The mystery of Internet Explorer popularity, or why everyone should help a designer and download Firefox today

As a graphic designer who has taken on the task of also developing (or working with programmers) to develop internet sites, I have been launched into a world of seeing a design, so beautiful and pristine on my MAC screen, rendered crudely on a PC—a phenomenon only users who switch between the two operating systems will understand. But there’s also another obstacle: code that works consistently in Safari, Firefox, and Opera displays sporadically in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

And recently I’ve discovered that apparently there’s inconsistency between how code is displayed between Internet Explorer (IE) 7 and IE8. Or even, from one page of identical code to the next in IE8!

Voicing my frustration in solving this issue with my different web developers, I have come to understand that Internet Explorer has long been the problem child in web browsers for displaying code correctly. Developers everywhere pull their hair out finding work-arounds to make their code compatible to this flaky browser, and have been for a long time.

Not only that, but Internet Explorer is a frequent target for hackers, and far less secure than other browsers. Microsoft itself has posted articles about the issue.

My developers tell me that the cross-platform browser Firefox was developed as the solution to this flakiness. And, true to its mission, performs admirably. According to its website, www.mozilla.com, the software was developed to be “faster, safer, smarter, better.” It has a huge list of awards to its credit, is free to download, and has numerous user-friendly browsing features. It’s also been around since 2004 and, according to the twitter feed Firefox Counter, has exceeded one billion downloads.

So with a superior operating system out there, why is Internet Explorer still the most used internet browser?

Turns out, I’m not the only one asking that question. Type the question into into your Google search, and you’ll get pages of search results, including Robert Nyman’s summary and musings, titled “Why would anyone use Internet Explorer“. Yet the predominant answer is quite simple:

  • It comes preinstalled on a PC

Really?

An anecdotal check with my friends and clients in the business world confirms it—they’re using Internet Explorer. Often, IT departments within the company prevent employees from downloading unapproved software, which includes the Firefox browser. Also, people I talk to are surprised to hear of IE’s bugginess. They just use what they’re used to. They’re not developers, after all, and they haven’t ever compared it to any other browser.

W3Schools, a respected resource for web developers, published statistics that show an increase in Firefox usage, but admit that other site statistics still report that Internet Explorer accounts for up to 80% of users.

Thus, it appears that designers and programmers alike will be struggling to make sites that look good in the lowest common denominator (IE) for a while longer. In case you’d like to be part of the solution, visit www.mozilla.com to download Firefox 3.5 today. Twitter about it. Tell a friend. And start enjoying seeing sites the way they were intended to be viewed!

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