How do you solve a problem like IE6?

There’s been quite a lot of talk in the mainstream news about Internet Explorer 6 – Microsoft’s browser released in 2001 along side Windows XP. IE6 has a long history of security vulnerabilities and has been linked to the Chinese attacks on Google.

More recently French and German governments have advised people to upgrade and there is a petition to make the UK government follow suit. For Edge Hill’s corporate website, 7.5% of visits are from people using IE6 – higher than Safari, Chrome and Opera.

As web developers, life would be so much easier if we could relegate IE6 to the lower divisions and would encourage uptake of new techniques like those in HTML5. This isn’t necessarily because they can’t be done along side IE6, but supporting it is one more thing we have to do.

When I asked this question earlier on Twitter I got a variety of responses. The Ormskirk Baron (prolific reviewer of beer and web guru) bluntly suggested we “support it” and yes we should but can’t we try to move people along? Patrick Lauke suggests not:

is it your place to do anything about it? they may have good reason (e.g. access from school where IT Dept locked won to IE6)

This to me is the heart of the problem. There will almost certainly be people who can’t upgrade and we need to ensure we don’t annoy them too much. But there will also be people who simply don’t know and those that may have no direct control over what browser they’re using (maybe through inexperience or company restrictions) but can be helped to change.

Another suggestion with potential came from Matthew Walton:

Implement an incredibly compelling new feature which doesn’t work properly in IE6.

I don’t want to go back 10 years to the situation where “you must be using Internet Explorer 4 or Netscape Navigator 3 to enter this site” but there are ways to introduce new functionality while still offering something for older browsers.

But prizes (no monetary value) go to Alex Mace and Martyn Davies for the following suggestions that I wish I could get away with:

alexmace: @MikeNolan Pop a lightbox over the screen that says “OMG, SECURITY FAIL – please hand in your internet access license”

and

martynrdavies: @MikeNolan I’m recommending going to the house of every user and upgrading their browser whilst informing them of their failure.

More questions than answers? You expected anything else?! 😉

9 thoughts on “How do you solve a problem like IE6?

  1. Why are you talking about IE6 when the library uses IE7 and the rest of the world uses IE8 or Chrome etc?

  2. Hi Phil,

    IE6 is still being used – over 1000 people yesterday alone – that’s the problem. What we don’t know is who they are and why they’re still using IE6. All the student PCs and most staff PCs should have been upgraded by now but where else are computers lurking with old versions? You mention Chrome and its growth has certainly been impressive but it “only” has a 3.9% share of our users compared to Safari (almost entirely Mac OS) at nearly 6% and Firefox at nearly 13%.

  3. I was once part of a project (only 2 years ago) that involved us doing work for specific browsers and screen resolutions. Costing it all up, it would have been cheaper for them to buy new pc hardware and install it at all their employees desks than the bill they got from us to code it appropriately. It is normally large companies who are last to update any software due to the long testing periods required for them to ‘okay’ it, or because the current software ‘works’ for them and they fear change.

  4. Hi Billy,

    I agree that we need to “support” it, but what isn’t clear cut, IMO, is a) what level of “support” we give (does every feature of the site have to function the same in IE6 compared to every other browser?) and b) how do we find and convert this last group of users?

  5. It’s buggy, it’s a security hole, and there’s no reason why XP boxes can’t hop to IE7 or 8.

    I imagine that your 7.5% figure is the proportion of people who a) don’t know that there’s an upgrade out there or b) have never turned on Automatic updates – as they’d have had it upgraded through this a while back.

    With such an unregulated mess as the Internet out there, there’s no way that you can guarantee a certain browser accessing your site – (Hey, isn’t that the challenge of the developers?) but dropping certain sweetners to tempt them to upgrade is a GOOD thing, as chances are you’ll be getting them to protect their personal computers (and their lives/identity!) a whole lot more.

  6. As far as I know, the NHS still uses IE6 on the majority of hospital computers…and as we know we have very large cohorts of medical professionals here. With all the knowledge that we have now gained about the security vulnerabilities of IE6 surely the NHS and it’s sites should upgrade to more secure browsers simply due to the nature of their work!

    Besides, it’s annoying to visit these hospitals to do presentations or inductions only to find the beautiful design of some resources and websites are displayed awfully in IE6.

  7. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, we stripped all support for IE6 in August 2009. An IE6 user will only see text with minor formatting, a few images and notice indicator at the top that explains why they are seeing a stripped down website.

    By doing this, we forced our multiple tech labs to update browsers across campus. They were given notice and all went well. It was a blessing to ditch IE6!

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