Should IE6 be allowed to die?

If you’re a web designer or developer, you’ll be familiar with the plethora of websites set up for no other purpose than to persuade people who still use Internet Explorer 6 to upgrade to a newer version or switch to a non-Microsoft browser. Take a look at IE6nomore, IE6 Update, and there are many more.

The premise behind all this bleating is that IE6 (a) causes web developers so many more problems than other browsers, (b) is a huge security risk, and (c) is so old (nine years, no less!), that it should be put out to pasture and no longer supported.

However, if you’re not a web developer, you probably don’t care. You might not even know the name of your browser (the program you use to surf the web), let alone the version. To be fair, why should you? A computer is an appliance, like a TV, right? Why should you have to know whether your TV is PAL or SECAM? And that’s one of the issues here. But it’s not the only one…

Why IE6 cannot be ignored

  • Government departments and large companies all over the world use custom web applications that were developed for IE6 (back in the day!), and their IT departments frequently forbid the installation of any other browser on the thousands of PCs they control.
  • Users of Windows 2000 (or even earlier versions), of which there are still more than you think, cannot upgrade Internet Explorer beyond version 6 (though of course they could install a competing browser).
  • IE6 is the default browser on Windows XP, which still has a huge install base.
  • The majority of PC users don’t know much about browsers, or upgrading. If they can use the websites they want to use, they are happy.
  • IE6 is currently installed and used on about 15% of computers around the world.
  • Microsoft (bless ’em) are continuing to support it by releasing security updates until 2014.

Why IE6 should be ignored

  • Depending on the features required (and the ability of the developer), making a website work with IE6 as well as more modern browsers can add between 10% and 50% to the development time.
  • It is very insecure, offering all kinds of ways for hackers to gain control of a computer. And because the kind of people using IE6 at home are probably the kind of people who know nothing about Windows Update or firewalls, the risk is increased.
  • It runs very slowly compared to newer (particularly non-Microsoft) browsers.
  • It doesn’t offer tabbed browsing, a major saver of time and computing power.
  • Many common website features (e.g. dotted borders, partial transparency, etc) are much more difficult for developers to achieve when building a site.
  • These and other issues are actually holding back the progress of web development in general, in that developers avoid building cool new features into sites because there is no way to make them work on IE6.
  • There is a growing movement of companies and public bodies that are declaring the end of their support for IE6. Recently, Google (arguably the most important company in the world now, ahead of Microsoft) announced that their online web services such as Google Docs will no longer be IE6-compatible. Also recently, France and Germany started to encourage their citizens and public bodies to move to a newer browser, and there is now a petition to the UK government as well.
  • It’s nine years old! I mean, come on…

So where does that leave us? Should developers such as myself stop ensuring that our sites work in IE6 as well as more modern browsers? Is the user base and groundswell of opinion changing enough for us to let it wither on the vine?

I say yes and no.

First of all, an allegory for all you web developers. Imagine you’re a mechanic at a European Ford dealer. Every day you maintain and service modern cars like the Focus, Fiesta, Mondeo, etc. But when someone brings in a rusty old Granada, which is really difficult to repair and will still be a complete dog even when it’s running OK, you still have to do your best, right? In the same way, if your customers want you to support old software, that’s their choice, and the customer is king…


It seems to me that there are some compromises available here.

One option for developers is to ignore IE6 “by default”, testing new websites only in IE7, IE8 and the non-Microsoft browsers. If a customer requires IE6 compatibility, offer this at extra cost. In this way you are compensated properly for the extra work involved.

Another option is to ensure new websites are functional in IE6, and look broadly the same as they do on proper browsers, but decide to ignore minor visual differences, such as the border and transparency issues noted above. This might mean you still have to fix some layout issues, but if you’re a good developer it will still be quicker and easier than making everything look and work identically.

Finally, of course, you may decide to “do your bit” for the “kill off IE6” movement, by placing a notice on your sites that is only shown if a user visits using IE6. This notice would encourage them (hopefully in a polite way) to consider upgrading, for their own benefit as well as yours.

So what to do?

I have been applying the second compromise option for the last few months – my sites work fine on IE6, but often there will be visual differences, such as a grey background covering parts of a layered image, or buttons looking a bit untidy on a form.

Then, for sites that have an admin console behind a login, I ignore IE6 completely when building that part of the site. My reasoning is that only a limited number of people will have access (usually just my client), and asking a few people to avoid IE6 is rather more reasonable than asking everyone.

For now I plan to continue with this approach, because it costs me very little in extra development time, and I have had no complaints.

However, that leaves the question of whether I should place any kind of notice on my sites that will be shown to IE6 users.

For client sites, the answer is a very quick and final “NO“. This isn’t their battle, and I have no right to draw them into it.

For my own projects, I have decided to start doing this. I will be designing my own notice, though, rather than adopting any of the “standard” ones out there.

The one exception to this is the site you are now viewing. The ZigPress website is my portfolio and calling card, and as such it has to show that I am not phased by IE6 or any other browser in mainstream use. Anything else would be unprofessional.

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Posted by Web Monkey