Thursday, February 05, 2009

Content! Third-hand content, but still, content!

One of the people I encountered in all the discussion on higher ed in the web design industry is Kurt Schmidt. (, isn't that one of the greatest domain names ever?)

Since then, I've been following his blog semi-daily. Earlier today he posted Make Your Site Faster - Or Else!, which is his take on info from Geeking with Greg. I started to reply to Kurt, but about the time I started my 3rd paragraph I figured I should just turn it into a blog post here. See what I mean about blogs and peer review?

The importance of speed and performance on the user experience is something that I'm currently struggling with. In the redesign I'm working on, I've made extensive use of jQuery. Everything runs super quick on all the Mac browsers. Chrome and Safari on Windows also blaze. Firefox on Windows is noticeably slower than the rest, but still tolerable. Who does that leave to drool on his shirt and crap his pants at the browser testing party?

Both IE6 and IE7 are intolerably slow. I've considered simply filtering out IE6 from all the js goodness. Since I've designed for progressive enhancement, everything will still function, just not the same way. But that still leaves IE7 users with a clunky and ungraceful experience. As much as I hate IE, I won't kid myself about it's market share.

The best solution from the users' point of view would be to test each jQuery implementation on the site separately and selectively enable/disable for IE based on performance in context. Some of the stuff I'm doing on the redesign works fine in IE. I know because I've been doing it on the current site for more than a year.

I also need to dig deeper into my jQuery-fu and make sure my calls are as efficient as possible. But some of it is straight up plug in functionality. I'm not too keen on rewriting other people's plug ins to increase efficiency. The next version of Firefox will probably incorporate ideas currently only available in Chrome's V8 js engine, making it's tolerable performance that much better. But that will probably just widen the gap between IE users and everyone else even more!

The next current version of jQuery (which I haven't updated to yet, oops) will also have a revamped selection engine that should boost performance across the board. But unless those changes impact performance in IE a hell of a lot more than everyone else, the gap will still be huge. It's the gap in the user experience that worries me.

What little testing I've done so far would seem to indicate that IE6 is bad at say 2000 milliseconds. IE7 is barely any better and a lot less consistent, with speeds ranging from 1500-2300ms. Firefox is around 700ms. Opera is 300-400ms. Safari is 200-300ms. Chrome is about 150ms (10 times better than IE7's best run!). I guess with those numbers, even if sizzle improves performance by 20% across the board, Chrome gains 30ms and IE7 gains at least 300ms. Maybe the gap will get smaller. But still, 1.2 seconds waiting for all the js to trigger is unacceptable from a user centered outlook. But why should I be punished as a designer and the 20% or so of our users who don't run IE miss out on those enhancements simply because IE can't get it's crap together? These sorts of situations are the only part of my job I hate. I'll stop there before this turns into a rant.

Well, now that I know the new version of jQuery is out, it's pointless to flap my jaw any more about this stuff until I've updated and retested. I've got work to do.

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