The world of internet browsers has been getting a little crowded of late. Microsoft has updated Internet Explorer for the first time in six years and is now talking about building on that with another new version. Google has released their Chrome browser which adds another open source offering to the mix. Furthermore, as they are a brand well known and respected beyond the technical elite there is a good chance of a large uptake. Mozilla have set records with the number of downloads of Firefox 3 whilst Apple have spread onto the Windows platform with a version of Safari. Last, but not least we have a sprinkling of other offerings from the all rounder Opera to the more specialist Flock.
With all this activity the shouts of angry web designers and developers have grown louder as they ask: ‘why do we have to still support Internet Explorer 6?’. IE6 has been a pain in the rear for web professionals for some time. It doesn’t comply with standards, some of its functionality is fundamentally broken while it also relies on propriety methods for some features. From a users perspective is has also been beset with numerous security issues and vulnerabilities which require regular patching.
The response of many web designers/developers is to boycott IE6 entirely. Now that users have plenty of other options they feel justified in stating, quite openly on their websites, that they do not support IE6 and if the site doesn’t render correctly in that browser then that is Microsoft’s problem and users should either contact Microsoft or, ideally, download a different ( and therefore better ) browser. Some have even gone further and have added code to their sites that either redirects users to a separate page to download a new browser or even crashes IE6 whilst leaving other browsers untouched.
Whilst I sympathise with these sentiments, having struggled many times with the rendering in IE6 myself, I think that the approach taken has been a little too extreme. What I would advocate is a more measured solution. If we all decide that we would like to stop supporting IE6 after a certain date then we can inform the users that it is now deprecated and tell them exactly when support will end. This allows users a period of time to investigate alternatives and prepare for the change-over. It also raises awareness amongst the userbase without resorting to heavy handed tactics and insulting the users for their choice ( or lack thereof ) of browser. Tactics like that will really only alienate users which translate to our clients customers.
So, all in all, it makes good business sense whilst also being the friendly option to gradually phase out IE6 support and keep users happy yet informed throughout the process. So hopefully we’ll soon be free of creating hacky code just to work around the inadequacies of a defunct browser and our users will be all the more educated for the experience.