Supporting IE6 (or not) is not about you!
IE6 is an outdated, non-standards compliant, and unsecure browser that is the bane of web designers and developers lives.
Spurred on by campaigns like .net’s “Bring Down IE6”, many website builders now do not support IE6, but the problem is that deciding to support IE6, or not, should not be about the designer/developer, or even the client, but about the end user.
IE 6 Usage
There seems to generally be a view that the majority of IE6 users are businesses who, fearful of the costs of upgrading in-house software, are resistant to upgrading their browsers. Whilst this may be true to an extent (an IT company I do a lot of work for has only, in the last six months, upgraded to IE8), this is not the user based I am concerned about.
I am more concerned by non-technical users – people who have old computers, do not know what a browser is, and only accesses the internet to find vital information.
Let me give you some examples. Here is the IE6 usage for a variety of sites I manage, across the last month and last year (if sufficient information is available).
|Type of Site||% IE6 Usage Last Month||% IE6 Usage Last Year|
|Sites targeting university students||< 1%||1%|
|Sites targeting businesses||3%||6%|
|Sites targeting range of users||8%||8%|
|Sites targeting less well off users (e.g. Housing Associations)||12%||14%|
Should you really be penalising these non-technical users (over 1 in 10 people in some cases) by not supporting IE6 for certain sites?
I have always viewed “accessibility” as being more than just disabilities. It is about ensuring that the vast majority of your users can access your content – however they choose!
Considering that these low-technical users potentially do not understand what a browser is (it is just a button to get the internet), nor have any concerns over security, is it right to try and convince them to upgrade, rather than providing them with a passable browsing experience?
What is support for IE6?
By “supporting IE6” – I do not mean that IE6 should look and function identical to other browsers (although as @iDazz says – some clients do not get that principle!). I am a big believer in the idea of progressive enhancement – basically you start with the basics that all browsers support, and you then add additional features that only certain browsers support – ultimately your content is accessible to old browsers (and also screen readers and search engines), but modern browsers get to see all the extra bells and whistles.
(* unless your site is very script dependant – like You Tube, Facebook etc.)
To quote from my web development contract (which was borrowed from a blog post I have since lost):
We will test all our markup and CSS in current versions of all major browsers including those made by Apple, Microsoft, Mozilla, Google and Opera. We will also test to ensure that pages will display visually in a ‘similar’, albeit not necessarily an identical way, in Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 for Windows as this browser is now past it’s sell-by date.
Getting the message across
Don’t get me wrong though, there is still a good case to let users know that their lives could be better upgrading.
For sites targeting a range of users – I will consider including a nagging message that the user’s browser experience and security could be improved by upgrading – including links to the major browsers. However I will not include these messages for sites where I expect a low-tech knowledge base – I just do not think it will do any good and is a barrier to accessing the content.
You need to consider a website’s audience, before deciding whether to support IE6 or not. For some sites, which are aimed at a tech-savy, gadget based, audience (like Google Reader, Basecamp etc.) – then supporting IE6 is less important. However there are a lot of people out there who not only know no better, but do not understand what they are doing wrong – it is bad practice to penalise them for the sake of saving an hour or so ensuring your site works sufficient in IE6.