Browsers – the whys and hows of the IE6 movement

This is a condensed version of an article published on I urge you to read the full article. I just don’t like cross-posting which is why you only get the excerpt here.

Read the original article

How did the IE6 campaign come about?

After finalizing the first version of the WordPress plugin for the 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myriad of tech magazines, broadcasters and others added a warning box in their sites telling IE6 users they were using outdated software that can impede their user experience and put their computers at risk.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 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. 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?

Like I mentioned earlier, Internet Explorer 6 has been a favourite object of hate and ridicule pretty much since it went public in 2001. And for good reason. The browser is a quagmire of web-standards incompliance, buggy JavaScript rendering, security holes and general errors. Which begs the question “If IE6 is so bad, why on earth do people use it at all?” The answer to this question serves to explain both how big the problem really is and why designers and developers are now taking the fight to the streets to get rid of the browser for good.

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.

Meanwhile other browser developers like Mozilla and Opera were hard at work exploiting the hatred and frustration caused by IE6 to get a bigger share of the market. And while Microsoft was hard at work plugging security holes Firefox and Opera introduced a long list of new and exciting features not available in IE6 including tabbed browsing, extensions and true standards based HTML, CSS and JavaScript support.

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…

Because IE6 does not render HTML, CSS and JavaScript like the other browsers and much of the new technologies and innovations we have seen over the last couple of years use precisely these code languages, the web and it’s designers and developers are being pulled in two different directions: Do we hold back on new technologies to accommodate the old browser or do we break free and leave it to drift and sink under it’s own weight? To many the answer is still the former – better to tow the piano for a few more years so as not to lose any of our potential clients – while others are already hacking away at the chain with saws, axes and whatever else they have handy.

And this is where 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.

By Morten Rand-Hendriksen

Morten Rand-Hendriksen is a Senior Staff Instructor at LinkedIn Learning (formerly specializing in AI, bleeding edge web technologies, and the intersection between technology and humanity. He also occasionally teaches at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. He is a popular conference and workshop speaker on all things tech ethics, AI, web technologies, and open source.

6 replies on “ – the whys and hows of the IE6 movement”

You should look into other blogging platforms, wordpress is getting slower and slower these days, I really like the site tho so its worth the wait!!

My experience is quite the opposite: WordPress seems to be soaring over the rest and pushing the old greats out of contention. IMHO “classic” CMSes like Joomla! and Drupal have some stiff competition in the small blogging platform that could.

WordPress is a great blogging platform, but I’d like to add that for sites doing anything more than blogging, Drupal and Joomla will blow it out of the water.

The tabbed box on my Typography theme displays great in IE 6, but now I upgraded to IE8 and the buttons don’t work properly. Sniff. Pulled in too directions.

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