Posts tagged standards

One thing we frequently wrestle with in Online Services is browser compatibility, and making sure that our latest and most awesome web apps (just wait until you see Total ReCal) behave properly. Predictably, as web developers, we face a daily battle to make things work in Internet Explorer when it decides that “14 pixels” actually means “8 pixels, in blue, flashing and dancing the bolero”.

In the past we’ve been told to make things work in Internet Explorer to the extent that compatibility with other browsers has been an optional extra. I still find corporate websites which break in Firefox (with it’s Gecko renderer) and the WebKit-toting Safari and Chrome, but with the recent addition of awesome analytics tools to most of our key web services we can now prove that ‘alternative’ browsers are actually the mainstream. In fact, Internet Explorer only makes up 56% of visitors to University sites and once we remove the bias of corporate desktop machines it drops to 43%. Internet Explorer is no longer the sole target of our HTML and CSS massaging affections.

However, we’re still tasked with supporting Internet Explorer 6 and 7 because apparently these old versions (IE6 is actually a decade since release) are still absolutely perfect in the eyes of certain bits of Her Majesty’s Government, and certain suppliers of software the University uses. This is a complete falsehood, and using IE6 to browse the modern internet is roughly equivalent to navigating down the Colorado River in a shoe. It’s slow, lacks support for modern standards, is monumentally insecure and costs absolutely nothing to update to a newer version.

What we’re doing now is taking a step forwards along with a few other small names such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Microsoft and others in saying that IE6 support is no longer an option, and any new services we create or services which we update will no longer have support for IE6. They may work, but it’s not through design. If you’re still using IE6, for the love of all things upgrade. If you can’t upgrade because you’re using a corporate system, write a daily email to your IT team demanding they either update or install an alternative browser.

Yes, it’s true. Printing from your own PCs – the #2 item on student surveys about IT for quite a while now – is just around the corner and should be open for use by Week 6 (just in time for all those lovely assignments), with a few caveats.

The University's SafeCom printers, working from my laptop.
The University's SafeCom printers, on my laptop.

Firstly, the initial offering will be ‘Windows only’. As in, Windows (XP, Vista and 7) will work properly and everything else will work after a fashion but be unsupported. This is because of a curious implementation of the protocol at Microsoft’s end which means that clients using CUPS (OS X and Linux, this is you) will print fine, but not know when printing has been done. Some systems such as Ubuntu will then helpfully try to print again, so if you don’t remember to manually clear your print queue then you’ll end up with 100 copies of those lecture slides and no credit. This is very much a work in progress, and I’m actively working on some alternatives to solve this problem. In the meantime, when this is released all OS X and Linux users make sure you follow the guides very, very carefully.