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.
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?