How did the IE6 campaign come about?
After finalizing the first version of the WordPress plugin for the StopLivingInThePast.com campaign and receiving more than 25,000 views in the last three days I figured it’s about time I sit down and write up a comprehensive article about what this is all about and why it is so important that you join the movement and help phase out Internet Explorer 6 forever.
Last week a group of large and wide-read sites in Norway including almost every major newspaper in the country along with a myriad of tech magazines, broadcasters and others added a warning box in their sites telling IE6 users they were using outdated software that can impede their user experience and put their computers at risk.
Seeing an opportunity to transplant the campaign to North America and especially within the WordPress blogging community I created StopLivingInThePast.com last Saturday. The project has actually been a sketch in my notebook since late 2007 but I could never find the right time to launch it. That is until now.
StopLivingInThePast.com is by far the only IE6 site and I do not claim ownership of the campaign. In actuality there are a myriad of old and new sites popping up that all convey pretty much the same message: Phase out IE6 now and go enjoy the web.
Why should I care?
Let me split the question in half and answer each in turn:
Why is IE6 so bad?
When you design a web site or application you have to have the end user in mind. And the way the end user accesses your sites and applications is through a web browser. Since there are many different web browsers available it is important that there is one true standard to which they all adhere so that a web site or application looks the same regardless of what browser or platform the visitor uses. To this end the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has published a set of rules known as Web Standards that spell out in more or less certain terms how different code elements should be used and what they should look like. And for the most part browsers follow these rules – some more strictly than others. I say “most” because there is a glaring exception: Internet Explorer 6.
Whatever the reason, the strategy of having a non-compliant browser backfired and lead to an uproar in the web design and development community and the implementation of so-called “IE hacks“: Because IE6 didn’t play nice with web standards, the people that build web sites started designing based on web standards and then added a bunch of extra code to force IE6 to comply. But although this strategy worked it was both cumbersome and clumsy and lead to sites being horribly bloated and slow.
Then in 2006 Microsoft released Internet Explorer 7 – a much improved browser that not only stayed truer to web standards but also included much needed user conveniences like the now hugely popular tabs and integrated search.
Why do people still use IE6?
First off, because of all the thousands of security warnings and updates people had gotten with IE6 a large group of users were under the impression that if they now upgraded to a new browser the whole game would start over. And with that rationale as their modus operandi thousands upon thousands of end users declined the update to IE7 and stuck with what they perceived as a tried and trusted.
Secondly because IE6 had such a long run and such a large market share, a huge percentage of sites and applications on the web and in intranets around the world were designed to run properly only in the strange world of IE6 code interpretation. And when they upgraded their computers to IE7, their huge and costly applications no longer worked the way they were supposed to. So rather than upgrading and subsequently having to redesign and redevelop applications that until then had worked just fine these corporations bit the bullet and decided to stick with IE6 in spite of its flaws.
Finally a small percentage of users were still on older systems that either ran operating systems that didn’t support IE7 or didn’t have enough computing power to run the browser properly.
Whatever the reason for not upgrading, the group of IE6 users even to this day is slow to decline and is currently estimated to be between 25% and 30% of the total population of internet users.
So it’s a lost cause then…
And this is where StopLivingInThePast.com and the many other IE6 campaigns come in. More and more designers and developers are looking to move the web forward without leaving anyone behind and to do so they are including warnings in their sites telling those visitors still using the old and outdated browser that now is the time to stop living in the past and upgrade to a newer and better browser. In some ways it is self-serving – getting rid of IE6 for good will make life easier for those of us that design web sites and applications for a living – and in others it is an effort to elevate the overall usability and enjoyment of the web for the masses. I can only speak for myself here but I actuall feel bad for those users who are still stuck with Internet Explorer 6. Because not only will upgrading their browser make them safer from security intrusions, viruses and other nasty stuff, but they will have a much better experience surfing the web.
So what do we do?
In a word: Upgrade. Upgrade your own computer, upgrade your mom’s computer, your neighbour’s computer, talk to your IT people at work and ask them to upgrade and tell all your friends to do the same. And if for some reason they cannot or will not upgrade to the latest version of Internet Explorer, ask them to get one of the many other browsers available and stop using IE6. If you have a web site, add the warning code from this site to your own. If you run a WordPress blog or site you can install the Stop Living in the Past WordPress plugin that will do all the work for you. And again, ask all your friends, relatives, neighbours and even your company to do the same. I have no doubt that if enough people get on board this campaign and enough sites feature the friendly alert to finally upgrade from this archaic browser we can actually look forward to a future where IE6 usage is down to a one-digit percentage and we can finally leave the old and bloated code to rest for good.