5 Steps to Have Fun and Profit From IE6

Contributing Editor

Perhaps ‘fun’ is a slight exaggeration. ‘Profit’ may be a stretch too, but it’s possible for you and your client to be satisfied with any financial agreement which involves Microsoft’s elderly browser.

No one likes supporting IE6 but problems start when you ignore it. Few clients state IE6 is a requirement but some web developers take that as a signal to drop support. Few clients will mention HTML, CSS, Flash or hosting either — would you disregard those technologies?

Neglecting IE6 at the start shifts difficulties to the end of the project. You could produce an amazing site which the client loves but, a few days later, they call to say their main customer (or their aunt’s neighbor’s third cousin) can’t access the pages. They’re using a 10 year-old PC with Windows 98 and IE6 but, despite your pleas and logical explanations, the client insists they are a critical customer.

If you’re very lucky, the client will be willing to pay extra for IE6 support. If not, the additional expense will fall on your shoulders. Either way, the project was not completed to the client’s satisfaction, your professionalism is called into question, and the relationship is at risk.

This situation can be avoided by analyzing the requirements, explaining the issues up-front, and educating your client…

Step 1: request a browser support list
This is a long-shot, but ask your client if there are any specific browsers which must be supported. Blank looks may follow, but you should be able to determine their core customer demographics, e.g. teenagers, older users, corporations, government departments, etc.

Step 2: analyze existing statistics
If the client already has a website, obtain their browser statistics. If figures aren’t available, make a judgment based on the client’s customers. Companies selling products or services to government or large organizations are likely to have a more prominent IE6 user base than a shop selling iPhone accessories.

However, be wary about dropping any browser for an online shop — no one likes to lose customers no matter how obscure their browsing devices may be.

Step 3: include IE6 in your quote
Does IE6 incur an extra 25% development time? Perhaps it’s closer to 50%? Whatever the figure, add it to your quote.

If you’re concerned this makes you more expensive than your competitors, explain the situation to the client. State that IE6 users account for 1 in 20 website visitors (or whatever the statistics indicate) but, if they’re happy for those users to have a degraded experience, you can reduce the price accordingly.

Psychologically, this sounds far better than providing a quote without IE6 support then increasing the cost after the project has been “completed”.

Step 4: USE A CONTRACT
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: always provide a contract. It doesn’t matter whether your client is a close friend or a family member — there are no excuses.

The contract should mention which browsers and versions will be tested, highlight IE6 and the cost implications of the decision. You’re being honest and the client will not experience unexpected surprises.

Step 5: understand and test IE6
It may seem like learning to use a Betamax video recorder in an age of Blu-ray and PVRs, but IE6 is not the horror story many developers make it out to be. The rendering bugs and omissions are well-documented and have workarounds. If you test the browser from the start, you’ll soon understand its quirks and won’t need to revisit the code at the end of the project.

With experience, any developer can produce an IE6-compatible modern website without incurring significant additional expense. That additional 25% becomes lovely profit!

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  • Carlos

    Nice article, but apply extra to IE6 development would be hard to the client understand.
    Obs:
    Mistyping: Step 4: USE A CONTACT

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Thanks Carlos (the typo’s fixed — well spotted!)

      Many development companies already add more for IE6 support, but it’s often quoted as an optional extra (25% is typical from comments elsewhere on SitePoint).

      In most cases, I think it’s better to presume IE6 is a requirement. Charge more if you want, but the browser can be supported without significant additional effort. It may not be a pixel-perfect representation, but it’ll remain usable.

  • Analyn Bucabal

    Oh, I thought Step 4: USE A CONTACT was really a Contact,
    you know an underground contact to make sure the clients pays the agreed amount or risk having his legs broken.
    Of course, the difficult part would be having the “contact” trained about IE6, browsers, versions, CSS and all that, but nothing that can be achieved over a couple of beers …
    :)

  • PeteW

    I like the psychology – after all, IE support may be a common requirement, but it does require extra work. We’d do the same with any other requirement that increased the workload – and we’d be expected to.

    @Carlos: As for explaining IE6′s special challenges, most clients can accept that coding languages have dialects. Just say you’d have to duplicate much of the site in IE6′s dialect, and some modern features may get lost in translation. That’s accurate, without being too technical. :-)

  • W2ttsy

    I think how you charge is the question. As a web dev company, you should provide a site that works in IE6 as a base. Whether it looks good or not is another story and thats where you start charging.

    Things like rounded corners, PNG backgrounds and other specialty effects that IE6 stumbles on should be charging points. Really advanced AJAX may be another point, but with JQuery providing a fairly solid support structure, its becoming less of an issue.

  • http://www.yacare.fr McBenny

    I stopped to develop for IE6 for almost 2 years now and what I do is informing the client that basic developpment may break with IE6 (like columns going under, lovely images gaining a nice gray background etc.). If he’s okay, then end of the problem.
    .
    If it doesn’t go that way, then I charge an extra work to correct just some aspects (double margins, png32 => png8 and backgrounds disappearings). In general, the cost of this is about 10% of the basic fee.
    This way, the client is aware of the problems that may occur and of the problems that may be solved with how much money.
    .
    The result is 50/50. Half of my clients take the optimization, half of it don’t.
    .
    I also propose to display a special mention to IE6 users like “sorry for the bad presentation, update your browser to…” but it’s rarely adopted. (I don’t like that very much, it reminds me the “best viewed with IE” mentions when I prefered Netscape ;-)

  • Michael

    Whichever way you look at it, IE6 will become largely irrelevant over the next 12 months. I have gathered stats from Stat Counter Australia, Stat Counter World Wide, W3 website, HitsLink and W3 Counter. Sure they may show varying market share at the current point in time, but they all have a very similar rate of change. IE6 will be dead by Jul 2011. See my chart at http://yfrog.com/nbie6deathj

  • Anonymous

    Having “grown up” with IE6 I can usually work around the bugs quite quickly. My bête noir is IE7, for which documentation and work-arounds are difficult if not impossible. The zoom “feature” in particular is badly broken, but at least one of my clients loves it…
    Cordially, David

  • http://www.tjkdesign.com thierry koblentz

    Nice article.

    This says it all:

    “With experience, any developer can produce an IE6-compatible modern website without incurring significant additional expense. That additional 25% becomes lovely profit!”