A plea to browser vendors

Attention Microsoft, Apple, Mozilla, and Opera – I’m starting to get a little tired of you…all of you. Some may pick on one of you more than the others (you know who you are, Microsoft), but realistically, you’re all bothering me a lot lately. You all want us, the web developers, to support your browser with our web sites and web applications, yet you give us little to know help. Third party developers step forward and create useful tools like Firebug because you have failed us.

We’re usually stuck in cross-conversation. Microsoft doesn’t want to “break the Internet,” Mozilla wants to get as many features in as possible, Apple wants WebKit to compete with Gecko as the open-source browser of choice, and Opera just wants a little love. But you’re all going about this the wrong way, you’re alienating web developers left and right. A little advice to all of you, from yours truly:

  • Never force us to download your browser again. Ever. We’re waiting right now for everyone with Internet Explorer 6 to either get new computers or figure out how to install Internet Explorer 7 themselves so we can stop using stupid hacks. We shouldn’t need to wait for that. Browsers should update themselves periodically to the latest version. Small, incremental updates are fine, but we should never, ever need to manually download and entirely new browser. This only holds back web development as we keep playing the waiting game. All four of the browser vendors should take note of this.
  • Allow multiple versions of browsers on the same computer. Even though we shouldn’t be forced to download new browser versions, they should be available to run side-by-side. We should be able to turn off automatic updates on those browsers so we can always have stable versions to test on. Enough of this needing virtual machines and hacks to run different browser versions on the same machine. Browser vendors should provide this capability for us.
  • When you make changes to standards support or add custom behaviors, give us an explicit list of the changes. Have a subheading for HTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc., and just bullet points about all the changes you’ve made. Don’t make us hunt and peck to find them all.
  • If you’re not going to provide developer tools, then provide a plugin architecture so we can build them ourselves. So far, only Mozilla has done this, and it’s paid off in the form of Firebug. Microsoft has finally started providing some developer tools, and WebKit and Opera are starting, though most of them are half-hearted attempts to placate and increasingly agitated web development community.

Right now, we, the web developers, are working around these issues ourselves. The hours we waste trying to figure out ways to test things on your browsers is ridiculous. As web developers, we want the Web to succeed and move forward, but we can’t move forward until browser vendors step up and start supporting us. We have the power to make or break a browser. We have the power to show off new technologies. We have the power…but only if the latest greatest browsers get into the hands of users and we know how to use them. If that can’t happen, we might as well all get nice and settled in with HTML 4, CSS 1, and ECMAScript 3.

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