Leading the Fight to Say Farewell to IE6
Aug 15, 2011
Another major website has said goodbye to supporting Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 6 — a broken, insecure, decade-old web browser. When WordPress — one of the major competitors in the open-source blogging software marketplace — released version 3.2 on Independence Day here in the United States, they joined companies and sites such as Google and Facebook who have said, “no more” to the derelict of a browser.
Yet IE6 just won’t die. Your mileage may vary, but checking out many Google Analytics web site profiles, you’ll find there are still IE6 users out there. According to that virtual book of knowledge, Wikipedia, as of February 2010, Internet Explorer 6.x’s global market share ranged from 10%-20%.
Obviously, the numbers that matter are your numbers, and hopefully your analytics show much smaller numbers of IE6 users. The numbers that we don’t have, but would definitely put the proverbial nail in the coffin is whether the added time that goes in on focusing on older browsers, and their broken and quirky bits actually translates into any sort of return on investment (greater or equal to the time put in). My guess is it does not translate.
That time would have a better ROI focusing on new features, streamlining code or quality assurance. Selfishly, I’d prefer to clean up and tweak my code for speed, rather than have to create duplicate rules and frameworks for IE6.
Whether the numbers are there or not, there is one sure way to force users to upgrade — cease support. Don’t sign petitions. Don’t put goofy “Die IE6” banners on your sites. Don’t even complain about IE6. Just stop. Instead of continuing to browser test and making conditional style sheets that placate IE6, just stop. The more developers, designers and other web professionals that give up on IE6, the more consumers that will have to give up on it as well. Those consumers who don’t upgrade will just have to deal with web sites that are as broken and lacking in features as their decade-old browser is itself. A support shutdown may result in a bit of backlash, but I’d love to be able to get some real-world complaints on an e-commerce site, and associate them with the user’s order history.
Now there are plenty of developers out there that want you to upgrade to the latest and greatest just because it is the latest and greatest, but here are a few common sense reasons why you should be encouraging upgrading:
1. Instability. Microsoft itself acknowledges 234 distinct releases of IE6 they support. That equates to both a ton of testing and great probability that a security hole may not get fixed in the version you’re running. There are also still many vulnerabilities and just plain bugs that can cause the browser to crash or become unstable, most of which will never be fixed, patched or even acknowledged.
2. Vulnerability. A user with IE6 as their default browser is using an outdated operating system – Windows XP is the newest that runs IE6. There have been two major OS updates since: Vista and Windows 7. These IE6 users are likely to be using older hardware and likely not to be doing software updates (service packs) meaning they’re more susceptible to viruses, malware and bugs. Their computer experience as a whole is likely to be sub-standard, and may be a self-fulfilling prophecy of bad online experiences.
Those two should be reason enough to upgrade, but how about two cosmetic reasons as well?
3. CSS. IE6 doesn’t support CSS2 fully, and it never will. Sadly, most of the cool and efficient things that CSS can do for your web sites will never see the light of day in IE6 browsers. Take a moment to think about that IE6 never fully supported CSS version 2. We’re now deep in CSS3 support everywhere else.
4. Transparency. PNGs with full transparency aren’t supported in the aging browser, meaning you’re more likely to see a gray box in the place of what’s beneath a given image. Sure this is cosmetic, but PNGs are commonplace on the web in 2011. There are limited fixes to fake or make transparency work in IE6, but they all are clunky, and a user with an old browser on an old computer is only going to get more bogged down.
5. Cheap as Free. As long as you’re running at least Windows XP, you’ve got a choice of a newer Internet Explorer version that’s faster, better and more secure. Google Chrome will run on Windows XP or newer. If you’re stuck on Windows 2000, or even Windows 98, the newest versions of any of the browsers won’t run. But there are still readily available old versions of Firefox, Chrome and Opera — all of which are safer alternatives to IE6. All of the above are free. While upgrading an old OS will have costs associated, running a newer browser won’t.
None of those things are really necessary to get around the web, but when combined with the instability and vulnerability, they make a short list that should make anyone want to give up their IE6 habit.
Sadly, IE6 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Microsoft has said that they will support IE6 until Windows XP SP3 support ceases in 2014.
A lot of this article has probably been preaching to the choir. I’m sure few of you out there reading this (and making it this far) are using IE6 — or any version of Internet Explorer for that matter — when free, fast alternatives exist out there such as Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Safari.
But here’s where we come in. As web developers, designers, and the like, we’re still supporting IE6 even if it’s in limited fashion. The more of the audience we can get off of IE6, the more of an easy sell it is to clients and customers to not worry about IE6, or even it’s slightly fresher 5+ year old brother, IE7.
There’s always something newer, better and faster out there when it comes to computers, but when there are free and plentiful options, shouldn’t we be leading the fight, pushing for people to drop older web browsers for newer, faster and better? Consider it your web civic duty to help your fellow web professionals.