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What to do about IE6?

In the last month, this website had over 35,000 visits from IE6 browsers. IE7 wasn't far behind with a little over 33,000, and both get trounced by Firefox (over 85,000 visits for all versions) but too many people are still using IE6.

Update: by February 2011, things are better. 33,877 from IE8, 12,671 from IE7, and only 6,112 form IE6.

I know some of it is tech people stuck at some lame customers site. That's understandable. But can that be all of it? I don't know, but I think some of you out there are being very silly: IE6 is a lousy, dangerous browser and IE7 is pretty darn good. If I absolutely had to use Microsoft (shudder!) I would be fairly happy with IE7 - I'd only want Firefox because of extensions.

Aside from the obvious security problems and lack of features like tabs, there are other reasons not to use IE6. For one, it doesn't handle CSS very well, and today's web is built on CSS. I'll give you a simple example - if you look at the source for this page here, you'll see that it has this surrounding the main text:

<div style="max-width:575px;padding-left:6em">

(Assuming you aren't reading this through RSS or at the "Blog" style pages, of course)

Ideally that "max-width" shouldn't be expressed in "px", but I have some other reasons for doing that so ignore that part for now. The point is to keep the text from spreading out into long, hard to read lines and generally insure some white space at the right for most normal size browser windows. With IE6, however, you can widen your browser and the text will just flow with it, entirely ignoring the "max-width".

Now, there are ways to get IE6 to behave: "max-width in Internet Explorer" shows some ways to limit page width in this old browser. But that's hardly the only problem in IE6: if you wanted to correct everything that could go wrong, you'll be cluttering your pages with a lot of hacks and even then some things still won't always be right.

Aside from the fact that I don't want to go to all that trouble for a crummy old browser that surely will go away completely soon enough, I also don't want to help encourage the use of this. Really, let pages look crappy in IE6: maybe it will help people get rid of it sooner. In fact, maybe we should test for IE6 and deliberately make our pages look worse than they would ordinarily - well, that's overboard, but it is almost tempting..

So, why do I use "px" instead of "em"? Well, because I adjust that max-width based upon what else is in the page. For example, if you look at this Bluetooth phone article, you'll see that it has a slightly larger setting for max-width. That's because it has a picture in it that is wider than my default - my scripts move the text out to match the width of the largest picture on the page. That keeps things "neat", but I can't think of any foolproof way to do that without using "px". Why is that so hard? Well, this px to em thread might give some flavor of the problem..

So if you are still using IE6, stretching your browser width can make this page look pretty silly. And that's the way it's going to stay.

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Sat Apr 12 11:18:21 2008: 4032   RobO

FireFox may be the champ on the hobbyist and small biz side of things - I use it personally - but unfortunately, IE is still what most of corporate America is using. Much of this is due to crummy web-based vendor apps that are (poorly) coded for IE6. At work, I help support several mission-critical, enterprise-wide web-based apps that still require - or are only officially supported to work peoperly under - IE6. So, we're locked into IE6 by vendors who are 2-3 years (or more) behind the browser curve. Do we like it? No. Do we live with it? Yes.

Sat Apr 12 13:06:08 2008: 4034   TonyLawrence

The "lock-in" is a whole other issue - here I'm just grousing about folks not upgrading to IE7, but banks etc that REQUIRE IE (6 or 7 usually) are extremely annoying, especially when there is absolutely no technical reason why they need to.. other than their ignorance, of course.

Sat Apr 12 16:16:21 2008: 4038   RobO

Most of the banks and such that're "locked-in" to a specific browser version are, I think, a result of their app vendors' poor coding. But to jump ship to another vendor's product simply for the sake of that isn't fiscally feasable for most companies.

This is kinda why the corporate world (for the most part) is stuck - for better or worse - with Windows. It's stable enough and the mission-critical apps that they rely upon work on it. Vendors don't have the resources to rewrite all those apps for a different OS. And financially-speaking, what's the real incentive for them to do so? Their clients - the companies we do business with - don't really have a choice but to play ball. Not saying that's "right" - or that this sort of complacent attitude will carry them forever - but it just is.

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