Support for old browsers — is it necessary?

Do you think that every web page should support all existing browsers? How about all versions of those browsers? I am asking because of that tweet:

Are engineers the problem? Is there a problem at all?

In my opinion, supported browsers are a business decision. I know that in the same twitter thread Nicholas says it is a wrong approach because that is how you lose customers. Do you want everyone to be your customer? Most businesses have target customer groups. That means you can decide whether you support a browser or not.

Engineers don’t want to hear that, but the world is ruled by accountants. What happens when you want to support all browsers?

Waste of money

Programmers who know how to create a page which works correctly in the most recent Google Chrome and Internet Explorer 7 are not cheap. You have to hire someone who has a lot of experience. On the other hand, if you only support the most popular browsers you can hire a less experienced developer. Many web pages can be created by someone who yesterday finished reading “React and Node.js — become a front-end developer in 3 months”.

Do you want to dramatically increase the cost just to get a few more customers? You may think that it is always good to get a new customer.

Why do you assume that those people will buy anything from you? What if they cannot update their browser because of the old hardware they are using? Do you think they can afford your products or services? Sure you can try displaying some ads and get money even if they buy nothing. Browsing the internet using such old browsers must be a painful experience because most things don’t work and ads make everything slow. For them, blocking the ads is the only way to make the web a little bit usable.

Data-driven decisions

There are two ways to make the decision. You can either announce that: “Not being cross-browser compatible today is just poor craft”, ignore costs, and say that the engineers are the problem or you can open your favourite spreadsheet application and estimate the monthly income. It is not hard:

number of visitors who use unsupported browsers * conversion rate * avg. income per customer
Example: 1476 * 0.0431 * 10$ = 636$

It is a very, very optimistic estimate. There probably is an economic reason why those people use such old browsers. In case of those users, the conversion rate or your income per customer may be lower. Now you need to estimate the monthly cost of supporting those browsers and compare both numbers.

A better challenge

It is 2018 and I am going to write about something that should be obvious for at least 15 years… Apparently, this topic is not “hot” enough and not filled with buzzwords therefore developers do not care about it. Maybe instead of supporting Internet Explorer 8 we should focus on making websites accessible? Is you website “screen reader-friendly”? Have you created a high contrast version? Can I use your website with nothing but a keyboard? Do you follow any accessibility guidelines?

One more thing

Fortunately, there is something which will prevent you from supporting old browsers and there is nothing you can do about it.

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Bartosz Mikulski

Bartosz Mikulski

  • MLOps engineer by day
  • AI and data engineering consultant by night
  • Python and data engineering trainer
  • Conference speaker
  • Contributed a chapter to the book "97 Things Every Data Engineer Should Know"
  • Twitter: @mikulskibartosz
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