How Safari became the number one browser at St Andrews

Last week I logged into Google Analytics to take a look at browser statistics for the University website. I was surprised to discover that Safari is now the most popular browser among visitors to the University website.

In January 2012, 29.5% of all visits to the University website were made using Safari. This compares to 26.5% for Internet Explorer. Chrome has 21.4% and Firefox has 20.1%.

It is an unusual finding. Take Wikimedia’s statistics, which show 29.5% of traffic coming from IE users, and only 6.1% coming from Safari users.

Here at St Andrews, Safari was also the most popular browser in December 2011. But it hasn’t always been this way. So I decided to take a look through the previous months to figure out the trends.

Browser trends since September 2010

Browser statistics

I looked as far back as September 2010, the last month when Safari was still only the third most popular browser among our visitors. At that time, as you would probably expect, Internet Explorer had a healthy lead in front of the other browsers — 41.4%. Firefox had 24.4%, Safari had 22.1% and Chrome had 10.5%.

Since then, the big four browsers have converged, so that they each now account for 20-odd percent of visits.

There has been a strong decline in IE usage. Firefox usage has also decreased, although it now appears to be making a small resurgence. But, while Firefox was once the clear favourite among non-IE users, today it is only the fourth most popular browser.

Chrome has experienced massive growth. It has now overtaken Firefox and shows no sign of stopping.

Safari has experienced a steady increase over this period. Chrome is growing more quickly, but it began from a lower point.

Is Safari so popular anywhere else?

Last week I tweeted about the fact that Safari is the most popular browser among our visitors.

There were some interesting responses.

 

So I took a look at the operating systems used by the University website’s visitors.

In January 2012, 33.1% of visitors were using a Mac. I would guess this would be much higher than most other websites. For instance, Wikimedia estimates that only 8.6% of its visitors are using a Mac.

Usage of Macs among our visitors has grown from 26.0% in September 2010. This clearly contributes a great deal towards the popularity of Safari, which is further bolstered by the growth of iOS devices.

Quite what explains why we have so many Mac users at St Andrews is another question! Perhaps you can come up with some theories.

What developers think of Internet Explorer

I like this self-deprecating advert from Microsoft about Internet Explorer 9.

Only today I was thinking how refreshing it is that I now don’t have to worry too much about testing webpages in Internet Explorer 9. Everything just works now.

Sure, it doesn’t have the same level of support for HTML5 and CSS3 that Chrome, Firefox and Opera have but it does the basics really well and doesn’t have the same weird quirks that IE7 and IE8 have that require obscure hacks and workarounds.

Besides, at the moment all the major browsers have varying levels of support for these new Web standards-in-the-making. That’s why we’ve got tools like Modernizr.

Let’s hope that Internet Explorer’s support of Web standards grows from strength to strength.

Either that or they see sense and move to using the WebKit rendering engine! 😉

Internet Explorer from version 1.0 to 9.0

Since Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 was released Andy—you know! Andy!—wondered what it would be like to install every version of Microsoft’s Web browser starting at IE 1.0 under Windows 95 and working all the way up through IE 6.0 on Windows XP to IE 9.0 which is only available for Windows Vista or 7 and compare them. His video is fascinating.

Acid tests

In the video he mentions Acid1, Acid2 and Acid3 (these links take you to Wikipedia) which are test pages that are used by browser manufacturers to check for problems in the way that they display Web pages.

  • Acid1 tests how a browser uses the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) 1.0 specification.
  • Acid2 tests CSS 2.1 styling, HTML, PNG images, and data URIs (a way to include data within pages as though they were external resources).
  • Acid3 tests the Document Object Model (that is the structure of the page) and how the browser handles the JavaScript scripting language which is often used to add interactivity to a Web page.

You can check how well your browser does by clicking on the links above, which take you to the tests themselves.

The browser that I’m using to write this in (Google Chrome 11 beta) passes all three tests, even scoing 100/100 in Acid3. Internet Explorer 9.0 passes tests 1 and 2 and scores an admirable 95/100 in Acid 3; Firefox 4.0 scores 97/100.

But I digress…

Internet Explorer 3.0… without the internet

My first introduction to Internet Explorer was IE 3.0 under Windows 3.11 for Workgroups when I was learning HTML back in 1997. I wasn’t even connected to the World Wide Web, which is fine because the readme file suggested that the internet was just one option:

This product enables you to browse and view HTML documents on the network, in addition to documents on the World Wide Web or Internet. Other services, such as Gopher and FTP, and NNTP news support, are also available.

I still have the installer for Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 for Microsoft Windows 3.1 from November 1996).

Here are the system requirements:

  • A personal computer, 386 processor or higher
  • Microsoft Windows 3.1 or 3.11 or  Microsoft Windows for Workgroups 3.1 or 3.11
  • At least 4 megabytes (MB) of memory
  • A VGA monitor or better
  • A mouse
  • A modem with a speed of at least 9600 or a LAN  connection

Personal computers and the Web have come a long way since then.

Saying goodbye to Internet Explorer 6

Today, Microsoft launched a big push aimed at “Moving the world off Internet Explorer 6”. IE6 Countdown aims to educate people about why they need to upgrade their browsers. The target is for IE6 to account for less than 1% of global share.

Web developers have long bemoaned the amount of work it takes to make modern-day websites work properly in IE6. It is a 10 year old browser — almost half as old as the web itself — but it is only in the past year or two that many web developers have begun to feel that it is reasonable to drop support for IE6.

Even so, even to have a website that does not work well for 1% of visitors may be deemed to be unacceptably high. While it is unreasonable to expect a website to work on a stone tablet as well as it does on an Apple iPad, if enough people are using certain software to surf the web — no matter how old it is — we need to make sure it works.

Worldwide usage of IE6

Internet Explorer 6 usage around the world In February 2011, 3.5% of UK users were using Internet Explorer 6. Worldwide, 12% of users still use this decade-old browser. Most staggeringly of all, over a third of web users in China are still using IE6.

It looks like Nordic sufers are particularly savvy. Norway and Finland are the only two countries coloured green on Microsoft’s map, signalling that they have gone below the target of 1%.

St Andrews poised to go green

I have just checked the statistics for visits to the University of St Andrews website, and the percentage of IE6 users stands at 1.01%. This is a tiny smidge above Microsoft’s target of 1%. While the UK is still painted blue on Microsoft’s map, it looks like the University of St Andrews will go green soon!

Although most pages on the University website should work adequately on IE6, we have begun to stop supporting IE6 for some of the fancier, newer designs. There comes a point where supporting IE6 just becomes a waste of time — time that we really don’t have.

Why upgrade?

IE6 was a revolutionary browser for its time. But that was ten years ago, which is an absolute eternity in terms of the web. Not only are IE6 users unable to visit many websites as the designers intended, the continued prevalence of this ancient browser is discouraging developers from innovating more — making all web users worse off. Using a 10 year old web browser is also seen as a security risk.

Microsoft have been criticised for being too slow to update their browser. It was five years until Internet Explorer 7 came out. In comparison, Mozilla are poised to release Firefox 4, two and a half years after Firefox 3 was launched. Google Chrome has reached version 10 just over two years after the first ever version.

Now even Microsoft finds the continued prevalence of IE6 to be an embarrassment. Today, Microsoft are playing catch-up with other browser vendors, but have made great leaps to improve their browser in recent years.

As such, we fully support all initiatives to encourage users to upgrade from IE6. If you still use IE6, please upgrade to the latest version of Internet Explorer.

Better still, you could opt to switch to a different browser altogether. The future version of Internet Explorer — IE9 — is a vast improvement, but is still not perfect. Only today, I worked on some new code that works perfectly in every other major browser, but does not work in IE9 due to its relatively poor support of CSS3.

If you have held off before, I can promise you that switching browsers it is rather pain-free. You will probably end up being much happier with your browsing experiences.

I suggest you consider the following browsers:

Should we still be supporting Internet Explorer 6?

Keep calm and debug IE6

Keep calm and debug IE6

Every couple of months the same topic of conversation comes up in the Web team office: should we still be supporting Internet Explorer 6? The answer so far has always been a resigned yes, but that may not be the case for too long.

A little history: IE6 was released on 27 August 2001, three days after Windows XP was released.  Since then IE7 was released in October 2006, IE8 in March 2009 and IE9 public beta in September 2010.  So, surely it’s now time to withdraw support for a browser that is over nine years old.

Bring down IE6

In 2009 .net magazine started a campaign called “Bring down IE6“.

Bring down IE6

Their mission:

The premise is simple: Internet Explorer 6 is antiquated, doesn’t support key web standards, and should be phased out. This isn’t about being anti-Microsoft, it’s about making sure that we encourage people to move to modern browsers such as IE8, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera.

Case-by-case

In an article entitled “Calling time on IE6” Craig Grannell “asks designers and developers if it’s finally time to take IE6 behind the shed and shoot it”!  He leaves the conclusion of the article to Web standards hero Jeffrey Zeldman:

How much longer we prop up this ageing browser must be decided on a case-by-case basis. Not every site can afford to dump it today, but the writing’s on the wall.

I think that’s a really important point because until recently the primary browser on the University’s default PC setup, that was installed on every Windows PC in the PC classrooms, was Internet Explorer 6.  If we wanted our websites to be viewable and usable across the University then we had to support it, we had no option.

Supporting IE6 is a drag. As all web developers will know, you spend a couple of hours building something that works perfectly in Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Safari and then you spend twice as long again debugging it in IE6 and IE7 and IE8, which all appear to have introduced new bugs to the game.  Keep calm and debug IE!

Analytics

Since the University’s default PC setup (‘standard build’) has now moved to Windows XP (and will hopefully soon move again to Windows 7) the default browser is now IE8, and s the requirement to support IE6 has now been reduced.

This is backed up by the statistics from our Google Analytics account that tracks which pages are being view most often and by which browsers.

Unsurprisingly Internet Explorer, being the default browser on our standard build PC, is the most popular browser to use to visit the University website; Apple Safari (the default browser on Apple Macs) is second.  42.5% of all visitors in the last month have used one version or another of Internet Explorer.  The breakdown of which version is interesting:

  1. IE8: 79.8% (382,394 visits)
  2. IE7: 15.4% (73,944 visits)
  3. IE6: 4.4% (21,186 visits)
  4. IE9 beta: 0.29% (1,395 visits)

That means that only 1.8% of all visitors to the University website last month used IE6. But 21,186 visits is still quite a lot.

Frameworks

Adopting the Blueprint CSS framework a few years back made a considerable difference to our development time.  Blueprint comes with a build-in IE hacks/workarounds stylesheet that addresses a good number of common IE5, IE6 and IE7 issues that has literally saved us hours and hours of hair-pulling.

Similarly we’re using the jQuery JavaScript framework which still supports IE6 and so makes cross-browser coding much simpler.

My view is that with such good support built-in to these frameworks for IE6 there’s really no excuse at the moment to completely drop providing a certain degree of support for IE6. The bugs are well known and the hacks are well-documented, and so finding workarounds for those that are not already contained in the framework files really doesn’t take that long to code these days.

Yahoo! graded browser support

However, it doesn’t mean that pages need to look pixel-for-pixel identical in every browser.  Something that is made explicit in the Yahoo! Graded Browser Support chart:

Support does not mean that everybody gets the same thing. Expecting two users using different browser software to have an identical experience fails to embrace or acknowledge the heterogeneous essence of the Web. In fact, requiring the same experience for all users creates an artificial barrier to participation. Availability and accessibility of content should be our key priority.

Over the last two to three years I’ve used the Yahoo! GBS chart to inform the Web team about how much support we should be affording to the various browsers.  IE6 is still granted A-grade support but it appears from a blog post “Graded Browser Support Update: Q4 2010” on the Yahoo! User Interface Blog that this is all about to change.

Listed among the various changes, which includes dropping A-grade support for Firefox 3.0 and initiating support for WebKit browsers on iOS and Android OS, is this:

Forecast discontinuation of A-grade coverage for Internet Explorer 6 in Q1 2011; we expect to move IE6 to the C-grade browser list as of the next update.

C-grade browsers, according to the GBS page are “identified, incapable, antiquated and rare.”

I would say that the bell is tolling for IE6 but it would appear from some corners of the Web that it has already rung out.  Google has already held a Funeral for IE6 after it withdrew support for the aged browser.  Microsoft sent flowers!

Conclusion

According to Google IE6 is already dead and buried, while Yahoo! are expected to degrade support for it in early 2011. Microsoft themselves, on the other hand, have committed to supporting IE6 until Windows XP SP3 support is removed in 2014; but that just means removing security issues rather than adding new features.  IE6 will never, on its own, support HTML5 or CSS3, for example.

So, should we still be supporting Internet Explorer 6? I expect that we’ll follow Yahoo!’s lead next year and move to providing only a base level of support for it.  When we move to using HTML5 and CSS3 then I expect we’ll have to drop support for IE6 completely.

We’ll make sure that content is readable but not worry too much about the presentation (CSS) and behaviour (JavaScript) layers; we’re already kind of doing that already in places, to be honest.  But as we’re using frameworks for CSS and JavaScript which still support IE6 the elderly blue ‘e’ may be inadvertently supported for a little while to come.

Then all we need to do is try to kill off IE7.  Who’s with me?

Xobni for Outlook

Outlook 2007 with Xobni sidebar on the right

Outlook 2007 with Xobni sidebar on the right

The University is currently in the process of moving to a replacement service for staff email and calendars, which are currently provided via two separate, locally-hosted applications, including Meeting Maker.

The new service, dubbed Unimail, will be provided by Brightsolid in Dundee and is built on Microsoft Exchange 2010. It will be nice to have everything in one place, and as most of the Web team have been using Microsoft Outlook since we started there won’t be too much of a learning curve.

Xobni

One add-on that I’ve been using off-and-on for a year or two is Xobni, which is described as an “Outlook plugin to search people, email, and attachments instantly.“.  The name, you’ll notice, is simply the word ‘inbox’ spelt backwards.

Once installed Xobni takes a few minutes indexing your email and builds up some interesting statistics about each email recipient, such as

  • who you most frequently email
  • what times of day you most often exchange emails
  • how many emails you’ve sent and received
  • how long it takes you to respond

This is the mini-stat for my boss:

Xobni statistics

Xobni statistics

What I’ve found it most useful for is quickly searching through my email.  It is significantly faster than using Outlook’s built-in search.

The threaded email conversations are also really helpful.  Last week I received an email from someone at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.  I knew that he’d sent me emails a few days before but I couldn’t find them.

With Xobni it was simple.  I selected his most recent email and Xobni showed me the entire conversation, including the messages that I couldn’t find (I’d accidentally dropped them into the wrong folder).  It would have taken me ages to find those messages without Xobni.

Xobni threaded conversations, attachments, links, etc.

Xobni threaded conversations, attachments, links, etc.

As you can see from the screenshot above Xobni doesn’t just group conversations. It also remembers which files and links you’ve been sent, it extracts contact information from people’s signatures, it analyses emails to see who else is copied into emails and it builds up a picture of your contacts’ actual work or social networks.

And if that’s not enough you can explicitly enter your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Hoover’s and Xing login details and Xobni will also pull in your contacts’ profile photos and latest updates so you can see who you’re emailing.

Scheduling time with my contacts is something I do all the time. Xobni helps with that too, checking my calendar to see when I’m next available.  With one click Xobni gives me this to send to colleagues:

Here is my availability for the next few days.  (All times are GMT Daylight Time, GMT+01:00.) Auto-generated Xobni Schedule:

Mon September 27, now to 14:30

Tue September 28, 09:15 to 10:00, 11:00 to 11:30, 12:00 to 12:30, 13:30 to 14:00, 16:00 to 17:00

Wed September 29, 09:00 to 10:00, 13:30 to 15:00

Thu September 30, 09:00 to 10:00, 10:15 to 12:15, 12:45 to 15:00, 15:30 to 17:00

Fri October 01, 09:00 to 09:30, 11:00 to 17:00

Once we’re all using the Exchange calendar Xobni will also be able to tell me when I’m already scheduled to meet with my contacts.

Outlook 2010 Social Connector

Outlook 2010, which we’ll be upgrading to at some point, has a built-in social connector which does some of the same things, but having been using the two together on my PC at home I much prefer how Xobni does it, and it’s much faster too.

Free and plus

Xobni comes in two versions: Xobni (free) and Xobni Plus (US $29.95).  The paid-for version comes with more features such as a really impressive auto-suggest option when adding recipients to an email and it can search unlimited PST files (e.g. email archives).