As I put the final touches on a "simple" one page website, I was met yet again with the all too familiar last step. Checking out how it looks in IE6. Yes, really. Still. And you probably already know the answer. Not good.
Which got me to thinking ...just who are the holdouts that are still using this browser that mangles their web experience and opens them up to all kinds of security issues.
This year the notorious browser will be 10 years old; I doubt anyone will be throwing IE6 a birthday party on August 27th. Some folks did already hold a funeral though. Ten years is a glacial epoch in web years and IE6 has become a symbol of all things bad and bassackwards in the web developer community. Browser stats can vary wildly, but right now according to IE6Countdown 11.6% of the world uses it and W3 Counter still registers 3.23% of the world looking at your website with IE6. So who are these people and why do they do it? Inquiring minds wanted to know. Here's what I found out.
First of all, I found that I was not alone in asking this question. And it looks like many businesses have been asking as well and seemlingly finding a very low ROI (return on investment).
Google, YouTube, Facebook and Amazon no longer worry about your experience if you are looking at their sites on Ye Olde Internet Explorer. And closer to home, Blackbaud and Salesforce agree. Many more large sites are following suit and more web developers are convincing clients that it just isn't worth the time and money required to get sites and applications to play nice with the browser.
And now even Microsoft wants it to stop. They nicely created a website mapping out the end of this painful era - the IE6 Countdown site mentioned above. It's part of their effort to get usage stats under 1% so they can get rid of their embarassing headache, even though the company has committed to continue support for the browser until Windows XP support runs out ... in 2014.
They are pretty serious about reducing usage though. Their 2010 upgrade campaign in Australia asked for people to rat out their IE6 using friends so they could convince them that using IE6 is like drinking 9 year old rotten milk by sending them actual rancid milk. That's pretty hardcore in my book.
The Who & the Where
If you check out IE6 Countdown apparently the answer to our core question lies in big companies like Intel and the countries of China, South Korea and surprisingly India and Japan. Millions of unhappy people locked into a browser not likely of their choice.
Over a third of Chinese (33.8%) and nearly a quarter of South Koreans (24.5%) still use IE6. India and Japan hover around 10% and Saudi Arabi is on their heels with 9.9%.
Government support may have something to do with it - the UK continues to support IE6, Australia, France and Germany don't. I read in the comments on one of the many sites to cover Micorsoftt's campaign that South Korea's government for example is said to have developed their infrastructure to heavily rely on Active X and the browser, making an upgrade very costly. As far as I can tell, the official word at the U.S. federal level is to go with IE8, but it seems many agencies are still using the outdated browser as well.
Although Intel is one of the most notable companies that until last year was still working on IE6, it is not alone. As recently as 2009 IE6 was the browser of choice (60%!) for Enterprise level businesses.
One fairly recent post on the business network LinkedIn's questions and answers section estimated total business usage of IE6 as the default browser at round 12% of all US companies, which partly explains the 2.9% of IE 6 users the USA on the countdown map. I suspect there are some nonprofit offices included there as well.
Use of the old software is often tied to the use of old machines and other old software. Older hardware seems to be a big part of the reason in the high percentage of IE6 users in countries outside of the US. I was surprised about tech-savvy countries like Japan and India being in that group though. Another regional issue is the huge number of purportedly pirated versions of Windows XP software running throughout Asia, in which upgrades aren't possible.
If you run old versions of Windows like Windows 2000, upgrading to the new versions of IE isn't an option. If critical applications software was tailored to Window 98, or say, your intranet requires IE6, upgrading your operating system may not seem possible. So trying to upgrade the web browser creates a domino effect on the number of upgrades needed. Which adds cost as well as complexity, and likely leads to putting off the task again and again. Check out the comments on this post for more examples and insights.
The larger the organization/company, the bigger the problem becomes. While smaller businesses are shepherded along the upgrade path by buying retail, in bigger firms significant investment in new hardware and software takes place in 3-5 year cycles, so until Microsoft stops offering XP license extensions and major corporations need to switch to Windows 7, which doesn't support IE6, the problem will continue.
And then there are the external application dependencies. Software that is only compatible with this browser. IE6 came with its own now well-known eccentricities, so programming for its specific quirks became the norm. Many organizations have created whole suites of homegrown software, which don't include an upgrade path and would need re-written or replaced if users upgrade their browser.
So the main answer for businesses at least seems to be that existing options for migrating from IE 6 are too pricey & risky.
One other reason that came up in Why You Can't Pry IE6 Out of Their Cold Dead Hands is pretty sad - user control. Since business websites largely remain usable in IE6 but most of the distracting Web 2.0 and social sites fail, workers aren't likely to be updating their Facebook status from work if the company stays old school. This might be part of the slow adoption of new browsers in control conscious China as well.
Nonprofits face all these same challenges and some are probably still using IE6 for one of the reasons above. After all, they are also under severe budget constraints, often have older equipment and their IT staff, when they are lucky enough to have them, may also be intimidated by the cost and effort involved in an organization wide up-grade. So it seems likely that at least some of those statistics come from systemic nonprofit use.
I don't want to seem judgmental in case "you have a friend" still using IE6 or the problems of cost and reprogramming apply to your organization. So, why is it so important to carve out the budget and time to upgrade or swap browsers? Well those security issues are one big reason. And as with other upgrades, new more efficient software and workflows will be available once the switch has been made. Today's successful nonprofits need to be in the modern era, engaged in the social web and show topnotch efficiency for funders and donors. These are good reasons.
And well, even though I don't really believe that kittens will die if you use IE6, I know for a fact that switching will result in many fewer tears shed, curses hurled and hair lost by web developers around the world.
If you aren't being compelled to use IE6 by your organization or company, just don't do it!
- Get IE 9 or at least IE 8 (good if you are stuck on Windows XP) for free, now.
- Maybe you'd like to try out Firefox or Google's Chrome?
- Or one of the dozens of other options you have these days for web browsing technology.
- If you just want to make sure your content is accessible, then get on board with the Universal IE6 stylesheet for plain vanilla sites with readable content.
- If you simply must have a site look like an "OK" version of your design in IE6, then IE6 fixer is a good place to start. It catches many of the standard "gotchas" inherent to this browser. And you can get separate fixes for IE7 too.
What about your organization? Are you still using IE6? Do you want help to move on? If you let us know in the comments, I'm sure you will receive a lot of support, resources and advice to make the switch. Any real life experiences and additions also appreciated.