By Alex Walker

Hillary, IE6 and the State of the State Department

By Alex Walker

Was it only two weeks ago we were all whistling happy little tunes and walking with that little extra pep in our step?

Hillary Clinton at the State Department Town Hall MeetingAs Craig reported, Youtube was dropping support for Internet Explorer 6 and Digg was strongly rumored to be considering it. Perhaps that happy kingdom populated by only cooperative, predictable, compliant browsers was finally starting to come into view.

Sing it everybody!

?? This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, ??
?? The Age of Aquarius,…??

— Insert abrupt record scratching screech sound effect here —

Or not. Perhaps reports of IE6’s imminent demise has been exaggerated.

At a recent State Department Town Hall Meeting, one of Hillary Clinton’s staffers wanted to know why IE6 was mandated for State Department use. As this staffer had recently transferred from the Firefox-using National Geospacial Intelligence Agency (that’s secret spy business), she reasoned it couldn’t be pure security concerns.

According to Under Secretary Pat Kennedy — whom Hillary happily deferred to on the matter — even though Firefox is free, ‘nothing is ever REALLY free’ (insert air quotes around ‘free’), with cost incurred in deployment, training, applying patches and support across a large, geographically widespread organization.

Ok, while there’s no doubt at all this is true, surely this is budgeted for as simply part and parcel of owning computers? After all, this is their main web-facing application. If they are saying they currently AREN’T spending any significant money on patching and supporting IE6, I think we should all be worried — particularly given IE6’s long and inglorious history of security exploits.

It is, nevertheless, probably a sobering thought for us web folk. If such a large, well funded and publicly-scrutinized organization as the U.S. State Department finds it difficult to move on from an 8 year old piece of software, what is it going to take to overcome the inertia in a million town libraries, community colleges, city councils and corporate cube farms?

I’m guessing that the majority of these organizations are still clinging to Windows XP, after being spooked off the Vista upgrade. My fingers are crossed that Windows 7 will be good enough to get IE8 onto a lot of new systems — shuffling IE6 off to retirement in the process. However that remains to be seen in the months ahead.

It is interesting to consider though: Does this mean Hillary’s IE6-using staff aren’t able to watch the Youtube video explaining why they have to use IE6?

I think HTML5 may need an <irony> tag.

  • jufemaiz

    Welcome to enterprise.

    It’s the failure of the web world, and it’s had a lot of support to stay that way due to the ineptitude of Microsoft’s .NET team.

  • dougoftheabaci

    This is where I draw all comfort from: Just because they use it at work doesn’t mean they do at home. And just because they use it at work doesn’t mean they’re browsing your site. Could we not expect to find that those users who are in such a position make up a fraction of the users who frequent our sites?

  • philip

    Well, I can understand the cost of deployment, but training, applying patches and support? Exactly how hard is it to use a browser?

    Sure, we’re the tech-savvy people, but most non-techie people I’ve seen when using firefox for the first time would just comment that my “internet explorer” looks different, and use it without too much trouble, provided that they’ve seen a computer before.

  • Anonymous

    Never mind that Firefox is more IE6 looking than IE7 or IE8

  • I’m shocked, considering the U.S. government’s love for wasting money, that they wouldn’t embrace passing a law that required all government computers to have professional installation of Firefox by IT professionals who were trained by people who were trained by people who were trained to install Firefox… all at the taxpayer’s expense.

  • AndrewCooper

    They should have some policy in place for all U.S Government department computer systems to be upgraded every x years. Schools, Colleges and Universities do it over here in the UK. It’s usually either every 3 or 4 years max that an operating system or actual PC will be used, then they’ll replace all of the existing systems with new ones to keep upto date with current technology.

    Are we saying that the U.S Government are using Windows XP [Potentially older] and Internet Explorer 6 for their systems?…No wonder they have all sorts of security threats and their systems are hacked into…Pretty simple really. The solution is already made for them, all they have to do is implement it. And it isn’t like they have to build a new space shuttle to go land on the Moon, eh?

    Makes me wonder sometimes! -head in hands-

    Andrew Cooper

  • jufemaiz

    @Andrew: you’ve evidently spent little time working in enterprise environments. With a history of “we control the SOE, we control the browser” combined with hegemony in the enterprise sector for the best part of a decade by IE6, the internal development community (if you want to call it that) ended up ignoring web standards and any notion of cross browser compatibility. This was further cemented with many enterprise applications requiring IE6 to operate – the hidden cost and legacy of ignoring standards. Even today, the lack of knowledge and competition means that enterprise applications rate a distant second to those you experience on the Internet. It is this legacy that is at the
    core of the comments made – though not admitted to.

  • Yes this was fixed but, what other security problems exist that have not been revealed yet.

  • Very good post Alex. About time congress is getting involved. Maybe something will finally actual get done rather than “He say she say”. If hillary comes through she will have millions of internet users very happy with her. Untill, I see sites like (Youtube, Digg) im still going to support IE6.

  • Anthony

    israelisassi – Yes this was fixed but, what other security problems exist that have not been revealed yet.

    Do you realize how many “critical” days IE6 has spent at rick to security threats in the last 3 years? Almost 2 of them. Microsoft doesn’t even actively support this version anymore.

    Not using something for the “risks” it might encounter in the future is like not buying a car because it will eventually get a flat tire.

  • AndrewCooper


    I’ve never worked in enterprise environments so I really can’t say anything about it in all honesty, it’s just my views and opinions that if you’re going to get involved with technology then keep up with it. You should know before you buy some technology that one day it’ll need to be upgraded.

    Andrew Cooper

  • jufemaiz

    @AndrewCooper: oh, don’t get me wrong, I don’t disagree, however even large corporate entities like SAP still have issues with legacy IE6 applications. “Simply” shifting to IE7 is a mammoth task because of front end coding methods that were acceptable on the web in 94, but definitely not 2004, still being acceptable in house. The reason (and I’ve encountered this in 2008-9 leading app development in house but outside of the IT crowd)? “We control the SOE, We control the browser” (along with a lack of competition meaning that they can be lazy in implementation, though the browser selection definitely plays into it). This is why IE7 was such a debacle – it *had* to deal with the legacy that IE6 created in enterprise.

    For the record, not many enterprises have in fact rolled Vista out and do still sit on WinXP.

  • Pat Kennedy did a wonderful job ensuring he would get the funding to make this change by capitalizing on HC being put on the spot… and that’s the way politics are played..

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