Why Internet Explorer 6 MUST be Supported

Internet ExplorerPardon me as I step upon my soapbox, yet again. While I’ve been preparing several other posts, this topic has reared its ugly head.

Internet Explorer version 6.0 is, has been, and will continue to be the bane of all web designers and web developers for some time to come. Why you ask? Because it’s support for many (not all, read on…) websites is crucial to business. Therefore, it is necessary to continue to design for it. Dropping support for IE6 altogether is not only a disservice to that audience, but a disservice to that business owner, who’s business will be negatively impacted by the decision not to support this browser version.

I’ve had several web designers say that they don’t understand why any web designers still support IE 6.  When faced with that statement, my response normally follows this pattern:

  • The decision to support IE 6 should be based on the metrics/audience of the website in question, not the disdain for the browser itself.
  • The unsupported decision not support a browser/version is a misguided one that can cause negative impact to a business or organization.
  • The decision as to the amount of support should be based on actual, current metrics from analytics software, like Google Analytics.
Browser Stats

Not supporting IE6 for this site would mean losing 372 site visits per month. Is this acceptable for the business or organization? I fear not.

So how to you decide what to do? Use this guidance:

  • Understand the audience for the website first (This should always be the case). If the site already exists, check the metrics around browser usage. If no site currently exists, analyize the potential audience. An older audience is less likely to upgrade compared to a younger audience. Home users with high speed access are more likely to have the latest browsers compared with corporate workers, who depend on IT departments for upgrades.
  • Design an experience, no matter what the browser. You should never shut out a browser/version completely. It’s acceptable to provide a different experience to different browsers/versions, but the content must still be accessible.
  • Make sure your clients understand that the web is different than print, where every printed piece is the same as the next.

Just today, there was a discussion on the Boagworld Podcast #182. (North and South) where Paul & Molly Holzschlag discussed web standards and support for Internet Explorer 6. Molly & Paul made several good points. Below are some fragments from that discussion.

“Bottom line is IE6 is going to be around for a long time. What we’re seeing statistically happen is IE 6 is stable. We’re seeing IE 7 to IE 8 growth. The problem with IE6 is that the IE browsers are tied to the operating system. You can’t go into certain countries, certain environments, school systems, non-profits or agencies that are under funded and expect them to be able to get the advances that come with that browser. When we look at the global world, we see in India, in South Korea where we see this buy-in into ActiveX, and communications issues, so it becomes where a certain country is stuck on a certain platform, a specific browser, and to get around that is going to take years. So again, we have to go for ‘Who’s our Audience?,’ “What’s our environment?,’ our own stats, our own context, what is it showing us, and respond in that context, not just broad. The whole ‘just drop IE6’ support is just a very antithetical move in standards. We have to; part of the challenge is to embrace the fact that ‘Ok, this is a problem, we’ll find solutions,’ like with Dean Edwards work, and with the scripts, and what’s going on with jQuery, or even using methods to get around that. You can provide IE6 users with a simplified stylesheet, not cutting them off completely. Yeah, you might have to make a compromise and use conditional comments, which of course are a Microsoft-centric technology (and there’s a little holy war there), but this is the real world and you have to do what you have to do. So if you have to send IE6 a lesser experience, at least your sending an experience. And your sending what’s most important, which is the content. Of course, the difficult part is explaining to the client why it looks so different in these browsers; some get it, some don’t. And that is a big issue. That is an unsolved area.”



Filed under Web Design

2 responses to “Why Internet Explorer 6 MUST be Supported

  1. Becky

    OK Dennis, I concede this point, we can’t leave a chunk of users in the dust. However,getting things to work in IE6 can take many extra hours – how do we as designers justify and explain the cost involved?

  2. Dennis Deacon

    Becky, I disagree. Try days or months to fix the bugs. 🙂

    Seriously, I despise IE6 like the next person. But there’s no reason to just throw up the hands like I’ve been doing recently. So if something can’t look the same or right, then use conditional comments, a IE-centric solution, to deliver a dumbed-down version. And I personally might make mention just for IE6 users that the information is being displayed more simplistically for an obsolete browser (not sure how far I’d take that, just another mini-rant there.

    A great example of this is Andy Clark’s website, [ http://www.stuffandnonsense.co.uk/ ]. Look at the site in any standards compliant browser, then look at it in IE6. I believe it gives us a glimpse of how to mentally approach these challenges.

    As for the costs involved, I’d state upfront (if you know that the site will require IE6 work due to traffic patterns) that extra work will be necessary to account for this browser.

    I would also say that it is up to us designers to become knowledge experts on IE bugs and how to avoid/resolve them. The challenge is to uncover solutions to unexpected issues as quickly and effectively as possible.

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