Web browser versions are dead – automatic updates is the future

A somewhat provocative article title, I know, but I think it’s really important to discuss where we are right know in regards to web browser versions.

The reactions I have gotten to HTML5 hurdles: what is missing and web browser update rate problems and from constantly meeting/getting in touch a lot of web developers in very varying contexts from all over the world, by far the biggest problem is the rate of end users updating their web browser.

What do you mean no web browser version?

Internally, or behind the scenes, if you will, naturally you’ll have a web browser version number. It will be needed for development and support cases. But with the advent of IE10, Firefox is the only web browser who haven’t reached a two-digit version, and also with the frantic version update rate of Google Chrome, version numbers are really losing the point.

Right now it seems to be only for branding and getting attention, but I think it would be much better for everyone if that focus was spent on why people should use a certain web browser (features, performance, integrity etc).

Does the end user really need to know?

I’d say no. End users really really don’t care about the version number. They just want things to work. We have so passed the point (or I wish we have) of demanding a certain web browser, resolution etc to be able to see a web site.

The web is the port to the world

Given how much time users spend on the web when using a computer – communicating with others, finding information, leisure reading, gaming, watching weird videos – it is vital to make this as seamless as possible for them, no matter which web browser they use.

Automatic updates is the future

I’ve been wary of jumping upon the “we must have automatic updates”-bandwagon, and I think mostly that it has been for two reasons:

  • I’ve felt that end users should get the option/notification of updates being available, respecting their choice to update if they want to.
  • Given the backwards compatibility problems with Internet Explorer and a lot of major corporations who have built web sites specifically targeted at that, automatic updates would break all of that.

I still think those two are valid points and something to consider, but I’ve started to sway towards automatic updates being the best choice. When it comes to the first point, I think many many end users just decline updates when they see the update notification – they don’t dare to install things, they don’t feel computer savvy enough and, most importantly, they don’t want to break things that work.

Regarding the second point, the problem is still definitely there, but with IE9, upcoming IE10 and so on, I think Microsoft has reached a point where it will actually be adding on more and more support without breaking/redefining old functionality in it.

With other web browsers, I don’t think this has been an issue in a long time. Sure, of course there might be something somewhere, no matter the web browser, that might change an existing implementation in a previous web browser version. But overall, I think there’s is a lot of respect towards backwards compatibility and making things work.

It’s also about cost. With having already 4 different concurrent versions of Internet Explorer in the market (IE6-9), and IE10 probably out there within a year, and a vast discrepancy between them, we will reach a point where you can test in every version – there’s just not always time and money for that. Having automatic updates would remove a lot of those hassles, costs and time loss.

So, my suggestion is that all web browsers become version-less and all have silent automatic updates. For corporations, there should be tools to be able to control this centrally and decide if automatic updates should be enabled or when it should be pushed out to the organization.

Posted in Developing,Technology,Web browsers |

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