Who are you disappointing with IE6 support?

Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) is not getting any younger. With a initial release date of 27:th of August, 2001, it’s one of the oldest things touching the internet with its slimy fingers. Since then, surfing has taken great leaps forward. In all areas: Web standards, Security, Usability, Rendering speed, Debugging, and more. By working hard to maintain backwards compatibility all of us are missing all of that progress.

Now. You as a web developer have a responsibility here.

Responsibility towards IE6 users

Over the years, IE6 has had 142 security issues uncovered. Still 22 of those are not patched. Most IE6 users have no idea of this, but you do. You don’t want these people do to their online banking with that kind of browser backing them. You should help these users by educating them, and making it easy for them to upgrade!

Responsibility towards your employer

If people are paying you do build websites for them it’s even worse. By not pushing for upgrade, you’re holding their website back. You’re downgrading features since “they won’t work in IE6”, you’re over optimizing your javascript because “the site gets slow in IE6”, you’re hack around CSS issues with extra stylesheets because “IE6 just don’t get your styling right”. Each hour you work with IE6 backwards compatibility, is one hour less work on new features. Many developers agree that about half their time goes to planning, testing, and patching IE6 issues. That means you could be twice as productive to your employer it you did things differently.

Responsibility towards Microsoft

Some people will call me and Microsoft-hater because of this article. You’re right, I don’t like most things Microsoft do. But that doesn’t have anything to do with IE6. I’m fine with people upgrading to IE7. In fact, I prefer people upgrading to IE7 over them switching to Firefox. Why? Because IE7 replaces IE6, making it impossible (or too hard for beginners) to switch back to the IE6 junk.

So this has nothing to do with my Microsoft dislike. In fact the Microsoft developers would be delighted if IE6 just stopped working today. Just consider, how much of the code you wrote 8 years ago are you still proud of? I mean, they just released IE8 RC1 for gods sake! Give them a break.

Responsibility towards yourself

By subscribing to friendlybit I assume you care about web standards. You have lengthy arguments with table developers over why their way is outdated, you have already talked about Firefox with your friends, and your parents have switched long time ago. But what looks good when you open your mouth, you throw away as soon as you start doing real work. You hack, hack, hack, and patch for IE6. Despite you knowing that this is the wrong way of doing things, despite the pain you feel doing it, despite everything you’ve read.

What I’m asking of you are two simple things:

  1. Stop saying: “Well, you need to support IE6 at least, that’s what everyone else is doing”. Instead think like this: “Can I find any reasons that warrants disappointing IE6 users, my employer, Microsoft, and myself”. Well, do you? (I’m sure comments will fill up reasons…)
  2. Encourage IE6 users on your website to upgrade. This is really a no-brainer. If IE6 development is so much of a pain, why don’t we do more to stop it? Even if you disagree with everything else I’ve written, you must agree that promoting upgrade is a good thing. Right? This is the code you need:

    And then style the #upgrade div appropriately. It’s easy, doesn’t rely on javascript, and points users directly do the download page instead of the three intermediary pages on microsoft.com. Add this to your own site, to your employer’s sites, to your sisters site. Or maybe buy one of the numerous IE t-shirts out there. Hell, print it out and stick it on your dog! Do something!

Now. Before you get upset and tell me why your specific case is so different from everyone else. Don’t. Remember point 1 above. I’ve just done point 2 above on this site. Now it’s your turn!

(Thanks to Robert for pushing me to write this)

48 responses to “Who are you disappointing with IE6 support?

  1. I saw that you added upgrade ie bar on your site.
    I use this practice for a while now, but I want my users to have a choice, so I suggest http://browsehappy.com.

    This is my code:

    <!--[if lte IE 6]>Hello! Just to let you know, things might look a little wierd in Interent Eplorer 6 and under. Feel free to try a different browser!< ![endif]-->

  2. @Pece: I’m thinking that fewer people will switch if they have a choice, so I’ll think I’m still going with just IE7. We’ll see how it goes.

    @Anders Ytterström: Good! :)

  3. Excellent article, very well put! I tried to start a browser revolution of my own a little while back. You hit the right note with this.

  4. Do you practice this at Valtech as well? When you build an intranet for a company where the employees does not have control over which browser is installed? Or are those cases so different…

    It’s one thing to experiment on a personal blog. It is something different to ask the project manager at your clients company to explain to his clients marketing manager why things look strange in her browser and why she needs to upgrade it…

  5. @Mikael Lundin. I see it like this: most intranets on the large computer farms of big coorporations use to have policys about hardware, usually a couple of years (3-5). Counting on that, the eldest thin clients counts back to 2004/2005. When it comes to private users, these tend to upgrade their hardware in a 3-4 year cycle (in Sweden some stick to “hem-pc”, a three-year old leasing program for your non-swedes information). That in count, the eldest home pc:s are from 2005/2006.

    Both these groups are the two top reasons why IE6 still lives. At least one of them can be targeted by Emils proposal. The other one will do an upgrade eventually, probably installing Vista or Win 7 with IE7 or IE8.

    I believe you cannot do harm by tipping about newer versions. It isn’t the same thing as locking people out.

    I have updated my own (swedish) website now.

  6. I think you’re wrong.

    I’m a web developer, and a heavy web application user. But there is still only one application in my whole arsenal that would make me switch browser, and that is my bank. If any other website would ask me to switch, I would just leave – just as I did with facebook a couple of days ago when they wouldn’t let me login with Chrome.

    It is not the web developers responsibility to get people to update their browsers. It is the web developers responsibility to make their applications usable for the majority of users out there. If you would tell me not to come to your party with the cloths I’m wearing I would just not come to your party, since I like my cloths.

    Have you considered why users still use IE6? It is not because it is a superiour browser. I would say it is because they’re sitting on bad ass old hardware. Upgrading their browser would considerably slow down their already dead slow computers. And who would pay money for new hardware just to browse your site?

    I can’t believe that users are staying with IE6 out of ignorance. I think it is mainly a choice. Could be a choice of the user, or the company that they work on, but I personally find it hard to keep IE6 on a newly installed Windows XP if I don’t shut down windows updates all together (which also can be tricky).

    I use whatever browser I want and it is your job to make it work. If I would use IE8 you could present me with an all jQueryish experience, but I would still want to access all the information even if I’d prefer using Lynx.

  7. @Mikael Lundin: In most cases I’ve seen IE6 installed it’s been with people that have no idea what a browser is. And I’m willing to bet that’s 95%. Hardware is not an issue here, IE7 uses less resources, and is faster on slow hardware.

    Also, this is about building to standards, instead of IE6. There’s a big difference between IE6 and Chrome there, and that’s standards. I thought we all agreed that those where a good thing?

    Also, Lynx does follow standards. IE6 does not, that’s why it’s such a pain to develop for, while Lynx is not.

  8. @Marcus Andersson: This blog is my own, not Valtech’s. That said, I do try to practice this at work too. I’ve recently been a driving force for getting a major company to upgrade all their browsers to IE7, for their new intranet. I’ve heard Robert, my colleague, argue himself to one upgrade too.

    Now. If an upgrade isn’t possible, then we can’t skip IE6, that isn’t reasonable. But I’m never going to let that pass easily, I’m going to research why, and I’m going to spend time of my own to upgrade if that’s what’s needed. I’m never just saying “Oh gosh”, and then let it go again.

    We need to remember that we work in a big ecosystem, and as web developers have possibilities to change that are bigger than we first think.

    Still, if you don’t agree with me, at least consider to add the “upgrade bar” to your sites. You can still waste as much time to build for IE6, just tell people to upgrade too.

  9. Emil, my main issue was that you seemed to think that special cases did not apply and then pointed to you blog as an example. I just wanted to point out that your own blog is in fact a special case. Normally you have a lot of people that are going to react if you suddenly throw up error boxes that nobody specified.

    On the other hand I think it is great that you are able to influence browser usage for clients. But those decisions tend to take some time and they are usually not up to web developers to make.

    Back on topic…
    I can’t help but think that it is a little bit rude to tell people what they should have installed om their computer. Maybe as a notice on why some parts of the site might look strange, combined with a helpful explanation of what they could do about it if they care enough.

    On personal projects I usually don’t take ie6 into consideration. I might go back after the release to tack on Dean Edwards ie7 or a png-fix. Most things tend to work ok without special adjustments though.

    At work on the other hand, testing for ie6 is mandatory. Most clients use it, they have to use it and there really are no possibilities to change that. We work with progressive enhancement as much as we can, but even that is a stretch as clients still get very worried when things look different in different browsers.

    Hmm, that was one big special case…

  10. Swedish reply sorry

    Jag är inte userinterfacedesigner i grunden, utan entreprenör, mitt fokus är inte i grunden att skapa en bra upplevelse för alla användare, utan skapa ekonomiska resultat. Dessa två principer brukar för det mesta gå hand i hand, och det är därför jag läser den här bloggen. Lite förvånad är jag, men när jag läste det här inlägget, insåg ett bra exempel på att så inte nödvändigtvis är fallet.

    Jag har såklart länge känt till problematiken med IE6 och att det kostar mycket tid och pengar för att få det att fungera. Att ha en icke fungerande site i IE6, skrämmer i nuläget bort en ganska ansenlig andel av potentiella kunder/användare, varför jag har fokuserat på att se till att de siter jag utvecklar fungerar även i IE6. Men nu insåg jag just, att den tiden, (30-50% av UI-utvecklarnas tid) kanske kan spenderas bättre. Om den tiden istället kan läggas på att skapa andra värden, som bättre kommunikation med befintliga besökare eller att driva mer trafik till sidan, kan det äta upp kakan IE6 användare.

    Det absolut viktigaste med den här tanken, är att fokusera på andra saker än IE6 och standarder, är en investering för en växande andel användare och framtiden, medan fokus på IE6 optimering är ett fokus på en minskande andel användare och historien. Kanske är det inte gynnsamt att arbeta med IE6, kanske är det därför inte, som vissa här hävdar, en UI-utvecklares uppgift.

  11. @Marcus Andersson: I see where you’re coming from, and I agree that there’s a scale here, from the special case that’s this blog, to and intranet where everyone is using IE6. No, it’s not always possible to skip IE6.

    The final decision is usually not up to the web developer, but they often start with the web developer. You know all the arguments of why to develop to standards, you just have to get your boss or marketing manager to hear them. It might take a week or discussing back and forth, but it’s so worth it.

    I want to urge people to initiate that discussion now, because the IE6 market share is actually shrinking…

  12. @Kristoffer Nolgren: I agree with you: Making money and making great user experiences are not always the same thing. At least not in the short term… I think it most often is the same in the long term though…

    In a competitive situation, you need to innovate faster than your competitors. Interface development might be one of the things that slow you down, if IE6 development takes too much time. The more you’ve worked with educational upgrade messages, asking people to upgrade and why they will benefit from it, the more time you’ll have in the future to innovate.

    Another example of economy vs. experience is ads. In the short term, adding banners to a site makes you money, in the long term people get annoyed by the cluttered interface you give them, and might look elsewhere.

    It’s interesting to think if IE6 development in those terms, thanks for bringing it up!

  13. Surely http://www.d.kth.se is not your average website, specially not when comparing to the business world, but the pieces of statistics that came up when discussing the to be or not to be of IE6 support of that website are still kind of funny. IE in total has about a 20% share with IE6 at just above 5%. What’s really funny is that wget is not far behind at 3%. wget accounting for an almost as big a share of the users as IE6 must say something.

  14. I would like nothing more that to do what you ask and add that code to the sites I build for my clients. I agree 100%! Unfortunately, as much as I want to do something about it, I have this haunting voice inside my head that says “IE6 is down to a 20% marketshare in the browser world. Firefox is up to a 20% marketshare. Would I alienate Firefox users?” NO WAY. Most of my clients are trying to generate leads and get sales with their websites. I want every visitor I can get…even the 20% with the old browser.

  15. @Emil: Hear Hear! Kudos on the article

    @Mikael: I’ve been using Chrome since release and the only issue I’ve ever had is some quirks with embedded flash video. Facebook works great for me.

  16. Totally Agree with you,

    but the problem are not the “private” users, which you can in fact educate :-), the real problem are the firms (from small to big ones) and their IT unit! They don’t want to upgrade to a newer, better browser even they know about the issues with IE6.

    I don’t know why – less time, poor intranet which was developed especially for IE6 years ago?

  17. @Ole: The good news is that they are people too. Just talk to them, and explain all the progress that later versions of IE has brought. Security enhancements likely have effect in IT units (it should have). Don’t give up, talk to them!

  18. I have to say this was an interesting post to read. Not surprisingly a lot of opinions followed and I have been in similar discussions lately. In these cases the sites have had relatively defined targeted groups where IE7 is the default browser so I suppose I’ve been lucky. I also understand that it is not always possible to skip the IE6 support but it is definitely worth trying (with good arguments).

    I agree in what you are saying, put the money and time in new features instead of old heritage.

  19. When I follow the link, I get to a RC of IE8, but in the article it is implied it should go to IE7. Is that a “newest stable IE”-link then?

    Nice solution btw. I’m not that much for cluttering the HTML with CC but in this case it would be acceptable. And the link’s displaylang can be set to “sv” if swedish is prefered (or other language codes, invalid ones reverts to “en”).

    Hell, print it out and stick it on your dog!

  20. Btw, it would be kinda nice to have a resource showing which browsers work on older hardware/OS to use instead of IE6. I mean, even older versions of Firefox should be better and securer than IE6, even if IE7 might not be able to run (not sure of what it requires of the system and which OS it is compatible with – I guess only XP and above).

  21. @Peter Vigren: Yeah, it would be nice with such a resource, will you make us one? :)

    You are free to redirect people to IE7 or IE8 as you see fit. I asked the same question an decided that I wanted people to benefit as much as possible from an upgrade. IE8 is already a step up from IE7, and will probably be easy to update once the final rendering stuff is sorted. I’m not 100% sure of this decision, maybe IE7 would be a better download…

  22. A company i know adds 30% to their bills in order to support IE6, I also know some numbers regarding ROI on UI-research, I’m thinkin’ about putting the nubers together to figure out wich is most profitable to invest in…. I’ll let you know if it happens!

  23. Pingback: lillbra » Blog Archive » Om kriget mot Internet Explorer 6
  24. Good god, man – your spelling and grammar is so atrocious that it has driven me away.

    For instance, on this page alone:

    You don’t want these people do to their online banking

    if people are paying you do build websites for them

    IE6 just don’t get your styling right

    twice as productive to your employer it you did things differently

    ome people will call me and Microsoft-hater

    I don’t like most things Microsoft do.

    find any reasons that warrants disappointing IE6

  25. Thanks for the corrections Scott, I’ll take some time to correct my spelling and grammar soon. Glad you liked the post, oh wait, you didn’t.

  26. I recently completed work on the overhaul of a project management web application, and was able to specify that IE6 would not be supported. It was a great feeling and sped up the development process significantly!

    However, typically when I am working on client sites I do still test in IE6. I no longer aim for pixel perfection in IE6, and spend only the miniumum amount of time required to fix IE6 display errors.

    On my blog and personal sites I test in IE7+. If someone is reading a web development blog and still using IE6, they seriously need to consider working in a different industry!

    But in all honesty, I don’t think that IE6 is all that difficult to accomodate. Does anyone remember IE5, ir IE5 Mac? (shudder) Those browers were a NIGHTMARE to code for. IE6 is a walk in the park by comparison. Still, I won’t mourn its passing!

  27. @Jonathan Nicol: Thanks for your comment! Yeah, the speedup really is significant if you can drop IE6 support. It’s not so much that it’s hard to support, it’s all the time it consumes…. I know the ins and outs of IE6, I just hate going through hoops to do what it needs, downgrading features because it can’t handle them.

    I’ve come to use your second tactic when customers have few IE6 users that they can’t ignore. I just make the text readable, and the major flows work as they should, and let the design look a bit messy. Always with a warning, and a message for the user to upgrade.

    I agree that we can find worse browsers than IE6 to support, but I think that’s beside the point. We need a better environment to be productive in, and that requires the immediate death of IE6. *Loads gun*

  28. managed users can’t upgrade their web browsers and the web department generally doesn’t control group policy. if anyone outside of a managed environment hasn’t updated their web-browser to one that works properly yet i would begin to question their sanity. on my personal site, i capture if ie < 8 and tell them to bugger off, "your browser fails miserably, go away". then again, i'm not selling anything and don't have any customers / followers to speak of.

  29. @tswaters: Don’t do it in one step. Start by telling users that you will be stopping support soon. That gives locked-in users some arguments to give their IT-departments. Even YouTube is doing just that. You can too.

  30. I appreciate your thoughts, Emil. The projector illustrates an accessibility problem I would not have guessed at.

    Accessibility is one of my highest priorities, and today I build to standards as best I can and test with Firefox, Opera, Safari, Lynx, IE7 and IE8. Then, like Jonathan Nicol, I make adjustments to anything that’s broken in IE6.

    What’s chaining us all to IE6 is the corporate and government system administrators who refuse to upgrade, and have no real incentive to upgrade. Many designed their intranets with FrontPage or some other monster that churned out sloppy proprietary Microsoft code. In a closed system, with IE6 users only, their code does what they want it to do. Standards compliance is not a problem for them, because for them there is only one browser.

    So the question is, what can we do to give these people the incentive and the tools that will move them out of the Dark Ages? I’d love to hear what you and some of your other readers suggest.

  31. @Jeff Seager: Thanks for you comment! The method you describe is the same one I use, and what I would perceive to be best practice in the industry. Would love to skip the last step there…

    “Arguments for IT administrators” is a great idea for a new blog post, I’ll see if I can think up some thoughts worthy of publishing :)

  32. You will lose some readers by using the 2nd point in your article but you’ll make them think twice before using IE6 as a valid browser in 2009.

    In the past month i have had 5% of visitors using IE6..

  33. The big issue with older browsers is their security. With so many patches not fixed in ie6 it is no wonder that there are so many bots.
    The problem with making a website not accessable to a certain group i.e. ie6 and earlier is the law where so mnay countries are implementing accessability laws which puts the onus of the accessability onto the company and website designer.
    Because there is the chance of a lawsuite over accessability websites in theory still have to accommodate ie6 and then have to perpetrate the bots and hackers.
    The arguement is not about what browsers to accommodate regardless of market share but websites should be allowed to drop older browsers because of improving security on the internet.
    Once this approach is taken then the security issues will not be so common and hackers will ahve to work harder and companys will not have so much down time on their servers and waste money fixing viruses,trojans etc.

  34. 20% of my users are still using IE6 and providing support for IE6 is a must for me. I`m not interested why they are using IE6, is there choice, what is interesting for me is that they view my site corectly.

  35. I really cannot understand why these guys are still using IE6. My websites are not looking very fancy in this browser because I’m using a lot of new design tehnics which IE6 obviously doesn’t recognize well!

    As you said in the article, we should encourage guys to upgrade, but I have a strong presumption that these users don’t know how to hit more than 2-3 clicks on a browser, and always with the fear that they might ruin their pc. They often use the net for reading newspapers or simple news websites. This is sad, but to be honest, frankly, I don’t need such visitors. As their potency on the net is too low for getting any of the products I offer.

    PS: Why come IE automatic update is not the same like for windows update? MS should put at obligation their people for an update. Or has it something to do with the license? If you don’t have it, you can’t update?

    Thanks for any answers! Excited about this new community!

  36. The only reason IE has a dominant market share is because Microsoft bundles it with Windows. Microsoft is unmotivated to improve their browser because of IE’s monopoly. The open-source browsers will one day take over the market, and Microsoft will finally make an innovative version of IE.

  37. Well you spot anything new, and it’s not the first time I read something like this. As you notice, until the market share of IE6 drops under % we should always take care of it when producing web contents. Obviously I’m referring to sites that actually include that kind of target. Currently I’m working with this key in mind: for mainstream browsers the site should be “perfect”, on IE6 it should be “usable”, never spending too much time on adjusting margins or strange absolute boxes positions: at least the user will not be disappointed and can browse through the site without problems.

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