Is Today the Beginning of the End for IE8?

The age of Windows XP is over. Microsoft’s most successful OS was launched on October 25, 2001 and was the first to use the stable NT kernel for both mainstream and business desktops. Starting April 8, the OS is no more. Microsoft has dropped support; you won’t receive updates or technical assistance. Software compatibility will decrease and XP will become a tempting target for criminal crackers.

Few Operating Systems reach the ripe old age of thirteen. While XP reviews were positive, the early months were problematic; it struggled on existing hardware and it took time for manufacturers to release compatible drivers. However, once those issues were eradicated, XP usage peaked at 76% in January 2007.

XP’s long life owed much to the Longhorn/Vista debacle. The next release of Windows took five years to appear and suffered a disastrous reception. Windows 7 did much to address the reputation of the OS but, by that time, people had been using XP for eight years and had grown accustom to its features and quirks. XP usage was only overtaken by Windows 7 in 2012 and, even today, almost one in five users retain the aging OS.

XP users have received plenty of warnings about it’s demise but that doesn’t mean it’ll stop working. People will continue to use XP and Office 2003 unless they have the budget and/or hardware to upgrade. The UK government has even paid $9 million for an additional twelve months of support — largely because 85% of the National Health Service still uses XP (and, somewhat shockingly, IE6).

How Does This Affect Web Developers?

If we forget about Vista (most did), XP is the last version of Windows to support IE6/7 and can only be upgraded to IE8 — which is the last still-in-use mainstream browser not to support HTML5. You may disagree, but IE8 development isn’t too difficult unless you’re making a futile attempt at cross-browser pixel perfection. IE8 may not support rounded corners, box shadows and CSS3 animations but it’s generally well behaved compared to its predecessors. That said, dropping IE8 support would make our lives considerably easier.

Like us, Microsoft want people to upgrade from XP for commercial and technical reasons. There are various discounts and Windows is now being offered for free to smartphone and tablet manufacturers to help it compete with Android. Unfortunately, businesses and the general public are not wholly sold on Windows 8. The combined tablet/desktop OS is confusing for those coming from previous editions and relatively few PCs have touch screen support.

Personally, I like Windows 8 but the first few weeks were frustrating. Even now, I discover features I should have known about months ago! Microsoft is addressing some issues and an update this week will deliver a more consistent and familiar experience for desktop users. The Start Menu also looks set to return soon (which I predicted in 2012!).

Whether these updates convince people to abandon XP and IE8 is another matter. Migration will occur, but I suspect it will take far longer than we hope. Today may not mark the end for IE8 but it’s certainly the beginning of the end.

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  • Philip C

    We can pray Craig. :)

  • http://www.wordimpress.com/ Devin Walker

    IE8 is already dead to me.

    • Craig Buckler

      You must be one of the lucky ones! For the average site, IE8 still accounts for 5-10% of activity.

  • jokeyrhyme

    It’s the ES5 and ES6 support that hurts the most with IE8. Much of it can be shimmed, that is true. However, some critical parts cannot be, like support for using reserved keywords as property names.

  • Jingqi Xie

    IE6’s still alive to us.

  • mickyhulse

    You may disagree, but IE8 development isn’t too difficult unless you’re
    making a futile attempt at cross-browser pixel perfection. IE8 may not
    support rounded corners, box shadows and CSS3 animations but it’s
    generally well behaved compared to its predecessors.

    While I don’t disagree that development for old IEs isn’t that hard – once you’ve got one working, the rest fall in line (as long as you are familiar with all the known bugs) – You forgot to mention that IE8 does not support media queries. From my experience, trying to patch MQs with a pollyfill, or use a preprocessor solution, can be a long-term maintenance nightmare.

    With that said, no MQ support is enough reason for me to drop support (generally speaking) for IE8 and below.

    If you theme gracefully degrades, there’s not much harm in letting old IEs miss out on RWD goodness. :)

    • Ian Woodward

      Why would you be using media queries for ie8? You can always assume that ie8 will be viewed on a desktop, then you just design for 950-1000px width. If you want a responsive site, switch out all of the advanced stuff with a basic style sheet using the HTML if statements. ie8 is much easier to make work with modern practices than any of the previous iterations were.

  • Ian Woodward

    Great news, let us hope. I work in the Travel industry (as a web developer/designer) and our metrics still say ie8 is close to 8-12% of our overall. I would love to drop support for it within the next year or so. It’s amazing that that disease ie6 is still lingering in dark corners fo the planet.

  • LouisLazaris

    Nice catch… One of us should have caught that. :) I’m not 100% sure what he meant, but it can’t be 2013… I’ve changed it to 2003 pending @craigbuckler’s approval.

  • Craig Buckler

    Whoops! Yes – I did mean Office 2003. Although it’s worth noting that Office 2013 doesn’t work on XP!

  • imagestic

    Screw you Microsoft! I love my XP.

    • Craig Buckler

      I suspect many people will think the same. It’s not as though the OS will die and program compatibility will remain reasonable for some time. But it’s certainly a good time to assess your options.