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Internet Explorer 6 on its way out (or not)?

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Since attaining a peak of about 95% usage share during 2002 and 2003, Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) has been rapidly losing market share. As the end of 2008 approaches, significant online services, vendors and web frameworks are dropping support for IE6. Will this year be the end of IE6 and what does this signify for Web 2.0 developers?

Recently 37signals, the company behind Ruby on Rails framework announced that they will be phasing out support for IE 6 across all their products on August 15, 2008:

The Internet Explorer 6 browser was released back in 2001, and Internet Explorer 7, the replacement, was released nearly two years ago in 2006. Modern web browsers such as IE 7, Firefox, and Safari provide significantly better online experiences. Since IE 6 usage has finally dipped below a small minority threshold of our customers, it's time to finally move beyond IE 6.

IE 6 is a last-generation browser. This means that IE 6 can't provide the same web experience that modern browsers can. Continued support of IE 6 means that we can't optimize our interfaces or provide an enhanced customer experience in our apps. Supporting IE 6 means slower progress, less progress, and, in some places, no progress. We want to make sure the experience is the best it can be for the vast majority of our customers, and continuing to support IE 6 holds us back.

Apple also dropped support for IE6 on its .Mac service, which was recently rebranded as MobileMe. With an email sent on June 9th 2008, Apple informed .Mac subscribers that:

To use the new web applications, make sure you have one of these browsers: Safari 3, Internet Explorer 7, or Firefox 2 or later.

SproutCore, the JavaScript framework behind Apple's MobileMe service, will not support IE6, as Peter Bergström announced of the support forum:

IE6 is something I am considering leaving behind because the browser is both (a) lacking in too many features and (b) too slow to be very useful for building full client-side apps.

The site is running a campaign that says no to IE6”:

Our current campaign focuses on assisting users in upgrading their Internet Explorer 6 web browser. This campaign will result in former IE 6 users having a more enjoyable experience on the web while (hopefully) creating a less stressful and complicated environment for web developers by hastening the retirement of an outdated browser.

With respect to, Erick Schonfeld reports on TechCrunch, that "there is a scourge on the Web called Internet Explorer 6”":

This upgrade lag is simply unacceptable - to programmers, that is, who find it a real pain to make sure their Web apps work on five different browsers. Not only that, but IE6 supports some non-standard features and functions that are not compatible with other browsers. The security vulnerabilities aren't too much fun either.

Rob Pegoraro from The Washington Post blog is certain that Internet Explorer 6 support ends here:

So if you're still on IE 6, it's time to go. If you ask for assistance with that browser, I won't provide that help anymore--instead, I'll suggest you fix the root of the problem by getting a better browser.

If you run Windows XP, you can upgrade to IE 7. But for most users, the easier upgrade, in terms time needed to adjust to a new interface, will be to Mozilla Firefox.

Even when you visit Facebook using IE6 you get a message that reads:

Please Read This!

You may want to upgrade your browser.

You are using Internet Explorer 6 to browse Facebook right now. Facebook will work better if you upgrade to Internet Explorer 7 or switch to another browser.

Many more companies have announced that they are dropping support of IE6 for their online services.

Still there are those voices that oppose the immediate seize of IE6 support, like John Resig, who is a JavaScript Evangelist for Mozilla and creator jQuery and has twittered that no support for IE6 hurts Apple, Sproutcore, and web dev in general:

It upsets me when devs don't put the effort in to support so many users. It makes it look like it's not possible, gives web dev a bad rap.

InfoQ contacted John directly about this issue and he replied that:

I'm disappointed in Apple with this move more so with the limited support to Internet Explorer 7 - but absolutely with the lack of support for Internet Explorer 6 as well. Apple has a responsibility to set a good precedent for developers (especially considering that they're a browser vendor) to follow and ignoring the two most-popular browsers on the market shows a lack of commitment and responsibility towards web development.

37 Signals has less of a responsibility towards the web, I feel - since they're just a small shop building applications - if they wish to lose customers, or force their customers in a particular direction, that's their prerogative.

Same way it seems that the Dojo toolkit will continue supporting IE 6 for a long time to come as Dylan Schiemann, CEO of SitePen and co-creator of Dojo tells us:

When first released, Internet Explorer 4,5,5.5,and 6 radically improved the lives of web developers with cutting edge features, but it has been 7 years since IE 6 was released.  Today, I estimate that developers collectively spend billions of dollars in salary working around buggy behavior in IE.

In the case of Dojo, we have no choice but to support IE 6 until such that time its market share is statistically insignificant and/or our users stop asking for IE 6 support.  Hopefully the great move by 37 Signals to officially end support will finally accelerate this.  Until then, we have to continue to support IE 6 to remain competitive with other toolkits and other technologies, giving our users the wide browser support they are requesting.

At SitePen, we no longer want to support IE 6 in the applications we build using Dojo, but we feel stuck.  If some of the main contributors to Dojo can't build apps using IE 6, then it could potentially reflect poorly on Dojo.  All of the other major browsers have a much more aggressive upgrade and end-of-life support on previous revisions, making it easy to drop support for Safari 2 and soon Firefox 2, but Microsoft has gone to such great lengths in giving enterprises what they want that I think we're stuck with IE 6 for at least another year.

When Douglas Crockford, senior JavaScript Architect at Yahoo and creator of JSON was asked he said that:

There is a large class of users who will not install software, even free software. These people use IE6, and there are a lot of them. If you are operating a fringe site that does not appeal to that demographic, then it is smart to drop IE 6 support, freeing yourself and your other users from the many problems associated with the antique browser. If you are operating a mainstream site that appeals broadly to all users, then regrettably you must continue to support IE 6 until its share drops to insignificance.

To get a reaction from a web design perspective, InfoQ contacted Jeffrey Zeldman who is the author of several books on web design and co-founder of the Web Standards Project, who replied that:

In 2000, IE6 represented a leap forward in standards compliance for Microsoft, but it is now an albatross -- the browser that most impedes sophisticated design and clean semantic markup on the web. If your company can afford to quit supporting IE6, now is as good a time as any to do so. Whether or not you can do so depends on your audience and business model.


What do you think, will this Fall mark the fall of Internet Explorer 6 or not..?

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