Saturday 17 October 2009

We Don’t Use IE6 Out of Choice

Whilst on site the other day I found myself wanting to check out the NHibernate Profiler website. When I arrived at the homepage I was greeted with a modal iframe that pointed out that I was using that old legacy browser we all love to hate – Internet Explorer 6.

This distraction is nothing new, many popular sites such as Twitter also display a little message that points out the error of your ways, but what really raised my ire was the approach NHProf has taken. Instead of just warning you that your browsing experience is likely to be sub-optimal due to your choice of browser they instead hide the site behind a semi-transparent modal iframe that just includes links to download more modern browsers such as Firefox or Chrome. Nowhere was there an option to allow me to accept the consequences and soldier on, knowing full well that content may be all over the place or unreadable due to poor image handling.

When implementing this behaviour did it ever occur to the developers that I might not be using IE6 out of personal choice? Or that upgrading my browser at that moment in time might be incredibly inconvenient?

There is a very good reason why Internet Explorer 6 is still popular among the development community and it has absolutely nothing to do with laziness or some twisted superiority complex – it's Corporate Policy. Large corporations are incredibly conservative when it comes to upgrading major software components like the OS, browser or office suite. This is likely supplemented by a very strict policy controlling what additional software can be installed to reduce the possibility of conflicts. They often have a significant number of line-of-business (LOB) applications that have been developed in house that could potentially break if one of these elements is changed – a move that could cause them significant financial loss. I know of one major financial institution that didn't start rolling out Windows XP on the desktop until 2007 at which point XP was close to entering what MS calls Extended Support. The remediation process was lengthy, tiresome and provided no added value to the business.

I completely understand that website development is hard enough given that you have to test with IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera etc and adding support for a badly broken browser like IE6 into the mix adds significant cost – especially for a non-commercial venture. But I'm suggesting they do. I just want you to recognise that we're not all in the privileged position of being able to treat our machines as we please. Some of us have to put up with our desktops, CD drives and USB ports being locked down tighter than Fort Knox.

Trust me, no one would still be using IE6, if they (or even Microsoft) had a say in the matter…

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