Internet Exporer 6 (IE6) has been a pain in the side of web designer for years now. Despite being a bloated insult to all web standards, this one caught on big due to its pre-packaged presence in a whole generation of internet-ready computers. Few who have tried alternative browsers end up going back to sing the praises of IE6, yet almost 20% of the total internet population still uses this monstrosity.
History of Frustration
IE6 was originally released in mid-2001. By 2003, the various versions of Internet Explorer accounted for as much as 95% of all browsers in use. Firefox was available by 2004, but it didn’t really catch fire until version 2.0 was released in 2006. So people kept on using Internet Explorer, and they even got used to it…
Of course, developers and web designers tend to loath IE6. While all browsers render code in slightly different ways, IE6 stands out as exceptionally out of touch. In terms of web technology, 2001 was a looooong time ago: Functions we take for granted weren’t even conceived of yet. Pages that look fine on most browsers can end up like a gibbering mess in IE6. The result is that many websites end up being designed twice, once for IE6 and once for all the other browsers out there.
Youtube and Digg: IE6 Compatibility Not Worth It
While a few sites have rigged anti-IE6 scripts as a bit of a joke, this week has seen the announcement by two of the web’s most popular sites that they will no longer spend energy on making their content compatible with the out-dated browser. Of course, while the sites are popular, they aren’t exactly profitable. Digg has relied on investors and long-term advertising contracts, and Youtube probably would have gone out of business long ago if it weren’t for Google’s cash flow backing them up. Having a few less users isn’t going to kill their business model, because in the current system every user ends up costing them money. By aborting development for IE6 compatibility, they may be able to cut development budgets or focus labor on new features.
The Browser too Stubborn to Die
Despite the influence of Digg and Youtube, these announcements aren’t going to kill IE6. Some 15-20% of the web population is still using it, and it seems like the majority of them are being forced to by their employers.
At the beginning of the decade, businesses were looking at ways to connect their office to the net – and this means a lot of databases and interfaces were built specifically for compatibility with IE6. While that sounds like ancient technology to a lot of casual browsers, it can be a big corporate investment that they don’t want to get rid of even if its slightly obsolete. Its a lot cheaper to tinker with an existing base then it is to completely re-write the system.
And the Rest of Us?
If your website is profitable, can you afford to ignore 15-20% of your potential visitors? This particular site is geared toward web builders, so the demographic is skewed heavily toward Firefox & Opera – with almost no visitors using IE6. But on some other sites I’m running, I’ve seen IE6 coming in at as much as 30% of the traffic.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll continue to make sure the CSS I use looks halfway decent in IE6. Sure, it would be nice if people stopped using IE6, but I just don’t see that happening any time soon. In a few years, it may be a different story, but this browser has become entrenched in corporate America as well as inside government offices.