Chrome: the rise and fall and rise again

Edd Sowden’s recently released browser matrix stats shows some fascinating patterns in usage for GOV.UK and the tool has also been made available on GitHub and for anyone to use. So what does it show for the Edge Hill website?

The most striking thing to me is the upgrade cycle for Chrome. With a 7 day bucket size, the matrix shows we have two new Chrome releases showing just how quickly the automatic update system is able to push out versions.

Chrome Upgrades

Compare that to how Internet Explorer updates happen at an almost glacial pace:

Internet Explorer Updates

I’ve not incorrectly included “Chrome 7” in those stats – that’s there because we have Chrome Frame installed on Edge Hill machines.

Browser Matrix seems able to visualise data in some ways that Google Analytics alone doesn’t – give it a try and share what you find!

How do you solve a problem like IE6?

There’s been quite a lot of talk in the mainstream news about Internet Explorer 6 – Microsoft’s browser released in 2001 along side Windows XP. IE6 has a long history of security vulnerabilities and has been linked to the Chinese attacks on Google.

More recently French and German governments have advised people to upgrade and there is a petition to make the UK government follow suit. For Edge Hill’s corporate website, 7.5% of visits are from people using IE6 – higher than Safari, Chrome and Opera.

As web developers, life would be so much easier if we could relegate IE6 to the lower divisions and would encourage uptake of new techniques like those in HTML5. This isn’t necessarily because they can’t be done along side IE6, but supporting it is one more thing we have to do.

When I asked this question earlier on Twitter I got a variety of responses. The Ormskirk Baron (prolific reviewer of beer and web guru) bluntly suggested we “support it” and yes we should but can’t we try to move people along? Patrick Lauke suggests not:

is it your place to do anything about it? they may have good reason (e.g. access from school where IT Dept locked won to IE6)

This to me is the heart of the problem. There will almost certainly be people who can’t upgrade and we need to ensure we don’t annoy them too much. But there will also be people who simply don’t know and those that may have no direct control over what browser they’re using (maybe through inexperience or company restrictions) but can be helped to change.

Another suggestion with potential came from Matthew Walton:

Implement an incredibly compelling new feature which doesn’t work properly in IE6.

I don’t want to go back 10 years to the situation where “you must be using Internet Explorer 4 or Netscape Navigator 3 to enter this site” but there are ways to introduce new functionality while still offering something for older browsers.

But prizes (no monetary value) go to Alex Mace and Martyn Davies for the following suggestions that I wish I could get away with:

alexmace: @MikeNolan Pop a lightbox over the screen that says “OMG, SECURITY FAIL – please hand in your internet access license”

and

martynrdavies: @MikeNolan I’m recommending going to the house of every user and upgrading their browser whilst informing them of their failure.

More questions than answers? You expected anything else?! 😉

Browser stats

Phil Wilson from the University of Bath has just published a summary of browser statistics so I thought it might be interesting to do a comparison.

We also use Google Analytics and it covers virtually every page on the site.  We don’t distinguish internal visitors so I’ll give figures for external and total.

External visitors:

Browser Visits Breakdown
Internet Explorer 79.65% IE6: 18.5%; IE7: 68.5%; IE8: 13%
Firefox 14.05%
Safari 3.78%
Chrome 1.89%
Opera 0.25%

All visitors:

Browser Visits Breakdown
Internet Explorer 80.30% IE6: 17%; IE7: 71%; IE8: 11.8%
Firefox 13.77% FX2: 6%; FX3: ~90%
Safari 3.55%
Chrome 1.80%
Opera 0.23%

Still far too many IE6 users both inside and outside the University. I will be very glad when it stops being a significant problem but browser share is dropping very slowly and none of the various proposals for encouraging people to upgrade seem very attractive to me.

Interestingly, looking at the stats for blogs.edgehill.ac.uk, Firefox usage jumps to 33.5% with IE at 56%.

Internet Explorer Security Alert

So the BBC have finally picked up the news and jumped on the bandwagon. Mass media are now telling you to switch to a more secure web browser (you know, the thing your using to view this web page with).

From the BBC:

The flaw in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer could allow criminals to take control of people’s computers and steal their passwords, internet experts say.

As many as 10,000 websites have been compromised since last week to take advantage of the security flow, said antivirus software maker Trend Micro.

Are you ready to make the switch? I certainly don’t want my passwords or bank account details stolen and my bank account emptied, do you?

For you home computers and laptops: Get Firefox now!

Steve Daniels

Choice Part 5: Pushing the boundaries?

Edge Hill weren’t the only people to launch a website redesign in the last week. On Monday, the BBC News website had it’s biggest redesign in years. Personally, I quite like the new design but they’ve come under a lot of flak for certain decisions.

Martin Belham blogged 60% of commenters hate the new BBC News design. I’ve read a number of the comments and it’s no exaggeration to say that some people are very unhappy!

There are certain similarities between our new design and BBC News so why did we make the decisions we did?

First up is the move to designing for larger screens. Our old homepage design was fixed width to fit on screens 800 pixels wide. Our new design fills the screen at 1024 pixels wide. Why the change? Over the last few years there has been a massive growth in adoption of LCD screens – these almost all have a native resolution of 1024 or above. Less than 4% of visitors have a screen resolution of 800×600 and that’s going down all the time. On the other hand, over half our users have resolutions above 1024 pixels wide leading to an inefficient use of space.

Homepage 800 pixels wideSo we decided that our design should be aimed at 1024, and after some vigorous internal debate, that we should use some JavaScript magic to create a version for 800×600 as well. So if you’re one of the 3.72% of users with a low resolution, you’ll find that the homepage design is slightly different to normal.

The wider design allows us to add more to the page, but why not design for fluid widths? Fluid layouts are where the web page expands to fill the size of your browser window. We’ve used this technique on content pages and you can still see it on, for example, Faculty pages which aren’t yet in the new template. The theory behind fluid layouts is sound – the user controls how the page looks – but in practice it’s difficult for developers and designers, especially where pages are dynamically generated.

Choosing which browsers to support was also a difficult decision for us. There is a careful balance between providing the best user experience for the majority of people or catering for the long tail. The majority of visitors use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Over two thirds of IE users are now using version 7 and usage of IE 6 is dropping every month.

So quite late on in the development process we decided to downgrade support for IE 6 to make browsing the site more reliable. The entire site is still accessible but some visual effects are missing. We may be able to reintroduce some of these in the coming weeks, but I would urge anyone still running IE6 to upgrade either to version 7, or another browser such as Firefox, Opera or Safari.

Speaking of Safari, the site also works best with version 3 which despite Apple’s slightly questionable deployment techniques is actually a very good web browser.

I’ll leave it there for now. If you have any comments on the new design, leave a comment, even if you think we’re “turning the Web into a Fisher-Price wonderland for simpletons” 🙂

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