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.

Internet Explorer 8 Readiness Toolkit

Microsoft has posted the Internet Explorer 8 Readiness Toolkit page. While the links don’t work quite yet, odds are good that an announcement will be made at MIX. Hat tip to Jonathan Snook for the link.

There’s some interesting information available on the site, including how to make your site “light up” on IE8:

  • Site-specific contextual menus called Activities
  • Web Slices, which provide individual feeds of information from parts of a Web page. This seems to be akin to the capabilities added to the most recent version of Safari on OS X
  • CSS 2.1 Compliance and “some of the most requested CSS3 features by web developers and designers.”
  • Developer Tools for debugging JavaScript, CSS and markup
  • And more

We’re on the precipice of another major phase in Web development, and given the recent arguments and outrage around IE8, which ended nicely, it is likely to be contentious at best, and outright nasty at worst.

Here’s to hoping that we as an industry have progressed a bit and embrace meaningful debate and dialog over diatribes and partisanship.

A Good Day for the Web – IE8 to Properly Support Standards

The IE team announced a change from their previously stated plan for IE 8 ‘involved showing pages requesting “Standards” mode in an IE7’s “Standards” mode, and requiring developers to ask for IE8’s actual “Standards” mode separately’ via a specific bit of meta information delivered per page or at the server level. After a lot of discussion in the community, some of it quite heated, Microsoft has relented. IE8 will now ‘show pages requesting “Standards” mode in IE8’s Standards mode. Developers who want their pages shown using IE8’s “IE7 Standards mode” will need to request that explicitly (using the http header/meta tag approach described here).’

Microsoft is notorious amongst the Web development community for past decisions, some, like their initial decision on this issue, made with the best of intentions; so it is great to see that they are willing to step back, re-evaluate and change their direction when the community speaks up. It is a change from the old days, and alongside their shift regarding open source, I truly hope it is an indicator of the future.

IE to Eliminate the Click to Activate Requirement for Flash & ActiveX

About six months back, Microsoft was forced to hobble the usability of Internet Explorer as a tactic in their legal battles with Eolas. This lead to much consternation within the Web development community and too much time and money spent implementing a JavaScript workaround that ensured that user’s aren’t forced to click every bit of Flash they encounter in order to use the functionality. Without the workaround embedded Flash apps that perform an action when the user hovers over the app do not work in Internet Explorer until the user clicks the app to “enable” it. Dumb, but not really Microsoft’s fault. While some clever quickly built a JavaScript workaround, too much time and money was wasted on something that shouldn’t have been an issue.

Well, good news has come today in the form of Microsoft’s announcement that they have licensed the “technology” required to (re)enable this functionality! Great news, though oddly enough it will take another six months to roll out!? This is a feature that was in the app, taken out against everyone’s wishes, including Microsoft, and now, when they have the go-ahead to re-add the feature they are prolonging the rollout until April of 2008. Microsoft is missing out on an opportunity to make the dev community very happy while simultaneously making the Web a better place for everyone. Here is their plan:

The first chance will be with an optional preview release, called the Internet Explorer Automatic Component Activation Preview, available in December 2007 via the Microsoft Download Center. Additionally this change will be made part of the next pre-release versions of Windows Vista SP1 and Windows XP SP3. After giving people enough time to prepare for this change, we’ll roll this behavior into the IE Cumulative Update in April 2008, and all customers who install the update will get the change.

Well, that said, this is a good thing, even if it means bad patents are being rewarded. This is yet another example as to why our patent system needs a major overhaul.