New Browser, New Features, New Choices

As of December 2011, this topic has been archived. As a result, it is no longer actively maintained. For more information, see Archived Content. For information, recommendations, and guidance regarding the current version of Internet Explorer, see Internet Explorer Developer Center.

Robert Hess
Developer Relations Group
Microsoft Corporation

April 12, 1999

With each new rev of a browser—any browser—I feel as though a little more weight is lifted from my shoulders. Although the design of one of my own Web sites doesn't work properly with Netscape Navigator 3.0 (due to an apparent bug with multiple nested tables), any new browser release provides a measure of relief. The occasional angry e-mail gets less and less, and I feel more comfortable enhancing my site to take advantage of more advanced features.

Now that Microsoft has released a new version of Internet Explorer, the cleansing ritual is re-enacted on Web sites all over the world. More then just an inward casting off of guilt, it is also a chance to evaluate the use and implementation criteria for some of the advancing capabilities and technologies on the Web. It is a time when developers of Web sites and Web applications can think about how to best satisfy their technology-hungry users.

This is not to say that Webmasters are simply deciding which Internet Explorer 5 features to start adding to their sites, and how compatible those features need to be with other browsers. Webmasters are most likely taking a fresh look at all of the currently available browsers, and adjusting their methods to move one more notch up the evolutionary ladder. Perhaps they finally brush Internet Explorer 3.0 support under the carpet. Perhaps they re-define how compatible their site needs to be with Navigator 3.0. Perhaps they realize that Dynamic HTML can finally be used to do some of the things they were using Java applets for.

But perhaps they are also taking a larger view of their situation.

Choosing Solutions

While there is definitely overlap between what can be accomplished on a Web site and what can be done in a traditional application, there are also some areas where each provide their own unique set of capabilities and features that aren't (yet) properly deployed on the other. As I've discussed in various past articles, the Web brought about "The Great Migration," in which people hitched their wagon to a star, and followed the course it led onto the Web. Out in the "Wild Web," their futures and fortunes would await them, as these new pioneers redefined themselves.

Many solutions took to the Web wonderfully. Not only was it perfectly suited to what they were trying to present, but the designers themselves rejoiced at this new-found freedom, which allowed them to fully exercise their creativity. Other solutions stumbled as they tried to simply recreate the comfortable world of a stand-alone application in HTML, or as the designers/programmers longed for guidance, direction, for a detailed style guide that told them everything they needed. I'm still amazed at the number of people asking me for a detailed "Web application style guideline" that will tell them exactly how/where to place links and navigational elements, as well as how to structure their sites.

Stop, Look, and Review

Every time a new shake-up comes to the Web, it provides an opportunity to review all of the existing solutions, and to figure out how to move forward. The rough and ready pioneers will continue to undertake some of the more esoteric and unusual features that they find, while the more conservative solution providers will adopt directions that more closely resemble the application models they are familiar with. Now before any of you rise up in arms about this comparison, I am definitely not making a value judgment here. Not only is there room for both approaches (and all options that lie between them), but there is a need for both approaches. The important part is to allow a periodic evaluation of how we are solving our users needs so that we can properly adapt our approaches.

While each new browser release allows Web authors to relax their attention to HTML 2.0 limitations, it also allows them to investigate new options and territories. As you look at Internet Explorer 5 and the features that were added, use this time to think about where you need to go, as opposed to where you think you had to go.

Robert Hess is an evangelist in Microsoft's Developer Relations Group. Fortunately for all of us, his opinions are his own.