Is your elearning ready for IE11?

So, I know you've probably only just got over the news that Microsoft were dropping support for Windows XP - but I'm afraid to say I've got more bad news for you on that front: Microsoft is ending support for all previous versions of Internet Explorer, except for the most recent IE11 version. This is scheduled to happen on 12th January 2016, which if you are paying attention to your calendar, is just around the corner.    

What this means for Learning Developers 

Now, as I'm sure you can imagine, this is quite a change. Despite IE11 having the worst score on HTML5test.com of any browser since Safari 5, this is a huge improvement for those of us developing new content - it's a massive leap into the modern world for this corporate mainstay. However, Microsoft's laudable determination to make IE more standards-compliant may very well lead to issues with it having problems running content that worked fine in earlier versions.  For example, one of the major changes in IE11 is that its 'user agent string' no longer identifies it as being Microsoft Internet Explorer - now it simply says that it is 'like gecko' (which sounds very odd indeed if you don't know that Gecko is the HTML rendering engine used by Firefox). Whilst this may sound minor, I can think of at least one instance where this change alone would prevent an entire organisation's elearning content from launching! 

So, what do you do next?  

Well, the obvious course of action is to start preparing as soon as possible because it's likely that some of the problems will take a while to resolve. 

  • Make sure you identify those web services most important to your business and test them for IE11 support as soon as you can so that you get a good picture of what's fine and what's going to cause you problems..
  • Make sure you start asking vendors to include IE11 support for anything they are in the process of building for you or anything that's in the pipeline..
  • Make your vendors aware that you'll be testing legacy content for IE11 - maybe they can help you with this or give you advice as to what content to test first, what issues they already know about and any fixes that could be applied right away.

 As a rule of thumb, I would say that the older the version of IE you're currently supporting, the more issues you're likely to run into - and that courses built in Flash are less likely to have issues than courses built in HTML.   

Supporting legacy content in IE11

If you’ve got legacy content that’s not working in IE11, fret not: there are a few options available to you.

  • Use the Enterprise Mode feature of IE11. This feature was added by Microsoft specifically to help organisations use legacy content within IE11 by allowing administrators to force IE11 to behave like IE8 for specific sites - or even specific pages.
  • Take advantage of the Compatibility View feature that was introduced in IE8. The feature will essentially make IE behave like IE7. Note that Compatibility View is enabled by default for anything Internet Explorer believes is an intranet site – so if you want to be able to use HTML5 within your intranet, you’ll want to switch off the setting ‘Display intranet sites in Compatibility View’.
  • Make use of the ‘document modes’ feature, which has been available in all recent versions of Internet Explorer. The feature will not be supported after IE11, but for now you can specify via your content, via your web server or via the Enterprise Mode Site List how Internet Explorer should render the content. This is a quick fix solution if you've got legacy content that really isn't working with IE11 and can't be updated in a reasonable amount of time. ‘Document modes’ should hopefully help you get around the issue by telling IE11 to behave like IE10, 9 or 8 - whatever it takes to get the content working again.

Time to switch to a new browser? 

Finally, it's worth pointing out that this is a good opportunity to evaluate an alternative browser like Chrome, Firefox or Opera.

  • Chrome seems like the popular option these days - its constant updates are a source of concern to many IT departments – but this can be mitigated by using Chrome for Work.
  • Firefox has the option of an Extended Support Release which will mean major version upgrades can rolled out on an annual basis, to a published schedule - something which usually makes IT departments rest a little easier. It also puts the privacy of its users front and centre and is the only one of the major browsers to be 100% open-source.
  • Opera is often-overlooked option despite having been around far longer than Firefox or Chrome – as long as Internet Explorer, in fact. Opera is very feature-rich and uses the same rendering engine as Chrome – so anything that works in Chrome should work fine in Opera.

Many organisations - even if they don't make the full switch - are starting to see sense in having one of the alternatives installed alongside IE. To help manage this, there are products available on the market (Browsium Catalyst, for example) that can allow you to control which browser gets used for different types of content.

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