Why Your Website Looks So Bad on Internet Explorer

  October 02, 2018

Just the mention of Internet Explorer is sure to bring on a migraine for developers and testers. But why is IE so often the browser we love to hate?

As we know, your web page will have slight differences across browsers because of the different ways they render HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Oftentimes, this is minimal, but it can also lead to more major functional and visual differences that could potentially affect how a user interacts with the web applications, which is why cross-browser testing is so important.

This becomes even more evident with Internet Explorer where those differences are often more obvious. The problem is that despite all of IE’s issues, it continues to hold a share of the browser market, which is why developers and testers have to keep it in mind when building out and releasing a website.

So why is Internet Explorer so problematic, and if so, why do people use it all? Let's take a look back at some browser history to get a better understanding of where the issues first started.

Blast to the Past

In the early years of the web, Netscape, which was largely considered the first major internet browser, ran the show. It didn't have much competition until Microsoft came out with Internet Explorer in 1995.

This was the first time there was real competition between two browsers a.ka. the browser wars. Not only was Internet Explorer free and automatically installed on Windows, Microsoft's advantageous financial situation allowed them to continue implementing new capabilities, such as scripting support and the first CSS implementation.

This helped IE inch ahead in the race against Netscape, and in 2003, Internet Explorer became the most popular web browser, captivating about 96 percent of the market share.

However, we know the browser wars don't end there. Following Internet Explorer's takeover, Opera made its way into the picture. Then Safari, Firefox, and Chrome.

Where the problem truly lies, however, is that Microsoft didn’t abide by the guidelines of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which gives specific HTML and DOM specifications for browsers to follow, and decided to make their own decisions when it comes to features and plugins.

So while every other browser was following certain rules and regulations, Internet Explorer was a wild card. With users split between those newer, W3C compliant browsers and the non-compliant Internet Explorer, developers were attempting to write standards-compliant applications and running into issues when it came to IE.

Meanwhile, Internet Explorer had already grown a large user base and used competitive advertising to drive users away from other browsers. While new browsers created competition for IE, some people stayed with the browser because it was the default on Windows and they were already using it.

User interest began to noticeably wane when IE stopped releasing new developments and updates. New browsers focused on speed, security, and, to developers’ delight, standards compliance. They released regular updates for continuous improvement, and by the time Internet Explorer tried to catch up, they were already too far behind.

Microsoft hadn’t updated IE6 for 10 years, and as Android and iOS mobile operating systems emerged, Internet Explorer was not compatible.

Not to mention, Internet Explorer was brimming with security issues, criticized for using third-party technology, suffered from a lack of development tools for debugging, was slow to update, experienced slow performance, and was crawling with software bugs.

Eventually, in 2015, Microsoft ended support for Internet Explorer and replaced it with Microsoft Edge as the default Windows browser.

Back to the Future

Over time, Internet Explorer has made great strides in some of the areas they have been most widely scrutinized for by users. However, because so much of the underlying code still does not follow the W3C guidelines, it still remains a problematic browser for developers and testers.

As new versions of Chrome, Firefox, and Safari are continuously released, it's important that we test web applications in those newest versions as well as previous versions. Though Internet Explorer is defunct, it's still important for us to test on versions of Internet Explorer since it retains a user base.

Moreover, because of the fact that it is non-compliant, it remains a problematic browser, which means that it's less likely to render your website the way you intended it to look and work, and more likely to crash it. This makes it high-risk, and savvy software professionals know the importance of including it in browser testing. In fact, our customers' second most commonly tested desktop browser is IE 11, and many of our customers go back to IE 9 or further.

Of course, there are other methods for deciding which browsers to test and if Internet Explorer is one of them. But one thing is to be expected -- looking at your website in Internet Explorer for the first time may make you doubt your design and development skills -- just know you're not alone. And make sure to check your website in IE from time to time.