Anyone involved in web design will have probably, at some point, spent a good half-an-hour, banging their head against a wall, and lamenting the fact that it can be so hard to get a web page to display and work properly in Internet Explorer 6 (IE6).
Its broken implentation of standards-compliant CSS in particular is a serious headache, and must have added to the time and resources required to bring websites to fruition. Microsoft have said that they will continue to support it until 2014, but with big names like Google and YouTube phasing out all support for it, something might change.
A pain in the neck
When it was released, almost a decade ago, it was an OK browser, but web technology and the standards to which we work have moved on.
“Like Netscape 4 in 2000, IE6 is perceived to be holding back the web”
– Jeffrey Zeldman, web standards champion
But IE6 just doesn’t go away. Although IE7 and now IE8 have taken some of the market share of web browsers being used, IE6, wrapped up in Windows XP, is still hanging in there.
Web designers have certainly had enough of trying to deal with it, and there have been online campaigns to mobilise the web community into putting an end to IE6, for example, “IE6 No More” and .Net magazine’s “Bring Down IE6” campaigns.
Maybe Microsoft aren’t listening, though. They know that there are still a lot of users with Windows XP and IE6, for a number of reasons, and they have said that they will continue to support IE6 until 2014.
But other things might hint at a change. In the aftermath of its scrap with China, Google have said that they are to start phasing out support for IE6 in a number of their services (notably Google Docs and Google Sites), according to the BBC. Hmmm. That’s a big player! YouTube are also phasing out support for IE6.
And another interesting thing is that at An Event Apart Boston, held in May this year, Microsoft’s Senior Product Manager for Internet Explorer, Pete LePage, will give a talk entitled “Microsoft: Help us kill IE6“!
That’s right, you read right. Microsoft is as tired of IE6 as you are, and wants your help migrating users to newer, better browsers. Learn what you can do, and let one of the good guys from Redmond know how you feel.
What about our existing websites?
But what does it mean for us, and the support and maintenance of existing bioinformatics services? A look at the web stats for EBI sites will show us that a fair percentage of users are still using IE6. If we redevelop services following web standards (which I would argue we should do), we may risk excluding a portion of users for some service… but we won’t know unless we test our designs. It may be that the functionality is fine, but that pages look different. That is OK, I think.
Before we make any decisions, though, it would be wise to research browser use, the options for encouraging upgrades, and the possible impact of moving things forward, on a case-by-case basis. It would be good to see what Peter LePage and others recommend to help migrate users to better browsers, too.
If this is the death knell for IE6, I won’t be sad to see it go, that’s for sure.