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Another Year of IE6

Posted @ 2:58 pm by Grady Kuhnline | Category: Technology | 0 Comments

IE6 has inspired a fair amount of ire within the web development community, largely because of its age. When IE6 was created, Microsoft was blessed with a lack of competition; check out the usage statistics from 2002 and 2003. Adding to the tension is the fact that all of the various versions of IE have had their special kind of CSS display weirdness (I can’t remember ever having to worry about a new version of Firefox breaking all of my websites). While the days of supporting IE 5.0, IE 5.2.x for Mac, IE 5.5 and IE 6 all at once are over, there’s still three very different versions of IE in use today. Over the last several years all traces of IE5 have all but vanished from the Internet while IE6 is still going strong.

But now the browser landscape has changed and Microsoft is moving strongly towards standards support and there is a much more diverse marketplace than there was in 2001. With the pending release of Windows 7, the recent releases of Firefox 3.5 and Safari 4, and the coming utopiaor not — of HTML5 and CSS3 there’s a renewed interest in killing IE6. This is actually a great opportunity to start moving web technology forward — especially with the vastly improved JavaScript performance of the latest browsers — but IE6 will likely be around for a little while longer.

DIGG recently posted a fantastic article on their blog that proved our anecdotal hunch to be correct; IE6 is still around because of corporate users that are mandated to use IE6 by their global IT support team. The most interesting portion of their article showed that nearly 70% of the people still using IE6 are forced to use it while at work. Many companies spent significant amounts money on systems that relied on ActiveX controls (and other proprietary IE6 technology) for internal web applications and now upgrading is an expensive proposition (I recently did work with a company that requires IE6 to connect their corporate VPN). The DIGG article rightly concludes that, “this goes directly to why most folks use IE6: they don’t have a choice. [Asking them to upgrade] in this case is not only pointless; it’s sadistic.”

While it’s sadistic to force corporate users to upgrade IE6, many developers are starting to question the real costs of developing for that browser. Many high profile sites — with little need to support corporate visitors — are already dropping support. It’s going to make sense for companies to start charging for the privilege of supporting IE6.

Many development firms are discussing the possibilities of reducing or even dropping IE6 support in the coming year or at least charging extra for IE6 support. This will likely come in a few flavors:

A lot of the fixes to make IE6 act like other browsers require JavaScript, and IE6 is almost 10 times slower than modern browsers, which just adds to the pain. The most sensible thing is to design for a reduced IE6 display, removing drop-shadows and rounded corners and other visual eye-candy. Without removing some of the visual bells and whistles the IE6 user experience is almost unbearable as page loads are significantly slowed by extra JavaScript execution ironically designed to make the experience better.

The beginnings of HTML5 support are already on the market in the most recent round of browsers and CSS3 support is on the way. The limitations of IE6 are becoming a hindrance to progress in the web development world. SolutionSet will be able to better serve the needs of our clients by phasing out IE6 support except for the projects that absolutely demand it. While the predicted adoption rate for Windows 7 is currently bleak, those reports are, in my opinion, wrong. Microsoft likely is not going to allow new hardware to be sold with Widnows XP after Windows 7 is released. On top of that, Windows 7 allows users to run XP programs, which will in turn allow them to continue to use IE6 in Windows 7. The important difference is that IE6 will no longer be their default browser; they’ll have IE8 (and in Europe they’ll have whatever they want).

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