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…

However…

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.

38 Comments

  1. IE6 has a lot of bugs and as a web developer is pretty hard to create a site which works fine with all of the main browsers. If IE6 compatibility will disappear then all his users will choose something better. “The need teaches you”

  2. I’m comfortable using IE 6, if I will be asked to upgrade then I would make the big switch to firefox mozilla.

  3. As a designer I have to make sure my websites display correctly in IE6, even if it takes me a bit longer to finish each site. Unfortunately I cannot avoid IE6 as a lot of clients still use it and it will be a very long time before it disappears completely.

  4. This is a great article with a lot of great useful information. I will subscribe to your RSS Feed.

  5. IE6 is a beast… I cannot stand it, but agree that it carries a lot of value concerning how big of role it played in the development of a lot of short cuts and programs…. Would love to see it go, but it has to keep on….

  6. I think that IE 6 and IE 7 both should be ended, It’s my opinion. thanks for sharing the thoughts.

  7. Its long overdue. I think many organizations should follow google’s example.

  8. I think, IE itself should be allowed to die, not only IE6. 😉
    When developing a new website I hate it when everything works fine in Firefox and when you swap to IE there are several mistakes.
    But I agree with you that as a webdesigner you can´t ignore IE6. Many companies still use that browser, I know (big) companies which even use Windows XP or Windows 2000, IE6 and screen resolutions of 1024×768 or even smaller! But I think it also depends on the targeted visitors of the website, if the topic of the website is about latest software (for example), probably the visitors will use the latest browsers, others won´t.

  9. Interesting – we’re also following the route of “get it looking close but don’t fret if it’s not exact”.

  10. This is a daily debate in our office half the development teams with the “let it die” side and the other half is convinced that it will never die so we might as well program to accomodate. I’ve sent a link to this article to all of them!

  11. Long time coming this, they should shelf it already. IE 6 has way too many bugs. But then again IE 7 and IE 8 are no better! Chrome anyone? 😉

  12. IE6 should die. Almost every css code hack is related to sloppy M$ coding and thinking they own the Internet.

  13. I’m not a techie person, but I can definitely understand the need to stay current. If you want to enjoy the latest and greatest features, you need to stay current. The good news for users is that this upgrade doesn’t cost anything. Eventually, all technologies become obsolete.

  14. I know companies which even use Windows XP or Windows 2000, IE6 and screen resolutions of 1024×768 or even smaller! But I think it also depends on the targeted visitors of the website, if the topic of the website is about latest software, probably the visitors will use the latest browsers, others won´t. Thanks for such an interesting post.

  15. In conclusion, “Hasta la vista, IE6!”… “Don’t be back”. IE has nothing in additional of Firefox or Opera or, or, or… It is actually an obstacle for the internet evolution.

  16. I have to agree with Kent because IE6 has way to many bugs. Yes I do think that IE6 should die!!

  17. Either IE needs to change their ways soon or everyone is going to switch to different browsers. In my opinion I believe that Firefox is the best, with all there tools and safety. IE just needs to find a way to get rid of all those bugs.

  18. Where did you take the 15% number from??
    It is impossible. In Europe it is around 5-7%. But what is important is the USA – and I don’t believe that technology leading country is so deep in the past…

    Cheers,

  19. @Website Monitoring: From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IE6#Market_share – they cited various sources ranging from 11% to 20% at January 2010. I took an average. And the USA is only important if it is part of your target market.

  20. I really hate that M$ is not ready to update its IE6 to support current day technologies. Why keep an obsolete product? Update it !! I hope ppl understand it and move to Firefox.

  21. As a web-developer myself, IE6 is a huge nightmare and I’ve always hated it. It’s full of bugs and other things that can make you, as a web-developer or user, go insane. Let it die.

  22. You are totally asking the wrong question here. It’s death is long overdue!

  23. I think that the internet cannot evolve if web-developers are still trying to compensate for IE6.

  24. IE6 should die for the following reasons;

    1.) We now have iE8 and the questio is, why should web designers be burdened with maintaining so many different versions of IE? After all, IE is not the only browser in the market

    2.) There are better browsers in the market … FireFox, Chrome, even IE8 … IE 6 only serves to steal market share from deserving browsers

    3.) The overhead of coding for every browser is in my opinion, simply ludicrous and IE6 is a major offender in that regards

    I am of the strong opinion that the farther a browser strays from standards … the less desrving it is of our attention.

    With these points, I say that IE6 should be allowed to die!

  25. I think IE6 should die a painful death, but it won’t for a long time. Many site owners will continue to accommodate IE6 because it is used by most tech-challenged people, and this is the crowd that loves to click on Adsense…

  26. In a perfect world the all too problematic IE6 would die a quick death very soon, but Internet Explorer 6 visitors visiting my site still make up 12% which I think is ridiculously high considering we’re in 2010 now; I believe most this traffic be from people installing early releases of Windows XP and 2000 which came with IE6; some people just don’t know.

  27. I’m a huge fan on PNG images. Though their file sizes can be larger than GIF’s and JPG’s, they are generally clean, crisp graphics. Internet Explorer 6 does not support transparency in PNG images, rather it displays an ugly gray color as transparency’s replacement. Firefox, IE7, Opera, and Safari all support PNG transparency but IE6 clearly never will and that’s holding back businesses from using PNGs on their website.

  28. Few of the developers I know put any thought toward IE6. Most people update their computers often enough you will not lose that many people by ignoring this niche.

  29. Really nice article, very helpful.

  30. Now that IE9 is due soon. It doesn’t make any sense to support a browser as outdated as IE6. A radical solution to make people come to their sense is to just block users who use this kind of old browsers.

  31. I hated designing websites and coding for IE6. Although it has made me a better designer It just takes so much more time to test.

  32. Please let it Die. The best designs come through with the use of .PNG images. I just saw a design clients site done with no IE HACK code set aside in the CSS for IE. The images are all pngs and look like crap.

  33. IE and Microsoft general incompetence is holding back the potential of digital and the internet. IE6 should be allowed to die but how many of us are willing to say we won’t sell to that 20% of consumers because our webpage won’t look/feel as good? Not many.

  34. I think Internet Explorer 6 must be allowed to die. It is the worst web browser, from the beginning at the end. Today I’ve heard some news. Internet Explorer 9 beta is almost ready to be launched (in September).

    In this situation, I think the IE6 must die and to be replaced by powerful browsers (Firefox, IE8 & Opera browser.)

  35. Personally I believe IE6 has died already of old age. There might be some user around who is not aware yet that out there that IE9 beta is already released. Why they still want to keep an obsolete program is a mystery to me.

  36. It’s definitely time for IE6 to hang its hat. Firefox is a much superior browser, I was skeptical at first, but you can tell Firefox has had a lot more time invested. I am still surprised to see that so many people that visit my site still use IE6 or even IE5!

  37. IE6 should be allowed to die- the loading time is just *****. And in my opinion Firefox is the way to go- less buggy and definitely more secure.

  38. The only IE that i used is 10 but i’m dont like it either, there are more browser that deserve attention, like Safari or Firefox. Yes IE6 must die.