Is the decision to end support Internet Explorer 6 premature or long overdue?
There is no doubt that Internet Explorer 6 is the bane of our – web designers and developers – existence. Nathan Smith came up with ten great reasons in “Time to Drop IE6”. Dan Rubin offered “The Final Word on IE6”. 37signals, effective 10.1.2008, is phasing out IE6 support in its products. They all offer good reasons to end support for IE6. But we cannot ignore the reality of IE6: usage hovers around 25-30% as of 9.08 (1,2).
Can we truly ignore IE6? Could you afford to turn away 1/4-1/3 of the customers that walk through your door? I’m guessing most clients would say no.
So where does that leave us? Are we destined to support IE6 for years and years to come? I seriously hope not, but it all depends on your audience. If your site is catering to people most likely to be using modern browsers like Firefox 3, Safari, Opera, Camino, Chrome, IE7/8, etc., then it probably doesn’t matter if your site supports IE6. If your site trends towards a lot of IE6 users, well… you’re obviously going to have to support that browser until usage drops below a tolerable level. At which point, it would then be wise to make a decision on whether to support it any longer. (We have these same conversations regarding minimum browser resolutions to target.) The client and the client’s audience and what they are using on your site is what dictates what you should be designed for.
The idea of using ‘web standards’ isn’t so that designers can make kick ass designs that only the most bleeding edge browsers can render. Rather they’re more about making content viewable in any browser, regardless of its age.
The logical decision, then, is to use progressive enhancement in designs. If a site visitor is still using IE6, they should be able to see, at the very least, a “low-fi” version of your site. If there are only minor issues preventing a layout from rendering properly in IE6, take the time to write some conditional CSS targeting the browser, and fix it.
The challenge with progressive enhancement lies in educating a client that there will be variations in the design presented to site visitors. For some clients, variations are unacceptable. For others, they’re likely not going to care.
Maybe by March 2009 the browser share will change radically, and IE6 usage will drop to record lows. But I’m staying realistic. I might not like IE6 or the extra work it requires to support it, but it’s too early to start ignoring it completely.