When IE won the war against Netscape, the browser war didn't end. It just started anew, from scratch. It paved the way for new opponents taking on the giant. It also proved a crucial point in browser history that initiated many improvements to one-up Microsoft's browser. Enter Mozilla (Firefox), Opera and Safari.
The browser war is fought on two battlefields, but the net result has always been measured in global usage. And there, IE still has little competition. Firefox is slowly gaining, browsers like Opera and Safari are holding on heroically, but apart from that IE domination is still a fact. It doesn't matter how much worse the user experience is, for many people the internet equals that little blue e, and it will remain like that for a while to come.
But another war is fought at the same time, one that will dictate the future of browsers. The war fought by the developers and communities. The war that gave Firefox the market share it has today. We as a web development community serve as judges in this war, our decisions influence it greatly. We should be aware of the responsibility we have in this.
The IE files
Back in the day when IE6 was a sloppy pain in the ass, things were simple. You were against IE because every alternative was better anyway. IE6 was a nuisance, always able to ruin that perfectly proud feeling whenever a new site was completed in any other browser. It didn't take long before IE6 was cursed. Many of us claimed that Microsoft had no interest whatsoever in the development community, and alongside IE Microsoft got a bad reputation in the web development world.
I don't really agree with their so-called lack of interest. They were just slow. Microsoft heard our cries and after some time they gave us conditional comments. Not as good as a new browser, but a smart idea to make sure we could fix things in IE6. At least we were able to write css as good as possible for other browsers and fix the crap in IE6 in a separate, aptly named css file. What's more, allowing for conditional css files is a way of admitting you're releasing less than perfect software. Something more browsers should consider.
A certain amount of time passed, and IE7 was released. By that time, IE6 had reached the status of pure evil and was bashed left and right. Rightfully so, but still, a decent css guy could work around most bugs rather quickly. IE7 was a great improvement over IE6, but was bashed just the same. True, some bugs remained, but many didn't. Today, making a site work in IE7 is not any more difficult than making it work in other browsers. I'd go as far as to say it's even a tad easier, as IE7 specific bugs can be handled in a separate file (conditional comments again). When something goes amiss between Firefox, Opera and Safari, that's when it becomes tricky (especially when hitting one of the Opera ⁄ Safari deadlock bugs).
And when not so long ago IE8 was announced, it came with a nice little extra. It passed the acid2 test, positioning itself right next to Opera and leaving Firefox and Safari behind. You can't say they're not trying.
Times are a-changing
Our criticism on IE6 improved the browser situation. Microsoft took notice, albeit slowly. Sadly somewhere along the line it became too bon ton and hip to ditch Microsoft. They have been making serious efforts and with IE7 they delivered a browser that rivals its competitors (rendering-wise).
It's time some people took notice. The IE6 legacy still exists (and is still painfully annoying) but from IE7 on developing for MS' browser is just as easy (if not easier) as developing for other browsers. This post might seem too forgiving on IE, but consider it a nice change of tone as it's been needlessly bashed too much this last year.
IE is becoming a worthy browser again, from a web development view. Time to give it another fair chance.