Since March of last year the top 4 Web browser developers (Microsoft, Google, Firefox and Apple) have released seventeen (17) new browser versions.

Partially fueling this explosion in upgrades is Google which introduced the 6 week rapid release cycle in July of 2010, prior to that Google Chrome releases where every 3 months. Even 4 times a year was a tight schedule given the previous history of many months if not a year or more between version releases of the major browsers. Firefox has since followed suit and Microsoft has made an evident push to release new versions quickly as well. At first thought, this sounds great. Enhancements to the browser environment are now pushed to the public at record pace and no longer do we have to wait months or even a year or more to take advantage of the latest technologies. Developers can also take advantage as they quickly adopt the latest technology and bugs are squashed quickly as well. All this sounds great, but…. There is also a large negative impact from such rapid releases:

Developing New Sites, A Moving Target
Typically Web developers will include the browser compatibility specs within their scope of work. This ensures the buyer that their site will work within all major browsers and provides a developer a set of target environments by which to test against. The one thing developers simply can’t do is guarantee against future technologies because they simply don’t control the browser developers.

Corporate IT Approval Processes
IT departments typically provide policies to what software and what software versions can be used in a corporate environment. Rapid release cycles, do not provide adequate time for testing and approval by large corporations. They also do not address the cost associated with keeping such policies and workstations up to date. So it is inevitable that any large corporate environment will quickly fall behind.

Testing and Updating Old Sites – Website Maintenance
With such fast releases developers don’t have time to test currently live Web sites and many clients don’t understand to ask that browser testing be made part of their support plan. Many times a browser compatibility issue is a simple design tweak (HTML or CSS) but other times it can render an application non-functioning. It is important to conduct browser compatibility testing, both automated and manual, on a regular basis. Make it part of your Web support plan.