Stop developing for Internet Explorer 6

This proposal might seem a bit drastic, but please allow me to present my case.

Where we are today

This year, it is eight years since Internet Explorer 6 was released. A couple of years later, the three main competing web browsers had all reached a very competent state when it came to especially CSS and JavaScript support, and started challenging Internet Explorer. Since then, all web browser have released newer and better versions.

Why IE 6 is a problem

When IE 6 came out, it was in a fairly competent state compared to the other options in the market. Back then, the most common way to build web sites was mainly with table layouts and using CSS for pretty basic styling tasks, such as font colors, the odd :hover effect and some absolute positioning.

Web Developers then gradually moved on to embrace the concept of a semantic web, separation of content (HTML), presentation (CSS) and interaction (JavaScript), and web standards started its journey to becoming the lingua franca of more aware interface Developers.

The result of this evolvement was that more and more developers started finding shortcomings and outright flaws in Internet Explorer 6, especially when trying to create more modern CSS-based web page layouts. Projects like the immensely helpful Explorer Exposed! and the explanation in On having layout – the concept of haslayout surfaced, and people started dissecting Internet Explorer to figure out its inner workings.

Microsoft in turn had gotten such a vast majority of the web browser market, and therefore development work and improvements hadn’t been added for quite some time. This, together with it becoming more evident that Internet Explorer didn’t deliver a sufficient platform to build web sites on, and also other web browser vendors started taking more market share, resulted in Microsoft commencing work on a new version and announcing Internet Explorer 7 in February 2005.

The role and responsibility of a Web Developer

I’ve been working as a Web Developer since 1999, and all the time web interfaces have been my specialty and main interest. To me, one of the most important parts of a Web Developer is to deliver the best user experience to end users, while delivering it for the most reasonable and justifiable cost for your employer/customer.

It is our responsibility to follow guidelines, web standards and best practices; to inform the people who give us our assignments about what will give them, and subsequently their users/customers, the best result. It is also about Return On Investment, if we want web developing to be a serious business trade.

Stop developing for IE 6

For quite some time, I have evaluated the extra time I spend making a web site work in Internet Explorer 6. The time, planning and unforeseeable problems delivering full support takes. CSS frameworks and JavaScript libraries do their best in trying to cut down on that time, but there’s still much more that every Interface Developer have to take into account to make their project offer a successful user experience in IE 6.

My estimate is, from looking at my own work and analyzing the results of other Web Developers I currently or previously have worked with, or friends I know in the business, we spend about an extra, on average, 20% of development time to cater to Internet Explorer 6. This means that for every $ 1 000 000 spent in the world on developing a web site interface, it could have cost $ 800 000 instead.

In my mind, I believe that we Web Developers as well as our customers have spent far too much valuable time and money on fixing something in an eight-year old product; in what other category does such old consumer software still get support?

I am very well aware that Internet Explorer 6 still has somewhere between 20 – 34% of the web browser market, but we’re not talking about an accessibility issue or the need for supporting a minority, we’re talking about a product that virtually loses users every minute that goes by.

This is what Microsoft wants!

This is not an anti-Microsoft tirade, what I’m describing is exactly what Microsoft wants as well. When they started developing Internet Explorer 7, they turned to the Web Developer community to get support, and they used the test cases in above-described help projects to do their best to ensure that the failings in Internet Explorer 6 was going to be, as soon as possible, a part of the past.

When Microsoft released Internet Explorer 7, they pushed it out as a recommended security update! That alone tells you how eager they were to get Internet Explorer 6 off the market, and offer end users a more secure Internet experience. They are now on the verge of releasing version 8 of Internet Explorer, bringing us two complete version upgrades from the web browser released in 2001.

What needs to happen

Web Developers are responsible for bringing this information to their customers. To let them know that instead of spending money on a web browser soon to become extinct, they could have their project delivered in a shorter time, for lesser money with a better result. Tell me which customer wouldn’t say yes to that.

Be as polite and respectful to your end users as possible. Inform them that Internet Explorer 6 will no longer be supported due to non-justifiable costs and a strongly declining user base. Give them detailed instructions and links how to upgrade to a later version of Internet Explorer or any other web browser, and present them with screenshots and step-by-step guides accompanying them through an upgrade.

Send CD-ROMs out to people with a slow connection who find the file size of a new web browser download to be too large, set up support for those needing that little extra help and guiding. And, trust me, in the end this will still cost you substantially less, both with new development and maintenance of old outdated code.

Additionally, I sincerely feel that Microsoft should take action with this. Let them combine their official release of Internet Explorer 8 with a statement that that release spells the end of any support for Internet Explorer 6, and that an upgrade to a later version is mandatory to fully use and browse the Internet.

One of the main problems and reasons Internet Explorer 6 still lives is due to Intranet web sites built on non-standardized code that still linger around, and they are afraid of updating since it might break existing functionality. The only reasonable way forward is to offer those customers the possibility to run multiple versions of Internet Explorer on their computers: one version 6 for their Intranet, and one version 7 or 8 for browsing the web.

While Microsoft states that it’s impossible or strongly not recommended to run multiple versions of Internet Explorer, TredoSoft have with their Multiple IE project proven that it is achievable for most people, and it has also become the de facto way for Interface Developers to test web sites in different versions of Internet Explorer. If Microsoft were to release a tool themselves to do just this, I’m convinced many many companies would dare taking the plunge and do an upgrade.

Are you with me?

Conclusively, let me ask: are you ready to bring the web forward, instead of holding it back? Are you ready to save money for your clients, and deliver smoother, better and more stable web sites? Do you want to take part in shaping the future web?

And, finally, are you ready to admit that just about everyone deserves this?

Posted in CSS,Developing,Technology,Web browsers |

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