Internet Explorer 7 represented a step forward for “mainstream” browsing. Microsoft worked to fix a lot of the epic fails in CSS implementation that IE 6 had brought upon itself and those around it. There are a few departures from the standards and further from how Firefox handles things, but they’re farther and fewer in between and don’t impact us *too* much on a day-to-day.

Still, instead of developing for Firefox and Internet Explorer, we’re developing for FF, IE6 *and* IE7. Cheers. Add to the fact that IE6 has some serious flaws including its lack of transparent PNG support without getting all hacky, different JavaScript implementations and limitations on what you can do with AJAX calls, et cetera, and it becomes a significant burden to develop for. It doesn’t help that you can only have one version of IE installed on a Windows-machine, or the other, without, again, getting terribly hacky. Just watch your workflow take a hit there.

As a result, we feel the burn. When we fail to remember to introduce an IE6 testbed into the process early enough, we’re often mocked by a train wreck on the screen as our world descends into flames and all we love melts away before our very eyes, standards be damned. While we’ve posted plenty of post-its reminding us to test client work in IE6, we’ve considered frankly not caring about IE6 support for, say, this site. Our reasoning is pretty simple. If you’re at all serious about developing web applications, web site design or anything in between, God help you if you’re still on IE 6. There’s really no reason for that shit.

What’s really fascinating to me is that companies like 37signals and Apple have dropped or are planning on dropping support for IE6 for some of their products, entirely.

Matt Mullenweg states that 59.41% of the 787 million unique visitors to use Internet Explorer. The IE7/IE6 split? 53.42% and 46.28%, respectively. That means that you’re still looking at 25% of your user base. Matt says what I’m thinking pretty well:

If I were building something for “the internet” IE6 compatibility would still very much be on my radar. Everyone’s users or customers are different, and if I saw IE6 falling below 10% on one of my sites I’d probably very seriously consider what 37signals is doing.

Now, we live in a time where it’s easy to develop only for broadband users. Thus, it’s easy to try to “force” people to upgrade to IE7 or FF. But it bears stating that there are reasons beyond a user’s control for their use of IE6. It’s not always a simple “just download and run this” solution—users often fear the consequences of change if they don’t understand it, or they’re shackled by their IT departments, or work in government or a whole host of other reasons. It’s been available for almost two years, but slower-than-awesome attach rates on Vista and a general reluctance to not “fix” what people don’t rightly perceive as broken have stuck us with an IE6 user base of 25%.

Where’s that leave us? Well for now, we’re developing our client applications to work with IE6. We have to. We’ve already gotten a phone call from a client whose brother “noticed a weird blue box around the logo,” a result of us not yet implementing a transparent PNG hack on the dev site. But for sites like HTMList? Go upgrade, please. And for your project? You probably need to make sure it at least functions at a base level in IE6. Or be comfortable potentially destroying your user experience and brand for 25% or more of your potential audience. For now.

Posted in: Design, Development