Why IE6 is Hurting Your Web Site

There’s a movement afoot to “kill IE6” (see IE6 updatekillie6.comie6nomore.com) once and for all. Internet Explorer 6 debuted in 2001 and was a great browser for the time. But the Web has moved on, and IE6 is holding it back.

I’m not going to go into all of the reasons why IE6 is not a great browser anymore. There are huge security holes, terrible handling of tables, functional limitations, and much more. Suffice it to say that my esteemed colleagues in Quality AssuranceInterface Development, and Engineering look forward to the day when the burden of nearly decade-old technology is lifted. Think about how long that is from a technology standpoint. What could you do now with the hardware that you were using in 2001—that sweet Pentium III processor or that Indigo iMac? That should give you a sense of where we are at with this outdated software.

But despite their frustrations, my colleagues soldier on to develop and support everything we create to play nicely with IE6. They are an incredibly talented group of people that figures out amazing ways to squeeze blood from the IE6 turnip. So if we are able to wow our clients and their customers with IE6 compatibility, what’s the big deal?

My inner economist likes to think of things in terms of opportunity cost—what are you giving up in order to get something? We at White Horse are interested in providing outstanding solutions to dramatically improve our clients’ results. So in these times of tightening budgets, I see a huge opportunity for additional impact in each project if we were able to nix our testing and support for IE6. We could move the hours spent fussing with IE6 into providing additional site functionality and features that would impact the site’s performance. The specifics, of course, would vary by each project, but the possibilities are real.

There are also time considerations. On a recent project, we burned the midnight oil the night before launch fixing some minor formatting issues that destroyed a site in IE6 only. Is it really worth pushing a go-live, blowing a timeline, and running the risk of missing launch dates to remedy these rather trivial concerns?

Dropping support for IE6 doesn’t necessarily mean that you would lose visitors, either. Many IE6 users aren’t allowed to install new browsers on their work computers because of their company’s draconian security policies. But they probably don’t use IE6 at home, so they will be able to access your site there. And just because a site is not officially supported for IE6 doesn’t mean that it won’t work at all. The site rendering might be slightly different, but functionality will generally still work.

Microsoft engineer Dean Hachamovitch recently waded into the fray to declare that the IE team would continue to support IE6 for the lifespan of the Windows product it came with (Windows XP—scheduled for maintenance support through 2014). This is the correct position for Microsoft: they built the browser, and they are committed to standing by it.

However, it is up to Web site creators to engage the site’s visitors. That means taking advantage of new capabilities and technologies. If one browser can’t access all of the innovative features that we build into a site, we should tell that user what they’re missing. That adds incentive for them to upgrade to a newer browser (or to put pressure on their IT department to do so). But we shouldn’t scale back our Web sites to work within a compromised environment.

At what point will you consider abandoning testing and functionality for IE6? It has 15% market share now, but that’s falling rapidly—down from 32% just a year ago. And what are you giving up in order to continue supporting it?