Mac IE 5 Support Worth It?

In Joining the Dark Side -OR- Is Mac IE 5 Support Worth $1,500, Scott responds to Tantek’s calling out of the new Feedster’s lack of support for Mac IE. Personally I’m sympathetic to Feedster’s case because I’ve had to spend hours talking to someone with a Mac trying to debug Mac IE issues with this site and and ended up having to change my favorite list menu technique from using floats to display: inline, which meant changing all the other menu styles to compensate. It was a pain.

I know that when I’m tweaking and checking things in different browsers, the number of my audience who uses that browser isn’t always the most important thing. In the previous case the only Mac IE I had heard anything from since both of the sites started was Tantek, and that was important enough to spend a couple hours of my time on. Imagine if you’re doing a job and the client’s boss uses Netscape 4, (god help you and) suddenly that browser becomes much more important in your testing, and you should triple your rate.

However, is this something the Web Standards Project should be interested in the same way we have been All Music or Odeon? I don’t speak for anyone but myself, but in my opinion it’s not the same at all. Feedster’s pages are a few trivial mistakes away from valid XHTML 1.1 and valid CSS, which is no easy task. (MIME issues aside.) Of course they should fix those mistakes, but it is a matter of a few minutes rather than 1-1.5 days. They aren’t writing to one browser or propietary technologies, they’re writing to modern standards and excluding browsers that have serious flaws in that area. Is that so different from the browser upgrade campaign?

From a user experience point of view, excluding Mac IE users might be a good idea as well. If Feedster allowed Mac IE users to visit and they saw a messed up layout (or no layout at all), as Tantek has suggested, then their perception of the Feedster brand, reliability, and image would be negative. I bet Keith would have some great thoughts on this. If they’re given a message that the site doesn’t support Mac IE, (honestly) they’ve probably seen this before and will just switch to another browser for that site. In my experience Mac users tend to be total browser flirts, and have every browser you’ve ever heard of installed. I would rather they open up my site in Safari or Firefox.

If Tantek was here I imagine he would counter that those browser options are really only valid for users on OS X, and that ignores hundreds of iMacs and such in libraries and such. Of course the question that a site owner needs to ask himself then is that in terms of costs and benefits, does that half of a single percent audience in libraries on older computers overlap with the audience you’re targetting with your site? If I was doing an ecommerce selling something like BMW accessories, I wouldn’t even give it a second thought. This isn’t about the many innovations that Mac IE introduced or its excellent standards support for its time, the issue is where Mac IE stands today.

On the bright side, Feedster has characterized this as a business cost/benefit decision and said if anyone sends them Mac IE CSS they’ll use it, which seems like a good concession. Of course I think Feedster should support Mac IE, and a day and a half to add support seems a little high, but if they choose not to I can understand.

18 thoughts on “Mac IE 5 Support Worth It?

  1. “If they’re given a message that the site doesn’t support Mac IE, (honestly) they’ve probably seen this before and will just switch to another browser for that site. In my experience Mac users tend to be total browser flirts, and have every browser you’ve ever heard of installed. I would rather they open up my site in Safari or Firefox.”

    Careful. Do you know of any browser better than IE that is available for Mac OS (i.e. OS 9 and earlier) users? Safari and Firefox are for OS X only. There are old version of NN and iCab as alternatives, but it’s unlikely they’d fare better. For those with legacy machines, shutting out IE is likely to be shutting out the user overall. Of course for some sites that’s a reasonable choice. Just be careful about making overly-broad assumptions about IE/Mac users’ access to better alternatives.

  2. As a Mac weenie, I qualify as one of those who “tend to be total browser flirts, and have every browser you’ve ever heard of installed.” However, I also end up being the person who answers question for tens of people who distinguish Netscape and IE based on which home page each opens (and that’s the only difference they know about). Along the same vein as the classic Netscape 4 debate, the truth is that end users are the ones who lose.

    I don’t mean to say that web standards aren’t the best thing since (insert your next favorite thing here), but rather than one must employ them pragmatically. IE5/Mac is still many users’ standard browser (because it was bundled with the OS for so long), much in the same way that IE5 or Netscape 4 is for those who use Windows 98. All of this is to say that I disagree that anyone but an advanced user will “just switch to another browser for that site”; more likely, they’ll just switch to a competitor’s product.

  3. I found that the XHTML 1.1 sites I’ve built (, worked as designed in IE 5.2 (OS X). This was very surprising to me since I’ve generally found IE/Mac to be a dreadful in its CSS support for ‘quirks mode’ pages.

  4. Two things: in most layouts I’ve seen or had a hand in, Mac IE 5 either works fine, or almost fine. If you try Mac IE 5 and it works okay, just leave it at that, even if it’s not perfect. If the layout is seriously broken, you might even try a browser detect that sends Mac IE 5 users to an unstyled page — that way they at least get the content.

    Finally, Mozilla 1.2.1 is available for Mac OS 9 (if you can find it), but it is a resource hog, and I find it only intermittently usable on my G3-upgraded PowerBook 1400, which will never run anything newer than OS 9.1 and can’t have more than 68 MB of RAM. But you can find a Mozilla 1.2.1 or 1.0.2 release here:

    Or you could try this nastiness:

  5. The display: inline might still work if you use the

      markup all inline (i.e, remove all whitespaces and enter breaks. See if it helps.

    • Tantek, sorry if I mischaracterized anything you said. A lot of it was based on more internal dialogue than anything from you post directly, it was just inspired by your post. One of the points I hoped to make was that serving up unstyled content is not acceptable in many contexts. Example: if you went to Amazon and saw the a completely unstyled page with no layout or colors, would you feel comfortable giving them your credit card information?

    • It’s never a simple boolean “not acceptable” as you put it, that’s probably the biggest flaw in the reasoning you give. E.g. unstyled content is far more acceptable than browser rejection. That’s the point. Anybody utilizing browser specific rejection doesn’t understand the client independent design (and nature) of the Web, and likely needs a lesson or two in not just backward, but forward compatible web design.

    • For people still using Netscape 4.x as their default web browser, there is almost always a better option, so telling such people that they need to upgrade is reasonable, if not likely to be successful. For IE/Mac users, however, downloading a better browser is only possible if they are using OS X.

      User statistics for my websites generally indicate that the OS 9.x users outnumber the 10.x users by a 2:1 ratio, and that the IE/Mac users outnumber the Safari or Firefox users. Until Mac OS 9 users decide to upgrade to OS X and gain access to the whole range of more standards-compliant browsers available for that OS (Safari, Camino, Firefox, OmniWeb, Shiira, etc.), IE/Mac will remain percentage-wise the most important Mac browser to support.

    • I think the proper way to handle the MacIE5 issue is to re-direct them to a warning page, giving them a similar message to the one being displayed now – but then telling the user that they’re free to try to use the site, but it’s not going to look good – and provide a link into the site. That way they’ve covered themselves on the “bad for the image” side and still given users access to the content on their site.
      Now, I haven’t even looked at the site nor peeked at the markup – so I don’t know how bad it might look – hell, it might not even be usable in MacIE5 – but I think that they should at least give users the option to try to use the site.

    • Isn’t it also true that it depends on the content of the site? If you’re making a site for the techno-geeks of the world (who wouldn’t be caught dead using OS9) then its much less important to support old browsers. However if you’re making a site targeted at the general user – recipes etc than its important that it should work for everyone.

    • I agree with David. It suprises me over and over again how many ‘general’ users are out there who are stuck with things like windows 98, internet explorer 4.01 and a resolution of 640 x 480.

    • Mac users are typically enthusiastic about their Macs, and that alone is reason enough to argue “Why would any self respecting Mac’o’phile want to use a Microsoft browser when there’s Safari readily available?”. Granted this is assuming OSX is what they’re running but before we bring up OS9, etc, I’ll have to nip that in the bud.

      By its very nature, the Internet is constant evolution. If you lag behind, you’ll get left out eventually. This applies to both developers and end users. Neither side of the browser should be encouraged to coddle the infirm after a reasonable passage of time. At this point, if you’re using IE4,NS4 or Mac IE, or other outdated browsers then you should be encouraged to update so that you’ll be able to participate with the established current state of the ‘net.

      Browser developers should also get with the program (no pun). From where I stand, 1px = 1px. A margin of “0” should mean “0”, not appear as +4 or -6 from what is the actual “0” point. Having been a level designer for console games in the past, I grew to really appreciate the limitations of single platform development. If there were a dozen derivitive Playstation consoles on the market, each with slightly different interpretations of what X and Y coordinates really equate to I’d probably have washed my hands of the whole affair early on. Browser developers need the kick in the ass to finalize and agree on the standards.

      I’ve been fighting with Mac IE for many hours before I came across this page. That much should be self evident at this point.

    • Though this is a dated argument, as a Mac user running OS 9.1 and stuck in IE v5.1.7, I find this whole discussion to be rather disgusting.

      There are certain legitimate reasons one might resist the ‘upgrade or perish’ mentality of both Apples development of OS X, and the forward thrust of web technology.

      Despite the condecension of those like Jake, certain legacy Macintosh machines are still entirely useful, and at times, more useful, than upgrading is truly worth.

      More to the point though, for those of us who value utility over style, I am dissappointed in the idea that dumping a whole slew of Mac users similar to myself, would be a prefered notion, than merely providing (perhaps needed) content that might be ‘unstyled’.

      As one who is probably (decidedly) in the minority of what is currently en-vogue, as one who believes that ‘form should follow function’, as one who appreciates simplicity and efficiency, over flashy bells and whistles; I am appalled at the insanity, and inefficiency of MOST web design.

      Try searching for an item on for an example, or MacMall, if you are truly masochistic.

      Nothing turns me off more than the endless loading of irrelevant content one encounters at the start of most web pages.

      It would be my humble wish that you folks would understand the notion that in most cases ‘less’ truly is ‘more’, than fullfilling the mad wish to automatically market ALL products to ALL visitors following a link.

      The web was supposed to make things MORE accessable, and MORE quickly, not LESS so.

      There should be a different theory of marketing (on the web), than what occurs in your neighborhood megamart, where you are required to have to pass along the longest available paths to get yourself a gallon of milk, in the hope you might buy something else along the way.

      Folks follow weblinks for fairly specific reasons, getting them to the information (or product) they desire, most quickly, should be at the beginning of the user’s experience, and at the beginning of the web development, not the last (or least) concern, as most web designers (it would seem) apparently deem it.

      As I said, I am most probably in the minority in these regards.

      It boils down to the idea that, truly valuable content, ALWAYS trumps style.

      That I suppose, is why I would prefer to listen to Mozart or NRBQ, than to be seduced by the dreck of Hillary Duff or Lindsey Lohan, pretty as those ‘packages’ may be.

      Jake I would venture to guess, might choose otherwise.

    • A dated, but still interesting argument indeed… but putting the past aside and after the recent announcement on January 31st, 2006 by microsoft that Mac IE is officially completely dead forever… I have to wonder, as of mid 2006 if the argument to support Mac IE is even worth arguing anymore. I have been fighting with this issue more now than ever. In the past, I always made my sites compatable with Mac IE because even though development had stopped, Microsoft hadn’t officially pulled the plug completely. But now, I’m just not sure what to do. I’m leaning towards removing my support for Mac IE, I dont think its worth the extra development hours to most of my clients, and it would be a load off my shoulders as well.

      What are other developers out there doing?

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