Internet Explorer: Not a Browser, a "Compatibility Solution"

Last week, Chris Jackson posted “The perils of using Internet Explorer as your default browser” to Microsoft’s Windows IT Pro blog. It’s a refreshingly candid account of how Microsoft dealt with evolving web standards when releasing new versions of Internet Explorer (IE). It’s also a timely warning for IT departments and software quality professionals.

Jackson’s recommendation, if I may paraphrase, is to support IE only for legacy applications that require its use, and to avoid forcing its use across the enterprise just for their sake. He concludes:

You see, Internet Explorer is a compatibility solution. We’re not supporting new web standards for it and, while many sites work fine, developers by and large just aren’t testing for Internet Explorer these days. They’re testing on modern browsers. So, if we continued our previous approach, you would end up in a scenario where, by optimizing for the things you have, you end up not being able to use new apps as they come out. As new apps are coming out with greater frequency, what we want to help you do is avoid having to miss out on a progressively larger portion of the web!

I’ll take Jackson’s recommendation one step further: When releasing new versions of enterprise applications, don’t require IE compatibility at all, not even as one option among many. Sure, it’s tempting to ask your developers to support IE for the die-hard users who insist on using it for everything, but resist that temptation. IE 11 has had only a handful of releases since it was released in October of 2013; Chrome and Firefox, by comparison, have had more than 40 major releases each in the same time span. They are evolving, while IE fades into obsolescence. Requiring support for IE hamstrings your developers and robs your applications of four years and counting of standards evolution.