Any one who knows a web programmer even remotely well will probably have heard a rant about the Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) browser at some point. If you are a programmer yourself, you’ve likely been the voice of numerous such rants yourself. I certainly have. You build a beautiful site, it looks perfect in every major browser – even IE7, which has it’s own ‘special’ quirks. But IE6, for some unfathomable reason, refuses to recognize one little style or div tag, and suddenly it looks like your site got hit by a virtual grenade and is splattered in a haphazard fashion all over the screen. It’s a mess and fixing it, more often that not, results in the site looking bad in every other browser. So you have to do these complex, inefficient hacks on your own code just to get it looking good everywhere. This of course takes a considerable amount of time, as you can’t always tell right off which small tag is the one causing the problem, let alone hash out the work-around. It would be much easier just to ignore IE6 as a browser and focus on the other (better) ones, but for a long time that wasn’t possible as a good percentage of web users still used IE6 (people with computers too old to handle a newer version of Windows, or people with illegal copies of Windows XP who couldn’t upgrade to IE7 without a serial number).
Luckily, this has finally changed. Different web browser statistics show that IE6 usage has dropped to anywhere between 17-25% – meaning only 1 out of every 4 or 5 users to your website will still be using IE6. This is a low enough percentage that web designers are now pushing harder to ignore IE6 bugs, some even refusing to debug for IE6 altogether. A good programmer friend of mine, Jon Bolden, recently did this (see his blog post on it here) and surprisingly, the first client he took this stance on simply said ‘ok’ and they moved on. It’s good to see a client trust a designer on knowing when something is worth fixing and when it isn’t.
I also stumbled upon a recent movement to get IE6 done away with once and for all. BringDownIE6.com says “the premise is simple: Internet Explorer 6 is antiquated, doesn’t support key web standards, and should be phased out.” They wrote a pretty good article detailing both pro and con arguments for phasing out IE6, asking designers and programmers if it’s finally time to “to take IE6 behind the shed and shoot it?”
I’ve also seen a lot more sites start having error or warning messages appear if a user is using IE6 to view a site – a simple banner across the top or a small pop-up. There is even a WordPress plug-in called Shockingly Big IE6 Warning, which will automatically display such warning to users. It has 3 settings: small, which is a banner across the top; big, which is a full-screen notice; and mean, which crashes their IE6 browser. I’ll admit, the last option made me laugh, and I even considered implementing it for a split second.
All in all, it looks like IE6 is facing its End of Days. Even Microsoft will no longer be offering support for it by 2010. But then again, a quick search on Google shows that there were blog posts titled things like ‘The End of IE6′ as far back as 2006, so perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Either way, if you’re still using IE6, do all of us programmers a favor, and switch to a better, updated browser.