To hell with IE6? More like to hell with “good enough”

Friday, February 13th, 2009 at 1:17 pm

Lately a lot of bloggers have started venting their frustration on IE6 - Robert Nyman got the ball rollling, Roger Johannson enforced the argument and now Ara Pehlivanian chimes in. The general consensus is that people should stop making things work pixel-perfect for IE6 at the cost of delaying projects or adding cruft to the code. This brings on fond memories of Jeffrey Zeldman’s To Hell With Bad Browsers and WaSP’s browser upgrade campaign which was great (although I always considered the javelin thrower a bit creepy) but like then it makes you wonder who we are talking to with these campaigns.

As I pointed out in my comment on Ara’s post I thoroughly support the sentiment but consider it misguided:

As much as I would love to see IE6 being taken out into the garden and beaten by kids with sticks before being set on fire, I’d say there is a lot of fallacy in the argument that we as web developers have much say in the matter. Of course users have the choice to use any other browser, but the sad fact is that IE6 prevails in environments where users don’t have the option to upgrade their browser as IT defines what software is on the computer. These are the same companies that block Facebook and Flickr as it distracts people from “doing real work”.

The “good enough” syndrome

Actually this to me is a symptom of a bigger cause, one that I call the “good enough” syndrome. That’s the thing that keeps us from improving a lot of working environments: people are happy to use a half-baked solution that doesn’t require any additional work instead of keeping their setup up-to-date.

Not everybody is as enthusiastic about IT as we are and in most cases computers are a tool to reach a goal. That is the same for us but in a lot of cases the users simply don’t want to be bored with details. Instead they just want to use the damn thing.

It doesn’t matter how convoluted and braindead a process to get where they need to get is – once learned, this is the way to go and it is easy to repeat this every time it has to be done. Learning an easier way or trying out a different technology is extra work and seems superfluous – the time for the braindead task is already allocated and there is no point in shifting the interaction with that computer thing around.

Paper trail conditioning

You get the same happenings in companies and when it comes to paperwork. A lot of steps in internal processes or in ordering forms are completely redundant – ludicrous even. But as they are the way that things have to be done and questioning them means more work and “rocking the boat” we stick to them. There must be a reason for them, after all, right? We don’t work with idiots, there must be some good reason for all these redundant steps. We could ask for those reasons but that is too much work – after all we need this time to follow all these steps that have to be done, right?

Keeping the saw blunt – computers don’t evolve, right?

As computers are magical and too hard to understand there is also not much sense in questioning the status quo: whatever they use at work must be the best thing there is as we work with professionals. As geeks we like to push the boundaries of our toys and use them for all kind of cool things. Most of all we like to tinker with the toy itself which gets us far too close to the subject matter. A lot of of other users out there however see it as a tool to either get work done or to be entertained.

My favourite example is my brother: he wanted a computer to do some graphical work, to write reports for his job and to play games. Having these three tasks of course he needed a Windows machine as all his colleagues had one and can lend him games to try out. He also spends most of his time trying out new virus scanning tools and firewalls as all his colleagues tell him about all the evil viruses out there. Last time I checked his machine there were 3 virus scanners and 2 firewalls running and he wondered why the computer is so slow and why he needed yet another video card to run a new game. I bought him a Wii and introduced him to Macs and Linux, but that’s not on as the latter two don’t run games and there is no Word for it.

All in all the setup is “good enough” as he is not a professional and it allows him to do what he wants to do. That there are easier and better ways out there is neither here nor there, it took long enough to get the hang of it and other things will be harder to learn, after all everybody uses this setup and is protected by Virus scanners – it has to be the right one. That many people cannot be wrong.

The good enough syndrome manifests itself in a milder form of Stockholm Syndrome where people start defending the terrible solutions and complex processes with claws and teeth instead of keeping an open mind and trying out something new. Want an example in our world? Table layouts vs. CSS layouts :)

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