Why Corporations Don’t Upgrade IE6 and How Chrome Frame Could Help

Google Chrome FrameThere appears to be a perception by some developers that corporations who haven’t upgraded IE6 are lazy, unconcerned about security, or technically inept. While that might be true for some companies, it’s not always the case. The world of big business cannot always move at the pace we would like.

Large corporations and government authorities often employ tens of thousands of employees. Some have IT budgets that are beyond the realms of imagination and they often invest in long-term projects that take 5 years, 10 years, or more.

In the late 1990’s, governments and the business world were becoming aware of the benefits of the web as an application platform. Large-scale web projects were instigated and detailed specifications were produced that stipulated which browsers should be supported. By 2001, there was only one option: IE6. Netscape had been defeated and Microsoft had an eye-watering market share.

Major web applications were developed for the only browser available. Web standards were new and seemingly irrelevant: IE6 was the standard. Web technologies were also evolving: many applications were a hodge-podge of CGI code, classic ASP, PHP3, ActiveX, or Perl. The majority of programmers had moved from desktop development to a strange client-server environment and techniques such as code separation and progressive enhancement were unheard of, not to mention practiced.

It’s easy to berate the decision makers and developers of the time, but you are doing so with the benefit of hindsight. Had it not been for Firefox, IE6 might have remained the only web browser available today (as was Microsoft’s intention).

The Legacy

Mission-critical systems are now being used that only work in IE6. Some applications may have been delivered within the past few years and are yet to make a return on investment. Updating that software so users can choose a different browser either cannot be commercially justified or could take many years to implement (especially when you consider the nasty, non-standard, embedded HTML).

Large corporations and government authorities must therefore ensure users retain IE6. Even developer PCs are locked down, so new internal web applications continue to use IE6 as a base.

Although we recognize the benefits of newer browsers, we are doing so from a web development perspective. Big businesses are unlikely to be convinced by improved CSS facilities, HTML canvas, fancy animations and better YouTube support. Developers often quote a 20% time saving when they drop IE6, but that can be negligible compared to the cost of updating a major business application and rolling out browser upgrades to all users. Security is regularly cited as good reason to upgrade, but many corporations already block full internet access or have solutions that thwart attackers far better than any OS or browser.

Of course it’s possible to install more than one browser on a PC, but few users would appreciate the differences. Support teams could become overburdened with staff using the wrong browser for the application they’re accessing.

Why Chrome Frame is Different

Google’s solution is clever because it:

  1. allows corporations to retain the version of IE required for their mission-critical applications
  2. does not add another browser to the user’s desktop, so training and support is minimized
  3. allows web developers to leverage the latest technologies when Chrome Frame is available, and
  4. uses the Webkit rendering engine, so a website that already works in the Chrome browser should require little significant testing.

There is no guarantee that companies will adopt Chrome Frame, but the barriers against doing so are considerably lower than other solutions. If it’s stable, secure, and easy to roll out, internal web developers might be able to convince their IT departments that it should be installed.

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  • aabram

    And the whole post manages to avoid linking to the main subject – Chrome Frame.

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

    @aabram
    Ahh, erm. Yes. Well spotted. Now fixed.
    It’s been a long day…

  • http://www.curtismchale.ca curtismchale

    I highly doubt that chrome frame will have any impact on the businesses using IE6 b/c of legacy applications. On top of needing buying from the IT department you will need buy in from web developers as well. Sure it’s only a bit of code to invoke the Chrome Frame but it’s a circle. If no one’s using it no developer will see the need. If no developer’s use it why install it.

    I know that I have better things to add to the sites I build than a technology that will only support a few small % of the users I see.

  • NickD

    If the company won’t buy in to a browser upgrade (or new browser all together), why would they buy in to a different kind of browser upgrade? The same approval process would most likely be necessary for either option. And they both have the same end-result, which would be something bigger corporations are against.

  • Hamran

    I’m consulting at a company right now whose standard browser is IE6. This is a huge multinational. The reason they still use IE6 is because they have a handful of IE6 apps which they thought were Web apps when they made them but they are most certainly not. They fell right into Microsoft’s trap: they moved their DOS/Windows apps from the late 90’s over to IE6 in the early 2000’s and now they’re stuck there. To redo these apps in HTML5 is a significant investment that they are not ready to make now.

    However, users are complaining more and more that they can’t see websites with IE6 because it’s banned from many sites now, and many websites and redesigns are launching now that simply don’t run in IE6. Also, users are complaining about the walking-in-hip-deep-water speed of IE6. Nobody here wants to keep using it, but most people also don’t want to use multiple browsers and we need to run these IE6 apps daily. This is a legitimate technical schism that many Microsoft customers are stuck in. Microsoft spent many years trying to solve it, and IE8 has a copy of IE6 in there for this reason. However, IE8 is very slow and no HTML5, so it’s a lateral move from IE6, it doesn’t take you forward. You can still run your IE6 apps for the most part but you can’t run Google Wave and the one billion HTML5 apps that will be launched over the next decade. IE8 can’t even run sites made for smartphones because the smartphones all have HTML5.

    So Chrome Frame is perfect for this company. It took 3 minutes to install and afterwards my IE6 was the same in every way except now I can see all the modern pages I could not see before applying Chrome Frame. I can still run the company’s IE6 apps, yet I can also run the HTML5 apps that have replaced so many IE6 apps. And when you go to a page that uses Chrome Frame, you can literally see the speed difference. The page pops into view with Chrome, whereas the Microsoft renderer slowly draws in various parts of the page. We’re not talking about a stopwatch benchmark, we’re talking about blowing the user’s hair back. We’re talking about adding more speed than what you see with a RAM upgrade.

    > Developers often quote a 20% time saving when they drop IE6,

    I’ve seen IE6 take up 50% of a website’s testing time. And 50% of user bug reports.

    Even worse, a lot of early discussions about what kinds of features you’ll make include a lot of “that’s going to take 3 months to build in an IE6-compatible way” and we throw those features out. So the whole Web is worse for this. Many websites are less interactive, less feature-rich, less intuitive because they had to run in IE6.

    The Web should not be getting embarrassed by iPhone apps. The kind of interactivity and elegance we see there should already be part of the Web.

    > Had it not been for Firefox, IE6 might have
    > remained the only web browser available today
    > (as was Microsoft’s intention).

    You’re forgetting that the WebKit project predates Firefox by a few years. Apple Safari 1.0 shipped 2 years before Firefox 1.0. Without Firefox we’d still have Safari and Chrome and all the other WebKit browsers (Palm, Blackberry, Nokia, Android.)

    > I highly doubt that chrome frame will have
    > any impact on the businesses
    > using IE6 b/c of legacy applications.

    I don’t think you understand what Chrome Frame is. It’s the first browser upgrade you can apply that also lets you keep your legacy browser and applications. So after you install Chrome Frame, your legacy IE6 applications still run EXACTLY the same. Chrome Frame is inactive until a page invokes it. So businesses that have legacy applications is who Chrome Frame was made for. It’s designed specifically for them.

    > On top of needing buying from the IT department

    Internet Explorer Add-ons are common and even install themselves. I’m at a huge multinational and we all have an Add-on to enable us to start a WebEx from with IE6, and another that enables us to print a PDF from IE6, and about a dozen more. Adding a 13th IE Add-on to enable double-speed HTML5 browsing is a no-brainer. The IT department doesn’t want to keep IE6 any more than the users do. They are looking for a solution to both keep IE6 and satisfy their users need for a modern browser. Chrome Frame is by far the easiest solution and requires no user training. You click a button in a Web page and install it and don’t even need to restart IE.

    > you will need buy in from web developers
    > as well

    Chrome Frame is a kind of Holy Grail in Web development. If you’re a Web developer and you don’t recognize the importance of Chrome Frame then you are behind in your reading. Every non-Microsoft browser (including all the smartphones) is already an HTML5 client. Right now there are 2 YouTubes: the old one you see in IE and the new one you see on smartphones, which is HTML5. YouTube can afford that. Most of us cannot. And if we make 2 sites, they are usually both half-sites, it is bad for every user to do that.

    If you’re saying you would rather make one HTML5 site and one IE6 site for every project between 2010-2020 then more power to you. I think the vast majority of us are going to build one HTML5 site and require IE users who don’t yet have Chrome Frame to spend 3 minutes (less time than Silverlight) installing Chrome Frame, a plain old Browser Helper Object IE plug-in from one of the most reputable software publishers in the world. Google.com is the most popular website in the world and parts of it already require IE users to have Chrome Frame.

    > I know that I have better things to add to
    > the sites I build than a technology that
    > will only support a few small % of the
    > users I see.

    I think you are wrong here in 2 ways.

    First, it takes almost no time at all to add one meta tag to the head of your site template. That’s all you’re being asked to do. Considering that will double the speed of your site for some of your IE users, it is a small upgrade even if that were the only benefit.

    Second, it is not a small percentage of users. HTML5 is 50% of the Web right now, and IE6 is 30%. Yet most Web developers are still making IE6 apps, hacking together almost arbitrary HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and doing a ton of testing in all browsers. The more you encourage the IE users to move to HTML5 you move the whole platform forward. The release of Google Chrome Frame for me has meant the switch is flipped. I’m working on a site right now that is HTML5 in non-IE and in IE it is Flash. But we canceled the Flash version (which is always done last anyway, just cloning the HTML5 site and using the same media) and now our IE users will see a little Flash presentation that explains that they need to either install Chrome Frame or use a modern browser. This is not outrageous when you consider that a $99 smartphone has a full HTML5 browser in it for years now. IE6 is almost half as old as the Web itself. Computing technology marches on.

    Further, I think many IE users will adopt Chrome Frame. Probably the majority. It is from one of the world’s biggest and best-known and most-reputable software publishers, it’s free, it takes 3 minutes to install, it doesn’t require you to even restart IE, it enables you to access websites you couldn’t access before (and this number is growing fast) and others that you could access before will now run 2x speed. Considering that most IE users have 10+ Add-ons already for all kinds of foolishness and from all kinds of mysterious software publishers, Chrome Frame is a painless upgrade.

    Also, right now you need Chrome Frame to see Google Wave. Tomorrow you will need it to see the lastest Facebook redesign. Every IE user over the next year is going to run into a handful of sites that say “sorry, not without Chrome Frame” and they’re going to bite in most cases. When you consider Microsoft is pushing a plug-in (Silverlight) to do basic audio and video, it is not too much to ask for users to install a plug-in to run the World Wide Web.

  • the.peregrine

    IE6’s slow rendering and abysmal support for web standards (compared to every other browser) certainly are reason enough to seek a quick solution for users who are stuck with it.

    Users of assistive technology won’t see a benefit with Google Chrome Frame, though. In fact, they’ll be worse off than before. It’s an accessibility nightmare.

    For those of us who work in government, where we’re obligated to consider accessibility for our own workers and for the public, that’s a deal-breaker.

  • OGGTV

    Chrome Frame also helps IE users have access, to the new interactive/multimedia based educational services of the future.

    Add this with HTML5 audio/video, and the VLC player browser plug-in, and school/public costs will drop along with college fees.

    Businesses can stream multimedia at lower costs, and sell products/services in a new interactive way.

    OGGTV is set-up Chrome Frame compatible, to allow IE users access to the HTML5 video playback, and have VLC player plug-in availability on IE.

    It is highly possible, the majority of websites will rebel against IE with Chrome Frame, because of the lock-in, (and they can see it as their way to advance their websites).

    HTML5 features, can be in the “drivers-seat” overnight.

  • Steve

    This seems like bullshit. A multinational corporation has enough money to spend upgrading internal web apps so they run on newer web browsers. The only reason they don’t do it is bad leadership.

  • Ryan Wray

    For those of us who work in government, where we’re obligated to consider accessibility for our own workers and for the public, that’s a deal-breaker.

    How does this effect using Chrome Frame. No one is suggesting that the government should now target only modern browsers. No doubt accessibility is critical for a government project.

    This is not about allowing the Government to ignore IE6. It´s about letting them view sites that do not support IE6, but also allowing the workers stuck with IE6 do to legacy systems to also enjoy more mordern designs.

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

    @Steve

    A multinational corporation has enough money to spend upgrading internal web apps so they run on newer web browsers. The only reason they don’t do it is bad leadership.

    Er, have you been living in a box for the past year? The economy isn’t doing well. Companies have been making redundancies — updating (already working) browser apps probably isn’t high on their priority list.

    I think you’re also underestimating the amount of time and money required. Some apps may contain millions of lines of code and need a complete re-write. Companies may have been sold these apps on the benefits of no end-user software installations … which they’re now being asked to do.

    I suspect many companies are also asking why they should invest in new browser technologies when they keep changing?

  • the.peregrine

    How does this effect using Chrome Frame. No one is suggesting that the government should now target only modern browsers.

    Actually, I now target standards. I guess you could say that I steer away from design elements that aren’t rendered well in IE6, because I do test everything in IE6 but I don’t fuss with IE6 workarounds anymore.

    My point about Chrome probably wasn’t as clear as it could have been, so thank you for pointing that out, Ryan. Craig is correct in saying that Chrome Frame can help IE6 users, but that isn’t true for those to whom accessibility is important. That was my intended point.

    Statistically, that is not a large percentage of users. But we don’t design for statistics. We design for people. Personally, I have a problem with encouraging bad practices that shun accessibility. My concern (and I’ve seen this happen before with javascript, in particular) is that thousands of creative lemmings will rush to develop apps in the manner of Chrome Frame and thereby leave accessibility concerns in the dust.

    I work in an agency that serves many people with various kinds of disabilities, and there are people with various disabilities within my agency as well. I won’t be recommending Chrome Frame to any of them. Instead, even if they need to get special permission for what we call a “workplace accommodation,” at this point I would recommend Opera for its excellent accessibility features. Opera’s developers are far ahead of everyone else in this aspect of browser development.

    Craig also makes an excellent point here:

    Support teams could become overburdened with staff using the wrong browser for the application they’re accessing.

    The legacy of sites designed to work well only in IE6 is huge! Microsoft encouraged this for years, and many users don’t understand why a site will be “broken” in other browsers while it renders as intended in IE6. Corporations — and governments, in a sense, are also large corporations — probably will continue to shy away from other browsers for some time.

  • http://keryx.se itpastorn

    @Hamran:

    You’re forgetting that the WebKit project predates Firefox by a few years. Apple Safari 1.0 shipped 2 years before Firefox 1.0. Without Firefox we’d still have Safari and Chrome and all the other WebKit browsers (Palm, Blackberry, Nokia, Android.)

    And KHTML predates Webkit, and Mozilla predates Firefox and Safari by a margin) and Opera actually predates MSIE…

    It was Firefox that broke MSIE’s stranglehold of the web, making Opera, Safari and Chrome usable alternatives today. That’s a historical fact.

  • _simps_

    As a front-end dev who’s been coding for IE6 from the day it came out, it would be one of the happiest days in my life if Microsoft jumped on the idea and developed an IE8 plug-in for IE6 – 7 that they’d force push to all users.

  • simonbanyard

    My point about Chrome probably wasn’t as clear as it could have been, so thank you for pointing that out, Ryan. Craig is correct in saying that Chrome Frame can help IE6 users, but that isn’t true for those to whom accessibility is important. That was my intended point.

    Statistically, that is not a large percentage of users. But we don’t design for statistics. We design for people. Personally, I have a problem with encouraging bad practices that shun accessibility. My concern (and I’ve seen this happen before with javascript, in particular) is that thousands of creative lemmings will rush to develop apps in the manner of Chrome Frame and thereby leave accessibility concerns in the dust.

    I’m sorry but I don’t get your point here. Essentially all one is doing to a page is adding <meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="chrome=1"'> in to the <head> section. This is completely semantic and should not affect the rendering of the site or accessibility tools, such as screen readers, from working. Besides, accessibility support in IE6 is poor to say the least. Accessibility and government agency should be targeting standards, not browsers. Google Frame simply replaces the Trident engine (MSHTML.DLL) found with IE versions with Googles implementation of WebKit (which is excellent for accessibility applications) as well as Google’s JavaScript engine, V8 when the meta-tag is in place.

  • fineartdavid

    Besides, accessibility support in IE6 is poor to say the least.

    Hi Simon,

    I’m not sure what you mean by suggesting that accessibility support in IE is poor. Two of the most well known assistive technology products, JAWS and Windows-Eyes are designed specifically to run on Windows and plug into Microsoft’s Accessibility API.

    It may also be worth noting that these technologies work across the whole OS, and not just the browser.

    Check out The Paciello Group’s article Google Chrome Frame – accessibility black hole to see an example of the difference between using the IE6 rendering engine and the Chrome Frame rendering engine.

  • simonbanyard

    That’s a fair point that’s hard to argue against! At the risk of sounding like I’m changing my point, I meant that its standards support is poor to say the least—that much I know its true! I was mistakenly under the impression that the majority of web screen readers essentially ‘read’ the HTML as rendered, hence the importance of standard semantic markup. Looks like I was wrong, thanks for updating. I still stand by the point that gov’t organisations should be targeting standards and not browsers. If Microsoft would only keep to standards, admittedly IE 8 is better, but they are still chasing the pack…

  • sunil
  • Bryan

    I won’t at all downplay the annoyance of getting sites to work on IE6, but I don’t like how @Hamran lumps IE6 and HTML5 into distinct groups. IE6 isn’t its own archaic language and HTML5 its own. IE6 works fine with HTML 4, and HTML5 simply extends what HTML4 already implements. The problem with IE6 is more about the JavaScript, CSS, and how the CSS interacts with the HTML.

    This really might be a nitpick, but although his post was enlightening this one issue really struck with me.

    All of that being said, Chrome Frame really does introduce a lot of good and bad things. I’m enjoying reading the discussion here regarding them.

  • Bill

    Google would honestly be better served by an IE plugin for Chrome, not a Chrome plug-in for IE. If their goal is to get more users on Chrome and in turn use that as a launchpad for their other web products, then also having support for a Google Toolbar esque system (or maybe even Google “bookmarks” like IE and Firefox do) is essential. To meet that end, you need Chrome in front and IE behind, not the other way around.

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

    @Bill
    If users install the Chrome browser, why would they need an IE plugin? IE6/7/8 would still be on their system.

    Chrome Frame is useful for corporations who need to retain older versions of IE but don’t want to confuse users with multiple browsers.

  • marcopolo

    quiero que regrese jeff hardy a smakdown

  • http://www.calcResult.co.uk omnicity

    @Bill:
    “Chrome Frame is useful for corporations who need to retain older versions of IE but don’t want to confuse users with multiple browsers.”

    Businesses that don’t want to support anything other/more than IE6 are not going to be prepared to support something that modifies IE6. If users can’t handle using two different browsers, then they are not going to be any happier with a plug-in that makes their one browser schizo-phrenic.

    Most of the applications that only support IE6 are no longer supported by the original vendor, and therefore it will take a lot more than a few hours of bug-fixing – in most cases a complete new system is required.

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

    @omnicity
    The beauty of Chrome Frame is that most users won’t even know it’s installed. IE will work just as before. If the plugin is stable, easy to deploy, and offers business benefits, there’s little reason for companies to avoid it.

  • Andrew NYC

    Also, right now you need Chrome Frame to see Google Wave. Tomorrow you will need it to see the lastest Facebook redesign. Every IE user over the next year is going to run into a handful of sites that say “sorry, not without Chrome Frame” and they’re going to bite in most cases. When you consider Microsoft is pushing a plug-in (Silverlight) to do basic audio and video, it is not too much to ask for users to install a plug-in to run the World Wide Web.

    I agree completely. I worked hard to make my last site IE6 compatible and it took almost as long as creating it in the first place. I have already decided that in the future all IE users, no matter the version, are going to get an alert telling them to come back with a different browser.

    IE is so lousy it needs a plug-in just to do its job. That’s like getting an add-on for a broken car that drives you around town. IE is a joke.

  • the.peregrine

    IE is so lousy it needs a plug-in just to do its job. That’s like getting an add-on for a broken car that drives you around town. IE is a joke.

    I love the analogy! But the fact is, IE6 was not designed to do what most browsers are designed to do. It was designed to force grudging and gradual compliance with proprietary Microsoft standards, and not to comply with the W3C or anyone else’s expectations. It was the perfect complement to FrontPage [insert obligatory wretching sound here].

    If that had worked, Microsoft would effectively control the Web and Firefox and Opera and Safari would still be hovering at around 2 percent acceptance. Redmond may have thought it was worth a try, but it’s simply made many of us hate them with a passion that goes beyond rational thought.

  • Atype

    With Google Frame becoming a reality, am I missing something – but why couldn’t Microsoft create an “IE Frame” plugin for IE6?

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

    @Atype
    Microsoft could, although they’d really prefer people to upgrade. It’s just than Google thought of the idea first!