Many things live on past their use-by date, but few have shown the zombie-like tenacity of IE6. It has remained animated, chewing on our brains long after it should have stopped twitching.

We've all felt the pain of building for IE6 alongside modern browsers. So, it's glorious to be able to say this - 2009 is the year we get rid of IE6. Say it with me, people!

We know it's the right decision. IE6 is obsolete, insecure and takes a disproportionate amount of developer time. It doesn't make any sense to support IE6 when times are tough and budgets are short.

No more waiting. I can feel it in the very bones of this industry - can't you?

It's not just funny slogans and therapeutic IE6 hate sites, either. We're talking about the reality of how we actually get this browser off our support lists.

why now?

IE6 is long overdue for the chop, but the release of IE8 was the last piece of the puzzle.

IE7 wasn't it - there were too many locked down corporate environments, too many intranets that only work in IE6. Too many corporate policies about running one version behind the latest, for reasons like stability and cost.

IE6 has hung on, retaining a truly astounding market share - even now it hangs on to roughly 18% depending on your source. Much as we hate building for it, we had to accept that people were using it.

But now, IE8 is out. That puts IE6 two entire versions behind; and companies with IE6-only services have had two years to prepare for the inevitable. Microsoft's recommendation is to upgrade:

Customers who have applications for Internet Explorer 6 should visit for the latest guidance on migrating from Internet Explorer 6 to Internet Explorer 7 and Internet Explorer 8.

Internet Explorer 8 Business FAQ (PDF)

IE6 is just too old and outdated to be part of a responsible corporate operating environment. Similarly, home users with IE6 should upgrade to something more secure even if they don't care about the new features. There just aren't any good arguments for keeping IE6.

just how old is ie6, again?

IE6 was released in August 2001. Its competitors were Netscape 6 and Opera 6. Firefox and Safari weren't even out when IE6 was released.

IE6 is older than iPods, Canon dSLRs and BlackBerry smartphones (the Sony-Ericsson P800 was the hot smartphone at the time). It's older than MySpace and YouTube. Web 2.0 wasn't even a buzzword yet...

We are talking about a browser that simply wasn't designed for the modern web. IE sat stagnant for more than five years while other browsers improved standards compliance, speed, security and features.

The real kicker is that since Microsoft was shocked back into IE development, they have released two major versions of the product. They make no bones about whether IE6 should still be in use:

Internet Explorer 6 was designed for the Web as it was in 2001. In the last 8 years the Web has changed and evolved. ... Internet Explorer 8 provides the latest features to help users get work done more quickly, and browse the Web more safely and more reliably.

Internet Explorer 8 Business FAQ (PDF)

That's about as blunt as corporations get about their own product. Microsoft can't really push much harder - it's stuck with a long support plan for IE6 because it came bundled with several operating systems.

What this all means it that we should switch from "waiting for IE6 to go away" mode, to "giving it a push out the door" mode.

options for "not supporting" ie6

So what does it actually mean to "not support" IE6?

Unlike other decrepit browsers, IE6 is still clinging to a market share large enough that few sites can dismiss it outright. For some lucky sites the share is low enough to aggressively push it out, but for the rest of us we need some interim options.

In the world of graded browser support, IE6 still manages to be its own category.

So, here are some options:

  1. No change: continue full support. If you are stuck with this, make sure your timelines and maintenance budget are increased - the site owner needs to be aware of the costs.
  2. Reduced bugfixing: aim for full support, but when you hit an IE6 bug you fix it the simplest way. That usually means IE6 will look a bit different - a few px here and there - but you can save days of development time.
  3. Progressive enhancement: use advanced CSS and provide a premium experience for better browsers. So what if IE6 gets square corners instead of round ones, or loses a text shadow? It doesn't matter so long as the site is still functional in IE6.
  4. Soft push: keep supporting IE6, but show a low-key message on your site encouraging people to upgrade (or contact their IT department requesting an upgrade).
  5. Aggressive push: actively tell your users not to use IE6; stop serving stylesheets to IE6; etc. Some high-profile sites like Facebook are going down this path, but right now it's not a viable option for all sites.

Chances are that your roadmap will move through these phases, for example a combination of reduced bugfixing and progressive enhancement is likely to fit a lot of mainstream sites.

arguments and questions

If you take this issue to your boss, or to your clients, it's not hard to anticipate a few questions coming up...

Don't you support other older browsers?
Not two entire versions behind and not when the browser in question can take as long to support as all the others put together.
Don't we just have a percentage threshold for browser support? Don't we have to wait for IE6's share to drop to nothing?
Browser support really isn't quite that simple. In any case IE6 has an artificially inflated share, despite being the worst browser on the market. It has to be pushed out.
I can't just take your word that IE6 is bad...
Ok... Microsoft evangelists recommend upgrading and Gartner strongly recommend you upgrade or switch if you're still on IE6. Does that help?
Surely bugfixing isn't that big a deal?
IE6 is so outdated "bugfixing" means "build and maintain a parallel code base". If we're going to that much effort, maybe we should invest in a purpose-built mobile site instead? Or free up some time for R&D? Or just simply drop IE6 and save some money?
It's your job to build the website, just get on with it.
It's also our job to advise the business when it's making an expensive and risky decision. It is bad for business to support this browser.
Can't I simply expect you to build for it, like last time?
Not any more. Now that we have to support IE8, IE6 is outside the reasonable boundaries of assumed support. IE6 support is now outside scope, unless you pay for it.
Don't your estimates cover it?
The market has now changed and estimates need to be revised accordingly.
We only have IE6, since our intranet only works in IE6.
That's a very risky dependency. However it should not dictate the support standard for your public website, which is frequented by people who don't use your intranet.
As far as intranets go... IE7 has been out for more than two years; and Microsoft has released two entire rounds of "readiness kits" to help update IE6-only services. At this point, maybe you should consider using Virtual PC for your IE6-only application (it's free); and upgrade workstation browsers to something better.
If you're really stuck with IE6, you can also roll out an additional browser on your system; giving users a modern, secure browser like Opera, Firefox, Chrome or Safari for general web use. You do not have to live with just one browser.
But... IE6 looks different... DIFFERENT I TELL YOU!
Unless you have a contractual obligation to make IE6 pixel-perfect, that really doesn't matter. Let the web be the web.

last thoughts

Most browsers don't need this kind of attention at the end of their lives. Most die out pretty fast when the new version comes out. IE6 is an aberration, an accident of history.

If Microsoft hadn't sat on IE6 for so long, perhaps we wouldn't have got so many web and application developers who started treating it like a stable release environment. Maybe if Microsoft had pushed IE7 a bit harder it would have taken more market share. Who knows.

The reality we have right now is that the industry is being held back by a crappy browser that even the vendor wants to see gone. Although we would normally keep supporting a browser to its natural death, IE6 has stubbornly refused to die.

The industry has to take control and say enough is enough. It's bad for innovation, it's bad for our sanity, it's bad for security, it's bad for everyone's bottom line. IE6 has to go. The time has come.

Say it again: 2009 is the year we get rid of IE6!