Let's Stop Using Internet Explorer 6

Ask any web designer or web developer what the most troubling part of their job is, and they might tell you, “making sure everything works in IE6.” Internet Explorer 6 is an outdated browser that renders CSS terribly; normally requiring several hacks to get it to do so correctly. Yet many people still use it. About 36% of users according to TheCounter.com. And why is that? Maybe because we continue to make sure sites work and look good for them. Or because they’re just too lazy to upgrade. Or maybe don’t know how.

I’m starting to share in the opinion that we should stop hacking for IE6 and persuade those who still use it to upgrade to version 7 (or at least something which supports CSS2) by letting them see just how bad a browser it can be.

A typical website build for any of us at MF involves first hashing out basic XHTML structure, writing our main CSS styles, breaking sections out into PHP includes, saving out all the pages we need, then adding all the content. We try to adhere to web standards as close as possible, and generally don’t have to do much testing in the most up-to-date browsers. Maybe the occasional float issue here and there, or letter-spacing and font-size tweaks. And then someone asks, “did you check it in IE6?”

Internet Explorer 6That’s when we all sigh in unison, move to the only PC with IE6, and stare angrily at broken layouts, doubled margins, and massive spacing between list elements. We then proceed to diagnose the problems, which are often the same each time around, and write specific CSS just for the misbehaving browser.

It’s not very time-consuming, unless you’re constructing a large site, in which case can take up to an hour or two. It’s just a pain. I’d much rather stick to just the methods I’ve worked so hard to learn and perfect, and that work in every other browser—including IE7—than to have to babysit IE6 with slightly different styles.

So my solution would be this: Build as usual until the time comes for browser testing, and check everything in IE7, FireFox 2+, and yeah Safari too. Then drop in a hidden <div> with a message that reads, “You’re using an out-dated version of Internet Explorer. Please upgrade to IE7 to view this site correctly.” If the browser being used is IE6, we’ll tell this normally hidden content (display: none;) to display our message (display: block;). So now anyone coming to the site with Internet Explorer 6 will be asked politely to upgrade.

My suggestion may not be semantically correct, or it may be the case that a client needs to accommodate as broad an audience as possible and we have to make things work properly. And I agree that backward compatibility is as important as forward compatibility, but when a browser is just overall outdated and bad at rendering even basic CSS, it’s time to phase it out. Take IE5 for Mac as an example. That was okay to use at one point in time, but eventually revealed its shortcomings and has been all but wiped from existence. And it’s abandonment was also partly due to Safari being developed.

So in short, Internet Explorer 6 needs to go already. It probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon, but maybe if we stop hacking for it, those who are still using it will continue to see broken layouts, and realize what a bad browser it is, only to then perform the free upgrade to IE7. That would make my day.

(Note: If you happen to be looking at this blog in IE6, you should see the message I mentioned above.)

4 thoughts on “Let's Stop Using Internet Explorer 6”

  1. Hurrah. I just now spent a solid hour debugging a common unordered list with links in it {my apologies for the geekspeak} to work in IE6. I usually tell people that writing CSS is around one third coding properly (which usually works fine the first time in Firefox and Safari) and two thirds finding hacks and workarounds to get your design to render acceptably in IE6. Web designers and developers spend this time because what we care most about is the experience the user receives, and if they are viewing through IE6, we have to deal with that. But if few enough users were using IE6 that we wouldn’t have to develop for it, a lot of time (read: money) would be saved. The business community at large stands to gain productivity and savings by abandoning IE6, and upgrading to Firefox or at least IE7.

  2. You’re giving IE7 way too much credit – it doesn’t really support CSS2. It’s better than IE6, but it’s still wrong enough that CSS hacks are necessary get things to match Firefox. And using XHTML or a strict HTML doctype still breaks things like third-party ads and analytics includes. But I digress…

    Let’s address the root of the problem with developing for IE6, which is… IE7!

    IE7 has the slowest adoption rate of any major browser in recent history. When Microsoft released IE6, Windows Update had finally become reliable, and everyone just updated when asked, because there were several improvements. Feature-wise, there wasn’t much new stuff – it was just more stable. Within months, IE6 had surpassed IE5 in the server logs. Within a year, IE5 was down to single-digit percentages. IE7, almost two years after its release, just started surpassing IE6 a few months ago. At this rate, it will be another six months to a year before IE6 drops below 10%.

    IE6 is a zombie – it should have been dead and buried a year ago.

    So why is it still clutching 25% of the browser share in its rigor-mortis grip? Why aren’t people upgrading to IE7? Tabbed browsing, search providers, integrated RSS, and other new features; plus improved rendering and a lot more security… why wouldn’t people upgrade for all that? And why would thousands of people upgrade, but then uninstall and go back to the older version? (That’s something we haven’t seen since Netscape 5!)

    There’s only one explanation – the user interface is awful.

    It’s not the 1990′s anymore. Users expect to be able to customize their browser interface. Heck, Firefox users expect to be able to have almost-complete control of everything the browser does – and they can have a lot of control, thanks to the huge library of available add-ons. Even the steaming pile of crap that was IE3 had a more customizable interface than IE7. People don’t like it when you move the buttons and menus around to ridiculous and unfamiliar places, AND don’t give them the option to move them back.

    Corporate IT decision-makers aren’t adopting IE7 because they know the backlash of negative feedback will result in hours of wasted time answering stupid questions like, “How do I move the reload button?” and “Where’s the File menu?” But those aren’t really stupid questions – the stupidity lies with the IE7 development team.

    As for IE8, I haven’t seen the second beta of IE8, but the first beta hadn’t fixed IE7′s UI failure. On a positive note, unlike the IE6-to-7 transition, they’ve given us a way to avoid having our old sites explode when IE finally joins the valid-CSS club: Put <meta http-equiv=”X-UA-Compatible” content=”IE=EmulateIE7″/> in the head of sites you developed for IE7, and IE8 will (supposedly) render them like IE7 did.

    If Microsoft sticks with IE7′s rigid interface in IE8, expect two things: IE6 hanging around for another year, and the combination of Firefox and Google Chrome stomping IE down to 25% browser share within that year. I don’t think Chrome can surpass Firefox until they amass a collection of add-ons to rival Firefox’s. But even then, I think Firefox will maintain a loyal following – privacy is inherently questionable with any browser that’s made by the same company who makes your operating system or search engine.

    P.S. What’s with the space after the colon in “display: none;”? Don’t write CSS like a Microsoftie – minimize the whitespace in your client-side code!

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