We would like to propose dropping support for Internet Explorer versions 8 and 9 for the further development of the UCosmic software project. For developers, Internet Explorer (IE) is notoriously the worst web browser to program against for a wide variety of technical reasons. While most problems can be solved (though some cannot), the code ends up with defaults that “just work” in every other major popular browser, sprinkled with many special treatments to accommodate for using IE8. UCosmic has some existing code and plans for more advanced user experience interfaces using technologies that IE8 simply predates.
Additionally, the Windows operating system will only let you install one version of Internet Explorer at a time. In order for a developer to test against IE8, it must be installed on the development workstation. If we are developing against IE8, this means that we are unable to test against newer versions like IE10 or IE11. Internet Explorer is constantly playing catch-up with Google Chrome and Firefox, so it has been releasing new versions more frequently. IE11 was released on October 17th 2013.
What about IE9?
IE9 no doubt offers many improvements over IE8. Microsoft accomplished a lot of this by inventing a new code-running engine which they call “Chakra”. Though Chakra enables many newer technologies that IE8 lacked, there are some things it just does not do fast enough (namely, drawing Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG’s)). Many of these performance-related issues were solved pretty well in the next version of Chakra, IE10. We propose dropping support for IE9 because these performance-related issues can give the impression that UCosmic is slow, when in fact it is the IE9 browser which is slow, on those pages where we employ SVG components.
What are the cons?
Dropping support for IE8 and IE9 means that we will not be able to guarantee that the UCosmic user interface behaves as expected in these two browsers. In fact, for some features, we will be able to guarantee that they will not work in IE8. As far as data integrity, there is no way that a user could corrupt or in any way affect data by accessing UCosmic in IE8 or IE9. The concern is simply that the user interfaces may not look right or operate as expected.
Another con is that the Microsoft Windows XP operating system does not support any version of IE after IE8. Users on the Windows XP operating system would not be able to access UCosmic using Internet Explorer on those machines. They would have to use a more modern browser like Google Chrome, Firefox, or Safari.
Therefore, without purchasing virtual machine software or having developers spend unnecessary time installing different versions of IE, the best we can do is hope that the code’s defaults work in those versions, and wait for a frustrated user to tell us otherwise.
Why have you kept support for these browsers so far?
We have kept support for IE8 and IE9 primarily because we expected users in other countries to still be using IE8 browsers. Not everyone upgrades at the same pace, and there are many computers around the world that still run Windows XP. However, that number remains on the decline, therefore reducing the value added by additional coding efforts to support it over time.
The second reason is because of the nature of IT in much of academia today. I can offer an example directly from the University of Cincinnati: The Human Resources division here uses SAP software, which offers a web portal for Employee Self Service. That portal is an older piece of software that hosts pertinent employee information like W2 forms and annual health coverage enrollment verifications. This outdated system will not work in any browser except IE8. There are other legacy systems like these that cause people to delay or avoid upgrading browsers because their need to access these other systems trumps UCosmic.
What do you need from me?
If you are indifferent about the decision, you don’t need to do anything. We will tell you in a later blog post when a decision has been reached. If you agree that the UCosmic software project should drop support for Internet Explorer browser versions 9 and below, please leave a comment below. If this decision is approved, our first recommendation for users would be to update IE to versions 10 or 11 if you wish to use them for UCosmic. For users who cannot update IE or would prefer to keep an IE 8 or 9 installation, our recommendation would be to use either the Firefox or Chrome browser for UCosmic.
If you disagree, tell us why we should keep support for one or both of these browsers. However when doing so, please keep in mind the potential advantages of our argument, so that we can fairly weigh them against yours. If a significant discussion arises out of this, we will begin a dialogue with those parties who have expressed interest in the matter.
What are the pros?
There will be fewer special cases to handle for these versions of IE, meaning the developers can develop a leaner, more consistent set of code, faster and cheaper. We will also be able to take advantage of newer technologies that are ubiquitous in modern machines and browsers, including those used for smartphones and tablets. UCosmic will not appear slow because of performance problems in IE9 that were solved in IE10. Finally, developers will be able to accurately test user experiences in IE10 and IE11, because they will not have to keep IE8 or IE9 installed on their workstations.