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?



I read Computer Scatter’s post above and thought this person hasn’t a clue. Then I clicked on the link to their website and was validated. Seriously, your use of ‘comic sans’ was enough, but for paragraphs. Ugh.

Peter Dahl

According to these stats from W3C, however reliable they may be, Opera is actually not that far behind Safari cracking 2% this August.

Most often, though, Opera will most likely not be the dealbreaker when developing websites.

Nancy Seeger

Like everyone else, looking forward to not having to worry IE6, time eater into design work.

Just finished testing 3 sites, tested with browsershots.org but it doesn’t show live action (pull down menus etc) so I beg a few folks to take a peak to test. I test for Safari, Firefox 2 +3, IE7 and IE6. Read recently we should wait on testing for IE8 (E Meyers quote but its not recent). But the browser will only be Acid2 ready, what about Acid3?

A bit amused by one commenter’s take on Safari, I design for the music industry were PCs are harder to find these days.

Adrian B

The day I can drop IE6 will be a cheerful day. But for most of my clients IE6 still mean every 4th visitor, so it’s just not doable. Yet.

As most everyone else here I develop in FF (main reason is not market share but Firebug), and then check frequently in IE7. Every now and then I take a deep breath and tremble with fear when going over to IE6 to see weird bug, like UL bullets showing up and disappearing when scrolling the page (this one is a true example!).

I check in Safari mainly because it’s my default browser. 99 times out of 100 (or even more than that) it looks like FF. A good thing about Safari is that you can generally assume the latest version because Mac users are usually up to date with Safari as part of the system updates.


We focus on IE6+7 and Firefox plus Safari. I think we would save several hours each week if someone could take out IE6 (anyone?). But…
1) It’s always going to be a shifting canvas as new browsers appear
2) At least things are getting better and modern browsers are much closer than they were a few years ago
3) Now for those email clients. Outlook 2007 anyone?

Mike Gale

It starts way before testing.

1) Write code that uses the common subset. For me that tends to be XHTML 1 transitional…

2) Write the browsers into the definition of the project. I make it part of the user persona. (And trying to force one browser onto the design is generally insane.)

3) Check syntax often, check cross browser fairly often.

4) If it needs a CSS hack, don’t do it…

5) Keep bowser code simple and seriously consider using a framework to avoid those language dialect stupidities.

Adam Hill

I highly, highly recommend Browser Shots: http://browsershots.org/

You can select multiple platform/browser/version combinations to test a given URL and it will give you screenshots of each one. Beats wasting time loading them all up yourself if you just need a quick check.

It is indeed incredibly irritating to have to develop for multiple browsers, but even with Flash which is supposed to look the same in every browser there are tricks to getting it to embed fullscreen in different browsers.

Richard Harrison

I develop in FF3 and test iteratively in IE 6/7.

I test in Safari/Opera (latest versions only) at the end of the project (chances are FF3+IE6+IE7 compatibility => Safari+Opera too).

Benny sh

Well, mostly FF 2 and IE7, but after we discovered that IE6 can kill the most well designed standard-built sites, I guess we should pay more attention to this nasty crap as well.

Steve Ireland

We’ve developed enterprise web-apps for over ten years. Previously we supported all the major versions for all the major browsers; at a significant cost. We recently decided to QA only Safari 3, Firefox 3 and IE7+.

There are different realms of users and those who are interested in utilizing web-based applications have no issue keeping their browser current.

The decision now depends on who you are working with and what your objective is. Blanket statements regarding browser version support are naive.

Gerrit Duits

There are preferred browsers in different audicences. If you’re writing to a general audience: support IE6 and IE7. If writing to techies: Support Firefox 3. Creative audicence: Safari.


I usually test in IE 6 + 7 and Firefox. If it works right there, chances are it will work okay just about anywhere. Since Firefox is mostly standards compliant, a site that renders well in Firefox should work fine in most other standards compliant browsers. That leaves just IE, so if it works in IE 6+7, things are okay. IE 8 is still in beta so you can get away with things not working exactly right there. But IE 8 is supposed to be standards compliant unless you specifically call for IE 7 mode, so when that’s released we shouldn’t have to worry too much about it.

Justin Cresswell

We do three real things to work with this problem.
1) Put target browsers in the contract, down to the service pack version supported.
2) Plead with clients to use Firefox where possible.
3) Bang our heads into the wall as we end up wrestling with the problem anyway. Our team is capable of sussing out any compatibility problem, but man is it annoying.

Kirk M

IE 8.0 beta 2 is not quite yet layout complete and my tests of sites that render properly in Firefox 3.0.1, 3.1 trunk and Opera but not in IE 8.0’s “standards” mode proves that.

Since IE 8.0 is going to provide a “non-standards” mode that basically emulates IE 7.0, sites that currently do not meet today’s standards (IE: coded for IE 7.0 and below) can be accommodated by this emulation mode. However, since IE 8.0’s standard mode of operation is (supposedly) standards compliant then there is basically no excuse any longer to not develop future websites strictly for standards compliancy.

Websites developed according to “standards” will, for all intensive purposes, render correctly in Firefox 3.*, Opera, (most likely) Safari and, if you can believe what’s being said, IE 8.0. The days of having to put in at least twice as many man-hours (=$$$) into coding a website for older versions of IE should have already been over and done with. Unless this is done then companies and agencies that insist on using older versions of IE will never bother with upgrading to the latest and more secure version of IE or switch to another browser altogether such as Firefox. It’s basically up to the website developers to drive these laggards to standards compliance now, not the other way around.

The more we cater to obsolescence the longer it’s going to take to do away with it.


realistically, IE 6 & 7, Firefox are the browsers to test.. have to go with the statistics..

Safari has to be included for good measure, because most advertising agencies use Mac.. and if you work with them, we all know without their approval, there is no launch..

Joel Goldstick

I check my pages with the validator plug-in that you can add to firefox. I look at them in ie6 and ie7. If they work, I don’t really mind if something looks a little weird. The great majority of users are so clueless as the what they are doing, that pixel perfection is totally off their radar. I don’t mean that as a criticism, just a fact. On sites I have built for clients they seem to be way more concerned about how their pages look on their (typically 800/600 ie6) browser, than whether the site is usable, and is designed to be nice to their readers. — form checking, well thought out menus, including a phone number some where that is discoverable, etc.

Matt Wiebe

Oh wow. IE5.5, I’m so sorry.

The browsers that matter are, of course, the ones that people use. IE6 + 7, FF2 + 3, and the latest Safari. Also, I try to test FF on both Windows and Mac, as there are sometimes subtle differences, especially in font rendering. Opera doesn’t make the cut, but I’ve never had a problem there anyway.

IE8 will of course be thrown into the mix upon release, and hopefully having to support IE6 will soon be as shocking as the mention of IE5.5 in this post.

Computer Scatter

As a user, Opera just plain rocks the browser world. Even though mozilla and now ie have come to copy the tabbed browsing, they still don’t do it half as well. You hear about how fast the new Mozilla is, but open up 20 tabs and your computer crawls. My biggest complaint with opera was always that it was kind of slow, but the newest version is about 3 times as fast as mozilla, even though it has more bulky features than I’d ever use. The biggest flaw as a user of Opera is scripts written by lousy developers that detect browser versions and tell you to upgrade your version of Mozilla or IE instead of taking you to content pages. If you spoof those browsers opera will usually do just fine, except when activex type junk is involved. In nearly all cases Opera displays pure html compliant pages better than its peers.

Also, as a user, I have to say firefox is the second worst of the mozilla browsers to seamonkey, which hasn’t really changed since netscape 4 (my favorite in 1996 though). But clearly firefox has sped up and driven the development of the whole mozilla project to make the other mozilla browsers, such as k-meleon and flock better.

Now down to the grit: As a developer, I of course don’t waste any time on Opera, or Safari. I try not to spend time on Mozilla, but for some reason whatever fixes an IE incompatibility usually breaks Mozilla. Internet Explorer is of course the program you have to check everything against, because regardless of how well-coded your pages are, if it looks bad in IE you lose money. The trick is to make it look viewable in IE without going so far outside of proper coding that it breaks in the better browsers. IE from inception to present has never fully supported any standard the IE team didn’t create, and that likely won’t change in the next 15 years either.

Safari is so awful, you can’t possibly make pages look the way you want in it without ruining the experience for real computer users. So unless you’re selling Adobe, Newspaper, or Education related products, you just don’t develop for it at all.

Mozilla is the center of the road, so if you code well things usually come out okay or can be fixed with a few compatibility tweaks (though these often will break IE).

John B

I guess my answer is IE6 + 7, FF2 + 3, make sure it looks ok in Safari, plus whatever else the client requests. I guess I should start on IE8 now though. Has the IE team declared it “Layout Complete” like they did one of the IE7 betas? I haven’t noticed that on the IEBlog or anything.

In the “outdated testing required by the government” department, I have a friend who works on the websites for Agriculture Canada. They are requiring testing against IE + Netscape.


Our company develops web sites as a part of what we do and we were talking about this the other day. Dumping IE6 support that is. For the most part we are in the “standards” camp and try to avoid designing anything that has to work on anything too old or one particular browser in general. With IE8 coming soon their is no reason to support IE6. People should be upgrading their software if not hardware for security and productivity purposes anyway. A lot of companies upgrade their systems in a lot less time than 6 years for depreciation reasons. For the most part we use Firefox 3 on a daily basis but also check our work in Internet Explorer 7. Thankfully we have also standardized on popular content management systems that make this less of an issue that when we design in the “static design” days.

If we do get complaints from customers to change something we will accommodate on an as need basis up to a point.

I’m a little freaked out but not surprised a government agency requires IE 5.5, the security threats alone in that situation are troubling.

Rob Cornelius

The only real answer to this is “all of them”. But this is the real world

Personally I take a cost benefit view of testing. I test in IE6 and IE 7, FF2 and FF3 and maybe Safari (on windows as I dont have a mac). I figure that if an Opera user finds a problem with my sites they are quite likely to tell me politely and that saves me doing the testing personally.

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