Nik's Technology Blog

Travels through programming, networks, and computers

IE6 – Why Web Developers Should Support the Browser

There seems to be so much fuss surrounding support for aging Microsoft browser Internet Explorer 6 lately, both from the web developer community and big corporations such as Google and Facebook. There are many websites dedicated to eradicating the browser, a Twitter petition, a joke campaign to save IE6 and a whole lot more…

While I don’t particularly enjoy spending a considerable amount of time per project making sure websites I build are IE6 compatible, I do see the benefit of supporting the browser.

I was in Google Analytics recently and looked at my browser statistics for this site.  Visitors to my site are fairly IT literate but Internet Explorer 6 still has a larger user base than Safari, Chrome and Opera with almost 9% share. Looking on the W3C Schools browser statistics, 12.1% of their users browsed the web with IE6 in September 2009.

NikMakris.com Web browser market share Sept 2009

Web browser market share

NikMakris.com Internet Explorer browser share Sept 2009

Internet Explorer browser versions

I could make the decision not to support IE6 for my personal site and about 9% of my visitors would be affected, but if I made that decision on a commercial website, I could end up losing out on business, especially since many of the people still actively using IE6 are businesses or public sector organisations who can’t easily upgrade or install an alternative web browser.
Many organisations also have legacy applications that do not work with new versions of Internet Explorer and during a recession many organisations will avoid spending money on upgrades and new software if they can afford not to.

Whilst it might be okay for Google and Facebook to block support for the browser when you visit their own web properties, would a client of yours be happy if you did the same with a website you built, potentially losing them business?

Internet Explorer 6 may be a dog of a browser in 2009, if you’re a web developer it probably causes you hours of pain creating dedicated style sheets and conditional statements.  You may even have had to make major template changes to deal with the many quirks of the browser rendering engine, but hopefully in the not too distant future it will become such a small percentage of the web browser market that we can all forget about it and start concentrating on new technologies such as HTML 5!

Web Browsers For Web Developers

A couple of years after the release of Internet Explorer (IE) version 6 and it's starting to feel dated. The competition (Mozilla, Opera, Safari) have superceded any advantage IE had over them with features such as tabbed browsing, pop-up blocking and built in multi-search toolbars. Microsoft's announcement of future revisions being shelved is another nail in the coffin for IE.

XP Service Pack 2 recently introduced a much-needed pop-up blocker for Windows XP users but I don't think this can save IE.

Mozilla's Firefox is gaining ground fast and I'm one of it's avid users. It's fast to load, has tabbed browsing (so you can avoid having 15 IE windows open at once), it's skinable and has a built in RSS reader and the best thing is it's FREE!

What's more it's open source meaning anyone can help in making it better.

What more could you want from your browser?

http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox/

Browsers in BT Internet kiosk phone boxes

While walking past a BT Broadband Internet kiosk I was intrigued to find out what browsers they used. This is useful if you are a web developer, since you want to make sure websites you design work on as many platforms as possible.

After surfing to nikmakris.com and navigating with the TAB key (since the tracker ball wasn't working) I was pleasantly surprised on the speed and usability.

I guessed that they were using a form of Internet Explorer, partly because I know what my site looks like on IE compared to Mozilla and Netscape etc.

On checking my web logs I confirmed my earlier suspicion that BT Broadband phone boxes use IE. In fact they use Internet Explorer 6 on a Windows NT 5.1 platform, (which I believe is Windows XP) they have Javascript enabled and except cookies and with screens of resolution 800x600 and a colour depth of 16, they are more than capable of viewing most sites.

HTML Tabindex

Tabindex is very useful when designing large forms as it dictates what element the tab key jumps to next. Only works in IE. Tabindex of -1 is ignored. Tabindex's of 0 come after the highest tabindex.