Tuesday, 5 October 2010

IE6, the Undead Browser

2013/05/16: Ah, what a difference a couple of years makes. :-) Today, this article can be a lot shorter, and could be titled "IE6, the Mostly Dead Browser". Huzzah!

Is IE6 finally dead?

  • In China: No, it's still more than 24% of the browser share there.
  • Everywhere Else: Yes!

I can't give the region-by-region breakdown I could below because Net Applications have started charging (a lot) for that report, but even in places like Mexico and India, which had high IE6 use a couple of years ago, use has plummeted. According to ie6countdown, after China, Taiwan is next at 3.5%, followed by India at 2.8%, and then Japan and Russia tied at 1.7%. The corporate U.S. finally "got" the security risk and has moved on to IE8 or IE9.

The take-away? If you're developing web pages and web apps for China, you must still support and test on IE6. By all means include an educational banner or something advocating change, but you must still support it. Just about anywhere else, fergedabouddit.

And what about IE7? Great new there: Worldwide usage of IE7 is currently just 1.81%. So people leaving IE6 jumped to IE8 (23.08%) or IE9 (18.17%) (and those nearly 20% at one point who were using IE7 have moved on too). We can figure a lot of those IE9 users will soon be on IE10. The IE8 users will be with us for a while, since that's as high as Windows XP goes.

Here's the old article from October 2010 (with updates in November 2010 and March 2011), just for posterity:

2011/03/14: See also Microsoft's new IE6 countdown site

2010/11/18: Updated to also reference StatCounter's figures (for May 2010).

There's a common refrain on sites where people ask for help getting things to work well cross-browser, when someone mentions needing to support IE6:

IE6 is dead. Microsoft officially stopped supporting it. I don't see any reason you should.

— comment from a StackOverflow user

IE6 is dead. don't speak of it.

— another StackOverflow comment

Some people have even held a funeral for it (Microsoft were classy enough to send flowers); others declare it Well and Truly dead.

So is IE6 finally dead?


Far from it, IE6 is still (as of this writing) the third most used browser out there, at 15.55% it's just barely behind Firefox 3.6 at 17.05%, both trailing IE8 at 29.06%. (That link is for September 2010; current stats here.) StatCounter gives a slightly lower figure, making it the fourth most popular browser in the world at 9.75% in May 2010 —which makes sense; StatCounter and Net Applications have different customer bases.

Like most developers who do browser-based applications, I wish IE6 were dead. It certainly should be, and Microsoft are doing everything they can to kill it, but unfortunately it's not quite that simple. IE6 was the de-facto standard browser in large corporate and government environments for the majority of the boom of browser-based applications, and therein lies the problem. Large organizations are very slow to upgrade key bits of software. For example, many of us recently petitioned the UK Government to upgrade all government departments away from IE6. Their response was to say that it's "...not straightforward for HMG departments to upgrade IE versions on their systems...", that testing their web apps for compatibility "...can take months at significant potential cost to the taxpayer..." and that they deal with the security issues with firewalls and malware scanners. Big business is much the same as big government in this regard. You can bet that the majority of users of IE6 are sitting in a cubicle somewhere.

It's also interesting to try to find a statement from Microsoft backing up the assertion from our first commenter above that IE6 is no longer supported by Microsoft. Some point to the Lifecycle Supported Service Packs page saying that it says IE6 support ended on July 13th, 2010, but that page is about service packs, not products, and the July 13th date is only listed next to some of them; others, like the one for IE6 on Windows XP SP3 say that support ends 24 months after the next service pack is released. There hasn't been an SP4 for XP and SP3 is still supported (support for SP2 ended on the aforementioned July 13th), so... Further, that page also (now) says it's "no longer updated and scheduled for retirement," referring people to the Microsoft Product Lifecycle Search page instead. Amusingly (or perhaps I'm just laughing to hide the tears), if you use that page to find lifecycle information for Internet Explorer 6, it doesn't give an end date for extended support; instead, it says "For support dates for specific Internet Explorer 6 and operating system versions and their service packs, visit the Lifecycle Supported Service Packs site at..." Yup, that's right, they then give our first link above, the one that says it's no longer maintained. Rinse, repeat. So has Microsoft ended support for IE6? If so, those pages aren't saying so.

So what does this mean for those of us who develop web sites and applications? Well, your first thought might be that if you're writing a consumer-facing website, you can probably drop support for IE6. And that's probably mostly true, although you have to consider what it could mean to lose people browsing on their lunch break (or any time the boss isn't around) when most sites are scratching for every hit they can get, antiquated insecure non-compliant browser or no. You also have to consider where your visitors are coming from; StatCounter says that IE6 use is half as likely in the U.S., Europe, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, where in all of those except Australia they're seeing numbers under 5% and in Australia only just barely over (as compared with 9.75% worldwide). But even StatCounter is seeing IE6 as the second-most popular browser in Asia at 20% and the top browser in Africa at 22%. So the locality (if any) and language of your site play a part.

But even in those ~5% countries, if you're building software that you want corporations to be able to adopt, I'd say that right now, today, you ignore IE6 support at your peril. Unfortunately. Maybe in another year, although with the downturn, IT budgets are pretty tight...it may take even longer than that.

There is good news, though. This time last year (September 2009), IE6 was the number one browser, at 24.42% dominating IE7's 19.39% and IE8's 16.84%. So clearly on the way out. I predict the decline will continue but flatten out as we hit the hard core corporate deployments with strapped IT budgets. (The other good news in comparing last year to this year is how IE7 is being displaced by IE8. Excellent. IE8 is a much, much better browser than either IE6 or IE7...and if people are willing to upgrade, when the time comes maybe they'll keep going to IE9.)

Happy coding.

1 comment:

Petr 'PePa' Pavel said...

I agree. It's sad, it drives me mad but you're right IE6 will be here until we developers force people to stop using it.

My approach is to ignore IE6 until my customer (the website owner I program for) specifically requests it. Then I suggest building an additional stripped-down version for PDA and smart phones, and using it for IE6 too.

Only if this isn't acceptable I go into the pain of tweaking css/js for IE6. And I make sure to tell my customer up front how much the IE6 customization will cost him. He needs to evaluate whether the cost will be lower than realistically expected income from those IE6 users (directly or indirectly).

Also, the truth is that a lot depends on what browsers my customer has access to. If his wife still uses IE6 then he will more likely think it's a browser worth supporting. The same applies to other obscurities like Mac browsers of all sorts.

I think you're right about those poor IE6 users hating IE6 but having no other choice. I hope someone writes a javascript library that runs in IE6 and silently upgrades it to a modern browser :-)
Or at least someone puts together a website on how to work around your company security settings to be able to run a portable Firefox from your usb thumb drive.

I think that only employees can create sufficient force to make companies either upgrade their IE or at least install a second browser. And we, the developers are responsible for giving the employees the need for creating such force.