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Help! My Website Is Broken!

Which web browser do you use? Firefox? Internet Explorer (IE)? Which version of IE? Why does it matter?

Well, which browser you use is less important than having the realization that not everyone on the Internet uses the same web browser you do. A common mistake we all make at times in life is to assume that others think the same way we do, or do things the same way we do. In consumer circles Microsoft still dominates cyberspace and it is easy to assume that everyone is using Internet Explorer to view your web site. But that certainly is not the case.

The seven most widely used web browsers on the Internet as of last month are, in order of popularity:

Internet Explorer 6
Internet Explorer 7
Internet Explorer 5

Resources for web browser market share stats:

The first three have a total of about 90% of the browser market share. Three of the seven browsers above have growing market share: Firefox, IE7, and Safari. The rest are in decline.

As a web site owner, the reason you care about all of that is that you want to be sure your web site works well in more than just the web browser you use personally.

Every web browser out there renders (displays) any given web page slightly differently (or sometimes drastically differently!). A good web developer will take that into account and make accommodations so web sites they produce display faithfully in a wide range of browsers. Coding to web standards is an important start. After that, browser testing and using browser-specific CSS styles is almost always required to achieve multiple-browser consistency for your web site.

Based on the statistics, at a minimum you want your web site to render correctly in at least: IE6, IE7, Firefox and Safari. These four browsers have the dominant market share, or are growing in popularity. Safari is important as it is the native browser for Apple computers (whose market share is growing), and Apple also recently released Safari for the PC that runs wonderfully on Windows. Safari’s market share will continue to increase as a result.

Opera should also be considered. While it only has about 1.5% market share overall, it is one of the dominant web browsers in the hand-held device market. If having your web site display correctly on mobile devices is important to you, make sure you test on Opera. The mobile device market is extremely complicated to test for because of the variety of platforms and web browsers in use. But Opera is a consideration none the less. Safari weighs in here too – it is the native browser on the iPhone.

Is your head spinning yet? It needn’t be. When you pick a web developer, ask them what browsers they test in. You now have enough knowledge to know if their response is reasonable or not.

Unfortunately there are numerous examples of web sites that look right in only one web browser, and often at only one window size. Thoroughness by your development team makes a big difference. You might be able to save a few bucks by going with a cheaper web developer, but if your site only looks right to 35% of the people visiting your site was it worth it?