I’ve been building web sites for a long time… Long enough to remember, for example, creating pages for IE 3 with Microsoft’s ActiveX Control Pad. Unless you were a real geek back then, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. If you do, however, you might remember what it felt like to be on the leading edge of (pseudo-)web development, creating some really cool pages that behaved like traditional apps but existed within the confines of IE’s borders. For me, the realization that I could develop powerful apps that could be deployed as easily as uploading a file to a web server was a big revelation and what really drove my interest in web development. Times change, of course, and these days we have more than just two browsers to worry about – not to mention a much larger audience.
If I had to guess what percentage of my time was spent ensuring cross-browser, cross-platform compatbility, I would guess somewhere between 20 and 30%. It varies by application, obviously, but if you’re pushing boundaries then it becomes even more of a dauting task – so much so that it takes a lot of the “fun” out of the job.
That’s why my most recent project has been such a refreshing change. I’ve been developing a new app to connect our front-counter people with our backend inventory system. In order to facilitate deployment and accomodate our existing infrastructure, we chose to develop the tool as a web app. Needless to say, productivity gets a big boost when you only have to worry about how your app will work on IE7 – as does functionality. For example, IE has good support for dialogs through their HTML Applications framework that allows you to achieve, I think, a more reliable and consistent interface than what a CSS/JS and XHTML platfom would typically afford.
To be honest, I don’t think I’d want to develop IE7 apps exclusively… it would get boring eventually. The challenge of creating cross-browser sites that incorporate the latest technology to achieve a well-defined goal is still very rewarding. But next time I need a bit of a mind-break, I’m going to volunteer for another intranet app.