Well, Bless Your Heart

So, one of our web applications has some combination of html forms, css, and javascript that triggers a bug in revisions of Microsoft Internet Explorer version 6.

Basically – the edit action, which pops up three text areas, and a bunch of check boxes with some UI and xhttprequest javascript – causes IE 6.mumble to lock up. (and whatever else happens to the user’s computer when IE locks up).

The problem has been going on for a while. We have a number of reports about it, colleagues have actually seen it, and at least four of us have spent dozens of hours trying to reproduce the problem and fix whatever combination of forms, css, and javascript that all work in the other browsers. We can’t reproduce it “in lab” or even in situations where we can try to debug anything – so we’ve taken big in-the-dark stabs at fixing it.

Nothing has worked.

Given that the IE 6 browsers was initially released in August of 2001 – lately we’ve just taken the tack of asking folks to upgrade to IE version 7 (or go to Firefox) There’s lots of reasons to do that already, our IT colleagues throughout the country have moved or are moving in that direction already – and it makes good sense all around – and IE 7 works with our application without locking up.

This actually seems to be going over pretty well.

Well, a few days ago we had a person mail us – they use IE 6 and IE locked up using our application. This is what they said:

I am using IE, and although I understand that you guys hate IE from previous bug conversations, this is what most of our clients use…and therefore bugs need to be fixed for all browsers.

Thankfully a coworker got to this first with the nice answer. Because I am incredibly irritated by the implication in that comment (we have, well, a “history” here)

To be fair to the person that commented, a) we haven’t gotten back with the individual about the IE lockups prior to this and b) they did get a heckuva quote last year from a colleague:

While Internet Explorer locking up is not our problem to fix, we are certainly open to trying to play nicely with Microsoft’s broken software because it pervades the earth and probably the underworld.

So the “you guys hate IE” – well maybe that’s warranted. It is perhaps okay to ascribe to us some kind of visceral feeling about Internet Explorer. It certainly is fair to say that I – and many of my colleagues don’t like IE. In fact, I’ll give the commenter their due. I personally really very much dislike Microsoft Internet Explorer. In frustration moments I’ll even use the word “hate IE.”

I’ll grant you – it’s weird. I mean, it’s silly to harbor any kind of emotional response to a piece of software – right? Software is what it is – and is what the developer, or the development group, or the community, or in many organizations, the legions of task forces, work teams, and camel-designing committees made it to be. While it might appear to have some life of it’s own, unless you are out on the limb in self-modifying code and AI research, software is just a series of instructions meant to mirror real-world processes as interpreted by the afore mentioned groups. Nothing more, nothing less.

But Internet Explorer is different.

Security problems in the software, and the failure of Microsoft to adequately address those problems for several years impacted the work of tens of thousands of people and organizations – and those same security problems facilitated fraud and identity theft of many people. In any other industry other than software, there would have been class-action lawsuits – and recalls of the defective products.

You know what, any piece of software that makes it easier for my grandparents to get swindled by the modern day equivalent of snake oil salesmen is not going to engender any kind of warm spot in my heart for it.

For our development teams, items which conform to established standards and best practices require workarounds and “hacks” to work with Internet Explorer 6 that impact the stability and program operation with others browsers – and take away from the overall utility of the product. It’s a serious issue, that impacts our industry in very big ways.

I’ve personally wasted hours and hours of my life over the years dealing with IE’s lack of conformance to web standards – or accepted modern design/coding practices.

Now, the emotions are probably best reserved for the Microsoft leadership that makes the decisions about how IE is developed, but it’s easier to direct feelings at the inanimate software rather than the human beings. I wouldn’t want to say that I dislike the IE management team. I’m sure they are nice men and women in life outside of work – they just make some really incredibly stupid decisions that affect a whole lot of people out there. Or maybe it’s the Microsoft lawyers. I’d much rather dislike Microsoft lawyers than the developers and the inanimate software.

But in life, it’s probably better to direct one’s ire to idols rather than humans. And my ire has a completely professional, experienced, basis. Just as any one in any other field will make a professional judgment about one piece of equipment, one tool, one product, one service over another. Some people dislike Big Macs. I dislike IE.

But that’s not what I’m writing about. What I’m writing about is something else about that person’s comment. You know – that implication in that person’s note is that because we don’t like IE (excuse me, “hate IE”) that we aren’t actively working on bugs.

I can’t tell you how insulting that is. Have I personally held a emotional, borderline visceral, transferred-to-inanimate-object feeling for IE? Oh yes. I have freely admitted here that I do.

But at no time does my preference against or for any software ever stop me from doing what I can to solve problems with any software packages interacting with the works that I create. And I’ve never known any of my professional colleagues to do anything different.

I’d bet serious money, that had I written the same implication – they if they didn’t like a piece of equipment, or product in their field, and that they needed to provide better consultation because their service/advice/etc. needed to be relevant with all products – they would have had a fit, mea culpas would have been issued, there would have been all kinds of hand-wringing, etc.

But because I dare hold a professional opinion about the tools and services of my professional trade – my, and my colleagues’, focus is called into question. And that’s accepted practice from those dealing with IT groups.

I know I should be used to this by now. But I will tell you what – I’m getting more and more fed up with this in higher education. My professional colleagues and I invest as much, if not more, time, effort and energy into our professional practice and development as any of our colleagues in different roles in the Academy.

Thankfully I know educators, researchers, and administrative colleagues that really do get this. For those others – well there’s a good ol’ southern phrase that fits perfectly well here:

“Well, bless your heart”

Anyone that grew up in the south will get that. If you didn’t – it won’t be hard to figure out.