The Slow Lingering Death of IE6

Rest In Peace IE6Internet Explorer 6.0 was released on 27 August 2001. In 2003, IE usage peaked at 95% of the market; a figure that is unlikely to be matched by any browser ever again. Microsoft had successfully created their own browser monopoly.

The situation attracted some adverse publicity. It resulted in the famous US Department of Justice court case against Microsoft and the company was accused of abusing their position. However, whatever your opinion of Microsoft’s business practices, the success of IE6 was largely because:

  • It was free. Unlike the early software produced by Netscape and Opera, IE did not cost a penny.
  • It was bundled with Windows. Users received the browser whether they wanted it or not.
  • It was tightly integrated with the operating system. Users could not uninstall IE and developers were able to utilise the web rendering engine and communication libraries within their desktop applications.
  • The competition was sparse. Although Mozilla and Netscape released competing browsers, the early versions were bloated and buggy.
  • IE6 was fast, stable, and the best browser available.

The situation also benefited web developers since there was little need to develop or test code in multiple browsers. Who cared about W3C standards when IE6 was the standard? Microsoft announced that IE6 would be the last standalone browser they ever produced.

The release of Mozilla Firefox at the end of 2004 changed the game. The browser was far superior to IE and was open source; Mozilla had few commercial pressures and could not be bought or shut down by Microsoft. Users switched in droves and, more recently, Apple and Google were encouraged to enter the market. IE’s domination was over.

Microsoft were forced to act and released IE7 in October 2006. IE8 is due shortly and web developers are praying it will be the final nail in IE6′s coffin. Supporting IE6 is a major headache but, eight years after its initial release, one in five people continue to use the browser (a similar proportion to Firefox users).

IE6′s death has been agonizingly slow for several reasons:

  1. IE7 and IE8 can only be installed on Windows XP SP2+ or Vista. Many people continue to use older versions of Windows or avoid automatic updates.
  2. Many large corporations have legacy applications that only support IE6. Upgrading these systems incurs significant costs which may not be justifiable – especially in the current economic climate. As a result, their employees have been unable to switch to alternative browsers.
  3. Many IT novices are ignorant of what a browser is, how to upgrade, or why they should.
  4. Some users simply prefer IE6 to IE7 and the competing browsers.

IE7 adoption has possibly reached saturation point. Although IE7 users are likely to upgrade to IE8, its release may not have a significant impact on existing IE6 users. Whilst there are several high-profile internet campaigns to eradicate IE6, its demise is occurring at a frustratingly sedate pace.

The browser will die naturally as legacy systems are fixed and people migrate to more recent versions of Windows (or Mac/Linux), but celebrations of IE6′s final breaths are likely to be several years premature. Unfortunately, few web developers will be in the position to drop support for the browser for some time to come.

Do you or your clients continue to use IE6? Do you have plans to upgrade to IE8 when it is released? Are you doing anything to persuade users to abandon an eight year-old browser that causes developers so much frustration?

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  • http://leonpaternoster.com/blog leonpaternoster

    Well, I use FF, but readers of my employer’s blog are stuck with IE6 – a whopping 51% last time I looked. I’m guessing this is because a lot of them work for local government and are using old systems, or their IT departments (or whoever it’s outsourced to) haven’t upgraded.

    There’s zilch I can do about this. I’m against putting ‘you should use x browser’ messages on my site as the users often don’t choose their browser, or don’t even know what a browser is.

    What it means is a separate IE6 stylesheet and about an extra 25% development time. The separate stylesheet isn’t to get the site looking the same across browsers, it’s just to make sure it doesn’t bork in IE6.

    I guess IE6 will die naturally as older computers turn to dust. But what a pig’s ear of a product from Microsoft. No wonder their name is dirt in the developer world: although developers have to take some blame for taking the easy way out when there was just one browser to design for (and IT departments for refusing to allow other browsers for ‘security issues’. It’s like they worked for MS rather than their employer).

  • Eyvind A. Larre

    Hi.
    I just wrote a thorough blog post about how we started this campaign, how it escalated and what could be the reasons for the massive support that we now have in Norway. Almost all websites in the country with any reach now supports it.


    The Norwegian web changed in 48 hours – how is that possible?

  • http://www.fiveminuteargument.com 5minuteargument

    In my opinion, “Many large corporations have legacy applications that only support IE6″ is – and always has been – the most relevant part of this discussion. So we have two groups to vent our spleen upon: those naive (or downright bad) IT departments who made such decisions and refuse to fix them, and those grossly incompetent application developers. The only way we can really move on is to lobby one or both of those groups and start naming-and-shaming. Please, if you have experience with such a system, let us know what it is so we can all know who, more specifically, to blame.

  • Alan Hogan

    Actually, lots of web developers are dropping support for IE6. Integrum, for example, charges clients extra for IE6 compatibility. Any visitors to sites I run get browser upgrade message (via pushup) and a degraded experience (typically there will be minor layout bugs).

  • Alan Hogan

    Not to mention that Facebook urges all IE6 visitors to upgrade, as well!

  • mimo

    I work as a web developer at one of the largest media companies in Denmark.

    Due to corporate idiocy in the past (i.e. making mission critical web based systems based on IE6 rather than web standards), we’re stuck with IE6. And we will probably be stuck for a long time, as the bosses with the money don’t realize the importance of standards and don’t want to spend the money it takes to upgrade our systems to support standards. Thus we can’t get IE7/8 as the standard browser because it will handicap every employee in his everyday work.

    To make it all even worse, due to restrictions in our (Windows based) environment and in our development tools (also provided by Microsoft), we simply CANNOT test our work in IE7/8 – the market leading browser – in any sensible way.

    As a large media company, we also make radio and tv. I keep telling everybody that our situation is like making expensive tv series in colors and HD, but only having an old 14″ black/white monitor to watch the result on, but nobody seems to care (or at least understand).

    All of this, thanks to the power of monopolies and corporate ignorance. I hope this worst-case scenario will become a lesson remembered in the future.

  • Michal

    We make our websites awkward for IE6: ;-)

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for the article about our campaign in Norway.

    I just wrote a thorough blog post about how we started this campaign, how it escalated and what could be the reasons for the massive support that we now have. Since you wrote this article almost all of the Norwegian websites with reach has joined.

    In case you are interested in the background, here is my post:

    The Norwegian web changed in 48 hours – how is that possible?

  • larre

    Thank you for the article about our campaign in Norway.

    I just wrote a thorough blog post about how we started this campaign, how it escalated and what could be the reasons for the massive support that we now have. Since you wrote this article almost all of the Norwegian websites with reach has joined.

    In case you are interested in the background, here is my post:

    The Norwegian web changed in 48 hours – how is that possible?

  • http://armchaircritic.declarationend.co.uk armchaircritic

    Imagine my horror when looking at my mother’s PC this Christmas to find it as XP sp1!! and she was using IE6!

    That was funny, because I remember setting up the PC with service pack 2 a few years ago, but apparently an uncle had reformatted the box as it was performing poorly.

    Without realising it, he’d opened up that PC to be less secure than when I set it up, and to use a less compliant browser. I promptly installed SP2 and set up automatic updates. I also installed Opera and told her to use that (well, I had to, right?)

    The fact is, IE6 won’t die until these sorts of senarios become rare, and that will only happen once XP dies out.

  • Dean
  • Stevie D

    I use IE6 at work because it’s the only browser we’re allowed to use. We run Windows 2000 on most machines, so we can’t upgrade to IE7, and the chance of getting corporate IT to switch to Firefox or Opera is mininal – especially as it would mean switching to an obsolete version of Firefox, and no-one has heard of Opera :-(

    We’re into the long tail. IE8 is going to have very little impact in eradicating IE6 – it’s just a case of time. There will come a day when corporate networks upgrade to newer versions of Windows and have to pick up newer browsers, but that could be years away for a lot of people.

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

    XP is possibly another reason why IE6 refuses to die. Many corporations and personal users are skipping Vista for Windows 7 (if it’s any good).

    As for web development companies dropping IE6 or charging extra, I wish them luck. However, I hope they explain the situation and make their clients realise they could lose up to one in every five visitors. Personally, I’d have trouble justifying it: IE6 is still a fact of life whether we like it or not.

  • http://www.studio-gecko.com/ XLCowBoy

    We’re planning to redirect all IE6 users to the iPhone version of our sites. Complete with the message:

    “We are committed to providing the best experience for users, therefore the technologies we implement are of the highest quality. Unfortunately, the browser you are currently using is severely outdated, and cannot support modern web technology, therefore we regret to inform you that in order for you to view the content of this website, you will have to experience a downgraded version.

    We hope that you might upgrade your browser to an updated version, or one of the following: , in order for you to experience in full, all the modern technologies we have prepared for you.

    Thank you, and good day.”

    Feel free to copy and paste guys. Less IE6, more good stuff for us. :)

  • QuaffAPint

    IE6 will be around for at least the next few years, as long as XP and below remain the bulk of the Windows OS market. Your standard corporation or Mom and Pop at home don’t care – they just use what ‘works’ – and that to them is IE6.

  • http://www.fiveminuteargument.com 5minuteargument

    IE6 will be around for at least the next few years, as long as XP and below remain the bulk of the Windows OS market.

    I use XP + IE7 at home with no problems – I think it’s maybe only old ‘versions’ of XP that do not run IE7+.

    Your standard corporation or Mom and Pop at home don’t care – they just use what ‘works’ – and that to them is IE6.

    And maybe they never will until they have a good enough incentive – i.e. (no pun intended) the internet breaking for them.

  • nachenko

    I’m going to be devil’s advocate.

    I’ve been freelancer web developer for six years. I know IE6 quirks up to a very deep level, so I never spend too much time strugging with it.

    Newbie wannabe freelancers and amateur designers, on the other side, have to spend more time andeffort to get the desired results… and they sometimes don’t get them.

    So I have an evil plan. Prospective customers will come and ask me “why does my site look like crap on some computers? Do you know why it only happens to my site, and not others?” and my answer will be: “Sure. It will be 20 € / hour to fix it”

    …mmmuahahahah

    Postdata: Does anyone know where on hell Minime is?

  • Michael Ryan

    The fact that IE8 ships with Windows 7 and the further fact that Windows 7 appears to be awaiting a positive reception bodes well for our IE6 extermination efforts.

  • Andri

    I for one encorage developers to charge extra for IE6 work, why not? It takes up 10-20% of the development time, even more for complex UIs.

  • http://www.spine-network.com JoeJiko

    This change might’ve happened sooner if businesses had switched to Vista. However, with the economy in SUCK-mode nobody wants to make the necessary hardware upgrades to run a newer operating system or a newer browser, which both take up more resources.

    Oh I guess the article already said most of that ;]

    Looks like we’re going to be stuck using the “fuck-ie.css” file for a bit longer.

  • dougoftheabaci

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Unless specifically asked to do so I provide almost no support for IE6. Usually it doesn’t go beyond a conditional statement that says, “This side doesn’t work in IE6. Upgrade.” or something along those lines. I’ve had a few

    I’ve had a few clients whom have needed IE6 support and when that comes up I tell them flatly “IE6 is an old, outdated browser. If you want full support for it it’s going to cost more as it takes a lot longer. It’s also going to limit the kinds of things I can do on the site. Are you comfortable with that?” if they say yes then they get IE6. Otherwise I save myself a lot of aggravation.

    Personally I think the europeans have it right by demanding that Microsoft provide options with IE so that no one is stuck with that horrible browser as default. Even IE8rc1 is still a few years behind Firefox, and even more so with Chrome and Safari (what with the new public beta). I like the idea of users being given a choice. Especially since Chrome is first alphabetically.

  • gaurav_ch

    You all are talking about IE 6….I have a shocker for you…One of the multinational corporations, it is really big trust me, for which my company is developing apps, uses IE 4 or IE 5.5 in the back office departments. They are still using Windows 98 or 95 !!!!! Sheesh!!!! The reason – the computers have not been upgraded along with the OS because they think that it is not needed and as a result waste of money. We have a real tough time testing the apps because our company does not have a single computer which is having IE 4 or 5.5.

    The problem lies with the top bosses. If the work is being done with existing systems why bother upgrading.

    This results in a nightmare for web developers. Man!!! this is nasty.

  • http://www.littled.net djlittle

    Interesting article — I agree that we’ll need to support this dreadful browser for longer than we’d ideally want to. One of the main problems, which is identified in the article, is that it’s still prevalent in larger organisations (including my own) due to any number of reasons (software which only runs on it, organisational inertia, priorities etc.)

    I was thinking about the Norwegian response to this over the weekend and am in two minds about it (http://tr.im/gEYr). Should we be telling people how they should or shouldn’t access our sites, especially if they have no say in the matter? Or should we just provide a “base experience” for users of older browsers that is then progressively enhanced for newer ones? Problem is, I think defining that base experience is more difficult when you start thinking of web apps rather than plain sites!

  • Ben

    IIIIEEEEE!!! When will it end?

  • Silver Firefly

    Someone has a say in the matter. Whether it’s a boss or the IT department, your Mom, or whoever. If we all either drop support for IE6 or charge extra for compatibility, every IE6 user will soon get the message when the Internet ‘breaks.’

  • Paul

    I use FF since version 1.x, it is for me the best browser, because it runs faster and has a lot of plugins, like greasemonkey that let me modified some pages to do or look like a like :D.

    On my blog and my other sites I have a permanetly banner to invite the users to install fire fox If his/her browser isn’t FF.

    For all than want to use FF but they can’t install at work for some reason, visit portableapps.com and install it. It has FF and other great tool to stick it on you pen drive.

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

    There seems to be an awful lot of people here who have never worked in a true corporate environment.
    To the guy that was complaining about working with Win95 and IE, I just say rejoice! that was probably the best time to be a web dev.

    As for: “IE6 was fast, stable, and the best browser available” I have to disagree – IE4 was the best version ever; it has been downhill ever since, and by the looks of it IE8 will continue the downward trend.

  • tactics

    You’ve left out the biggest reason of all people aren’t upgrading from IE6 to IE7 – they’re running unlicensed copies of Windows.

    You can’t install IE7 unless you have SP2. You can’t install SP2 unless you have a legit copy of XP. I would estimate that around 20% of the copies of XP in use aren’t licensed. Coincidentally, that’s just about the same number of people who are still using IE6…

  • Silver Firefly

    I refuse to support IE 6 other than giving my pages a basic degraded structure. I’ll also use Browse Sad and similar services to persuade IE 6 users to upgrade.

  • Jack Matier

    Isn’t it simple?

    Here we go in with the initial assumption that we’re going to markup our sites to 99%+ of our target audience. This happens to include IE6 in just about every case, and IE5 or 5.5 in some cases. With this in mind we breakdown the costs on an estimated hourly and allow it to be up for debate whether they want to pay an extra 20% to support an 8 year old browser. It’s their money.

    PS. Never had to make a ‘pretty’ website for anything < IE5 but I’d think I’d charge a trauma fee.

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

    @Jack Matier
    It really depends on your site and it’s audience. If you’ve created a blog about Firefox, then you’re not likely to worry about IE users and they’re unlikely to worry about you.

    However, if you’re a general online retailer – like Amazon or eBay – then you don’t want to lose 20-25% of your customers. It’s fine to charge extra for IE6 support, but few clients will understand or care about your development problems – that’s why they’re hiring you. In most cases, you’ll simply need to factor that cost in at the start.

  • alexweber

    Ss a web developer I’ve grown to hate IE6 so much. More than a lot of things I thought I hated. Unfortunately though this article points out some very good reasons why we’ll have to live with IE6 for quite some time to come, regardless of IE8 ever being released.

    ARGH WHY WON’T YOU DIE!!!!

  • AJWired

    We made a decision to no longer design websites that are guaranteed to work on IE6. We install a code that prompts IE6 users that their browser is out of date and they should upgrade to a new version with a link an upgrade page. If a client wants to make sure that a site works on IE6, we will do it for an added cost. We may lose a few clients, but it is a decision we have made. So far most clients don’t have problem with it.

  • Silver Firefly

    @AJWired – Good for you. *Thumbs up!