Which Browsers Matter?

Now that Internet Explorer 8 is in serious beta, web workers who develop or design web pages are faced, once again, with a knotty question: which browsers (and which versions) do you design for? The basic problem is understanding your market: browser usage statistics are unreliable, but they all seem to agree that the market belongs to Internet Explorer and Firefox, with a smidge of Safari thrown in (Opera advocates, I know you’re out there, but with a usage number rarely cracking 1% in any survey, it’s tough to justify spending time on Opera-specific testing).

Even within those broad categories, though, the market is more fragmented than ever before: Firefox 2 and 3 are both in substantial use, as are IE6 and IE7. It’s worse in some markets; I have one customer who requires IE5.5 compatibility due to restrictions on browser version at a government agency. Some people want to address this by campaigning against IE6, but that still seems quixotic to me. With no end in sight to new versions, and intense competition in the browser market, it seems like this problem will only keep getting worse.

If you create web pages, what’s your testing strategy? What browsers do you consider important enough to check?

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