In praise of older browsers

Today, I tried opening LinkedIn with Safari, as I always do and…

…it wouldn’t let me in. Complained that my browser was too old. All because my iMac is 12 years old, still works fine, but it’s stuck on Safari 13.

Now, I am a web developer myself, and I can understand why they might not want to support older versions of JavaScript, or Browsers that don’t use WebP, but I will stick to Safari for my main browser. Chrome is a CPU hog, and I already use Firefox for work.

The real reason I still use Safari for the BBS, though, is that it doesn’t render a lot of the reaction GIFs here. Which means I can concentrate on actual comments, and zip past the oh so clever images.

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image

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You see, I saw that one. It’s so many of the others, which I didn’t see, then opened in Chrome to see them, I thought “well, that was a waste of time.”

I think it’s the GIFs that aren’t really GIFs, but WebP. Since it’s mostly Imgur embeds.

But really, the nice thing about using older tech even if you are a front end dev is that I can see the pain points other, less wealthy clients see. We programmers hate to optimise for less powerful equipment, which is why so many games run so slow on non-gamer equipment.

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People communicate in many different forms. Reaction gifs can tell as much of a story as someone typing out their thoughts, and perhaps more importantly, they provided needed emotional context that is often omitted from text-based discussions.

We tend to frown upon posts with nothing but a gif in them unless the gif also contains text that would stand as a standalone comment (because “I agree” as a post isn’t particularly useful in a discussion, whether as text or as a gif), but there is no question whatsoever that a “THIS!!!111one” gif followed by elaboration is far more poignant than just their elaboration to begin with, and has significant value as a result. It’s also a lot more fun to read than paragraphs trying to convey the emotion a simple gif can sometimes provide.

In short, text is an imperfect medium for communication, and time is a rare and important commodity. reaction gifs are an excellent way to both improve the emotional content of text-based communication and save time. I’m glad they are here to stay.

On the subject of old browsers:

They are terrible. IE6 hamstrung the digital world for years because everyone used it and new web technologies could not be rolled out because those users had to be supported. Modern web development is hamstrung by needing to support tons and tons of old browsers that don’t work in the way that new ones do, and every feature rollout needs to be tested against a daunting number of iterations of browser and platform versions to make sure the sites in question still work with old browsers. It’s a terrible waste of time, to support a diminishingly small number of users, and holds back a lot of technologies that are expressly designed to make mobile browsing use less resources and data because they can’t be universally rolled out.

It’s pretty clear that Linkedin came to the same realization and expressly removed certain browsers that aren’t able to use modern web standards to avoid broken behaviour. While it sucks from the perspective of those who cannot upgrade browsers, it is a critical step for the modernization of the web that we get these ancient clients out of the ecosystem so we can build a modern and efficient web for everyone.

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I guess we won’t question it then

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One might be able to put Linux on that device

Another tack is to use different “profiles” in Firefox, or to install different clones of Firefox (there is a whole list somewhere) that might keep their preferences separate

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Chacun son goût.

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Gesundheit

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You bring up many valid points, so let me put on my frontend dev hat and make some more work-related observations.

First, I think the BBS is doing everything right. I have a lot of respect for the work @codinghorror has put into the development. I also think Imgur is making the right decision to deliver smaller formats instead of the bigger GIFs, since those with older browsers are also those with slower connections. And this is important to note.

I myself develop according to the 1% rule, that we should only provide support for browsers that have at least 1% market share or visitor share according to the logs. But how to deal with those that are no longer supported? If I take the LinkedIn route, I am alienating those with screen readers, or those still using their older Samsung phones that are no longer receiving updates. So I allow for graceful degradation, that sure, the latest and greatest can be used, but when things break they only break little bits but not the entire site. This seems to fit my clientele, as our customers are farmers and construction companies, who have other priorities than to keep upgrading their computers.

What this old Safari does is when a Giphy image is WebP, it shows how big the image would have been and the alt text. It lets me get a feel for how important alt text is. Lets this happy mutant see how it feels to be behind the tech curve. And most importantly, it shows me why graceful degradation is still important. It makes it easier for me to imagine what it would be like for vision impaired people who have the screen read to them.

So yeah, in praise of older browsers. They keep us honest.

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I could, but it also serves as my 32 bit Mac gaming device. It’s the only one I can still play Death Spank on, for example. It’s like an old friend who I cannot bear to put in the closet.

I do have more modern Macs, but those are workhorses. This old iMac is strictly for fun.

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It sounds like DeathSpank might work in Linux.

I think it’s a fairly legitimate gripe that Safari is tethered to your OS version. I wonder if nightlies would work?

I was trying to find an old version of macOS for a friend. I didn’t have that specific version and the only way you could download it was as from the older OS. So I fired up a VM and noticed how poorly the web worked with older browsers. Usually, I can grab a recently modern version of Chrome or Firefox.

Most of the older browser support we combine with read only views, the sort of output that we serve to web crawlers. The idea is to degrade gracefully, in this case, you should at least be able to read the content … but maybe not participate due to the missing or very out of date required JavaScript functionality.

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That’s why I was making a point of noting you guys take the right path. Vintage hardware and retro battle stations are kept useful thanks to graceful degradation. I like how Discourse still Runds smooth on an iMac bought in 2010, it saves me from the temptation of going on to the BBS on my company MacBook Pro. I also have a MacBook Air and an iPad, but the old iMac is still sitting on my desk, right there in my home office because it has the CD/DVD drive.

I find LinkedIn’s approach harsh, because people who need a new job may not have modern hardware. Sure, warn them that things may not work, but nothing on LinkedIn is so vital it can’t be polyfilled. For me it’s a minor annoyance since it works in Chrome and Firefox, but that minor annoyance is valuable to me. It reminds me to keep the less tech savvy in mind in my own front end coding. And how time has flown since I got into web coding in 1997.

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Well, thanks for the compliment. I don’t browse the internet as much as I used to as I age, but I do my best. :smiley:

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The latest Jean-Pierre Jeunet film, Bigbug, takes place in the year 2045 and features lots of fun silly sci-fi stuff like an android uprising, sexbots and flying cars. (It’s no Amélie, but I still recommend it if you like that director.) But probably the silliest, most unbelievable plot element is that one of the characters manages to get online using an old Macintosh.

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I think it’s great to point it out when companies go the extra mile. Often developers have the beefiest boxes and if older hardware or software is checked, it’s often a cursory test. Problems are a lot more obvious when you’re living with old hardware. Often, those problems aren’t all that difficult to solve. It’s easy to overlook.

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