Monday, July 13th, 2009

Digg takes the time to study the pain of IE 6

Category: Browsers

Ouch. We all want the IE 6 users to upgrade. Unfortunately, some of the stragglers aren’t Bob’s mum who doesn’t know better. Rather, they are poor buggers at work who aren’t able to upgrade (or fear that they can’t). And there are the pirating folk who fear the Microsoft updater so never upgrade a thing past that XP service pack…..

It is good to see that sites like Digg are looking at how to push forward. If you add up the time spent by Web developers on keeping IE 6 working on the site… well, I am sure it is a few bucks.

Twitter just did their bit too:

It is one thing for us all to do a full court press on this for the dummies that haven’t upgraded yet “hey, what if we could make your computer run twice as fast…. DOWNLOAD A NEW BROWSER” it feels a little different and sadistic to do this to people who shout back “I want too! I have done at home!”

Hmm. Maybe we need a campaign for the Windows Administration Help Group :/

Posted by Dion Almaer at 6:00 am

4.5 rating from 56 votes


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Well, we all think about such kind of solution, but that’s not the way I guess! The last thing you need is to force someone to do something.

Comment by stoimen — July 13, 2009

@stoimen: Force someone? Are you kiddin’?

From this chart’s results, what I see is that exactly 76% of people are being forced NOT to upgrade.

Comment by andysky — July 13, 2009

> Maybe we need a campaign for the Windows Administration Help Group

Yes we need. This is Evangelization/Activism that Mozilla and Google should be doing in companies. Show them how insecure Internet Explorer is. Show how Microsoft is using IE to keep them locked in. Show the alternatives. Show them a better way.

Have no fear. There will be an Open Web or no Web at all.

Comment by andysky — July 13, 2009

The good thing we can do is make awareness among the public. Please check my blog

Comment by myhtmlworld — July 13, 2009

> I don’t feel a need to upgrade. – 17%

F*ck. And whose fault is it? Ours! For keeping our sites supporting IE 6.

Comment by andysky — July 13, 2009

When I create sites for a client, I only make it IE6 compatible if the client wants this. Otherwise I place the ‘IE6 update’-script on the site for those who still use IE6 (

I agree with andysky that it is our job as webdesigners/developers to push the visitors into updating their browser. If less and less sites are going to support IE6, systems administrators at work will have no other choice then updating.

But in all honesty, I think it will not be until IE9, if not IE10 before IE6 has completely left the building. And then the story starts all over again by making sites compatible for IE7 while the rest of the world is using IE10…

Comment by kanduvisla — July 13, 2009

While Google and Mozilla foundation are certainly putting in a good effort and quite a dent in IE’s dominance, I won’t leave it up to them to make sure that users upgrade their browser(s).

If WE (the developers, small business owners, innovators) can convince our audience that it’s time to upgrade to a newer browser, ANY newer browser, then we should be doing just fine :-)

And if users still miss the old IE6 experience, they can always use this:

Comment by MorganRoderick — July 13, 2009

> And then the story starts all over again
> by making sites compatible for IE7
> while the rest of the world is using IE10…

Right. It’s a cultural problem. One of the key factors is that updates are centralized in some (most?) companies — being controlled by sysadmins.

I really praise Google for the automatic updates of Google Chrome. It is the best solution for this problem, IMO.

Comment by andysky — July 13, 2009

I don’t think this has really anything to do with the majority not wanting to upgrade the browser to get a better web experience. The majority in this study (69%) are people using the the browser from a computer at work, and I’m sure previous studies have also proved that the IE6 people are the ones using the web from work.

So, for businesses, if you have previously invested in a piece of business critical software that happens to run in IE6 or rely on IE6 (but not any other browser), you’ll definitely be in no hurry to reinvest those $$ just to give your employees a nice browsing experience on facebook at work. Sure it’s a security issue too, but the investment to upgrade might just be too expensive. You’d be surprised how many business critical systems still run off mainframe environments (those from back in the 1970’s). So, hey, a browser is old, it works, why fix it?

So, unfortuanely the wait is going to be long. We’ll see the same for IE7, IE8… whatever browser happens to be in the mainstream.

Sad but true.

Comment by GlenSomerville — July 13, 2009

> While Google and Mozilla foundation are certainly putting
> in a good effort and quite a dent in IE’s dominance,
> I won’t leave it up to them to make sure that
> users upgrade their browser(s).

Sure, Morgan. I totally agree with you on this.

What I was saying about Google / Mozilla activism, is that, for companies — who will convince them to upgrade IE and allow their workers to use other browsers?

Hell, most companies still think Microsoft is God and IE is the most secure browser!

Who will enlighten these guys? Who will talk with the system administrators?

Who will evangelize for modern browsers and the Open Web in the enterprise?

Mozilla and Google could do this. That’s what I’m sayin’.

Comment by andysky — July 13, 2009

> So, for businesses, if you have previously invested in a piece of
> business critical software that happens to run in IE6 or rely on IE6
> (but not any other browser), you’ll definitely be in no hurry to
> reinvest those $$ just to give your employees a nice browsing
> experience on facebook at work. Sure it’s a security issue too,
> but the investment to upgrade might just be too expensive.
> We’ll see the same for IE7, IE8…
> whatever browser happens to be in the mainstream.

NOT if developers target their webapps for the Open Web.

NOT if clients demand their webapps to support standards.

This is one of the reasons why following Web standards is so critical.

Ok. I’ll shut up now. ;)

Comment by andysky — July 13, 2009

I feel they missed an option:

“What is IE6?”

We always assume too much about end-users.
Some people have fantastic experience and knowledge about some topics that we could never compete with – yet they are hopeless with computers.

Comment by ck2 — July 13, 2009

Good points there overall. One solution: Mozilla / Google could give companies an easy upgrade path for their IE 6-only apps.

Ok. I really won’t write another post…

At least for the next 2 hours.

Comment by andysky — July 13, 2009

@MorganRoderick & @andysky

Whilst I agree with you whole heartedly that IE6 is a pain in the arse GlenSomerville is right.

We see similar statistics with our company web application(s) which are B2B products – over 90% of users use IE and about 35% of those use IE6 there is no way we could consider dropping support for IE6 (and yes, perhaps we are the ones feeding it). As GlenSomerville stated the reason IE6 prevails is all those intranet/extranet apps that were written specifically for IE(5.5 – 6), its not about which browser is better/faster.

Comment by wukfit — July 13, 2009

@andysky I totally agree. I just believe this slow transition is the knock on effect that we’re seeing from those days when the browser was synonymous to IE6 and the developers didn’t care about open web standards.

So, we DO need to get the developers of webapps to support the Open Web. The sooner the better. It’s just not always justified to upgrade from a business perspective, which is why I think the transition will be slow.

In a way, I wish there was some deadly virus for IE6, that would force everyone in their right mind to invest in upgrading or switching to another browser :D

Comment by GlenSomerville — July 13, 2009


What’s scarier to me is the 7% or so that “prefer IE6 to other browsers.”

I dont… why? Just why? Is there this many people in our society that are masochistic?

Comment by mdmadph — July 13, 2009

I never understood why these sysadmins don’t install another browser on the side. Ok, I get it that they can’t update IE, due to their archaic intranet apps that will break. But why not install Firefox, Chrome or Safari for regular browsing? It doesn’t cost anything, it doesn’t break anything, so why not? What am I missing?

Comment by LeaVerou — July 13, 2009

My company is one of the unfortunate ones that run IE 6. There’s a legacy application that only runs in there (I believe because of IE 7’s improved security, haha), so back when IE 7 was released they let people know that they should not upgrade if they used the application. Unfortunately, everyone read that to mean “don’t upgrade your browser, period”. So now we’re stuck with everyone still running IE 6. Fortunately though, since I started we’ve made some inroads and it looks like we’ll be able to upgrade everyone to IE 7 by the end of the year — because they upgraded their legacy application to be compatible with IE 7.

Unfortunately though, it doesn’t work with IE 8.

Comment by aarong — July 13, 2009

Aarong is right- it’s not a cultural issue, it’s a problem with legacy software. We’re reaping the aftermath of the browser wars of the early 2000’s, where Microsoft was pushing IE6 as a software development platform. Many large scale enterprise systems (ERP’s like SAP and Oracle) were built using custom ActiveX controls that only really work properly in IE6, and thus every organization using one (Most large scale businesses) is stuck with two bad options: Upgrade their ERP to the tune of millions and millions of dollars, or stay with IE6.

I go into a little more detail on my blog. Warning- shameless self promotion here.

Comment by krotscheck — July 13, 2009

Hail krotscheck. In my experience, most IE6 users are in a corporate environment where they depend on some legacy web application that only works on…..IE6.

I’ve said it before: someone place make Firefox a plug-in for IE6.

Comment by Diodeus — July 13, 2009

It IS a cultural issue. Otherwise, why don’t people in those companies use IE6 for those webapps AND Firefox / Google Chrome for browsing the web?

(Has it been two hours yet?)

Comment by andysky — July 13, 2009

> I never understood why these sysadmins
> don’t install another browser on the side.

Me neither. I guess it’s the “Microsoft is God” mantra.

That’s probably the biggest cultural issue. Even more problematic than the “centralized upgrades” thing I mentioned earlier.

Comment by andysky — July 13, 2009

Cultural Issue #2

Sysadmins, I’m talking to you — by not allowing your users to browse with a modern browser you are exposing your company’s computers to security vulnerabilities.

It is NOT only about shadows, and CSS effects. ;)

You can’t upgrade IE? No problemo. Give them Firefox. Give them Google Chrome.

In fact, if sysadmins would care about security, they would NOT allow their users to browse with IE 6. IE6 would be restricted to those legacy webapps that require it.

Comment by andysky — July 13, 2009

I really like this data because it shows 64% of users cannot update IE6 due to work rights (I worry about the other 36%, but whatever). I know most people’s first thought is to complain about the sysadmins. If you think about it though, most of those 64% of users are not and should not be browsing public sites from work computers anyways, so who cares if the site does not render while they surf at work. If you take IE6’s existing share of 20% and you take 36% of that, you get 7.2% market share. That is almost getting to a point of non-existent. I’m guessing by the end of the year, that 7.2 will be more like 2-5% at which point support can be dropped.

Comment by NicholasHagen — July 13, 2009

I think we’re getting to the point where people who expect the web to work just fine in IE6 are like people who expect Crysis to run on the computer they bought in 2003. They’re setting themselves up for disappointment, so there’s no reason we should feel bad about disappointing them.

Comment by pendensproditor — July 13, 2009

Use Progressive Enhancement.
Designers: Design the page to look the way you want it to look with the knowledge that flexibility to look different in non-standards browsers must exist.

Clients: Understand the limitations and advantages of using a traditional stateless browsing experience for audiences who don’t support stateful browsing.

Developers: Have the knowledge and flexibility to develop an application that meets designer, user, and client needs in both a stateful and stateless request architechture. (Click-Request-Refresh and AJAX/DHTML UIs).

Example: Dynamic Multi-level Rollover Menus Drop-Down Menus. (There are standards compliant and JS enabled solutions for this problem, but IE6 and non JS enabled browsers allow neither).

IE6 Solution not requiring a new layout OR JS: A click of each level will refresh the same page exposing the next level of the menu.

For JS/CSS capable browsers use JS/CSS/DHTML to enhance the user experience. Don’t forget those history inserts.

Example: Rounded-corners.

Use css to style the rounded corners and borders. In browsers where the property is not supported, the boxes will appear square.

Example: :hover psuedo selectors
Use :hover only for eye-candy, not for program function. (NO CSS MENUS/transitions/UI control dependent changes based on :hover)

DONT USE: Horizontal gradients (require fixed widths) or transparent PNG images (proper layout planning can solve this problem most of the time, using css rounded corner, or hsla() colors progressive enhancements the rest of the time, except in the case of drip styles and badges, which could use ugly gifs in IE conditional comments to achieve the desired effects where and alpha PNG images absolutely must be used).

IE8 has a compatibility mode, why shouldn’t our web applications?

Is the compatibility mode as user-friendly? No, it takes more clicks to get what you want to get done as a user. However, making a site accessible to IE6 users is not the same as providing the same experience to IE6 users as they would get in Firefox 3.5 or Chrome. This achieves both objectives: it encourages users to use a good browser when they can (by providing a less-responsive UI) but still allowing an application to work, and allows for rich UIs in good browsers.

Using JS/Ajax/CSS as progressive enhancement will add time to your project, but will allow you to please everybody, instead of limiting yourself to IE6 capabilities and not pleasing clients (who now expect a rich interface), users with good browsers, IE6 users, or users who mistrust JS/AJAX. It also will make your application more robust.

For years the internet revolved around a point-click-request-page refresh model. I see no reason why users who have a sub-par browser should expect a state of the art experience, and no reason for clients, designers and developers to bend over backwards to provide a state of the art experience to users with sub-par browsers.

Give the user what they have the tools to use. If it takes four clicks to achieve the same result in IE6 as three mouseovers and one click in Firefox, or your design has a nifty drop-shadow and eye-pleasing rounded corners in FF and ugly square corners and no drop shadow in IE6, so be it. That’s what their browser supports.

People with non-HD televisions don’t expect to be able to count the blades of grass on the baseball field of the game they are watching. IE6 users shouldn’t expect to be able to do everything browsers developed 5 years after its release into the world can do. Clients, developers, and designers should be happy that an application works for users of old browsers, not worrying about how to make those rounded corner, three-column, fluid-width, hsla() opacity columns all line up on the bottom in all browsers.

Comment by Jaxon — July 13, 2009

The bitter irony of it all at my work is that even though the higher-ups are now aware of the pitfalls (and inevitable extra cost) of developing towards a single browser – they still chose to replace the internally distributed browser IE6 with… IE8… *doh*

The rollout of the newer browser can only be done once all intranet applications have been upgraded to run in IE8 (meaning not necessarily standard-compliant). In the meantime I’m developing apps in FireFox (and Safari/Chrome) because I too am locked to IE6 which won’t be of any help testing/developing… And I’ll have the distinct pleasure of backporting whatever I’ve done that runs smoothly in Firefox to IE8 once it replaces IE6…

I’m really at a loss for words.

Comment by rasmusfl0e — July 13, 2009

Awesome, I’m glad they did this study.

The best part: “Giving them a message saying, ‘Hey! Upgrade!’ in this case is not only pointless; it’s sadistic.”

Comment by WillPeavy — July 13, 2009

Sys-admins will never install two browsers when one will do, and who can blame them? Two browsers means more time spent installing and upgrading. It also gives twice the surface area for potential attack. Sure, modern browsers are more secure than IE6, but they still have security holes, and if you’ve got them and IE6 installed then that’s twice as many security advisories you have to track, and patches you’ve got to apply. Also, whenever someone calls the help-desk with a web related problem, you’ve got to find out what browser they’re using before you can help them.

Comment by Amtiskaw — July 13, 2009

If there is anything I’ve learned from sitting in the System Administrator chair for many a year it’s that when users CAN’T WORK because of decisions made by their IT departments, the IT department gets it’s decisions made for it. Break IE 6 and users will upgrade, period, their IT departments will FORCE them to.

I’m sick of hearing these cute little excuses.

Comment by mojave — July 13, 2009

As for the reason that IT admins don’t have Firefox, Chrome, or Safari alongside IE6 is that they would have to support yet another piece of software. They already have to deal with so much crap from ignorant users that they probably don’t want to add more hassle to their job.

Not saying I’m right, just a thought.

Comment by ajaxery — July 13, 2009

@Amtiskaw – While that may sound completely reasonable, its also wrong. Although the surface area of two applications is higher than one, you forget the benefits of keeping legacy intranet apps separate from general browsing. If the only reason a person uses ie6 is for intranet apps, they won’t be vulnerable to several types of attacks on both the user’s computer, but also the intranet apps. For example, cross-site request forgery is an attack that will only work if a user uses the same browser for both the target and malicious site. Also, assuming that a user only uses ie6 for intranet apps, the major security vulnerabilities from malicious sites can be avoided.

While there may be a cost in maintenance, its just not as clear cut as you suggest.

Comment by genericallyloud — July 13, 2009

I definitely agree with @LeaVerou, @andysky and @genericallyloud … IE6 should be Intranet only, with a more secure primary browser.

I think users are smart enough to handle “Internet” (Firefox) vs. “whatever legacy app” (IE6) in their start menu.

Comment by nathany — July 13, 2009

> F*ck. And whose fault is it? Ours! For keeping our sites supporting IE 6.

Hey, I try, but then a client asks why it doesn’t work in IE6 and I then have to make it work. I’ve got one that uses IE6 exclusively, but they have said that they’re considering upgrading to IE8, which I’m planning a party for the day they do.

Comment by MattCoz — July 13, 2009

Just image if browser vendors turn the update process of their browser into a push service (Like the Google Update Channels). So, everybody always has the newest version. How fast the web could evolve…

well dreaming is allowed :)

Comment by gossi — July 13, 2009

Being a web applications developer for a large corporation and required to still support IE6 in all fairness I think the IE7/IE8 bashing could be toned down. The level of effort to back-port my work to IE7 is about 1/10th of what it takes to support IE6. I’m definately in the “upgrade to ANY modern browser” camp. Though for development you’ll be prying firefox/firebug out of my cold dead hard drive. :-)

Comment by cdc1671 — July 13, 2009

>>F*ck. And whose fault is it? Ours! For keeping our sites supporting IE 6.

What difference does that 17% make when over 60% are on work computers and can’t upgrade? When the 60+% at work don’t have to be on IE6 anymore, we can drop IE6 support and that 17% will come along.

Comment by Nosredna — July 13, 2009

As developers, we should really start charging clients an inordinate amount of money to make their sites IE6 compliant, shouldn’t we? If we’re stuck with this p.o.s. we should capitalize on it!

Comment by mjuhl — July 13, 2009

This is kind of old news. In february a campain to get IE6 users to upgrade startet to run among the largest websites in Norway. Even Microsoft supported the campain (sorry; only in norwegian).

In retrospect we see the number of IE6 users slowly decreasing but we do also see large companies and institutions still not upgrading here in Norway. The largest bluk of compaines / institutions still running IE6 here in Norway can be tracked down to a couple of handfull. The main problem is that upgrading IE6 is not the problem or the cost. The problem and the cost are located to internal systems these companies / institutions use. Mainly intranett systems which are pretty old and use MS propretary features. Upgrading IE6 will force an upgrade of these systems which does cost money. This is the root of the problem :|

Comment by Trygve — July 13, 2009 As some others have said, it looks like IE8 is picking up IE7 users more than it’s picking up IE6 users. Pretty soon we’ll have an IE6/IE8 split. When IE9 comes out, we’ll probably have an IE6/IE9 split.

Comment by Nosredna — July 13, 2009

I am the unfortunate few who has to use ie6 at work. I was so tempted to not look at my last project on ie6, but when I did, I couldn’t resist making changes to get some compatibility issues ironed out. it took me a good 30% of total project time.

Comment by ysharma — July 14, 2009

What we really need is a site-specific browser for ie6. Then users could upgrade to whatever browser they need without screwing up their old intranet apps. We just need something specific for legacy. Kind of like how OSX and now Windows 7 provide a virtualization of the legacy OS they need to support. If people can simultaneously upgrade their technology without losing what they have, they’re more likely to make the switch because it eases transition.

Comment by genericallyloud — July 14, 2009

I have a custom CSS template for IE 6, in fact my new webs use the mobile/handhelds template for IE 6 :) and place an informative box “Please, upgrade your browser to one of this options”. No special effects, no skin, only header images. Every web developer should have a simple standard solution for this issue, no matter which you decide to implement or how small the changes are. Waiting for the users or institutions to upgrade by their own initiative won’t work. WinXP still has a long road ahead.

Comment by megrim — July 14, 2009

Surely, all it takes is for plugin developers (or browser developers) to build support for ActiveX, and create a shim for crappy DOM/Javascript implementations these legacy systems have come to expect of IE6. Then we can all stop having a go at IT departments and drop IE once and for all…

Comment by sixtyseconds — July 14, 2009

There is a simple cause of companies staying on IE6… crappy IE6 based business software.

Company has a huge custom Siebel system they spend boatloads of money on.
Siebel version running only works reliably (cough) on IE6.
Company does not want to spend money/time/downtime upgrading siebel.
Everyone has to keep using IE6… I don’t understand why people only want to use one browser and wont use two browsers, but it happens. I’ve fought the good fight trying to get people drop IE6, but its like pulling teeth.

Personally I’ve quit working around IE6 in my web projects.. if it don’t work for you in IE6… too bad.

Comment by kallisti5 — July 15, 2009

I get the feeling that people don’t actually read comments before repeating the same stuff… -.-

Comment by sixtyseconds — July 16, 2009

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