Keeping up with the Jobsians

So, unless you’ve been under a rock for the past couple of years you’ll have been hearing about this wonderful new HTML5 technology everyone’s getting all excited about. And even if you have spent the past two years on an extended potholing trip, it’s likely that at least someone you know, probably someone important – actually, probably you – bought themselves an iPad and will be very keen to ensure that they can access e-learning content on their shiny new tablet. And how’s that going to work?

Responsive e-learning on older browsers? No problem... Here’s some things you should know:


That’s all very well, but...

As you might know we’re very keen on Responsive e-learning Design. That means creating one version that works everywhere. We use HTML5 to make that happen. That’s fine in principle but the issue you’ll soon encounter is that whilst you’ve got a small core of people in the organisation using new technology like iPads, with extensive support for all the new features in HTML5 (but – infamously – no support for Flash), the vast majority of users with desktops and laptops are still going to be running that dinosaur of web technology: Microsoft Internet Explorer. And we can’t leave them behind.
If you’re extremely lucky, your organisation will be up to date and running Windows 7 and IE9 (Windows 8/IE10 is actually the latest version – but that only came out in October so let’s cut you some slack). Even then you’ll be using the browser with pretty much the worst HTML 5 support of any of the major browsers.

More likely the situation is that you’ll have many users still on IE8 or IE7, or – if you’re very unlucky – people still running that bane of all web developers’ (and Microsoft’s) lives: IE6. Let’s not go further back for the sake of decency.

So the problem you’ve inevitably got is how to make your content work well on all the new kit whilst still supporting the old. Particularly if you’ve got IE6 in the mix as just about every major framework out there has decided to drop support for it (with the sole exception of JQuery – and even they’re planning to give up supporting it in v2.0).

If you’re just supporting IE7 and/or IE8 you’ve got a slightly easier time of it: you can use frameworks like Modernizr and techniques like cross-browser polyfills (which a lot of the time just means ‘revert back to Flash’) - but that’s all extra work and, therefore, extra cost both to set up and to test.
So, how do you keep up with the Jobsians whilst still supporting the Microsoft dinosaurs and without incurring extra cost on each project? Can we still have one version for multiple devices, if those devices are running very old browsers?

The magic bullet: Google Chrome Frame

Well, it turns out that – for once! – there’s a really easy way of doing that: the clever folks over at Mountain View have already pondered upon and solved this problem for you – and the solution they’ve come up with is Google Chrome Frame. Ta-da!
Google Chrome Frame (GCF) is a clever little browser plugin for IE6/7/8/9 that can soup these older browsers up with the amazing HTML5 power of Google Chrome.
When it’s running, it’s basically as if you’ve got Google Chrome running right there inside of Microsoft Internet Explorer. Amazing!
It’s really simple to install – even on locked-down PCs as it doesn’t require ‘administrator access’ – though obviously it’s far better to get your IT department to roll it out properly. And of course Google have thought of that and provided plenty of highly configurable, IT-friendly options for doing exactly that - see the GCF administrator’s guide for more info. (Note – we didn’t tell you to just go and download it yourself).
Once installed, the default behaviour of GCF is to remain inactive – this is to make sure it doesn’t accidentally break any existing content by suddenly rendering it differently.
To activate it, a content developer simply adds one line of code to their webpage. They can choose to activate it for all IE users, or for specific versions only. For example, it may only be IE8 you’re struggling with so you can enable just for that but leave IE9 running as normal.
(You can also activate it at the server level as well if that’s easier; handy if you want to activate it for all the content on your LMS/Intranet.)
As an added benefit, GCF (as with Google Chrome itself) comes bundled with Adobe Flash Player. So whenever GCF is active, your users will also be using the latest version of Flash Player.
And don’t forget - if you’ve got multiple versions of Internet Explorer out there (as of October 2012 there are now five versions of Internet Explorer that are still officially supported by Microsoft) your cross-browser testing costs are going to disappear as you’ll effectively be switching everyone to be on the same browser version. Very good news for support!
Not only that, but (at the time of writing) it’s the browser with the best HTML5 support of any of the major browsers...
So go on - roll out Google Chrome Frame today and evolve your dinosaur browsers into super HTML5 beings overnight. Up with browser equality! Petition your IT department now...