Happy 10th Birthday IE6!

I realize few of you will want to celebrate, but IE6 is ten years old today. I’m sure the original developers never thought it would reach double figures when the final version was released on August 27, 2001.

Ten years is an astonishing achievement for any piece of software — especially when you consider the web itself is just 20 years old. Even today, more than 1 in 30 people still use the aging browser.

Despite numerous awards for “worst tech product of all time” and “least secure software on the planet”, IE6 was an excellent browser in 2001. It gave us:

  • improved CSS (and fixed IE5′s incorrect box model)
  • DOM level 1
  • a good XML API
  • a sleek, fast interface
  • a useful IE Administration Kit for fast deployment within organizations.

It killed Netscape 4.0 and the Mozilla Suite. There were a number of court cases but, quite frankly, those browsers deserved a quick and painful death. Be thankful you don’t have to support them today.

Where did it all go wrong?

Microsoft won the browser war and, by 2001, IE was used by more than 95% of web users.

Few people considered web applications to be a viable alternative to the desktop and Microsoft backed “Smart Clients”; Windows-based programs with good interfaces and the benefits of internet communication. It was a logical decision which could only strengthen Windows’ domination of the OS market. Microsoft announced IE6 would be their last standalone browser and the development team was disbanded.

Then Web2.0 appeared. Ajax was the primary “technology” underpinning Web2.0 and, ironically, it was only possible thanks to a little-known XMLHttpRequest object Microsoft introduced in IE5.0.

At the same time, Mozilla finally delivered a capable browser which was free from legacy Netscape code and a serious threat to IE. Firefox adhered to web standards and offered tools which allowed developers to create complex web applications.

It quickly became apparent that IE was lagging behind and holding back web development. Microsoft took a couple of years to realize their mistake and release IE7. It had better standards support but broke many of the web applications written during IE6′s 5 year-long reign. Many companies found they couldn’t upgrade.

Is IE6 really so bad?

IE6-bashing is easy — Microsoft do it themselves. That said, some web developers protest a little too much: berating IE6 is far easier than “fixing” code. The majority of IE6 issues are well understood and have documented workarounds. Assuming you test early and test often, it’s still possible to support IE6 ten years after its birth (as long as you forget futile attempts at pixel perfection).

The question is: should you support IE6?

For most sites, there are few commercial reasons to justify spending a disproportionate amount of development time on a minority group of users using antiquated software and questionable IT skills. The situation may be different if you’re working for a large corporation or government department but, if you don’t like it, there’s an easy solution to that problem…

Personally, IE6 has brought me pain but I’m ancient enough to have used it from the start and understand its quirky behavior. The development hurdles have also been partially offset by the profits — I still make money fixing IE6 issues! It was my default browser for several years and I still prefer it to the abomination that was IE7.

So, happy tenth birthday IE6. It’s time to retire forever.

Will you be celebrating?

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  • http://twitter.com/goatlady Kay Smoljak

    hahah totally. I love telling people who complain about IE6 about the days when supporting Netscape 4 on a complex site essentially meant creating a separate page :)

  • http://twitter.com/cyberstream_us CyberStream.us

    In “browser years”, IE6 is about 250 years old. I am beginning to question its mortality.

    • http://twitter.com/craigbuckler Craig Buckler

      In web-evolutionary terms, IE6 is about 2 billion years old (or 2,000 years if you’re a creationist).

      • http://twitter.com/cyberstream_us CyberStream.us

        That’s definitely what it feels like…It will be a tough old monster to eradicate. I just finished upgrading someone from Windows 2K and IE6 to Windows 7 and IE9 & Opera. I’m doing my part to fight the battle. :)

      • Anonymous

        In fairness, there are a great many creationists who would still consider IE6 to be 2 billion years old.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with you. People are always too eager to bash IE6.

    • http://twitter.com/craigbuckler Craig Buckler

      Don’t get me wrong – there are many reasons to despise IE6. However, in my experience, the developers who complain the most are those who avoid testing until the end of the project. Should they really be surprised a 10 year-old browser didn’t work?

  • http://twitter.com/samiullah1989 Sami89

    IE6 and in 2001 95% usage, what you did ‘Microsoft’ that you not more close to your competitors,,,

  • http://www.facebook.com/Happyhansha Brannon Sherry

    The thing about complaining about “fixing” things for IE is that ultimately Microsoft made bad bureaucratic development decisions which lead to the rest of us having to modernize their browser every time we did a project. They could have shown a little ability to listen and actually pay attention to the market they were in, but remarkably it actually seems like one of the largest and most influential software companies in the world is only just now getting that the internet is a big deal.

    IE6 WAS a great browser in its time, but that’s not really a good enough reason for those of us who have spent many of our hours and many hundreds or thousands of client dollars fixing what was in some ways Microsoft’s responsibility to fix. Microsoft goes on and on a lot about how they’ll keep supporting this or that as being part of their “responsibility” to their users, but what about their responsibility to make sure their users have security and can keep using modern web software?

    The roads where I live were just newly paved; they’re great to drive on. Let’s say that the local government decided that those roads just aren’t important anymore, and they’re not going to maintain them because they’re building new roads, and even though they keep pushing back the completion date for those roads and we can’t drive on them, they won’t fix the ones we have to drive on. Now, I can pay to repair my car twice as often due to the damage running over 10 years worth of potholes and road damage causes, but should I not complain about that when I know the roads are in disrepair for no good reason?

    I’m old enough to know how to support IE6 too, and how to code with IE6 in mind, but in the technology world, having to code for a 10 year old browser just because its developers won’t manage their product is pretty ridiculous. Firefox can keep their users updated, Safari can keep their users updated, Chrome can keep their users updated, Internet Explorer can keep their users updated; they just don’t.

    Running a browser but not keeping it updated is like owning a mall but letting the building fall into disrepair. Putting the traffic you invited through your space at risk while expecting your shop owners pay extra money out of pocket to keep your mall safe and well lit so that people will shop in their stores would be irresponsible, and so was this.

    IE6 needs to die out now, and IE7 needs to go with it. IE8 can stay long enough to pack up its things, but then it needs to go too.

  • http://sitepoint.com Aaron Osteraas

    Haha sensational post, Craig.

    Good old IE6. It’s kind of like the old family dog in a few ways.

    Microsoft have played catch up pretty seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if, come IE10 or 11, it is a serious competitor to Firefox and Chrome.

  • http://twitter.com/DaquanWright Daquan Wright

    I lol at the saveie6 website. :)

    You don’t even know me and yet, you already know HOW I FEEL about IE in general. =P

    My gripe with these browsers is that they form their own special set of standards, giving us headaches and forcing us to use external stylesheets when we’d prefer to keep our pages lean and clean. Browsers will have small differences, but the bulk of it should be based on standards. I want to develop clean and powerful websites/apps. It is my job to debug my code and deliver good user experience across them. Not attempting to reprogram a horrible browser, but thankfully those days are coming to a close.

  • Jonathan Penny

    IE6 was a great browser in it’s day but it should die off now. I say the same about IE7 as well, as IE7 causes me more problems than IE6 does.

  • Anonymous

    Let it die already!!

  • Matt Vaughan

    You’re right, IE6 was a great browser in its day. The problem wasn’t really IE6, it was IE7, or the lack thereof until many years later (along with IE7′s need for XP SP2 before installing), meaning IE6 has held on much longer than it should have.

    Also, while the global stats do show 3%+ IE6 users, most of them are in China (which has twice as many internet users as the US), where it holds 30-50% market share (almost entirely due to pirated copies of XP without access to Windows Update, and since Chinese sites tend to be written primarily for IE6 as a result, there’s really no need to update). In the US, it’s more like 1%, and a substantial portion of those might be certain bots/crawlers masquerading as IE6 rather than actual web users.

    IE7 is getting into the same boat: it’s dropped to like 5% and there isn’t really any excuse to use it instead of IE8 (same system requirements, IE8 has compatibility mode, etc.). Most “users” are on ridiculously locked-down corporate networks which don’t even allow the most-recommended updates (and which are sure to have equally ridiculous web usage policies, security settings and block lists anyway), or in server/remote desktop installations. Google and others have already dropped support for IE7 (YouTube did a full two years ago).

    As a result, I’ve completely forgotten about IE6, now barely consider IE7 when coding, am lucky to do even cursory testing in IE7, only consider fixing the most serious IE7 problems, and give up quickly if it’s taking much time at all to fix.

    (Unfortunately, Microsoft has continued to make the same mistakes in terms of updates, system requirements, etc., continuing to maroon an unnecessarily high number of users on old versions like IE8 and even IE9 going forward…)

    • http://twitter.com/craigbuckler Craig Buckler

      You are right about IE6 statistics being skewed, although it will depend on your site and audience. I recently worked on a project for a large bank who insisted on IE6 compatibility. Their customers don’t use it, but their staff and board do.

      Unfortunately, IE8 could be the new IE6. Microsoft have abandoned browser development on XP which is the most-used OS by far – especially for businesses.

  • http://twitter.com/craigbuckler Craig Buckler

    But how much time, effort and money have web applications saved businesses? Perhaps an IE6-compatible app took 30% more time to write, but that’s probably cheaper than upgrading the browser of 10,000 corporate users.

    Ultimately, web developers share the blame. We spent 5 years developing apps for IE6 when we should have been writing cross-browser code. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, though.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6GG7CEFACSCBVP2LFIJ23KVSYQ Emma Pope

    i cant believe this!! me and my sister just got two i-pads for $42.77 each and a $50 amazon card for $9. the stores want to keep this a secret and they dont tell you.
    go here, pluscent.com

  • Anonymous

    i cant believe this!! me and my sister just got two i-pads for $42.77 each and a $50 amazon card for $9. the stores want to keep this a secret and they dont tell you.
    go here, www.tinyurl.com/3qa436v

  • Shashikiran D

    Good article. But all this elongated life for IE6 is due to Microsoft. They are doing the same with IE8 now. In the organization that I am employed now, there are over 400 PCs running Windows XP and less than 100 PCs with Vista and Windows 7. It is nonsense to scrap those 400+ PCs (both hardware and XP) just to upgrade the IE to 9 as Microsoft is not providing the option of using the latest version of IE on those Widows XP machines.

    The result is those machines all are stuck with IE8 and we are using Firefox for majority of time. In one more year IE will be a total useless relic on those PCs, where as some of those PC’s with XP might be there for another 3-4 years.

    Where is your logic Microsoft? Do you think that you can use your newer browser to push your newer OS and kill your older OS before it goes out on its own? Probably you are trying to support your competitors in the browser market silently and being modest about it! Lol

  • Marceloaldo

    I´m confused, ie9 put it compatibility view to ie7 engine :S. But this is microsoft…

  • http://gauravmishra.com Gaurav M

    If the request to fix IE6 issues, appear from client
    after fixing IE7+
    I can celebrate that by earning some bucks.
    Belated IE6 birthday!