Why IE6 Won’t Die

Yesterday at work I ran into a puzzling situation: I discovered that our IE6 conditionals (a PNG fix and some miscellaneous form styling) had unexpectedly stopped rendering. Even though we had made some minor code edits a few days prior, the consensus on the team was that none of the changes should have affected the conditional commenting. However, just to be sure that a character in a script or tag hadn’t mysteriously deleted itself overnight, my colleague spent some time reviewing the code while I repeatedly Googled various phrases on the topic in the hopes of finding a reasonable explanation.

The code ended up checking out clean, and the only explanation I could find was this in a random forum post. Who knew that an XP Security Update would kill the conditional commenting in our stand alone versions of IE6? After a reinstall of Multiple IE’s on my colleague’s machine, our conditionals were back intact. In the meanwhile, our System Administrator had setup a test machine with a native version of IE6 for QA just to be sure we were in the clear—we were.

I’m always curious to know how many different browsers and browser versions designers and developers routinely test their code in. I personally test in Firefox, IE8, IE7, IE6, Safari, Chrome, Opera and Netscape (don’t ask me why—it’s just old school habit.) According to W3Schools, I’m at least hitting all the big players with my routine list:

browserstats

What blows me away about the statistics over the course of the past year is the supposed percentage of users (and I say supposed because I’m not implying that that these stats from W3Schools should be taken as gospel, as there are certainly other factors to consider) still browsing on IE6. So even though I’m super ecstatic to see IE6 dying with a slight drop in the percentage of users each month, I think its death will be a slow, continual process for at least another couple of years. Why? Because IE6 is the standard browser of Windows XP—still the most widely used operating system—and corporate IT departments don’t want to go through the hassle (or cost in man hours) of upgrading a thousand browsers at a time.

Although I hate to admit it, it does make sense—other than the fact that IE6 is ridden with security holes. But I’m sure the IT departments have that under control. As for the home users still browsing on IE6? Probably just plain ignorance or fear of change.

And since the push for the death of IE6 is so widely discussed online, it was only a matter of time before the “conspiracy theorists by night / developers by day” threw in their two cents on the matter. With the public announcements of dropped or dwindling support for IE6 from social networks and online services such as Digg, YouTube, 37Signals, Facebook and many others, some theorize that corporations are withholding the upgrade so that employees can’t visit their favorite social networking sites during working hours. Hmm…I’m not so sure I buy into this one since there are more efficient ways of blocking online socialization during work hours—but good try!

The bottom line is that until Google drops support for IE6 (now there’s an idea!), developers will just have to deal with the level of inefficiency IE6 brings to our development projects and do our best to enjoy its puzzles of inconsistency. Or, don’t develop for IE6 and risk losing visitors to yours or your client websites—it’s your choice! But every developer knows that there are ways around (think PNG fix and conditionals) for the most obvious inconsistencies—they just take a little extra time to implement.