Browser Compatibility and the Death of IE6

5th January 2012

Yesterday, Microsoft announced that Internet Explorer 6 usage in the US had finally fallen below 1%. They celebrated, I celebrated, and I’m pretty sure other developers around the world were celebrating. Why? Because more than 10 years on from it’s original release, IE6 has become a real pain in the neck for us. I found this great illustration by John Martz which sums the feeling up quite well:

IE6 Cartoon

All browsers render elements on a web page differently, which means that when you’re designing and building a website you have to be savvy to the alternate ways the code you produce may be interpreted on a users screen. It is our cross to bear, to some extent, for having free choice rather than a Microsoft monopoly.

That being said, the majority of modern browsers (including Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari) at least adhere to common web standards, making the job of cross browser testing a necessary but relatively quick and easy task. Internet Explorer 6, however, provides significant headaches. The two biggest limitations that I have come across are:

  1. IE6 does not fully nor properly support CSS Version 2. Regularly I have seen layouts which render perfectly in every other browser go completely haywire in IE6.
  2. IE6 does not support alpha transparency in PNG images. Instead, you get a horrible grey background colour.

Considering how web browsing and internet use have changed since IE6 was released back in 2001, the news that it’s usage is finally petering out doesn’t come as a shock. The only real surprise is that it clung on so long, although this probably has something to do with the fact it was the default browser shipped with Windows XP. As a result, Microsoft have agreed to continue its support until Windows XP SP3 support is withdrawn in 201, whilst encouraging users to make the leap up to IE9 as soon as possible.

Does this mean we should keep supporting it ourselves in future website designs and upgrades? I would suggest looking at Analytics data to establish how many of your visitors are using IE6 to navigate your website before making any decisions. Some larger sites have already made public decisions, including the withdrawal of IE6 support for Facebook chat, and the withdrawal of IE6 support by YouTube and other Google owned companies, but if you currently still have a significant number of IE6 hits you may want to tread carefully.

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