Wither IE6!

Over on CSS Tricks, there’s a discussion brewing about why people still use IE6. Chris breaks it down into four different user types: Those who have to due to IT policies; those whose computers don’t support IE7 (although they would probably support Firefox); those who have actually avoided upgrading to IE7 and who may actually prefer IE6; and those who don’t know any better and for whatever reason haven’t had their system auto-upgraded yet.

I tried to get my Mom onto Firefox and she tried it for a few days, but then ultimately fell back to punching the big blue E on her desktop (the one that was renamed to say “Don’t use this, use Firefox instead!”) because as she put it “sites didn’t work in the other one” (no idea what exactly that means). I’m having a hard time pinning down where she might fit into the category since she’s certainly no techno-phile but she apparently LIKES the experience of using IE6 (even when her system locks up and she has to call my brother or myself for support, or she just goes weeks or months on end without the Internet).

Alas, I have my own theory on IE6 which people tend to feel is a little cold or hard-fisted. For the most part, the browser experience is the same across sites (thanks to José for putting it so eloquently!). What I mean by that is that a user who goes to sites 1, 2 and 3 in Firefox will have a similar experience across all three (a Firefox experience). Users who go to the same three sites in IE6 will have a similar experience across all three (an IE6 experience). For instance, a user who goes to a site on a Mac will have nice looking anti-aliased fonts and the whole thing will generally be more pleasing to the eye, whereas the same site on Windows will have that lousy Windows aliased text and will generally not be as pleasing to look at.

That said, a user who uses IE6 all the time is probably used to (and maybe satisfied?) with the user experience they’re getting. This leaves developers with a few options:

  1. develop for IE6 and attempt to make it look and act the same as other more modern browsers.
  2. develop as we do, testing IE6 along the way to make sure it doesn’t break down horribly.
  3. develop as we’d like to, forgetting about IE6 entirely.

These actions would have progressively different results:

Option 1 wouldn’t do much for the cause of forcing upgrades, while your IE6 users would be pleased (where by pleased I mean wouldn’t notice anything different).

Option 2 would probably ruffle a couple of discerning feathers* but still not make the general IE6 user take notice of anything out of the ordinary.

Option 3 is the real f* you to IE6 users. As the experience begins to take a real turn for the worse (worse than using IE6 and Windows already is), users may begin to complain. They may complain to site “contact us” links (the most troubling case), or they may complain to their ISP (and be told to try IE7 or Firefox), or they may complain to their “computer guy” (and be told to try IE7, Firefox or to get a Mac). Unfortunately for our clients, they’d probably go someplace else unless they were compelled to stay.

I think the optimal solution is somewhere around 2.7: Make sure it works in IE6, but make sure it’s IE6/windowsy enough that the user thinks they’re environment is getting old and they’re being left behind.

Personally, corporate (non-)support of IE6 is one of the reasons that I hate doing client work for gigantic corporations (and even large businesses). Their IT departments are slow on the uptake to roll out the IE7 upgrade (hell, Microsoft even gave them the out with the corporate IT patch to disable the auto upgrade of IE7) so the clients and their reps still use IE6 (even though perhaps the majority of the site’s user aren’t using IE6 anymore). So we’re forced to pander to the stakeholder whose IT folks haven’t pushed the upgrade to their laptop yet.

After all, if you took away the client’s 2008 Benz and gave them a 2001 Taurus and said “it’s okay, the ride is exactly the same because it doesn’t matter what tool you use, right?” they’d call you out on it on the spot. The same holds true for browsers.

Wither, IE6. Wither and die!

* These are probably the feathers of the creative or PM or account person who happened to look at the site on IE6.

5 replies on “Wither IE6!”

  1. I fall somewhere around 2.8 since I don’t have IE6 on my machine to test. I do have the Firefox plug-in Validator (I believe it’s called) that shows me a screen shot of a site in IE6, and every so often I hop on my father-in-law’s computer (who has IE6) and check out a few sites I’ve designed.

    Wish you had a feed on this blog so I can add it to my Google Reader, get on that! :o)

  2. Mike- Thanks for the comment. I’ll need to check out the FF plugin for some of those quickie layout issues.

    There is a feed link, it’s off to the right (below the gigantic list of archived categories), but you’re probably right that I need to make it more prominent.

  3. Oh woe be IE 6 .. what has it done to the world.

    I’m willing to ignore it .. but apparently there are lots of Chinese users who are still using IE6 because a lot of Chinese sites are built to work exclusively with IE6. I’m not sure how true this is… but it sounds plausible. But then, maybe internal censorship and firewall prevents a large section of Chinese reach many sites anyway?

    A company I worked for previously held back upgrading, because human resources made use of a very bad management application which would only work on IE6. In these cases, where bad decisions have been compounded with other bad decisions, there isn’t much worth salvaging – and we shouldn’t be expected to make amends for other people’s mistakes.

    I’ve been using browsershots.org to check out layout issues for a while now, and it does a great job.

  4. actually… thinking about it, I think there’s probably a lot of misinformation about Chinese culture – and I don’t want to be a vehicle for that. So I did a bit of research.

    I found out that a browser called Maxthon has become very popular in China… and according to Wikipedia, Maxthon’s primary layout engine is ‘trident’ (same as IE). I don’t know whether this means that it faces the same problems as IE6,but maybe this is where the ‘china uses IE6’ rumour has come from?

    Looking at the homepage (http://www.maxthon.com/) there’s a counter which shows one download per second (over 162 million, at current count). Maybe it’s time to start thinking about Chinese browsing habits a bit more closely?

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