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SiteMeter Fiasco Shows Developer Disregard For Internet Explorer

Friday night was full of late-night fireworks as Web sites and blogs using SiteMeter delivered an "Operation aborted" dialog box to every Internet Explorer user on every page. The problem was finally fixed on Saturday morning, but by then there were a whole lot of angry (former?) SiteMeter users.
Friday night was full of late-night fireworks as Web sites and blogs using SiteMeter delivered an "Operation aborted" dialog box to every Internet Explorer user on every page. The problem was finally fixed on Saturday morning, but by then there were a whole lot of angry (former?) SiteMeter users.There isn't any mystery as to the cause of these error messages. It was an unfixed, long-standing, well-known, well-documented bug in Internet Explorer. The SiteMeter script that Web sites insert into their pages tickled that bug. Even SiteMeter's own home page generated the error if you visited it with IE.

There's also no doubt where the blame lies for this fiasco. SiteMeter pushed out a change to its scripts late on a Friday and it wasn't tested adequately -- if at all - -on Internet Explorer. I can just see the developers rushing to finish before the weekend, then making their work live before heading out the door to celebrate with a beer. Visitors to SiteMeter's client sites were the first to notice the problem, but couldn't do anything other than complain; it seems like many sites didn't realize the problems were due to the SiteMeter code until early Saturday.

I do have some sympathy for SiteMeter's developers. Most likely, they all use Firefox as their main browser, for good reason. Yes, Internet Explorer still represents around 70% of the traffic on the Web, although it varies significantly by Web site. IE7 fixed some of the worst problems in IE6, but Web developers are still left to work around bugs like this one. That huge market share means that it's impossible ignore IE7 bugs, or even IE6 bugs, in a Web site design. If you ever want to put any Web developer or designer into an instant bad mood, say "Your site doesn't quite look right in Internet Explorer." Then run away before you get hurt.

There is a serious lack of quality tools for design and development in IE. Microsoft's IE Developer Toolbar does a respectable job for tweaking CSS, but its ancient Script Debugger is no match for what Firefox has with Firebug. There are dozens of other Firefox plugins that make development fast and easy; that's why Web site developers prefer the "minority" Web browser by a landslide.

With IE8, Microsoft seems to be making another big push to bring its browser up to par with Firefox. Let's hope it kills the "Operation Aborted" bug and delivers some up-to-date developer tools. We'll know it succeeded if SiteMeter releases an update that doesn't work with Firefox.