IE6: The Browser That Refused To Die - InformationWeek

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Commentary
7/17/2009
02:24 AM
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IE6: The Browser That Refused To Die

On the information superhighway, Internet Explorer 6 is a Ford Pinto with a fuel leak. So why are so many Web users still puttering along in this ticking time bomb?

On the information superhighway, Internet Explorer 6 is a Ford Pinto with a fuel leak. So why are so many Web users still puttering along in this ticking time bomb?A recent post by Mashable.com blogger and associate editor Ben Parr points out the drawbacks of using IE6 in a Web 2.0 world. Besides the fact that IE6 is a horrific security risk, Parr notes that some leading Web sites, including Digg and YouTube, are likely to cut their support for the browser.

Indeed, Digg developer Mark Trammell recently stated in a blog post that the site is "likely to stop supporting IE6 for logged in activity like digging, burying, and commenting" in the near future. It's a trend that will continue, and accelerate, as more sites adopt advanced functionality that older browsers simply cannot access.

Many developers were hoping that IE6 usage would have dropped a bit more than it has. Mozilla developer Asa Dotzler, for example, sees IE 6 on a steady downward trend that he figures at just under one percent per month. Yet Dotzler also acknowledges that "by the time Internet Explorer 8 was released, IE 6's trajectory had stabilized and even a major release from Microsoft couldn't budge it."

Dotzler's post refers to Net Applications market-share data that gave IE 6 about a 20.5 percent market share in December, 2008. By May 2009, that figure had dropped to 17 percent, which actually indicates a much slower decline than Dotzler's estimate.

But Dotzler also makes another, more important, observation when he states that "there's nothing any of the browser vendors can really do to speed the withdrawal of IE 6 from the Web.

"Releasing new versions, the big lever we have to move the Web forward, just doesn't reach those IE 6 users."

Who are those IE 6 users, anyway? Some of them are probably business users running Windows 2000 desktop systems. Microsoft will continue to support Windows 2000 for its Extended Support customers through 2010 -- and Win2K does not support IE7 or IE8.

At least a few holdouts are individual Windows users who simply don't update their systems. At this point, it's safe to assume that these folks have bigger problems to worry about.

That still leaves plenty of room for a third group: Businesses that could move away from IE 6 tomorrow -- if they wanted to.

That's a mystifying situation. Maybe some companies don't care enough about Web 2.0 functionality to bother installing browsers capable of supporting it. Perhaps some are bound to IE 6 because they made the mistake of building an intranet or custom apps with "advanced" (that is, Internet Explorer-specific) features.

Those are valid concerns, but they won't hold water much longer. The problem is that Web developers currently spent a lot of time managing work-arounds designed specifically to support IE 6. Sites that use CSS2 to format XML or to deliver downloadable fonts, for example, simply won't work properly with IE6.

These issues explain why Digg is ready to leave behind IE 6 users, and they explain why far more developers will take similar steps during the months to come.

Also, let's not forget that in spite of continuing updates, IE 6 suffers from more than 20 unpatched security flaws, some of which are years old. I don't know if using IE 6 in a business environment qualifies as gross negligence, but I don't think its presence exactly inspires confidence in a company's IT decision-makers, either.

Here's the bottom line: The Web is moving ahead, and IE 6 isn't going along for the ride. If your company's desktops are part of the 20 percent still shackled to this corpse, isn't it time to grab a shovel and start digging?

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