There 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).
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:
- allows corporations to retain the version of IE required for their mission-critical applications
- does not add another browser to the user’s desktop, so training and support is minimized
- allows web developers to leverage the latest technologies when Chrome Frame is available, and
- 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.
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.