Cross-browser support of web applications is generally overrated. Sure, it makes good business sense to make your product appeal to the broadest audience possible. But when it comes to web applications, I disagree.
Just today, when I released a public preview of NukeHTML (a HTML editor for DotNetNuke) there was a post on the ASP.Net forums about this issue. The poster was of the opinion that due to IE security flaws, more people use FireFox to edit their site content. This is impossible to prove and is therefore not a line of thought worth pursuing. It did get me thinking though. IE completely and totally dominates the browser market. That’s what the numbers say and is not an opinion. Even if a growing number of people are adopting FireFox, for a software business, does it make sense to make their web-based products cross-browser compatible?
After a few minutes of Googling, I decided that no one really knows. The obvious answer is that if your product is going to be used by website visitors, it makes sense to design it so that it remains accessible to non-IE browsers. Of course, if most of your site visitors use non-IE browsers, a different decision would be forthcoming. However, if you are building a web application, for a specific use (in this case HTML editing), for a specific audience (DotNetNuke portal content editors), then cross-browser compatibility is a complete waste of time from a pure business standpoint.
Businesses exist for one reason — to make a profit. If the total cost of developing a web app is increased by 20-40% to make it cross-browser compatible, is it better to go that route or is it better to keep the price down and make up for the (highly questionable) non-IE sales with an increase in IE volume? I think the latter strategy is going to be more profitable.
You can crunch the numbers in many ways, but here’s a quick and dirty example. Let’s say you have a product that will sell for $100 with IE-only compatibility and $120 with cross-browser compatibility (more development time = higher price). Assume the market size is 10,000 of which 9,000 are IE users and 1,000 are non-IE users. If 10% of the market purchased the IE-only product, you would get $90,000. Now, increase the price and make it cross-browser. Higher price causes the sales volume to decrease, let’s say by 3%. Now, you would only make $84,000 ( (630+70) * 120). These numbers would vary, but if you add the long-term costs of upgrades, support, testing etc. cross-browser becomes less and less attractive.
My conclusion: cross-browser compatibility has its place, but is not always the best decision. Sometimes it’s better (and more profitable) to stick with an IE-only solution.