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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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Community comments

  • Just say no to saying no.

    by Ivan L,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    37 signals; the mac fanboys dropping support for IE6? I'm shocked. The washington post reference in this context makes it sound like their site is dropping support for it, but that is just a opinion column linked.
    Shows IE6 at 26.5% of its typically progressive browser audience; how is dropping support for that justifiable?

    The reality is web developers and organizations need to support their user base. For those that don't, its completely up to them to lose that business. The consumer will decided how they upgrade, and when.

  • The only way to rid the world of IE6 is to stop supporting it....

    by Guy Fraser,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    It's really simple. Imagine you're someone that's decided to continue to use IE6 (either an individual or a corporate IT department). The only thing that's going to kick you up the ass and make you change to a browser that actually works is if every site you visit breaks because everyone has stopped supporting you.

    As long as web developers continue to bust a gut trying to support this dinosaur of a browser (in Internet years, 2001 is absolutely ancient) then nutters will continue using it. Life's too short for us to waste trying to cater for a bunch of IE6-using nutters.

    There's actually no justifiable reason for anyone on the planet to use IE6 as their main browser. For example, even corporates can install Firefox, Safari or Opera alongside IE6 - broken web apps that require IE6 can still be used and for everything else use the proper browser.

    When you calculate the insane amount of time and money wasted on supporting IE6 each and every day across the world, we should all really be suing Microsoft for lost profits.

    The presence of IE6 (bolstered by silly web developers still killing themselves trying to support it) is becoming a major hindrance to the progression and incremental improvement of the Internet and everything that now depends on it. IE6 MUST die!

    As for Ivan Lazarte's comment, have you ever considered that most of the people accessing w3schools via IE6 are probably distraught and frustrated web developers pointing out to their bosses and customers "here's what the specs say it should do, but as you can see IE6 totally screws it up".

    I can only imagine that people who want to keep supporting IE6 do so only because it allows them to fleece their customers for more money.

  • Facbook group

    by Evgeny Zislis,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Like the Firefox3 Install Day group on Facebook, there is also the "Internet Explorer 6 Uninstall Day" group. Anyone wants to join?

  • Notification bar telling the user to upgrade

    by Janos Rusiczki,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Sort of unrelated but I was wondering if someone could help me out. A while ago browsing or a similar site I came across a script that would show a yellow notification bar at the top of the webpage when viewed in Internet Explorer 6 urging users to upgrade. Unfortunately I haven't bookmarked the page and later, no mater how hard I tried I couldn't find it anymore. If anyone has the link, I'd be forever grateful... Thanks.

  • Re: Notification bar telling the user to upgrade

    by Dio Synodinos,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Maybe you are talking about which btw is featured in this article.


  • Re: Notification bar telling the user to upgrade

    by Janos Rusiczki,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Thanks, actually reminded me of it. If I won't find the site I'm talking about I'll use the alternative. I just think that the other one was more effective...

  • Join to the real world

    by Edmond Duggan,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Geee, all this whining about IE6, and the work to support it. It's still a major share of the market, yet for DEVELOPERS convienience they don't want to support it "cause it's old." Many users don't upgrade because one or two key applications don't work with IE7 (or other browsers) like Quick Books, because "it's too new and different." Out here in the real world, users want to USE a computer to do a task, not work at a computer to try and get it to do something. Users are the center of the computer world, not a nesceary evil. If you aren't programming for the user, who are you programming for?

  • Re: The only way to rid the world of IE6 is to stop supporting it....

    by David Clarke,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    That's some fairly harsh words. I can't speak for other organisations but having developed a number of online/internet banking applications I can assure you there is an enormous diversity of browsers out there. For the banks I've worked for it simply isn't an option to turn off support for a particular browser and it isn't about the cost in financial terms, it's more about the cost in reputation. Obviously there is a trade-off but in my previous position we were supporting users back to IE 5.0 and Navigator 6.2 (and in my current position there are users connecting with IE 4 and NN 4 but that's a different story and not a happy one). Yes there are some limitations but in my world the majority of users are still on dial-up connections. To maximise their experience, using modern javascript libraries is not an option due to the size of the download. It is possible to use modern javascript development techniques to create high quality web apps that work on a wide variety of browsers. It just requires a little more effort; there are some great web resources that support developing for older browsers and it is by no means lowest-common-denominator stuff. To summarise, it is simply not an option to just turn off support for older browsers; a great deal of effort and planning is required to ensure customers aren't disadvantaged.

  • Re: The only way to rid the world of IE6 is to stop supporting it....

    by Guy Fraser,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    @Edmond: I'm not sure you fully grasp the extent of the problem. Supporting IE6 is costing such vast amounts of developer time worldwide that users are getting far less than they'd get if we all dropped IE6 and spent our time on making sites better rather than making them work in IE6. IE6 is holding everyone back. You can't keep ancient software hanging around forever, things have to move forward. If Quick Books (some accounts package I assume?) isn't going to modernise itself, I'm sure plenty of competitors will quickly appear to take all their customers.

    @David: If you're supporting people using IE5 and NN4, you literally need your head examining. You're actually encouraging people to keep using those things and at the same time making life much, much worse for everyone else who's made the move to a modern browser. If you want to support people with IE5 and below, or Nutscrape, please use pieces of paper and the postal service as they obviously aren't equipped to use the modern internet. Just by contributing your skills to an organisation that effectively promotes the use of ancient technology, you are helping prolong the pain for everyone.

    Once again I state the simple fact of the matter: The ONLY way to rid the world of ancient browsers is to stop supporting them. As long as we keep supporting them, people will keep using them.

    I mean, come on! All the modern browsers (including IE7) are FREE. You can install Firefox/Opera/Safari alongside IE6 if you have some specific reason to keep using IE6 so there really is no excuse.

  • Re: The only way to rid the world of IE6 is to stop supporting it....

    by David Clarke,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    @Guy, thanks for your considered response but I think you're missing the point. Users of the internet do not consist entirely of cheque book wielding broadband junkies. There are many people who rely on services such as internet banking who are largely computer illiterate and who don't have the funds to buy a new computer or the (intellectual/telecom) bandwidth to download a new browser. Turning off support for those browsers means disadvantaging customers. Helping those customers upgrade in order not to disadvantage them is only practical when browser usage stats for older browsers are low enough. This is not the Me(tm) generation I'm talking about.

  • Dropped IE6 *and* IE7

    by Kevin Teague,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    In the field of bioinformatics where I work it's common to develop applications only for Firefox. These are niche scientific applications, so it's resonable to require Firefox (or other standard-complaint browser such as Opera or Safari) to use the web application. Most developers have Linux or Mac workstations, and so usually don't even go to the trouble of installing IE. It's a clear win too, since the developer can either spend brain cycles following the relevant science and build an app better suited to the problem, or they can spend that time dealing with cross-browser compatability hassles.

  • web standards are the key

    by Hope Kay,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I can't believe we're still talking about supporting browsers when the Web standards movement has been around for ~10 yrs now! This is not a debate about easing developers' workloads. The principle of the matter is, IE 6 doesn't support web standards so the world should not support it. I applaud 37 Signals, Apple for taking a stand. That is the only way consumers will move forward. They have the means, they just don't have a reason or know how. We're not punishing them... we can give them a better experience if they upgrade. I'm most surprised by John Resig's response as I am a huge fan of jQuery. Yes, if jQuery didn't work in IE6 that wouldn't be good right now. But if Apple, etc. has the means to make a choice, then they should. It's Zeldman that hits the nail on the head - it is "the browser that most impedes sophisticated design and clean semantic markup". And we all need to support initiatives to keep pushing for a ubiquitous dev environment, how we can and as soon as we can! ...not to appease whiny developers, but because it's the right thing to do, will save tons of money/time, will give users a better, more accessible experience, will move humanity and the internet forward.

  • Re: The only way to rid the world of IE6 is to stop supporting it....

    by Guy Fraser,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    @David: So you're actually telling me that:

    • * the usage stats for IE4/5 and NN4 are not low enough for you to consider those browsers minority?

    • * that downloading a free modern browser, which will take just a few hours even on a slow modem connection, is too much for them to continue to use their online banking which is so important to them?

    • * that they have no money to upgrade their computer and bandwidth even though such things are now vastly more affordable than when they purchased the antique power-hungry (high energy cost) abacus that they are currently using?

    • * that their computer and browser, no longer being eligible for security patches, isn't utterly trojaned and keylogged and the very large risk department at your bank isn't scared by this?

    OMFG, that's the most insane thing I've ever heard in the "lets keep supporting people using massively outdated means of browsing the internet" debate to-date.

    So, to sum up: You're a bank supporting a tiny but high-risk minority of people who have very little money and not enough bandwidth to view any of the modern internet and you do so at a cost greater than their combined bank accounts and to the detriment of all your other customers who will now be switching to other less-antiquated banks lowering your market share. Yeah, right.

  • Re: The only way to rid the world of IE6 is to stop supporting it....

    by David Clarke,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Let me help you with that.

    • * In my current job I would love to be in a position to switch off support for all the old browsers that are currently connecting. Unfortunately I have no authority to do that, there is no mandate, and even if there was, because I inherited this situation I have no ability to identify who the users are and contact them to assist with an upgrade.

    • * I'm not sure if you ever experienced dial-up, staying connected for the length of time required to download a new browser is an issue, connections will timeout/drop.

    • * Absolutely there are customers who cannot afford to upgrade their computers and there are many people who are frightened of computers. They're comfortable with the computer they've got but buying a new computer would be an enormous hurdle.

    • * If only there was a risk program where I work. This is one of the reasons I'm relinquishing my position here. But let me quote the latest from SANS Newsbites
      Researchers at the University of Michigan found, in a 2006 study, that
      76 percent of US banking websites have design flaws that could put
      customers at risk for data theft and fraud. The research did not
      discover vulnerabilities in the websites, but instead focused on the
      practices banks use that inure customers to potential online dangers by
      reinforcing bad security habits.

    • * With respect to security patching, how exactly do you propose that a bank requires a user to use the latest OS that is fully patched? It's just not possible. And if you're not running a fully patched OS then you're potentially exposed so this could affect not just Nanna on her Win95 machine but someone running Vista who hasn't applied patches since they purchased it. In my previous position at a different bank we did upgrade users to IE 5 and NN 6.2 and we required SSL 3.0/TLS 1.0 which reduces the risk of MITM attacks. But for the most part the mitigation is in the terms and conditions. Do you know what your bank's t&c's are for Internet Banking?

    Your summation is partially correct. Personally I would consider Nanna on Win95 over dial-up to be a significantly lower risk than a teenager on fully patched XP over broadband with a porn habit. And yes, banking is a service industry and they do spend a lot of money to keep *all* customers happy to avoid risk to the bank's reputation. If there is a compromise the vast majority of banks will simply pay up to keep it quiet. It's a cheap channel to maintain and fraud is low, it's creditcard fraud that causes all the pain.

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