How important is multi-browser support for specific apps?

In a thread on the OakTable mailing list, James Morle pointed out that Oracle’s Web Conferencing software was IE only. A point that has been mentioned by Jake from The AppsLab a number of times in relation to his need for a Windows VM on his Mac. The discussion turned to the relative browser share and multi-browser support. This post is a minor rearrangement of my posts to that thread.

Before I launch into the body of the post, keep in mind I am talking about complex (typically GUI style) apps with a specific purpose that run from within a browser, not just general web pages!

The breakdown of browser stats from my website over the last month was.

  • Internet Explorer: 42.32%
  • Firefox: 38.68%
  • Chrome: 15.19%

Which is pretty similar to those figures quoted in the summary on Wikipedia.

  • Internet Explorer: 43.55%
  • Firefox: 29.0%
  • Chrome: 13.89%

That surprised me because in the past I’ve always found my stats for IE much lower than the general stats quoted. I’ve always assumed this was because Oracle geeks try out alternative browsers much more than the general public. Most “normal” people I know use IE. Most geeks I know don’t. Now they seem to match. Does this mean more regular folk are moving to Firefox & Chrome, or is this all being skewed by browsers on mobile devices?

The stats for mobile devices are shown here, but I am not sure if these get included in the general stats also. If so, I would expect some of the Chrome hits to be coming from Android devices and some of the Safari hits to be coming from iPhone and iPad devices. If that is the case, then using the general browser market share stats may not be too clever when deciding the impact of whether to support a specific browser for your app. Maybe OS usage is a better option.

Looking at the OS usage stats on Wikipedia, Windows is still kicking butt on the desktop, so all these people have access to IE as well as their preferred browser.

  • Windows XP (41.15%)
  • Windows 7 (26.35%)
  • Windows Vista (14.57%)
  • Mac OS X (7.07%)
  • iOS (iPhone) (2.20%)
  • Linux (1.65%)

Compare that to my site, where Linux is the distant second biggest OS.

  • Windows: 90.56%
  • Linux: 6.37%
  • Macintosh: 2.33%
  • iPhone: 0.21%

For a browser-based app you expect to be run from the desktop, forcing people to use (or have access to) IE is not that much to ask. The vast majority can, if pushed, switch to IE for that specific task.

I don’t think you can lump mobile and non-mobile into one pot. Mobile apps have so many constraints to consider that they will invariably be treated as a separate project that must *definitely* be multi-browser compliant or a native app.

Browser-based apps that are intended for desktop users are different because about 90% of the time (according to the stats) they will be used on a Windows PC, having access to IE.

Obviously, your intention should always be to build apps that are multi-browser compliant, but depending on the nature and purpose of the specific app, having to open IE to run it will have zero impact on the vast majority of users (both home and business) until Windows loses its desktop dominance or the desktop ceases to exist…

Going back to the app that started this thread, Oracle’s Web Conferencing, is it a problem that this is IE only? Well it’s a pain for me because I’m a Mac and Linux user, but it’s not insurmountable because I can use a VM. I’ve never needed or wanted to use this functionality from a mobile device, so the IE constraint hasn’t affected me in that respect. In this case it’s very much a business app, so the vast majority of users will be sitting at a Windows PC. With that in mind, this is one of those cases where the IE constraint is annoying, but acceptable.

Cheers

Tim…

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