5 Steps to Have Fun and Profit From IE6

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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”.

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!

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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