Picture by João Miguel Silva
Last week Google announced they are phasing out support of IE6. This follows the attacks to gmail accounts of Human Rights Activists originated in China, apparently consequence of a security flaw in IE.
Even before Google, the German government decided to advice against the use of IE6 and a the French government followed. The UK hasn’t joined yet bt there is a petition to discourage an discontinue the use of IE6.
Web developers consistently dislike IE6 for its many bugs, it’s lack of technology even for the date when it was launched but mostly because 9 years down the line even the best browser on earth should have long been retired. For a web developer, dealing with IE6 has been a major pain for years and it’s a source of frustration that great technology is deterred by having to support an ancient browser.
IE6 is not dead yet, but it’s terminal. Without Google support, with governments advocating against, with awareness spreading it is a matter of time, and not much of it, for IE6 to be largely abandoned.
Yay! We web developers applaud!
Now, how about the users? The user that has been using the same browser that came with their computer when it was bought. The user who has never upgraded software before and is afraid to start doing it. The user that is used to its piece of software and doesn’t want to change.
Do they have to upgrade just because some developers say so? Should they applaud too?
Ultimately, developers and users have a common objective: An open, accessible and usable web, so if we can applaud as informed developers the only thing that could prevent the user from applauding is the information itself.
IE6 has been around since 2001. If you consider that the web itself had only come to life in the early 90ies, this is as modern for web years as a car from the 50ties for the history of automobiles. For as lovely as 50ies models may be it’s hardly reasonable to argue that our streets and roads have to be build with these cars in mind.
Yes, some people still driving today learned to drive in those models and it may also be true that if roads had been build encouraging them to keep these cars, by now they’d be struggling to accept a more modern model and they’d be upset if they were now told by engineers that their cars are too big, consume to much petrol, emit too much carbon, are accident prone and overly not suitable for modern city life.
And rightly so because engineers would had failed to make the transition smooth but not necessarily because they should be entitled to drive anything they’d fancy on the streets.
A system chosen from the combinatory explosion of different browsers, different operating systems and different hardware(*) should ideally be tailored to the user’s needs and reflect their preferences on how to interact with the web and in this sense, it’s only fair that we, as developers, build a web the users can, though the technology they’ve chosen, reassemble the pieces in the way that suit them best.
In practice, many of the systems the users have are not built this way but instead are commodities and so are guided by price and availability.
It may well be that us, developers, had failed to make this transition smooth during the years. It may also be that the browser wars and Microsoft being next to a monopoly for many years had left us in a situation where not much could have been done other than support IE6 for so long.
But surely this is not to say a browser that is used by a minority of people that find challenging to update software should be artificially maintained in detriment of being able to fully use technology that may help people who are challenged in ways that are more difficult to overcome (e.g., physical and cognitive impairments).
If IE6 users mostly use that browser because it’s available to them, then is up to developers (web developers, browser developers and other developers alike) to make available for them better technology and allow them to change their game. And we should do it in the most helpful way we can but we should not feel forced to support old technology cluttering the roads for the fear of upgrading. Is the fear that must be removed, not the upgrade.
And if we are to learn something from the last decade of web and browser development, then I’d say it should be to work on educate and help users to continuously move forward to better technology rather to artificially maintain a fairy tale with chewing gum and strings.