30 October 2008

Progressive Ehancement, Graceful Degradation and Legacy Support

Are we still supporting browsers that have had their day? It seems the simple answer is "hell yes!" I ask why...

I stumbled across a website today consisting of one page prompting users to upgrade their browser. It offers the hope of a better user experience, but also notes that it would make developers' and designers' lives easier.

I know there are many arguments that exist for supporting all possible browsers on all possible platforms. I know there are services around (such as Litmus) that provide cross-browser, cross-platform testing. I know there are still a bevy of users out running older browsers.

However, my argument is that there are few enough of those that we as designers/developers can actually start to make them feel outcast. Not that we are trying to bully anyone into upgrading their browser - heck we've been so subservient up till now, our bluff would be called and we'd probably cry and run off.

The thing is that most users who are still sporting legacy software are running a machine too old to cope with a newer browser. That, or they're insistent on using old, comfy browsers. In either case, supporting them is a burden we need not bear and definitely not a necessity.

I put forward that web sites (and other modern software) should be built to work on the latest and greatest... to a point. I concede that there is an acceptable grace period while we wait for the majority of users to upgrade, but if we make it clear that they should, then this process wouldn't be quite so long. If the content doesn't render quite right, then that's their fault.

I appreciate that's a little harsh. I would therefore like to put forward a proposal: an introduction of META tags for various user agents. Once you are happy that a site works well in a minimum browser version, insert the tag for that browser.

Browser vendors could then check for their User Agent meta tag and compare the version data and use this to perhaps prompt the user that they need to upgrade. I guess this is a bit like Adobe AIR and Microsoft's proposals in IE8 (except none of this conditional comments crap).

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