What I Learned About Web Browsing Using a 2008 Laptop
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I recently had the misfortune of the graphics card going out in my Mac Pro. I limped along through the work week after that with my 2008 MacBook Pro while I waited for the new card to come in. I hadn’t used the MacBook for work purposes for quite sometime. By today’s standards, it’s slow, but it works. The real problem is that there’s nothing technically wrong with the laptop, but I can’t easily upgrade past the Snow Leopard operating system. This also means I can’t update to the latest web browsers and that is where the story of my week really begins.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
I was happy to see that the majority of sites I visited over the week on the old MacBook seemed to work fine. There were a few visual/layout glitches I encountered, which I expected knowing that some types of modern layout code are not recognized on older browsers. However, there were some serious functionality flaws I encountered as well. For example, while the links showed at the top of Godaddy’s website, I couldn’t actually click on them. they just didn’t work.
LinkedIn had a major road block as well …
I also noticed a number of security errors on older browsers that don’t appear on the newer browsers.
The most catastrophic failure I noticed was when I tried to bring up a client’s existing site that he built using Wix. It was a completely blank white screen. The entire website did not show up on older browsers. Out of curiosity, I checked a few other websites built using the DIY Wix builder and found those to also be blank white screens. Apparently, Wix doesn’t support older browsers at all.
Web Developers Hate Old Browsers
Every web developer is adamant about using modern browsers. The main reason is because they know some modern code can’t function properly on older browsers. Many scoff at trying to accommodate older browsers like Internet Explorer 8, often citing stats such as negligible amounts of viewers still using them.
The standard response from web developers is to just tell people to update their older browsers, then not think much more about it. However, being marooned with a circa 2008 laptop, I was forced to think more about it.
The next day I went to an art show at a small local gallery where I bumped into some local artists I knew. Knowing I work in web design, one older gentleman asks me out of the blue, “How come so many websites don’t work for me?” Having older website browsers fresh on my mind, I asked him what computer he was using. Sure enough, it was an old MacBook. We ended up having a conversation about how old, otherwise perfectly functional computers weren’t able to be be upgraded to run the latest browsers. Even the gallery owner, who happened to build his site using Wix, said he has people tell him all the time that they can’t bring up his site. He’s able to bring it up fine on his newer computer so he never knew what they were talking about or how to fix it and being a busy small business owner, it went to the bottom of his to-do list.
How accurate are those statistics?
I started to really question those well-known stats about browser use. First, the main source of those stats in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The World Wide Web Consortium is an international community where Member organizations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop Web standards. The most important fact about their browser statistics is that they’re based on visits to their own website – a website pretty much targeted to web developers, other web professions, and folks interesting in web standards. Basically, their audience is the type of internet users who will usually have the latest web browsers.
It also made me think about how many people are still using old computers that can no longer be updated with the most modern software. It’s certainly not unusual to own a Mac for 5+ years (or even 10) and not everyone has the desire or the means to ditch their PC for a new one every couple years. So now the big question was, where can I find more realistic statistics? The best answer I could come up with was buried in my own website’s Google Analytics.
How to Find the Stats that Matter Most
If you have Google Analytics working on your own website, you can find these stats by going to Audience > Technology > Browser & OS. Then click on each browser that shows up to see the details on which versions people are using.
Clicking deeper into my own user stats, I was able to get a clearer picture of what web browsers the visitors to my site are using. Sure, the majority were on newer browsers, but when I added up all the visits on older browsers, I discovered it accounted for about 8% of the traffic for the short time period I was checking. That might not seem like a lot, but it’s a serious jump from statistics like the .2% that you see on W3C.
What to do about it ….
Well, I can say for certain that web developers are going to keep pushing people to use the latest browsers, website code is going to keep advancing, the browsers are going to keep releasing new versions, and your old computer is going to become more and more obsolete. However, I think taking a peek at your website statistics is never a bad idea. If you don’t currently have Google Analytics set up, it’s free and will start tracking visits to your site after you install the code. If you find out that the visitors to your site using older browsers is not a negligible number, you might want to make sure the site is at least functional on those old dinosaurs (and not a completely blank white screen or other catastrophic fail). How do you test this if you don’t have an old computer yourself? Best option is to use a service such as Cross Browser Testing.
I’m happy to report that the sites we build do work on older browsers, but the whole week on my old laptop was a real eye-opener. It pushed me to uncover information that there actually are many more people using old versions of browsers like Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox than most developers and small business owners realize.
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