Dave Woods - Freelance Web Design Warwickshire

Should Web Designers Drop IE6 Support?

IE6 was released in August 2001 but despite being nearly nine years old, it is still the most common problem that web designers have when building a website. Is it finally time to drop support for the browser that is almost an antique in technology years? Sadly the answer isn’t quite black and white.

Some designers have argued that IE6 is such an old browser now that we should drop support for it and completely disregard any testing or bug fixing to ensure that IE6 users are actually able to use the website. These designers have taken the assumption that if the page doesn’t display correctly then they’ll automatically realise that they need to upgrade and will happily start using IE8, Firefox or Google Chrome.

In an ideal world this would be the solution and we could all go on creating websites without bug fixing for IE6 and start using HTML5 and CSS3 without considering older browsers but sadly this isn’t the case and probably never will be.

Can we force people to upgrade?

Some designers have suggested that a message could be placed on the site which informs users that they need to upgrade in order to use the site but as this video shows, many people don’t even know what a web browser is and presumably see the “e” icon on their desktop as the internet.

If you run a site like Google, Facebook, Ebay or Youtube then you might get away with this kind of strategy but if you’re not lucky enough to be in this position then all you’ll end up doing is sending these users to your competition who have taken the time to fully support IE6.

Why are people still using IE6?

There’s a couple of reasons why people are still using IE6. The first is that people who bought PC’s and laptops until 2007 would have already had IE6 installed on their machine with Windows XP and as they don’t know any better will keep using it until they upgrade their PC which will presumably come with Windows 7 and IE8.

The other set of people are employees of corporate companies who don’t have the opportunity to choose what software they use while they’re at work. These companies control the software on a network level and force their employees to use IE6, usually because they know that their internal applications will continue to work whereas there’s an element of risk in them using more modern browsers especially when their applications have been built without web standards in mind and in some cases predate IE6.

How many people use IE6?

This is the question that doesn’t quite have a black and white answer as the number of IE6 users in the world is actually irrelevant when it comes to building websites. What does matter though is how many people are visiting your website using IE6.

You’ll tend to find that technology based websites have a lot less IE6 users than more mainstream websites. For example, this website has around 2% of visitors using IE6 whereas most of my other websites which are targeted at none technical people receive around 5%.

If your website is targeted at a non-technical audience or corporate employees then you’ll probably find that this number is even higher so the number of visitors to your website using IE6 is probably somewhere within the region of 1%-10%. This is why it’s important to use an analytics package like Google Analytics so that you understand your audience.

Should you still be supporting IE6?

As frustrating as it is, in my personal opinion web designers should still be supporting IE6 while the number of visitors is substantial.

I also take the attitude that even though your client may not know about IE6, what happens when they proudly show one of their relatives their new website only to find out it appears broken to them? Where does this leave your reputation?

How do you build a website for IE6?

Once you get used to catering for IE6 then it really doesn’t take all that much longer to ensure that a website works in IE6. It can be troublesome at times but once you understand IE6’s bugs and fixes then you can implement the most common fixes as you’re working.

I’m also a fan of Progressive enhancement so as long as the site is usable and content doesn’t appear out of place in IE6 then I wouldn’t worry too much about the site being pixel perfect as long as it is accessible and usable then you’ve achieved your objective.

Summary

A lot of designers in the community have already dropped support for IE6 and are refusing to develop for the old browser but personally I think it’s too early and a little irresponsible to disregard it completely without even considering the target audience of a website.

If a web designer doesn’t have any idea how many people will be visiting a website using IE6 how is it possible that they can blindly decide that they won’t support it? If there is evidence that by dropping support for IE6 that your client won’t lose business then that is perfectly acceptable but if that’s not the case then I’d always suggest supporting IE6.

What do you think? Are you still supporting IE6 when building websites or has the time come that you no longer even bother to test how your pages render in Internet Explorer 6 and if so why?

17 comments on “Should Web Designers Drop IE6 Support?

  1. Techwatch

    This is a never ending problem as the different browsers are brought in, of course this one has been so long in the making that huge numbers of people are still making use of it

  2. Brody

    The Senior IT guy at my workplace laughed when I asked him if he could set up a VMware Fusion partition on my computer with IE6 to test our new Drupal site. “IE6? No one uses that anymore.” Then he gave me some talk about how IE6 has huge security problems and most people should have already “upgraded” to IE7. I thought about that for a bit then agreed that IE6 belongs in the past. Developing in a local environment with MAMP, I didn’t really know what else I could do to test my site in IE6. I pulled my hair out enough with IE7 that letting go of IE6 was easy enough for me, there’s enough on my plate already without having to cater to some senile old browser.

    I feel like IE6 is a sick old dog clawing at the door and you just have to ignore it. Of course there are some people that don’t know any better and will let him in a feed him.

  3. gorkreg

    I always test my sites in IE6 and I think that, as sad as it its, we should continue supporting it until it finally dies. And that, unfortunately hasn’t happened yet.
    The rest is just pure arrogancy by web designers.

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  5. Dave Woods Post author

    @Brody – I use VirtualBox with an XP install to test IE6, it doesn’t take that long to support so I see no reason not to. If you’re on Windows 7 professional you can also install this http://www.microsoft.com/windows/virtual-pc/
    It can be a little bit of a pain but just ensuring that things at least work in IE6 should be on a list of things to do before a site goes live. I’ve worked with a few huge corporate clients who’s employees are all still forced to use IE6 so it is a problem that won’t go away and I do think that unless you know the stats regarding IE6 usage for a site then simply disregarding these users without knowing is a dangerous game.

    You wouldn’t build a physical shop with no disabled access ramps and later find out that 20% of your customers were using wheel chairs so I don’t see why the web should be any different.

    @gorkreg – I completely agree, users are the customer after all and if only a couple of those are IE6 users and turn out to be big customers then it’s a missed opportunity by not supporting IE6.

  6. London Web Designer Evan Skuthorpe

    This is something I’m considering at the moment. I’ve always been of the train of thought that yes, I should support IE6 in site builds but I’m now considering dropping support, unless clients, upon explanation of my reasoning, still insist on it.

    If Microsoft themselves are dropping support and the big boys on the net like google stop their support then I am keen to help ‘force’ the market to more modern browsers…

  7. Dave Woods Post author

    @Evan, but if you don’t consider how many of their users are using IE6 then are you really providing them with a good service?

  8. Johny Favourite

    Not been here for a while Dave…..

    Basically I’m so close to using a universal ie6 style sheet and basically dropping all style for the browser. I could never do this in my day job or many client projects but for my own stuff that’s what I want to do. I’ve not yet.

    I basically make sure the site works in ie6. So I fix the double floats and stuff like that and if it looks vaguely like my site in more advanced browsers and it works then I’m satisfied.

    I hate it though. 9 years old? It’s a disgrace. And yes I know that some people can’t upgrade.

    I kind of think of it like televisions. People did have black and white TVs and they didn’t have to upgrade. It’s worth it when they do though.

  9. London Web Designer Evan Skuthorpe

    @dave – all in all, it’s a tough decision to make and you have to take many things into account. I would push for dropping IE6 support regardless but if a sizeable percentage of of users are still on IE6 then yes I’d include it in the site build.

    Personally, I see the biggest barrier being IT departments all over the world not upgrading through an outrageous ignorance of browsers and the web.

  10. Jack

    if the site doesn’t look good in IE 6, it’s not the designer’s problem. The user needs to upgrade!

    It’s not the website that is broken…. it’s the browser

  11. Jill

    From the business owner’s perspective, the argument is simple: If a sale is coming from a web user on IE-6, it is no different from another web user on Kick-Ass-Browser-X. It is revenue that the business cannot afford to and, certainly does not wish to ignore.

    From the point of view of web application developers, it is beyond painful. It is a road littered with agony, despair, frustration and the occasional broken LCD.

    I think Dave explained it best — at the end of the day, it’s not about how many are using IE-6, it’s how many of YOUR visitors are on it and can you ignore their business?

  12. David

    I’ve taken the decision to drop IE6 support. The time needed to support it vs the number of people actively using the browser no longer add up in my opinion. I always tell the client about it, and offer them the option of paying a small extra cost to add support.

    If they don’t, I give IE6 a separate style sheet which blanks the site, and with mootools, inject a message telling people why the site no longer supports IE6, leaving links and instructions on how to update their browser. I also incorporate full support for Googles Chrome frame, and include instructions on how to enable it in my IE6 message.

    I firmly believe that we’re responsible for ensuring that the user has a seamless web experience, regardless of the browser, screen resolution or OS they’re using, but I think IE6 has reached the tipping point, where it’s no longer reasonable for web designers to spend time catering to the outdated abilities of IE6. Pushing people to upgrade will not only make the job of web designers easier (allowing us to focus on more cool new features rather than endless bug fixes), but will improve the internet experience of those who do upgrade, and Google frame caters to most people who are bound by the companies they work for to continue using IE6.

  13. SooziKy

    We continue to support IE6 because it’s our client’s reputation or our reputation that’s on the line if a website we’ve built “breaks”. IE6 users won’t blame their browser version for any problems they encounter.

    It’s frustrating to have to fix for IE6 but once you’ve done a few you know what to look for so creating an IE6 specific stylesheet isn’t that hard or time consuming. Our users get virtually the same experience whichever browser they use and I can sleep at night.

    Here’s what else we do: The first time they visit using IE6 we deliver a friendly message that lets them know they might get a better experience if they are able to upgrade (with links to all the current browsers) – but it also says that if they can’t upgrade or don’t want to, they can simply close the message and we won’t show it again.

    Even if just a few people upgrade, we’ll be one step closer to being able to say goodbye to IE6 forever.

  14. Peter Fisher

    No I dont think we should force people off of IE6. Instead I think we should educate them on the advantages of upgrading.
    The best way is to use browser detection scripts that will alert the user that they are using a legacy browser.

    I think the time has come to stop designing with IE6 in mind and educate people to update their software.

    Currently 8% of browser traffic is over IE6.
    I’ve also made a plea for people to stop using the legacy browser on my blog http://blog.peterfisher.me.uk/2011/11/01/for-petes-sake-stop-using-ie6/

  15. Jay

    IE6 was released in 2001… 11 years ago… The browser is dated and lacks support for A LOT of features that have been around for the past decade. There is absolutely no reason to design FOR ie6. Design for your modern browsers and just make sure an IE 6 user can navigate through the site.

    One of my computers here has IE6. And practically every website I go to there are glitches and/or messages telling me to upgrade. Trust me…it’s nothing new to an IE 6 user. Let’s not go back in time.. Let’s go forward and make a better internet.

  16. Dave Woods Post author

    Hi Jay,

    I completely agree now. This article is two years old and at the time IE6 numbers were dwindling but still had a big enough share of the market that I personally felt that it needed to be considered. Maybe not for all projects but it at least needed to be a consideration as to what the user base of the site would be.

    Nowadays, I’d tend to agree that IE6 is no longer a requirement and I could probably change all the references in here from IE6 to IE7 and it would be more relevant 🙂