IETab Considered Harmful?

This Slashdot article talks about MovieLink requiring either IE, or Firefox with IETab. I think that’s the second site I’ve seen suggest this in less than a week.

The harm is that this ‘solution’ still excludes everyone on a Mac or on Linux, and its availability also makes the site far less likely to change to support Firefox properly. In other words, whereas before Mac and Linux users could add Windows Firefox users to their numbers when petitioning sites to upgrade to support web standards, the existence of IETab divides those two groups and gives those of us using non-Windows operating systems, and those who want to see sites supporting standards properly, far less clout.

I’m sure it’s very handy for web developers for testing purposes, but is IETab actually working against what the Mozilla community is trying to achieve?

19 thoughts on “IETab Considered Harmful?

  1. I think IETab is too geeky to make a real impact. Websites that don’t support Firefox in it’s native form simply can’t be taken seriously, and need to get a clue.

  2. IETab only works on Windows, everybody who has Windows already has IE, therefore IETab’s existence doesn’t make any difference to the numbers of those who can access the relevant website – it just provides an alternative way for them to do it. They’re saying “if you must use Firefox, use IETab”; but the numbers of those who are real hardcore “I must use Firefox, will never run IE even if I can’t access your site” people must be not much larger than the Mac and Linux communities – so I doubt this will make a difference.

  3. I’m a Windows user and I use IETab only to access webpages and windows update. IMHO if IETab is used as I do, it wont work “against what the Mozilla community is trying to achieve

  4. David: yes, in one sense it “just provides an alternative way”, but it definitely reduces the pressure on the site to upgrade to proper web standards, because it reduces the hassle to those who would otherwise be pressuring them to do so.

    Giuliano: Sure – but it’s not just being used that way, as the MovieLink example demonstrates.

  5. Gerv: I guess it’s hard to say which way it’s working without some hard data. Maybe some people have been able to push through Firefox migrations on the grounds that “if a site fails in it, we can use IETab – so we’re not losing anything”. Does Firefox gain more or lose more? One of those questions that could be endlessly discussed instead of doing real work! ;-)

  6. Hardly a yes or no situation. There are sites I just have to access like Windows Update and other IE only applications like Changepoint. I can (and have) rant as much as I want but at the end of the day I have to keep my OS patched and my time sheets submitted.

    On the other hand I would love to try MovieLink and some music download services, but since I can live without them I just pass until they realize the world is a bit wider.

    So I think IETab is a wonderful product which saves me some system resources (as in launching the whole IE), but can be used to relief some companies’ lame offering.

  7. As a developer, I’ve often wished for the opposite situation. That is Gecko as ActiveX plugin. That way conservative users could keep IE, and developers wouldn’t have to support it’s rendering engine. Imagine if Gecko was as pervasive as Flash in Windows systems.

  8. Each extension has the potential for causing a problem with Firefox. If you are going to run IE and take that chance, run IE. At least then you will know you are running IE. It just takes a double-click, and you don’t have to alter Fx to do it.

  9. For hacking Christ’s sake, NO. I downloaded it – I already love it – the add-on is fantastic. It potentially makes life easier and more encompassing for over 50% of the Firefox users. How can it possibly work against anything? But then again, what do I know? I am not a mozillian; I am just a user.

  10. I can’t say about Mac users, but Linux users such as myself have an option, if only IETab could take advantage of it. IEs4Linux give us the capability of using the IE engine under Linux, but we have no way of accessing it with IETab.

    In a perfect world we wouldn’t have to worry about websites being snobbish enough to try to require us to use a component from a different OS, but our world’s far from perfect so until someone develops workarounds that are useful to those of us who have made a different choice for our OS we simply won’t be able to use those sites. All of us have our choices reduced until then.

  11. In the ideal world, browsers wouldn’t be tied to operating systems and de facto standards wouldn’t be tied to browsers that are tied to operating systems. The problems is that this isn’t the ideal world. I admit that I use IETab and IE View Lite for those webpages that only support IE and ActiveX.

    Also, I hate to admit it, but plugin support for Firefox is not as good as it is for IE. Especially on my computer, where Firefox freezes from 2-10 minutes and IE functions normally when running PDF and Java. I think it is also partly the fact that my computer is 5 years old and starting to show its age.

    Furthermore, you have to see IETab, FirefoxView, and IE View Lite as transitional tools for the Internet. I remember when I started using Firefox at version 0.7. I lived half my time on Firefox and half my time on IE. Over the years as Firefox 1.0, Firefox 1.5, and Firefox 2 were released more and more websites have gone from “IE only” to “IE and Firefox support”. Now, I only use IETab and IE View Lite 5 times a week for those websites that are ActiveX based, my old college Outlook account when the POP server goes down, and those websites with tons of plugins that freeze Firefox on my system. I know of no one and nothing that has successfully quit cold turkey the first time. If Microsoft embraces standards and web-as-a-platform like the keep saying, if SVG develops as a competitor to Flash, if Javascript 2 takes off, if plugin support for Firefox improves in Mozilla 2/Firefox 4, and if web developers and companies embrace standards; in 5 to 10 years it won’t matter what browser is used because the web will be a true platform that will look almost the same no matter what browser is used.

    Just my prospective on IETab.

  12. The cost to Firefox-enable most IE only sites is probably counted in developer-days rather than weeks or months. So if a company wants to support FF, it’s possible to achieve with minimal cost.

    The big issue is education. A lot of developers I speak to believe that an issue in Firefox is due to Firefox and that the IE rendering engine is correct. They just don’t understand basics like nesting of divs inside of spans………

    MDC is the primary enabler for this education. It’s an amazing resource, including not only help on standards-compliant code, but also it tends to be more helpful on IE coding than MSDN is! Getting more developers to use MDC even if they only target IE should be not only the primary goal, but also should be an easily attainable goal given how shocking MSDN and MSDN2 are.

  13. There are always going to be a small handful of sites with hyperspecific browser requirements like this. There are even a few that demand you install their own special plugin software. (MyLibraryDV is an example of the latter; it’s subscription-based, but they’re working overtime to get public libraries to subscribe and promote it to their patrons. It will ultimately flop, of course, because most users aren’t willing to jump through hoops like that. But it will take public libraries that get talked into subscribing years to figure out their patrons aren’t using it, and more years to figure out why and give it up.)

    Fundamentally, however, I don’t think this is a major concern. Firefox is far easier to support than IE, particularly when you start looking at previous-generation versions, and extra especially if you are also trying to support Safari and Opera anyhow, which are much more similar to Gecko than they are to IE, in terms of the results the rendering engine comes up with for various things you see out there on the web.

    As for the sites with extremely specific requirements, if you thought a few extra percent of Firefox users on Windows would convince them to mend their ways, you have another thing coming. The mindset of such sites is that *their* site alone is so compelling that users should be willing to install plugins, switch browsers, switch to a specific (possibly badly outdated) version of the browser, upgrade or switch operating systems, abstain from installing security-critical service packs, change their screen resolution, get new hardware, and do the hundred yard belly crawl nude over broken glass, just to look at their wonderfully fabulously compelling content. (Except for the belly crawl, these are all demands I have seen sites make at one time or another.)

    Such sites will always exist, but they do not matter. Users who don’t have the requirements generally just figure the site doesn’t work and move on, because what these sites fail to understand is that the world is a big place, and there are hundreds of other sites out there offering comparable content without the hoops. The only major exception is sites that offer something really unique that the user cannot get anywhere else, which typically means they have to be the website of an institution that has a substantial real-world relationship with the user, such as the school they attend or their bank. Any other site that does not have this kind of relationship with the user is subject to competition from the rest of the web, so if the site doesn’t work out of the box with the user’s setup, the user will just go find another site.

    There are, of course, users who are the exception, who will jump through any hoop a website puts up to make sure they aren’t missing something cool there. But they are very much in the minority. Most people have other things to do with their time.

  14. Personally i mainly use IEtab in order to access windows filesharing sites. We have many websites in this network that list windows filesharing locations, and Firefox’s inability to otherwise deal with \\servername\share is requiring me to use this wonderful extension. It’s also a lot less annoying then using IE, because it won’t freeze the system if the share happens to be offline.

    As such it’s useful for me, and the fact that other people use it for getting around firefox incompatibility is unfortunate, but i truly don’t care. I NEED my IEtab.