Is it Finally Time to Ditch IE 6?

22 Jul 2008 •

It’s no secret that those of us who do professional web design/development despise Internet Explorer 6. With IE 7 out for a while and IE 8 on the horizon, more and more leading companies and web folk are pressing ahead and dropping / degrading support for the ancient browser.

With Firefox share steadily rising and standards-champions Opera and Safari readily available, is it time for us as modern web designers/developers to press the issue and speed up adoption of modern browsers by no longer supporting Internet Explorer 6?

Joen Asmussen launched his new redesign and is not just dropping support for IE 6, he’s taking a bold stand by refusing to develop for it on any project:

That means users of said browser aren’t welcome here any more. That includes potential clients for my webdesign business; yep, I’m that serious. I won’t build your crap anymore!

And he’s not kidding. IE 6 visitors get a straight-up Get a Modern Browser or Get the Hell Out message. No conditional comments, no alternate styles.

So, Is Joen Right?

Yea, that’s a hell of a statement. It’s one thing to drop support on personal projects or for Apple, who’s audience clearly won’t be using IE 6. But to flat-out refuse to build supported sites for clients? That’s career suicide! Right?

I don’t think so. While I strongly disagree with delivering no content to IE 6 users, I think this is exactly what we need.

But

OK, so I am absolutely not advocating that we all start ignoring our display issues in IE 6 and telling 25% of the internet to go to hell. Delivering no content to users based solely on their user-agent (browser), device, or hair color flies directly in the face of everything we’ve been preaching about Web Standards.

We separate presentation from content for exactly this reason.

Images/stylesheet/JavaScript disabled or failed to load? You can still read this site.

IT Department at work has the company locked-in to IE 6? You can still read this site.

At your grandma’s on her ancient PC running Netscape 4.75 and for some reason want to read this site? You can (well, I think :D Probably have to manually turn off stylesheets).

But you can still read this site.

The beauty of developing with standards, the entire point of graceful degradation is

  • Any browser must be able to view the content of the site.
  • Any browser must be able to navigate the site.

It’s this understanding that separates the pros from the hacks — We as web designers don’t have control over the end product. You can either plan for it as best you can and build a site that scales to work at some level for everyone, or you can build it in Flash (joke!).

By telling IE 6 users to effectively Fuck Off you are disrespecting and ignoring your users. Which may well be your biggest fan stuck on a public workstation somewhere with no choice of browser just trying to pass the time on her favorite site.

Wait, you said this is what we need…

Yes, absolutely. While I disagree with how Joen implemented it, I completely agree with the reasoning behind it. The more industry leaders forcing the issue and pushing for standards support in web browsers, the more people will follow and the faster advancement will happen. Allan Jardine has already made this point better than I can on his Design bookmarklet suite of web design and development tools:

No IE6 support? Nope. Design and it’s components are designed and developed for you as web-developers and designers, not your clients (who of course still required IE6 support), so I see no need to support it in this case (feel free to disagree!). If we at the front of the field don’t move on, how can we expect the larger community to do so?

Just Be Sure to Do Your Homework

So you’re cooking with Standards, it’s time to ignore IE 6 and rock the hell out of alpha-transparent PNGs and crazy positioning and CSS 2.1 with total disregard for outdated browsers right?

Maybe.

Look, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include fallbacks. Not everyone surfs with JavaScript enabled or their mouse or even their sight. But you know that.

Consider your audience

Are you catering to mainly Mac users (who couldn’t run IE 6 if they wanted to) or the savvy web design crowd? Absolutely time to scale back support or ditch entirely. Targetting a general non-techie niche? You probably still need to support the majority of browsers.

Take a hard look at your web stats.

Visitors on modern browsers gaining and older browsers dropping compared to last year? It might be time to start thinking about working in some alternate styles via conditional comments or drop stylesheets entirely and just serve up raw HTML. Barely an IE 6 user to be seen (like say, less than 10%)? Definitely time to ditch.

At a point in your career…

where you can choose only the projects you most want to work on and/or dictate the terms of your work? Then please, stand up next to Joen and help lead the charge.

Because I’m really sick of wasting my time on ridiculous bugs.

Comment

  1. I have to admit that I decided not to fix IE6 issues on my blog when i read Apple’s new Mobile Me service wouldn’t support it. I always figured that once a big player or two stopped support the rest of us would fall like dominos. I just move my domino further up the line.

    Now that folks (37 Signals, Apple) aren’t supporting it I think we are going to see others follow suit. Once sites start doing that I think we will see some of the corporate users upgrading as well.

    Brad C · 23/07/08 06:03 AM · #

  2. Perhaps if you need to support IE6, have it show up w/o styles and put some content at the top explaining how the user can get styles (and link to FF and IE7, yes I said IE7).

    Joe Fiorini · 23/07/08 06:03 AM · #

  3. I think you were spot on with this quote:

    “Delivering no content to users based solely on their user-agent (browser), device, or hair color flies directly in the face of everything we’ve been preaching about Web Standards.”

    Here is my problem with most people not supporting it: they are lazy. The reason 37Signals is dropping is because they can’t develop the same experience for all browsers. Read that again, they can’t do it. I think that’s bullcrap. They most certainly can make their applications work in all browsers (their stuff isn’t even close to complicated, they just like to use inline JavaScript all over the place). So – because they are lazy, and choose to use inline JavaScript instead of progressively enhancing their applications, they say they can’t and then drop support for it. It’s their Getting Real approach full of poisonous words that they themselves preach against. Yes, they have free versions of their application – but here is the real question: How could I use this as a serious tool when my clients are on IE6? Im not going to tell my client to get a new browser. I am going to find another suite of tools that isn’t as arrogant.

    In the case of Apple – I find that one very frustrating, but I understand that the application is a paid application (you don’t have to use is), and it is there to mimic their suite of desktop applications. It is a RIA, and they know that- and in that process decided to support only modern browsers. I also think its another way for them to slap in the face of Microsoft.

    I’m not saying building for IE6 is easy. I think the ones giving up are the ones that expect everything to work perfectly and exactly the same in all browsers. We have known for years that that will never happen. Why is this such a big surprise?

    Nate Klaiber · 23/07/08 06:30 AM · #

  4. @Brad C
    I’m in the same boat right now, I have a new design just about coded up, except it breaks in IE6. It’ll take about the same amount of time to either fix the display issue or write up a quick downgraded stylesheet for old browsers. I’m still not sure which I’m going to go, but I’m leaning towards the latter.

    I think it’s important that if you’re not supporting it, you let anyone on IE6 know that your site is broken intentionally, and why.

    @Joe
    If you have to support IE, then I think (like Nate said) you have to do the work and give as close an experience as possible.

    That being said, if you don’t have to support it, I am completely for dropping styles and providing links to modern browsers.

    Brendan · 23/07/08 06:56 AM · #

  5. @Nate
    I both agree and disagree with you. If I’m managing my projects through Basecamp and my client can’t log in because s/he’s using an unsupported browser, s/he’s not going to say to “Oh, I need to upgrade, how forward thinking Brendan and 37Signals are!

    The client’s going to say “What the hell is this? Is he going to break my site too?

    It’s dangerous ground to be cutting off support for a still-relevant browser, regardless of how bad it is.

    However, if you’ve done the research, seen that there just aren’t enough users on IE6 to justify spending the time developing to it’s quirks, then why not drop support?

    I think it makes perfect sense in Apple’s case:

    1. it probably saves their developers a ton of time,

    2. Highlights the technical superiority of their product,

    3. the vast majority of their users aren’t using it anyway and

    4. like you said, is a nice slap in their competitors face.

    I don’t think people are “giving up”, I think most are just realizing that, in some specific cases we’re finally reaching the point where fully supporting IE6 is just not worth the few users that will be lost.

    Brendan · 23/07/08 07:15 AM · #

  6. @Brendan
    I think we pretty much agree on everything. I was making the same point with Basecamp. While their target users might be using modern browsers, the clients of those target browsers may not be (we have this situation many times). You are right, though, they have their stats – but I don’t know how we could take it seriously as a client collaboration tool if we can’t use it with many of our clients.

    With Apple, again, we are saying the same thing. It is their paid online service. It is a RIA and made known as such. Their developers utilize the SproutCore JS library/server – so it definitely saves them time, and that library is top notch. The developers of that library would admit that it is for RIAs, and that in many instances they don’t duplicate functionality (especially if it is related to animation/drag+drop/etc).

    Personally, if Apple had used anything else – I probably wouldn’t use their online Mobile Me service. The fact that it works/functions just like my desktop apps helps the users mental model and gets them up and running in no time flat. AND, their upgrade message is a complete and total slap in the face to Microsoft (IE6 and IE7).

    When I refer to lazy or giving up, I refer to those building websites for themselves and others. So what if IE 6 can’t get the same experience? I think you could place a note for them to upgrade – but at the same time still allow them to access your content. Too many just tell the users to upgrade and call it a day. Why can’t they still see the content? There could always be a note about ‘This site would look better in Browser X,Y,orZ…’. Why do we just have to slam the door in their face and not let them access the content? That’s my real question.

    Nate Klaiber · 23/07/08 08:10 AM · #

  7. @Nate
    Yea we do agree, I just misread what you were saying.

    Why do we just have to slam the door in their face and not let them access the content?

    Yep, that’s exactly what I was trying to say :D

    I actually got to play with the SproutCore library a bit at my last job, it is definitely top notch and their developers were pretty much “just let us know what you need”

    Brendan · 23/07/08 08:34 AM · #

  8. “Progressive Enhancement”, all that needs to be said really. As long as a website is viewable in older browsers without all the bells and whistles then us, as Web Designers, are still providing a functional accessible website.

    My stats on my work site and my personal site still say 30% of users are coming from IE6 and whilst I am not going to break my balls fixing stupid bugs for hours I will at least make the sure the content is viewable.

    I am looking forward to the day we can drop support all together, what a day that will be!!!

    Ollie Kavanagh · 25/07/08 12:09 AM · #

  9. On the 27 of August 2008, IE6 will be seven years old right. Now from looking at how fast the internet is moving ahead, why is it that we dragging this dinosaur of a browser with us. Because if you look at it this way, today’s generation does not like any ancient things from the past, but are always looking for upgrades to keep up with new great looking sites.

    I could be mentioning all the down pour things about IE6 right now, but would rather not waste time on that. I have to keep up with the world web, so that I do not fall behind and look like the stupid one.

    Hopefully soon by next year that 10% will be here and then only all of us as web designers, developers and the larger communities can say that IT’S OVER.

    Marlin · 25/07/08 01:09 AM · #

  10. just my 2 cents:

    dropping support for IE6 is definitely a bold move but in my opinion it should be based on one’s client profiles.

    to give you an example: our agency handles a project that gets over 30% visitors using IE6. Should we drop support for it then? No as we nor our client can’t afford that.

    my blog GregWolejko.com (see what I did there? :) ) gets around 5% visitors using IE6. Will I drop support for that browser when doing the redesign. Yes as I can afford that by provided mentioned earlier graceful degradation.

    so it all boils down to a visitor’s profiles and to a business model (corporate clients are more likely to use IE6 than creative guys from design agencies)

    cheers,
    Greg

    Greg Wolejko · 25/07/08 01:36 AM · #

  11. Until Microsoft do an automated update on IE6 it is here to stay forever and many of my clients use it. IE6 is not hard to cater for without having to resort to conditional statements. Often it is case of display inline. I also recommend http://www.my-debugbar.com/wiki/IETester/HomePage

    Johan De silva · 25/07/08 01:46 AM · #

  12. Is it really that hard to design for IE6 besides PNG support? No. Until (at the very least) IE8 comes out, IE6 should be supported.

    Matthew Ginop · 25/07/08 07:39 AM · #

  13. Right, right, right. IE6 makes a trobules not only with png files transparency. There is also a lot of HTML/XHTML rendering bugs, security, stability and much more, but unfortunately we have to make a code with hacks becasue a lot of customers are using ie6 as default browser provided by M$ …

    Mark · 25/07/08 10:55 AM · #

  14. I think what is absent in this conversation (particularly in the comments) is the concept of reasonable user accommodation.

    First off, it is ridiculous to argue that people should be able to point who-knows-what at a website and get an experience that is precisely the same as if they were to use a modern, standards-based browser. One has to use the right tools to expect to be able to engage the full experience of a service, whether it’s a website, a DVD, etc. Therefore, there is a definite level of responsibility that must be placed on people to continually engage the correct tools to be able to use the services they seek, especially when the tools and services—for the most part—are ABSOLUTELY FREE.

    Now I admit that a reasonable level of accommodation should be made as progress moves forward in the development of technology—this happens all the time (backward compatibility of PS2’s, DVD players, etc.). However, there inevitably comes a point where accommodation hinders innovation and concomitantly renders no benefit otherwise—it is at this point when accommodations should be dropped, and the user is forced to use an outdated product to its limited capability, or upgrade.

    So the question is not whether or not IE6 sucks and should be dropped—EVERYONE (including Microsoft) acknowledges that this is the case. The question, rather, is whether it is reasonable for service-creators to limit their utilization of current web technologies to provide an exact user experience for the late adopters.

    Personally, I think web technologies have to come to the place where the ROI for backward accommodation and limiting of incompatible technologies is far less than the jettisoning of support for IE6. I applaud those who are doing that currently, and only hope that their example will inspire others to do the same. I believe this will inevitably force the users out there to pick up the mantle of responsibility (which mantle has been hidden from them by the accommodater’s bending over backwards for IE6) and do the right thing—upgrade, already!

    Joel Watson · 26/07/08 05:39 PM · #

  15. i despise ie6 just as much as anyone and can’t wait for it to be smashed into eternal digital damnation where it will be tortured with pngs and css2. on my last project, i estimated that i spent about half a day, maybe more, fixing css-/png-related issues just for ie6. does this make good business sense? well, like everyone has said before: yes, if 25 per cent of your users are still using it. but of course it’s wise to NEVER integrate ie6-targeted code into your projects. i prefer to follow standards and use conditional comments for ie6 that allow me to strip out this code later if and when i don’t need it.
    now, what about the proposition that we have a national day off when this putrid abomination is once and for all relegated to the archives? hear!

    ramon · 28/07/08 03:38 AM · #

  16. The market share for IE6 is dropping steadily (http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp). In another 6 months it should be well under 20%. A year from now this should be a non-issue (fingers-crossed).

    Michael Hansen · 29/07/08 02:57 PM · #

  17. Hello gents,

    I’ve written a more thorough follow up wherein I reverse my decision to block IE6. Feel free to look:

    http://noscope.com/journal/2008/08/ditching-ie6

    Joen · 22/08/08 11:00 AM · #

  18. Just jumping in to let you know that you are far from alone in quitting support for older browsers.

    I believe that its very unprofessional to keep supporting these older browsers, we as web designers should have some obvious and useful tools for the job, but these browsers makes it harder for beginners to catch up, and even makes the most skilled of us resort to pure guesswork as of how to get something to work in a given browser.

    I run a larger Tutorial / Reference site for Web Designers, still growing and all that. The message which will be to find regarding older browsers, is simply to tell users to upgrade, like they would upgrade any other software on their computer.

    BlueBoden · 13/01/09 07:33 AM · #

  19. Is it really that hard to design for IE6 besides PNG support? No. Until (at the very least) IE8 comes out, IE6 should be supported.

    And thanks for this.

    sbs · 21/01/09 12:31 PM · #

  20. I hope that when IE8 comes, all our problems will be solved

    russian girls · 26/05/09 04:06 AM · #

  21. There’s an organisation in the UK with a million desktops using this shite-hawk of a browser.

    I work for a firm that supplies software to the NHS in the UK. We have to make our stuff IE6 compliant because the NHS trusts use a brand-new mandatory national system that is built on that browser.

    I dread to think how many other organisations are in the same boat.

    → adrianisthebest · 30/05/09 03:45 AM · #

  22. I could be mentioning all the down pour things about IE6 right now, but would rather not waste time on that. I have to keep up with the world web, so that I do not fall behind and look like the stupid one.

    consacepo · 22/08/09 06:22 PM · #

  23. I believe that its very unprofessional to keep supporting these older browsers, we as web designers should have some obvious and useful tools for the job, but these browsers makes it harder for beginners to catch up, and even makes the most skilled of us resort to pure guesswork as of how to get something to work in a given browser.

    Lys · 26/08/09 08:16 AM · #

  24. Firefox the best browser to date. Presence of different plug-ins allows you to customize Firefox to fit your needs. IE gives Firefox on all parameters.

    Sergio · 31/08/09 11:21 AM · #

  25. We finally abondoned support for IE 6. It is just a dead web browser.

    online games · 09/09/09 06:41 AM · #

  26. I hope that when IE8 comes, all our problems will be solved

    → Lowrance · 25/09/09 10:10 AM · #

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