Weblogs: Web Standards

Microsoft's anti-IE6 rhetoric

Friday, March 04, 2011

Microsoft's Internet Explorer team has launched a public campaign to upgrade away from IE6. It's a first for Microsoft, dissing their own product, and a move that's welcomed by web developers. Except it's a charade.

This campaign has no weight, or serious backing from Microsoft. They will quite happily take the money organisations like the UK government are paying them to keep IE6 fully patched and working. No amount of grass-roots developer evangelism is going to surmount the real problems of organisations locked in to IE6.

And the upgrade path to IE8 (the last IE to work on Windows XP, and over 2 years old already), is only a short-lived improvement. There is no support for HTML 5 features, or CSS 3 innovations, or XHTML in IE8, so all we are doing is replacing one non-modern browser with another.

IE6 lock-in

In 2010 the UK government received an online petition signed by over 6,000 people requesting that government departments be encouraged to upgrade away from Internet Explorer 6. This was on the basis of increased security, and promoting innovation.

The government declined, correctly claiming that upgrading from IE6 is a complex and expensive exercise:

It is not straightforward for HMG departments to upgrade IE versions on their systems. Upgrading these systems to IE8 can be a very large operation, taking weeks to test and roll out to all users. To test all the web applications currently used by HMG departments can take months at significant potential cost to the taxpayer. It is therefore more cost effective in many cases to continue to use IE6 and rely on other measures, such as firewalls and malware scanning software, to further protect public sector internet users.

Further more, the government describes a strong partnership with Microsoft to ensure the longevity of Internet Explorer 6:

The Government continues to work with Microsoft and other internet browser suppliers to understand the security of the products used by HMG, including Internet Explorer and we welcome the work that Microsoft are continuing do on delivering security solutions which are deployed as quickly as possible to all Internet Explorer users.

So as far as the Government of the United Kingdom is concerned, Internet Explorer 6 is going to be the preferred browser choice for quite a long time, because:

Microsoft's dilemma

No amount of web developer evangelism, or PR from Microsoft's Internet Explorer product team is going to resolve the lock-in of the UK Government to IE6. There is no visible evidence of actual substance to Microsoft's anti-IE6 campaign.

The current lock-in of Internet Explorer 6 in large organisations and governments isn't one that can be solved by throwing up a new website tracking it's usage. It requires Microsoft to sit down with each of these organisations and draw up a roadmap of getting them safely and cost-effectively off Internet Explorer 6 to something more modern and supported. This means figuring out a cost-effective way to fix the web applications that have been written in an IE6-only way.

A shiny gadgety site with a butt-ugly and inaccessible banner markup isn't tackling the real problem.

If Microsoft are serious about tacking the IE6 problem, then they owe it to us to publicly detail a roadmap of how they are getting large organisations, like the UK government, out of the IE6 lock-in they currently face. Otherwise, this is all blowing smoke.

Web developers beware

I caution web developers supporting this public campaign. As my good friend Steve Webster notes: Microsoft's idea of an upgrade is to IE8, which today has no support for HTML5 or CSS 3 and is already two years behind the current crop of modern web browsers. This isn't a great leap forward.

Web developers, you are being asked to voice your support for Internet Explorer 8. Resist this. Demand an upgrade path to a modern web-browser that's on the road to supporting the parts of HTML5 and CSS 3 other modern browsers support today.

Either Microsoft releases IE9 for Windows XP alongside Vista and Windows 7, or we recommend modern browsers like Firefox, Chrome and Opera. Don't compromise on an already out-of-date IE8.

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