You can't kill IE6

There’s been a massive upswelling of support for eliminating Internet Explorer 6 (IE6), the much-maligned former-heavyweight and former-saviour of the world that now lies as one of the worst pieces of web browsing software in common use. It started more grass roots, but now includes such fan-favourites as YouTube, Digg, and a whack of other Web 2.0 firms.

The hope, particularly around the web development world, is that this upswelling will finally put nails in the coffin of IE6 and eliminate the bugger from the software world, thus heralding in a new era of (near-)web standards.

There’s only one problem: Web 2.0 companies don’t mean jack to Corporate America.

Here’s the sad and very-painful reality. Only about 25% of IE6 users can change. The remaining 75% of users — let’s say, about 10% of the entire browser market (yes, I know numbers vary wildly) — can’t. Why? Because corporate IT won’t let them. And frankly, as a corporate IT person myself, I can relate. Telling them that you can’t see your favourite social networking site garners no sympathy, ‘cuz you’re probably not allowed to view them during work hours, anyway.

The major problem with most web use in the workplace is that it’s very risky. Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but the internet isn’t exactly a safe place. Aside from the relatively-innocuous stuff like porn and spam, there’s lots ways for people to infiltrate corporate and government computers through what could be construed as regular “innocent” use. A simple download can ruin your IT team’s day. (I’ve been there enough times, I know.)

Okay, for small businesses, this is less of an issue. But for Big Business — and I’m talking Fortune 50, here — this isn’t just an issue. It’s an opportunity for widespread panic.

Several of my clients have requirements to support IE6. Not so much because of their customers, but because of themselves. That’s their corporate standard. That’s what they have installed on all their computers. Which, incidentally, are almost assuredly Windows XP SP2 systems under very tight administrative control. In many cases, they don’t even have Flash (or if they do, they’re at least a couple of versions behind).


Control. Pure and simple. Corporate IT can be run ragged even at the best of times. A single virus infection can throw an entire company into complete chaos. And when it takes down groups, or even whole departments (never mind the entire company), the amount of money lost due to halted productivity runs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per minute. And with the advent of Sarbanes-Oxley, it’s often just plain easier to lock down everything and ignore the resulting boo-hooing.

If you think that upgrading IE6 is as simple as upgrading software, you haven’t accounted for the potential cost if something goes wrong.

And that single “if” is why IE6 is still here. And won’t be going away quickly. It’s all fine for Web 2.0 companies to drop IE6 support (and really, should drop it), but unless something business-critical to the Fortune 50 drops IE6 (and is weighty enough to force an IT change), it will remain.

I don’t like it better than you do. As a developer (or more correctly, a development manager) spending a lot of time “fixing” IE6’s web standards support (and especially PNG support) is not only wasteful, it tends to create more problems than it solves. I would love to see IE6 disappear, and eliminate a major headache. But it won’t. Not until something changes.

So what needs to change?

Perception of cost. Namely, what cost is larger? The cost to migrate from IE6 to a better browser (and no, I’m not going to say which one — there are enough options), or the cost to support IE6. And let’s keep in mind that the cost to support IE6 goes well beyond initial development, folks. *Maintenance *adds on heaps of cost as well, especially if design tweaks persist.

Here’s a way to start approaching this:

That’s just initial development. That gets you to launch. But remember folks, we like to look *past *launch. Because big budget projects generally tend to have long lives — you want to get your investment back, after all.

Assuming a four-year lifespan of Project X before it incurs another major overhaul, you’re looking at (again, example numbers) $850,000. For one browser.

If you want to kill IE6, consider taking this to your client. That $850,000 could be far better spent on other items, and is — effectively — a loss to their company. Using a smaller percentage to upgrade IE6 to something else would likely allow greater flexibility by the IT department, and eliminate it as a support item.

In short, don’t plead to the IT team. That won’t get you far. Hit your client’s pocketbook instead — that’ll get the needed attention. Just make sure you use your budgetary numbers, not mine.