Stop Complaining About IE 6

Image from flickr user bioxidImage from bioxid

Note: This is off-the-cuff. If know many will disagree with me. If you’re one, sound off in the comments. Of course, if you agree with me, I’d love to hear that too.

Internet Explorer 6 is a pain. Every Web professional knows this. Every one of us has cursed its name countless times. It mangles code and requires more effort to support than every other browser (including its siblings) combined.

It makes life hard. We know. Dear God we all know.

Nobody likes whiners.

If your site stats show a significant percentage of your users rely on that browser it’s your responsibility to support it. Stop complaining about it and just get the job done so you can move on to creating something cool.

Stop complaining and get back to creating.

So Alex, How Big is “Significant”?

Wow, that could come off a bit dirty… Anyway, the answer to that question depends on your (or your customers’) business and the users who access the sites and apps you build to contribute to it.

I recommend you make that decision before you look at your stats so you don’t skew the number in an unconscious attempt to wiggle out of support for the browser (we humans are great at justifying our way out of unpleasantness). If your “significant” number is above 15%, you better think hard about it as that is a large percentage. Double-check that decision if there is any form of commerce or conversion transactions on the site. The latter includes drives for newsletter subscriptions, contests and the like in addition to encouraging a user to contact the business for an estimate or more information.

Step Back and Think About the Numbers

Let go of your anger (that path leads to the dark side) and really think about how much time and effort you’re willing to trade for this number of users, the time they spend on-site, the revenue they bring in and their happiness level (which feeds into the site reputation).

If you work for someone else as an outside agency, contractor or employee, the business needs to decide how much money they are willing to spend (read: your time) to access that market, so it may not be your choice, but you do influence the decision.

Google’s Numbers Aren’t Good Enough

Just because [super giant site] drops support for a browser doesn’t mean you get to. You have your own numbers; no others will do. If you are building sites that are used by a lot of people who access it during the day from large corporations or government jobs, odds are good that you’ll be supporting IE6 for a while to come, even if Google drops support.

Hell, Microsoft wants everyone off of IE 6, but even they recognize that it isn’t feasible in one fell swoop. Think about that – Microsoft, who likely could force an upgrade past any computer that talks to their servers for updates and patches can’t make that switch even though they’d like to.

Encouraging Transition & Graceful Degradation

So, you’ve discovered much to your dismay that you do need to support the dreaded Internet Explorer 666. The site doesn’t have to work exactly the same on IE 6 as it does on the top tier browsers. There are a wealth of techniques that will let you present a subset of the overall experience for those users and you can gently (but firmly) encourage your users to upgrade to a browser that will better serve their needs.

Blazing Ahead

If your IE6 numbers are low enough that you are confident that you can drop support (sweet!), don’t forget that you’ll have a few stragglers. A polite note presented to that select audience may help to nudge them into a better world of browsing bliss.

“Forcing” a User to Switch

You don’t have that power. No, really you don’t. It sounds mean, but it’s a fact of life. You aren’t big enough. I’m not either. That’s the reality of the market. Online petitions, grand campaigns with slick icons and banners won’t force a change.

This will be a gradual process that is much slower than any of us want. Don’t you think we’d all be better off if we took all of that effort and vitriolic energy and applied it to creating something?

I do.

Stop complaining. Start creating.


  1. says

    Party pooper. :p

    I agree, though, that there’s a line that’s easily crossed between kvetching & complaining. What can make it as painless as possible is to communicate early & often with clients on what can/should be offered to different browsers & IE6 has to be a sizable part of that talk. Latest & greatest Web Wizardy just won’t cut it on IE6 so having that conversation earlier, rather than later, can save on headaches, billable hours, and web developers committing hari-kari.

  2. says

    Good points all.

    As I’m wont to do in any situation which even vaguely applies, I will quote Tron: “User requests are what computers are for.” Ultimately, we are in a service industry — in service to our users. We can gently steer, we can advise, we can plead… but at the end of the day, our users are why we’re doing what we do (why we *get* to do what we do) and we should remember that.

  3. says

    Good point Pat . My rant focuses on developers and developer-to-developer (or developer-to-Twitter/Facebook) complaints.

    I think educating the client is paramount, whether they are internal or external as there are very real costs involved. The way it’s presented is important, especially for those developers who might slide from education into complaints.

    David , well put and great quote.

    Thank you both for commenting.

  4. says

    I wonder how you guys broach the idea of progressive enhancement and graceful degradation in browser support? Often my clients see their soon-to-launch sites in modern browsers, but are freaked out when they receive feedback from users who are using browsers that aren’t able to pull in the nice bells and whistles.

    What do we as developers do when it comes to these concepts (we’re just going to assume that Alex has it right) and less savvy clients? Do we need to spend the extra time (and therefore $$$) to talk it through with them and tell them why we make the enhancement choices we make, or do we go forward, using our knowledge of best practices to still make the choices that will constitute usable interfaces less sexy or cool as those on modern browsers?

  5. says

    Make sure you consider international users in your analysis of how to deal with your particular IE6 problem.

    IE6 is still the dominant browser in some otherwise modern/tech-savvy countries, as insane as that may seem. .kr comes to mind. IE6 is required in order to do any kind of online financial transaction in South Korea. Grab a box of kleenex before you read the tragic tale of SEED: (in short: IE is unlikely to go away any time soon in SK.)

    So IE6 might be 15% of your global traffic, but 100% of traffic from a number of countries.

    As far as complaining goes, to users and clients? yeah that’s horribly unprofessional. They’re paying us to deal with this exact problem. Take their money and do it, or don’t.

    That said, I think it’s nice to have places where we web developers can vent and commiserate. With twitter and facebook, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to suffer in silence (about anything, actually. see: politics). I’m no more bothered by “@#$@#$ IE” tweets than I am by “@#$@#$ conservatives!” tweets.

  6. says

    William , I recommend you educate early and often. It adds a bit of time up front but will save you a lot more when/if they see it in IE 6 later. Educating your customers is never a bad thing. It’ll help them make better decisions and strengthen their trust of you and your skills. There are times where the decision between sexy/new vs. cross-browser consistency is the client’s to make.

    Sean , that is an amazing point about South Korea; I’ve added the SEED story to Instapaper so I can read it in full. All too often we forget how world-wide the Web is.

    You have an interesting point about posting about politics being akin to posting IE complaints. Given the rapidly shrinking world we live in, it seems that it’s a very small step from a developer complaining in Twitter to that Tweet showing up on the client’s screen.

    On the larger scale, I have no issue with the small complaints born of in-the-moment complexities. We all need to vent (I like to vent over pints myself). What I do take issue with is the me-first attitude inherent in the “IE is hard, so I’ll try to force my users to upgrade”. All often we’re seeing complaints without proposed solutions.

    This is a great thread so far, thanks for contributing guys!

  7. says

    I see progressive enhancements as the carrot by which you can persuade people to upgrade. Want that nice modal? HTML 5? Mobile contextualization?

    The Bright & Shiny’s might be that nice way for people to upgrade.

  8. says

    I think complaining has to happen and here’s my argument:

    Because the squeaky wheel gets grease.

    When I code up a webpage and it renders entirely different in all the various version of IE currently on the market (IE6-8), there is evidence to suggest their product is not meeting the industry standards. It’s an incredible waste of my clients’ money to support these (now 3) browsers that don’t even support themselves.

    Our feedback, our belittling of IE6, helps establish an anti-browser or anti-practice in our industry. A big embarrassing FAIL that all browser makers can steer away from. I think the only reason IE8 is as good as it is, is because of the swelling number of complaints about IE6. so that process needs to keep happening.

    But to be fair, the endless number of “IE SUCKS” tweets and websites kind of make me yawn because that material has been covered. I think we should start getting angry at “-webkit”, “-moz”, and “-khtml” prefixes.

  9. says

    Great points Alex, and I may need to build on this and our conversation on Twitter in my own post to properly respond. In short though I’m of two minds: the first is that moving off IE6 does produce a better overall web experience for people who might not know otherwise. That being the case, Google’s ‘shove em off the cliff with a month of warning’ shows either gross misunderstanding or disdain for the realities of Admins who often have to travel through red tape as much as technical work to do upgrades.

    In the end, though, Google knows that the kinds of people who use their apps are less likely to be using IE6, which makes this little more than a publicity stunt to make MS look bad. And as they seem very comfortable doing these days, dressing that stunt up in the clothes of watching out for people’s best interests.

  10. says

    Pat , I agree – bright and shiny is a nice incentive.

    Dave , thanks for diving into the stream and posting your thoughts.

    I don’t agree that it’s a waste of your clients’ money if their IE6 user-base is strong enough to warrant you spending the time making it work for the browser. The fact that Microsoft has three browsers doesn’t enter into the equation. In fact, if IE7 usage drops precipitously, which I expect it will with the rise of IE 8, it’s possible that Microsoft will only have two browsers in the race – 6 & 8. It has to come back to the browsers being used to access the site in question.

    I’ll keep myself from making a snarky comment about our industry’s standards. ;)

    Anti-practices are typically a bad way to change a system. In this case, you state that it’s a lesson that the browser-makers should steer away from, but it isn’t Microsoft’s failure in this case. When IE 6 came out, it was badass. Really, it improved the Web considerably. The Web has become integrated into every aspect of business (woot paycheck!), but that means that large IT shops have to support it like any other software and they do that in very long cycles. And there are more than one cycle to work with – that of the browser/OS install and that of each and every one of their intranet apps.

    While Opera, Chrome and Firefox would love IE’s install base, they would run into the same issue if they had it. It would be interesting to see how they react were they in that situation.

    I do agree that IE8 is vastly improved because of user and developer complaints and support requests – that’s how it’s supposed to work. Constructive criticism is good. Hell, it’s critical. But that really has nothing to do with our job, which is to support the users of our work and ensure our clients are successful, even when that means we build for IE6.

    Along the prefix line, I hate those too, though sadly those are merely symptoms of a broken “standards” practice. The browser makers are attempting to make progress while we all wait for the W3c to make decisions. Granted, those same browser groups are the ones slowing down the decisions… Fun times.

    Again, I want developers to use their energy constructively. We should channel the frustration towards building something, to correcting flaws where we can and to educating our customers, both those who pay us and those who use what we craft.

  11. says

    Todd , I agree 100%. I’m willing to bet that Google App users are much more likely to be running Firefox, Safari or Chrome compared to other sites and for those running IE, odds are good that they are not using IE 6.

    I look forward to seeing your long-form thoughts on the topic.

  12. says

    As one of the developer-to-twitter complainers, I think the notion and message are a little far-fetched. Do you only complain about things you dislike once? I don’t believe many people would be able to answer yes to that question. When are people going to stop complaining about people complaining about IE6? People hating IE/IE6 is not new.

    I think supporting IE6 to the level that things are functional is appropriate. Usable without hassle is a tolerable level. IE is simply incapable of keeping up with the performance requirements, standards, and expectations of the web. When I have to give A-level support to IE6, that is annoying. It is annoying today and still will be tomorrow. If it gets particularly painful, you (and maybe twitter) may hear about it. C’est la vie.

    @Sean: I like the argument, but again I think it comes down to your target audience. In the same vein Opera has 30+% market share of many European countries, but if you’re not getting much European traffic, you may still not support it.

  13. says

    fearphage , I acknowledge that the general premise, dare I say hope, that developers will channel their energy away from complaints and into something productive is far-fetched, but a boy should have dreams, no? ;) Though I can answer your question – people will stop complaining about people complaining about IE6 once people stop complaining about IE6 – on fix for both problems.

    Seriously though, I think we’re in agreement for the most part. I do not believe IE6 should include every bell and whistle of modern browsers, if those features add cost and/or time to the development process. That money and effort can best be spent elsewhere. But, here’s the thing – you are paid to support that browser as are the vast majority of front-end developers and designers. As I know you personally, I can attest that you do a damn good job at that too. So yes, you complain, as do others, and as I have on many many occasions. Yeah, it is life and we are human.

    This thread and the conversations it has sparked are helping me hone my premise – the complaints are akin to those e-mail chains of jokes that contain exactly the same content I’ve seen since 95. It gets old and shows a distinct lack of professional progress.

    And that’s the core – we as an industry need to learn to move on. Too many, at all levels of experience act as if there aren’t direct business implications to decisions. We aren’t in the wild west period of the Web any longer. While some niche or focused sites (or just plain small, like this here blog-o-mine) can change at a whim, the big sites and the ones that are developed to support a company, require that the business aspects are thought through.

    The most recent spate of “Google is dropping support for IE6” has reignited a desire to find the easy way out of a hard part of our job. People don’t think through the ramifications. People don’t think about the likelihood that Google did look at their stats and decided that they could afford the tradeoff. Google Apps are not used en mass by large corporations or government agencies for many reasons, including the goal of maintaining control of their data. Google chopping IE6 isn’t likely to impact their bottom line.

    We saw the same reaction when 37Signals did the same. Again – their audience makes it possible.

    That’s not true of so many of the people who champion the elimination of IE6 support. Just as you noted Opera’s 30% market share in Europe, if a browser makes up a significant portion of the userbase, you had better support it. If it isn’t, then you don’t.

    If a business can afford to drop it without negatively impacting customers, then they should drop it. If a business feels that they can lose those customers, or ideally nudge them into an upgrade with the move, then by all means, they should do it. I wish we could drop support for IE6 at my job, but we’re far from it given usage of our customers’ sites.

    Too many developers think that it’s their decision to make. It’s not. It’s a business decision.

  14. TakeNoPrisoners says

    What incentive do we as developers, slaving away 80% of our work for 20% of the population, give users to upgrade from IE6 if we KEEP fixing our sites for IE6?

    If ALL developers said, time to move on and turned the plug on IE6, then people WILL upgrade (OR even easier, install another browser). They can sit in their lazyboy and be left out, or make the very simple effort. Wherever they are. In deepest darkest africa or wherever. Its magnitudes easier upgrading to IE7 or installing firefox, safari etc etc. for any person, than it is just getting on the net.

    If we keep spoon feeding these apathetic users, they will keep taking us for granted. If we all stood together and said: “sorry, this site does not work on IE6, please consider upgrading or choosing another browser” the net would become a much more dynamic place.

    Time to pull the plug, if we dont, this could, and most probably WILL go on for many more years.

    Got to love those Google boys.

  15. says

    TakeNoPrisoners , thanks for commenting and sharing your frustration. If it were easy to stand as one conglomeration against an old browser I think we would have done it already. As it is, I’ve seen countless anti-IE6 sites and petitions to no avail.

    I won’t reiterate the post and the comments above, beyond noting the facts that the majority of IE6 holdouts aren’t individual users – they are corporate IT shops that have little incentive to upgrade thousands of computers and many reasons to keep them as is and the very real situation that as Sean noted in his comment , many countries may either require IE6 for transactions (much like those IT groups) or may be using much older technology. It’s pretty selfish of us to decide that those who are possibly just ramping up should be left behind because we find it inconvenient to build for that browser.

    We would all love for the Web to be more dynamic, but it isn’t realistic to expect that the 20% is going away any time soon, no matter how much we wish it would.

    To answer your first question – our incentive for making the Web work for 20% of the population is the money we deposit in our bank accounts. Nothing more, nothing less.


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