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Microsoft launches Modern.IE to assist devs with legacy browsers

Free tools and resources aim to speed up compatibility tweaks

Microsoft has launched Modern.IE, bringing together tools and resources to assist developers with testing sites in various versions of Internet Explorer (IE).

Modern.IE includes a web page scanner, which unearths common problems, virtual testing tools (including three months free on BrowserStack) and advice on standards-based coding.

Although Microsoft has attempted to move users to newer versions of IE, old versions remain in common use. And, while some companies rapidly abandon old browsers, many developers aren’t in the position to follow suit.

Additionally, countless sites that made specific allowances for IE now lack compatibility in modern browsers. Microsoft estimates over 40% of the top 5000 websites use an outdated framework that could cause problems in IE10 and other current browsers.

Broadly speaking, developers appeared positive about Modern.IE. Iain Simpson was looking forward to the virtual machines (VM), and Stewart Curry said, “it’s a nice sanity check,” although not a substitute for testing in actual browsers. However, Andrew Till was less positive, saying, “I resent having to pay to fix Microsoft's mistakes." He added that free scans aren’t ideal: “I don't want to tweak/upload/tweak/upload continually”.

Developer Rachel Andrew has had far more time to delve into Modern.IE than most, having been asked to check out the site pre-launch. We asked her how it stacked up and could it improve things for developers and designers.

.net: What do you think about Modern.IE?
RA: I really like the Modern.IE initiative. I'm a Mac and Linux desktop user. I have Windows laptops for testing, but haven't used Windows for anything else for many years. I feel as if Microsoft has recognised, with Modern.IE, that this is the case for a lot of web designers and developers. Instead of trying to persuade us to use Windows, the site gives us a whole bunch of ways to test sites from our platform of choice, to ensure that people who visit our sites using Windows and IE get a great experience.

.net: How will it potentially improve website compatibility?
RA: I think the advice and tools are useful and grounded in best practice. It all seems to come from a position of making sure sites work well across as wide a range of browsers and devices as possible. I care very deeply about the web being open and accessible to everyone. I was asked for my opinion on Modern.IE quite early on, and I think it is a real step in the right direction and towards encouraging good practice in frontend development, taking advantage of new features in CSS and HTML as they become available in browsers, but still testing to ensure we don't lock out of our sites - those who are still using older browsers.

I was asked to offer feedback after speaking about best practice in frontend development at the Future of Web Design [conference] in London. That Microsoft actively asked for feedback from someone like me, with a long history of promoting open web standards, is encouraging. In general, the advice I have seen on the site is good, promoting best practice generally, rather than in a browser-specific way and also offering ways to test more easily on a Microsoft platform. As someone who writes about this stuff, I'll be glad of having one place to point people to as a resource for testing in IE, rather than hunting around looking for where to download the old IE VMs.

.net: Some designers appear to have a ‘ditch IE’ mentality, but is dropping support unrealistic for the most part?
RA: I think it is. To start with, IE9 and 10 are good browsers. They typically implement standard things in a standard way, which is what we asked for back in the days of the WaSP Campaigns. If you take IE10, for example, there is some great stuff in there, such as support for Grid Layout.

When we talk about older IEs, or any older browsers, the idea of just not supporting them seems ridiculous when it is pretty trivial most of the time to offer a simpler layout and experience to those browsers. That's where easy access to testing tools is vital, so we can check what works and adjust accordingly.

.net: Are there any particular tools on Modern.IE you feel stand out and that devs/designers should immediately start using?
RA: Three months free on BrowserStack is a great offer! While I was checking out Modern.IE, BrowserStack saved me a great deal of hassle. Working on my recent book, I was using IE10 in a VM on my Mac to test grid examples and having real trouble getting something to work that was in the spec and, I believed, to be in IE10. I couldn't tell if it was a bug, or me not understanding the spec. I checked it in BrowserStack and realised my VM and version of IE10 were out of date, and so I was hitting a fixed bug. So even for those of us with good test environments, it is useful. And, of course, you have access to more than just IE via the service, such as old versions of Firefox. For developers who don't have access to lots of test machines, this will be incredibly useful.

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