Time to ditch Internet Explorer 6

I’ve decided that Internet Explorer 6 is holding back my business and the websites of my clients – so we no longer support it by default.

Around a year ago, I would have said that Internet Explorer 6 was still important enough in terms of market share for website developers to keep supporting it.

Well, times change. Over the last year, I’ve become increasingly frustrated that Internet Explorer 6 can’t render modern websites very well. No surprise, since the darn thing is nearly a decade old. Many of us wouldn’t consider driving a car that’s that old and none of us would consider a ten-year-old computer a credible working tool.

The main reason that Internet Explorer limps along, like a sad old dog that really would be better off out of its misery, is that certain types of organisation have locked themselves into it. Often, it’s because internal line-of-business applications or Intranets have been coded specifically (and myopically) with Internet Explorer 6 solely in mind. They don’t really have a choice: they have to stick in the past otherwise their vital systems won’t run. There are examples of these organisations in both the public and private sectors – and I’m sure this is a real headache to them. The UK Government has foolished decided to stick with Internet Explorer 6, citing the cost of upgrading – without fully considering the costs and risks of sticking with it.

Thankfully, Internet Explorer’s use is declining. According to GlobalStats, Internet Explorer 6 has an 8.02% market share, at the time of writing. It’s declining rapidly, but that’s still more market share than Firefox 3.5, Firefox 3, Safari 4, Opera 10 and Chrome 3.

My previous argument for continuing to support Internet Explorer 6 was based on market share – and if its market share is half-decent, why are we ceasing support?

Well, first off, we’re not ceasing support – we’re ceasing support by default. That means it’s no longer on our list of target browsers we use when testing a website. It can be, no problem, if the client is willing to pay a little extra. Since nearly all other browsers are (broadly) standards compliant and render websites in a mostly predictable way, testing tends to be:

  • All other browsers (70% of testing)
  • Internet Explorer 7 (5% of testing)
  • Internet Explorer 6 (25% of testing)

So, where a client wishes us to test for Internet Explorer 6, we can happily – for a 25% extra development fee.

But that’s a caveat. We’re now starting to use some elements which don’t work in Internet Explorer 6 – period. At this point there is a choice: either have them degrade gracefully (ie, Internet Explorer 6 users see something slightly different but without loss of corefunction) or test for Internet Explorer 6 when rendering a page and dynamically deploy an alternative, perhaps using JavaScript.

An example of this is the mega-menu we recently added to qa.com’s website. QA is the UK’s leading training company. We wanted to create a way for users to get quickly to any course, so the mega-menu allows them to do this – you hover over ‘courses’ or ‘certification’ and you get a full list.

The thing is, this is implemented using ‘modern’ HTML/cascading style sheets – not JavaScript. So, it loads fast and it’s visible to search engines. But Internet Explorer 6 can’t see it – it’s technically not possible. What we could have done is implement a JavaScript alternative as a fall back for those users – but on reflection, that was a lot of development time and cost, not to mention weight of code slowing the page down. So, we decided that the costs and drawbacks significantly outweighed the benefits. Internet Explorer 6 users have to peck through the menus as before. The best way to look at it is that they are no more disadvantaged than they were, but users with more modern browsers get a better experience.

We’re now looking at other parts of our standard development platform, to include other more modern coding elements that provide a better experience to website visitors. These typically use more advanced parts of HTML/cascading style sheets that Internet Explorer 6 can’t comprehend, or perhaps JavaScript frameworks that don’t play well with its antiquated rendering engine.

So, we reached the conclusion. Internet Explorer 6 is holding back the websites of our customers and, in turn, our business. Out it goes.

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