18th February 2010 8:30 pm
The Great IE6 Switchover
OK, this subject has been done to death, but Internet Explorer 6 needs to die. It’s old, it’s dated, it’s insecure, it’s not standards compliant, it requires web designers and developers to spend countless hours adjusting perfectly standards-compliant websites to render correctly in IE6 when they could be adding cool new features. You know the drill by now!
So, how do we get people to dump IE6? I think Microsoft have probably done everything reasonable to get people to move to IE7 or IE8, but a hard core of users just won’t budge. By and large these users fall into the following groups:
- Corporate users- that is, people using IE6 on their desktops at work. It’s well known that IE6 usage drops substantially at weekends so this probably represents a lot of people. Where I work we’re still on Internet Explorer 6, but the reason for that is that we use a lot of custom web applications which were designed specifically for IE6, and if they changed browsers they’d have to convert these web apps to be standards-compliant. One day they’ll have to update them, but there’s no sign of that happening anytime soon. It’s not the user’s fault (there are many, many posts on the intranet forums at work bemoaning the fact we’re still stuck with IE6) and most of them would rather use a better browser at work since there are a number of very useful web applications which IE6 works terribly with (Google Maps is a good example).
- People who don’t know any better and don’t see the need to upgrade -this might include the elderly or other non-computer savvy people who’ve disabled Windows updates for some reason (maybe because they find it makes things slower).
But why are we letting these groups hold the whole future of the web back? By bending over backwards to support these people, we’re prolonging IE6’s shelf life, and making it easy for people to continue IE6 when we really don’t want them to! It’s simple to upgrade your browser or switch to a new one, so why are we propping up a minority who can’t be bothered?
I’m beginning to think that we ought to draw a parallel with digital television. In many countries, the digital and analogue signals have been coexisting for some time, and now we’ve begun switching off the analogue signal. We aren’t bending over backwards to support people who haven’t got a digital television or Freeview box yet - if you haven’t got one when they switch off the signal, you’re going to be watching a blank screen. With web browsers, we don’t expect people to make any financial outlay - we just want them to click on a link, so I think it’s much more reasonable to cut them off from our content unless they switch browsers.
Ultimately, it’s the decision of the person who wants to make a website whether or not to support IE6, but I think we need to be a little harsher than we have in the past. Google are beginning to drop IE6 support, and I’m sure more people will follow. By catering for the remaining IE6 users, we may well be prolonging its usage, and perhaps we need a big stick to encourage users to switch to a newer browser. Of course it’s a difficult decision to make if you’re hoping to attract customers to a commercial website since if website A and website B both sell the same product but the customer’s browser doesn’t work on website A, he’s going to go to website B instead.