings, and government buildings tend to be the slowest at implementing system upgrades. This is likely due to the cost, but that’s another discussion. The point is, if your audience tends to browse the internet on company computers, then you should take more time to ensure cross-browser compatibility with the older browsers. If you’re redesigning a website, check analytics data to see how often IE7 users are visiting your website to get a better idea of which direction to take your project.

jQuery isn’t the only major open-source project that I’ve seen to drop support for the dying Microsoft browser; Twitter Bootstrap will be dropping IE7 support in Bootstrap 3.0 as well, and considering my adamant zeal for this project, I doubt most of my future projects will still support the legacy browser.

The question I haven’t seen raised recently however, is one that has been on my mind a lot as I’ve tracked these browser trends. Internet Explorer 6 took 16 months before it finally dropped from <5% to <1% usage, while 7 did so in just about a year. Why was changeover so much faster for IE7 than IE6? I have a few theories.

  1. Windows XP was awesome – Though IE7 was available for Windows XP, I still believe that the refusal of many to upgrade (if you can call it that) to the horrid Windows Vista is a reason that stench of IE6 lingered for so long. I’ve been dealing with clients complaining about their website showing up “ugly” on their old XP machines until pretty recently. With the release of Windows 7, many were less fearful of upgrading their old machines from XP, and those who had Vista nearly through their computers out of windows in exchange for the new OS. I know, I worked at Best Buy when it came out, in a town not known for early adopters.
  2. Google Chrome – Google Chrome grew from 20% market share to 35% in the past year, why? Because it’s fast, it’s pretty, and it’s made by Google. It has immense crossover appeal that I don’t believe Firefox was ever able to reach from web developers to the general public. I think we all discover a cool new feature about Chrome every day. Now that Google has officially placed Chrome into Android devices, the branding can only gain momentum, despite Microsoft’s heavy advertising of IE9, which reminds me…
  3. Internet Explorer 9 Commercials – If you haven’t Youtubed Alex Clare’s music video for “Too Close”, then either you live in a box, or aren’t in the target demographic of most advertisers. It’s probably both. These gorgeous and ubiquitous advertisements are the one sustaining force that is keeping IE9 from losing market share rapidly. Well that and the fact it comes pre-installed on every machine…
  4. Apple – Apple machines have nearly always been cool, but now they’re not just cool, but they’re affordable. The fact that you can own a MacBook for less than $1000, and an iMac for less than a mortgage down-payment has (among other things) helped their machines gain tons of traction in recent years, and is just one of the reasons that the Safari browser continues to improve in market share every so-slightly, even as Firefox and Internet Explorer (as a whole) wane in popularity.
  5. PC Affordability – Laptops are getting much cheaper as well, now that ecommerce has forced electronics retailers to cut out virtually all profit margins from their machines in hopes of profiting subscription software and other upsells. This makes upgrading machines very affordable for the consumer, especially in the wake of the disaster that was Windows Vista.

I don’t think this same pattern will apply to IE8 for this reason. Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7, essentially meant you could skip IE7 entirely, moving from IE6 to IE8. From what I’ve found, most browser upgrades come hand-in-hand with computer upgrades. If your Windows 7 computer came with Windows 8, despite Microsoft’s advertising, most corporations, schools, etc. still may not have upgraded their browsers and won’t until they upgrade their OS. Unfortunately, Windows 8 doesn’t carry the same “must upgrade” appeal that Windows 7 did, and the lackluster sales are showing it.

Regardless of the reasoning or what the future holds for IE8, I’m just happy to see the pesky 7 falling from my radar, as I’m finally rid of the most nasty Internet Explorer bugs that added countless hours to my project. I can finally use “inline-block” freely! WIN.

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