The Evergreen Web
I visited a website on my company's Intranet today using Microsoft Edge (the new "evergreen" browser in Windows 10*) and got an interesting warning. "This website needs Internet Explorer." At first I was taken aback, but then I got to thinking about it and it made sense.
Let me back up. I was talking with awesome Web Developer Catt Small today and she mentioned how sometimes Chrome will update silently and break some little piece of the web in order to move the larger web forward. This means that Catt would have to then update her website to support this new feature or tweak the way she uses a feature in order for Random Visitor to have a Good Experience. This is life on the Evergreen Web and we techies are generally cool with it.
In a world where we all write our websites with feature detection and (generally) gracefully degrade when features aren't around, things just work. But at the same time, it does make the Web itself a moving target.
However, a few important aspects need to be called out in my opinion.
With an Evergreen Web comes Great Responsibility
Firefox, Edge, Chrome are all Evergreen browsers now. They really need to make smart decisions - hopefully as a collective when appropriate - to not Break Everything.
We also need to realize that we will have to leave some folks behind. Some older operating systems won't be able to run the latest browser. Some browsers come with the operating system or phone and don't upgrade often.
If we're gonna do this, we all need to do it
Everyone needs to get on board (*cough*Safari) and move forward.
An Evergreen Web is a kind of privilege
This is an interesting one that Catt and I talked about (podcast coming soon!) Again, not every company has the money, resources, or patience to keep their sites Evergreen. Things will break. Not every non-technical relative will have an Evergreen browser. These may seem like edge cases, but they aren't.
My wife has been in university these last few years and I swear it's like browsing the web in 2003. She's got a collection of browsers, literally, and bookmarked the school's sites that work in specific browsers. I'll find her running IE, Edge, Chrome, and Firefox on her own, and when I ask what's up, I'm told that "this blackboard site only works in Firefox" or "this testing app only works in IE."
This kind of haves-and-have-nots split will continue for the foreseeable future while mission-critical (everything mission critical to someone) apps continue to be used.
Compatibility Modes (however they are implemented) will be important
While your startup or agile team can likely fix little issues that pop up on your websites, that super-old web-based Expense reporting system that your company use DOES WORK in the right browser. It works. It's OK that it works and it should be allowed to work. While I was shaken by the error message I saw above for a moment, I understood it and I was able to get my "nevergreen" copy of IE to open that old-but-functional website quite nicely. I've found myself wishing, on occasion, that my copy of Chrome 44 could just act like Chrome 38 for a site or two.
Additionally, there will be Enterprises that won't (for whatever reason) want to be as Evergreen as we'd like them to be. There concerns are usually around compatibility. For many giant companies, changing stuff means breaking stuff.
* Evergreen browsers are always fresh, always updated. Chrome and Edge are "evergreen" browsers that support the latest Web Technologies and most importantly you shouldn't have to think about version numbers.
Do you welcome our Evergreen Overlords? Sound off in the comments.
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* Photo "Road Work" by Grempz used under CC BY 2.0
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