by Esther Schindler

Does IE6 Still Matter?

Nov 04, 20083 mins

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 6 is seven years old. It’s a pain to write Web applications to run correctly on the notoriously non-standards-compliant Web browser. Should you bother? Do you?

If you want to get a rise out of any Web developer, just mention support IE6. It won’t take you long to find programmers posting comments like, “IE6 blows up the navigation, which appears as expected in IE7, FireFox, Opera and Navigator.” Everyone knows that IE6’s notion of “standards compliance” is as dependable as a politician’s promises; yet, supporting the older browser consumes a vast amount of developer time, arcane #ifdefs and eyes of newt. Not to mention cusswords. Lots of cusswords. (“The amount of CSS and JavaScript hacks we had to pull off [to work in IE6] was enough to make you scream,” wrote one developer.)

It’s particularly irksome to spend a lot of time and energy testing your apps against software that’s going away (in some opinions not fast enough). The question is: when is it time to quit IE6 support? With IE7 now leading the Internet Explorer brigade, and Microsoft promising to support IE6 until 2010, at what point can you tell users, “If you’re using IE6, it’s your own tough luck?”

This is not an idle issue. There’s an active discussion in one list I lurk on (which happens to be for open source evangelists, not for Web developers per se); the open source project’s site doesn’t work correctly in IE6, so it may be chasing away would-be users. About 25% of Internet users run IE6, representing more than all Firefox versions (assuming you trust anyone’s Web browser statistics)… well, that’s not small change. With IE8 on the horizon, increasing relevance of mobile Web sites and new browsers like Google’s Chrome to support, that spells a lot of developer software customization time.

Obviously, every site has its own target user. If you run a consumer e-commerce site, and only 10% of your users run IE6, you have to support them because you don’t want to reduce your revenue by 10%. (Somehow this logic has escaped some e-commerce sites where I might otherwise shop, but let’s not go down that path.) If you’re developing departmental in-house software to run only on your Intranet, you can pay attention to the corporate standard Web browser (at whatever patch level the company blessed) and ignore or sneer at the hoi-polloi who use unsupported browsers. Most sites, however, are somewhere in between.

Which brings us to you. What are your plans for browser support? When will your shop decide that it’s no longer worth the time and energy to retrofit your cool, new standards-compiliant and Ajax-heavy website to support IE6 users? If it hasn’t happened already, tell me what will force the change… and take our short poll to compare your opinion to other users.