IE6 will never go away (it seems)

The Yahoo! User Interface team updated their Graded Browser Support and IE6 is still alive as an A-grade browser, and that doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.

The Graded Brower Support, or GBS, is the categorization of browsers into different levels that Yahoo! has agreed to support. An A-grade ranking means that the browser has a large enough user base, and that those browsers will receive Yahoo!'s highest level of QA and testing support, while the other levels receive little to none. This doesn't mean that Yahoo! sites (or sites that use the YUI tools) will be broken in non A-grade browsers, it's just that they won't be QAed as thoroughly. Usually these fringe browsers like Chrome and Opera are more compliant to standards, and work automatically with valid HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. They don't get the A-grade yet, mainly due to their small user base.

IE6 is still an A-grade browser, while they have plans to move browsers like Firefox 3.0 to C-grade X-grade status by the end of the year. This is amazing. For comparison, Firefox 3.0 came out about a year ago (ie, June 17, 2008), while IE6 came out in August 2001. When IE6 was released, the WTC towers were still standing, no one had seen any of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter movies, George Harrison was still alive, and it remained to be seen what kind of president George W. Bush was going to be. If IE6 was a human, it would be starting the 3rd grade soon. To put it in web terms, this was 4 years before the first video was uploaded to YouTube, 2.5 years before anyone Facebooked anyone, and even 3 years before Google went public. The browser's been out awhile.

2001: An Ancient Web Browser

The fact that Yahoo! has still shown a commitment to ensure that IE6 users get the best experience that Yahoo! can give them means two things — there are a still a lot of IE6 users and the company still makes money off of them. This study done 5 years ago (though still 3 years after IE6 came out) reported that IE users were 4 times more likely to click an online ad than Firefox users. Since Yahoo! is still courting to IE6 users, this must mean that those users are still clicking those ads.

At some point, Yahoo! and the web as a whole will have to drop their A-grade support for IE6. HTML5 and CSS3 are now ready to be consumed with Firefox 3.5, Safari 4, and Chrome 2.0 all available for download. This doesn't mean that developers and designers have to completely break the web for IE6 users, but maybe these users don't get the full experience that the new browsers can deliver. We can do what we can for the IE6 users, but also allow the newer browsers to take advantage of the new, exciting things.

I like the analogy that YUI has on their browser support page comparing the different browsers to televisions. You have TVs that handle the incoming signal differently, starting with hand-cranked survival radios that only pick up the audio, to black-and-white TVs, all the way to the 1080p Hi-Defs with millions of colors and surround sound. The broadcast stations send out the signal and your TV handles it as best as it can. No one is surprised when a black-and-white TV doesn't have color and IE6 users shouldn't be surprised that their favorite website doesn't look the same as when seen in Firefox. As stated on the GBS page, “[s]upport does not mean that everybody gets the same thing.” This is a hard fact to digest for companies with a web presence and designers that believe in one true version of their art.

Hi-Def, 60's style.

So, why don't IE6 users upgrade their browsers? Simple — they don't know what a browser is. This video asks random people the simple question “what is a browser?”. The people they ask get the answer (sometimes hilariously) wrong, but these people are not stupid. It's just that what browser they use is not important to them. All they care about are the sites they can access with it. And you know what, they're 100% right. It is just about the web. The reason that web developers and designers are so passionate about browsers is that we are trying our damnedest to make the most forward-thinking, interactive, immersive sites for these people, but we can't. IE6 — and its large market share — won't let us.

Good news though is that I think this will change soon and IE6 will be nudged to the door by its own creator, Microsoft. The reason that people still use IE6 is because it was already installed on their Windows machines, so the browser changes when Microsoft says it does. Microsoft will soon see what Google saw when Google decided to build Chrome. Google owns the web, and Microsoft owns the browser. Google wanted a piece of that browser pie, as it meant that more people would be enjoying the web in its full capacity, so they created a browser. Microsoft saw this plan and realized if they wanted a slice of the web market they were going to need to put a real contender  into the search market (sorry, MSN), and thus Bing was born.

If Bing takes off, and I honestly think it will, the incentive will be there for Microsoft to really encourage their users to take advantage of the newest version of IE, and finally put IE6 out to pasture.

  • Few small edits for clarity.