Is It Time to Ditch IE6?

By Josh Catone
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On August 27, 2001, almost exactly 7 years ago, Microsoft unleashed Internet Explore 6 upon the world. Despite version 7 having been out now for almost two years, and version 8 already in public beta, usage of the 2001 release remains strong. W3Counter reports that it is still the most popular browser in the world at 34.6% of all visits, while TheCounter.com has it second to IE7, but only barely and still commanding a whopping 36% market share.

Because so many people still use the older version of Internet Explorer, many web sites have made the choice to continue supporting it (including SitePoint — where about 12% of our visitors still come to us using IE6). But is it perhaps time to ditch IE6 support and start forcing people to upgrade?

Web application developer 37signals made the decision to drop IE6 support in July (actual support for Microsoft’s last generation browser ceased on August 15). “IE 6 can’t provide the same web experience that modern browsers can,” wrote 37signals of the decision. “Continued support of IE 6 means that we can’t optimize our interfaces or provide an enhanced customer experience in our apps. Supporting IE 6 means slower progress, less progress, and, in some places, no progress.”

According to 37signals, supporting IE6 was holding them back. And 37signals isn’t alone in their dislike of IE6. In 2006, a few months before Microsoft released their last major browser, PC World magazine ranked Internet Explorer 6 as the 8th worst tech product of all time, citing its terrible track record when it comes to security.

Security is such a big issue for IE6, that one blogger recently reported that 95% of all bots accessing his site use Internet Explorer 6 as their user-agent. “Most blog spam comes from bots that either fake or, as a trojan, use Internet Explorer 6 of infected systems,” he wrote, ultimately deciding to block IE6 completely to alleviate the blog spam problem.

Of course, security isn’t the only reason web developers are sour on IE6. Internet Explorer 6 is also dismal when it comes to standards compliance. So why do people continue to use it? As Nick La wrote a year ago, the reason people still use IE6 is that developers go out of their way to make web sites work in it. So most people don’t realize that IE6 isn’t a good browser.

“We all know that IE6 is outdated and has horrible CSS rendering engine. However, most average Internet users haven’t realized that yet. Why? Because we put our hard work on it and patch the bugs by various IE hacks,” La wrote, urging people to drop support for IE6.

A third of the Internet is a lot of people to just leave behind, though. So support for IE6 continues at most web sites, especially large ones. What we need to move us forward, however, is a bold move, not too much unlike the one Apple made in 2001 when it decided to forgo backwards compatibility when it released OS X. In order to save the Internet from IE6, perhaps we need to stop supporting it.

What do you think? Should web developers stop supporting Internet Explorer 6? Vote in our poll and then leave your thoughts in the comments below.

[poll id=4]

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