Phasing Out Old Versions of Internet Explorer

  |   jim's digital lab

When we build websites for our clients, one of the challenges with which we have to deal is cross-browser compatibility. As much as we wish it wasn’t true, the fact of the matter is that Internet Explorer (Microsoft), Chrome (Google), Firefox (Mozilla), Safari (Apple) and Opera all have varying degrees of support for “industry standards.” HTML, XHTML, CSS and other alphabet soup technical acronyms are all supposed to work within the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guiding principles, ensuring a good user experience regardless of website visited or browser of choice. Alas, not true (yet).

However, the problem is exacerbated by the wide range of browser versions being used. And, of all the browser development companies, Microsoft has been the most egregious violator of web standards among its earlier versions. That’s basically because Microsoft didn’t care much about supporting web standards created by global technical consortiums…it wanted to create its own. That didn’t go down well within the development and standards communities, and Microsoft abandoned that effort and slowly began getting into alignment with the rest of the industry. Unfortunately, that’s only AFTER millions of copies of IE 6 and IE 7 were distributed and used…and, which are STILL being used by millions of users to this day.

Microsoft’s key distribution method for any browser version is pretty simple…if you build notebook or desktop PCs (such as Dell or HP) and include some version of Windows, you also have to load the latest version of Internet Explorer. As Microsoft built succeeding versions of Internet Explorer, they began the process of making older versions incompatible with newer versions of the Windows operating system. And, while it is hard to believe there are still Windows ME and Windows XP users still out there over 10 years after those operating systems were introduced, Microsoft has made it impossible for those users to upgrade browsers to IE 8 or IE 9. The upshot is there are still millions of users around the world accessing the Internet with Internet Explorer 6 and 7.

As a result, every website we build for our clients requires some special tweaking or “patches” to the code to ensure compatibility with legacy versions of Internet Explorer. We have a test bed of computers in-house with older versions of the browsers so that as we build a new website, we can check how a page of text and images render across the major browsers and browser versions. Firefox, Chrome and Safari are very standards-compliant and generally pose few web development challenges. IE 6 and IE 7 add development time to our website builds since we have to run daily Quality Assurance tests on every page of a website build to ensure that it renders correctly.

We recently came across an interesting graphic representing the 2011 month-to-month marketshare decline of older versions of Internet Explorer and the surge of newer versions that are finally getting traction (through the purchase of a new computer or through Microsoft’s free browser upgrade program). With the advent of Internet Explorer 10 in 2012, Microsoft is preparing to more aggressively send IE 6 and IE 7 to the trash bin by forcing users to transition away from its older browsers. There will be hiccups along the way because PC users upgrade their operating systems even less frequently than they upgrade their browsers. But, Microsoft has finally realized that the adoption of next-generation Web 2.0+ development tools, the need for more standards compliance for a seamless user experience and the expected shift to IPv6 Internet Protocol addressing (see Is the Internet as We Know It Over? from my post of February 19, 2011) all will require an end-of-life strategy for its oldest browsers.

If you have any interest in how Microsoft’s strategy will play out over the next year or so, please check out this article from one of my favorite technical news sites CNET.

In building websites, we’ll continue to have some new technical issues we’ll need to confront such as iPad compatibility, HTML 5 vs. Adobe Flash adoption and others. But, eliminating IE 6 soon, and IE 7 later, will be beneficial for users, for our clients and for us as digital developers. A parting question for you: if you use Internet Explorer as your main web browser, which version are YOU using? If you can, upgrade to the latest version of IE that your PC operating system will allow. If you are on a Macintosh, then you are not only lucky, but you’ll also have nothing to worry about!

If you have questions or would like to discuss further, please contact me at