Why IE6 isn’t dead yet, and how you can twist the knife.

07/18/2009

The web is abuzz lately with mounting campaigns against IE6. Web designers and producers have been moaning about it for years, but the reality has been that 20%+ of internet users have still used the old browser, avoiding the upgrade to 7 for whatever reason. There’s a reason it’s stuck around so long, even now, 8 years later, and a twitter campaign is not going to kill it. I do have a suggestion for easing development pain, though, and ultimately ending the bane of IE6.

IE6 Must Die

"IE6 Must Die"

Before we can kill IE6, we need to understand why it’s still alive. Your mother already upgraded, she’s not the problem anymore. The problem is IT managers at really big companies. For the sake of personification, we’ll call them ‘Chet.’ Many years ago when IE6 was released, Microsoft added a lot of proprietary features that turned the browser into a development platform. Netscape had been defeated, and IE had over 90% browsershare. A lot of IT departments took great advantage of this, building custom software for their companies, intranets, and so on. But then we had a bit of a revolution on the internet – a huge shift toward open source and standards based development practices that would work across all browsers. The rise of alternative browsers like Firefox and Safari has fueled this trend, forcing developers to take other browsers into consideration. Even Microsoft has joined the game, abandoning their proprietary code in favor of standards.

The remaining IE6 users are not voluntary IE6 users, but shackled IE6 users. Thanks, Chet.

Unfortunately, Chet has been a bit oblivious to this trend. Chet is old-school, and he expects the software that his team developed to last a long time. It’s expensive to rebuild these things, especially after they have years of additional code stacked on top of them. Chet wasn’t really forward looking, and didn’t expect the browser world to leave him behind. No problem though – as long as we mandate IE6 for all users in the company and never upgrade, nothing breaks. Nice thinking, Chet.

I have first hand experience with these companies, and there’s more of them than you think. And they’re really big ones,  with tens of thousands of employees, all using outdated legacy software built on top of archaic software, virtualized and VPN’d. The remaining IE6 users are not voluntary IE6 users, but shackled IE6 users (as Digg recently discovered). Thanks, Chet.

So what can we do about it?

At Mural, we would love to drop support for IE6, but when your clients are companies where Chet works, you can’t build a site for them that nobody at their office can use. I was working on a proposal today in fact for a certain giant internet retailer, and of course we get to estimating production and have to start thinking about how much time we expect we’ll need for IE6 debugging. We had been toying with the idea of leaving IE6 out of our SOW, thinking that the main audience for this site probably would be on IE7 or greater. But instead of just leaving it out and having the inevitable conversation about it later when they insist they need it, we decided to take another approach: make it a line item.

Instead of a line item for all development/production, make another line item for ‘legacy IE6 compatibility.’… For clients, it forces them to consider exactly how much that 5-10% is worth.

The reason most clients insist they want their sites to cater to the remaining 5-10% of users using IE6 is that they don’t really know how much development time that adds to their project. So make it real for them. Instead of a line item for all development/production, make another line item for ‘legacy IE6 compatibility.’ If you’re anything like us, that line item probably adds 30% or more to the cost. For clients, it forces them to consider exactly how much that 5-10% is worth. More importantly, it creates awareness inside those companies that Chet is costing them money, and is going to continue to cost them money as long as his systems are dependent on IE6. It helps build an ROI case for updating their systems.

So complain all you want on blogs. Add an anti-IE icon to  your twitter avatar. But if you really want to help make a difference in the campaign against IE6, it’s up to you (agencies, designers, developers) to make the case to your clients to move forward, and it’s up to you (clients and employees at large companies) to go tell Chet how much he’s costing you.

Update: TechCrunch points out a new campaign pointed at IT managers, Hey IT!