Saying goodbye to Internet Explorer 6

Today, Microsoft launched a big push aimed at “Moving the world off Internet Explorer 6”. IE6 Countdown aims to educate people about why they need to upgrade their browsers. The target is for IE6 to account for less than 1% of global share.

Web developers have long bemoaned the amount of work it takes to make modern-day websites work properly in IE6. It is a 10 year old browser — almost half as old as the web itself — but it is only in the past year or two that many web developers have begun to feel that it is reasonable to drop support for IE6.

Even so, even to have a website that does not work well for 1% of visitors may be deemed to be unacceptably high. While it is unreasonable to expect a website to work on a stone tablet as well as it does on an Apple iPad, if enough people are using certain software to surf the web — no matter how old it is — we need to make sure it works.

Worldwide usage of IE6

Internet Explorer 6 usage around the world In February 2011, 3.5% of UK users were using Internet Explorer 6. Worldwide, 12% of users still use this decade-old browser. Most staggeringly of all, over a third of web users in China are still using IE6.

It looks like Nordic sufers are particularly savvy. Norway and Finland are the only two countries coloured green on Microsoft’s map, signalling that they have gone below the target of 1%.

St Andrews poised to go green

I have just checked the statistics for visits to the University of St Andrews website, and the percentage of IE6 users stands at 1.01%. This is a tiny smidge above Microsoft’s target of 1%. While the UK is still painted blue on Microsoft’s map, it looks like the University of St Andrews will go green soon!

Although most pages on the University website should work adequately on IE6, we have begun to stop supporting IE6 for some of the fancier, newer designs. There comes a point where supporting IE6 just becomes a waste of time — time that we really don’t have.

Why upgrade?

IE6 was a revolutionary browser for its time. But that was ten years ago, which is an absolute eternity in terms of the web. Not only are IE6 users unable to visit many websites as the designers intended, the continued prevalence of this ancient browser is discouraging developers from innovating more — making all web users worse off. Using a 10 year old web browser is also seen as a security risk.

Microsoft have been criticised for being too slow to update their browser. It was five years until Internet Explorer 7 came out. In comparison, Mozilla are poised to release Firefox 4, two and a half years after Firefox 3 was launched. Google Chrome has reached version 10 just over two years after the first ever version.

Now even Microsoft finds the continued prevalence of IE6 to be an embarrassment. Today, Microsoft are playing catch-up with other browser vendors, but have made great leaps to improve their browser in recent years.

As such, we fully support all initiatives to encourage users to upgrade from IE6. If you still use IE6, please upgrade to the latest version of Internet Explorer.

Better still, you could opt to switch to a different browser altogether. The future version of Internet Explorer — IE9 — is a vast improvement, but is still not perfect. Only today, I worked on some new code that works perfectly in every other major browser, but does not work in IE9 due to its relatively poor support of CSS3.

If you have held off before, I can promise you that switching browsers it is rather pain-free. You will probably end up being much happier with your browsing experiences.

I suggest you consider the following browsers:

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Browser Wars – the next generation

On Monday Steve and I attended an Opera Software University Seminar hosted here at the University of St Andrews, one of many stops on their world tour of educational institutions.

I found it an interesting and encouraging hour long presentation which looked at the Opera range of browsers (did you know that there are four main products: Desktop, Embedded, Mini and Mobile, which all use the same rendering engine?), Web Standards and a brief dive into HTML 5 and CSS 3.  I’ve blogged about it elsewhere if you want to read more.

On our way out of the PC classroom (it was hosted in the School of Computer Science) in exchange for a completed feedback slip we were given a FREE umbrella. I know! FREE!  We didn’t even have to download it from one of over 80 download locations.

Comparisons

However, the question I know you’re all asking: how does it compare with the St Andrews Web Team’s Mozilla Firefox umbrella, which was purchased from the Mozilla store a few months ago?

Mozilla Firefox umbrella next to the Opera umbrella

Mozilla Firefox umbrella next to the Opera umbrella

Size

As you can see from the image above the Opera brolly is considerably smaller than the more cumbersome Mozilla brolly.

That observation correlates with my experience of the two browsers, currently Firefox is hogging 236 MB of RAM, while Opera is displaying the same three pages using only 34 MB. This is clearly the Opera Mini of umbrellas.

Opened each fares as you would expect: the Mozilla browser is considerably larger offering protection for more than one user.  The Opera Mini umbrella is clearly designed for single tab user use.

Mozilla Firefox umbrella open

Mozilla Firefox umbrella open

Opera Mini umbrella open

Opera Mini umbrella open

Rendering

Opera has clearly taken HTML 5 and CSS 3 to heart with this umbrella as in particularly windy situations the brolly dynamically re-renders itself … mostly inside out.  Ironically, for such a stable browser their umbrella does have a tendency to ‘crash’ alot in bad weather.  I suspect, however, that the weather we threw at it just had the wrong !DOCTYPE.

The Firefox umbrella on the other hand does appear to bend and sway a little but resolutely and reliably continues to do its job.

User interface

Both umbrellas feel robust enough, although I have to say that I would feel more confident taking the Firefox brolly out in the winds whistle down the streets of St Andrews.

In fact, in tests the Firefox umbrella proved to be easier and quicker to use simply due to the sturdiness of the fastenings and other hardware.

It is said that the first umbrella was likely to be nothing more than some largely-waterproof fabric stretched over a wooden or wire frame, and both models follow this tradition in terms of construction.  However, again, the Firefox brolly feels more robust with the stretched fabric stitches into the end of the spokes; the Opera brolly relies on small metal ‘cups’ slotting over the end of the spokes, which are too easy to knock off.

Security

Clasps on Firefox and Opera umbrellas

Clasps on Firefox and Opera umbrellas

Security is no less important on an umbrella as it is on a browser, and both models’ security features are built to impress.

The Mozilla model uses the traditional ring on a piece of elastic which wraps snuggly around the shaft of the umbrella and afixes on a button, while the Opera model relies on a vecro fastening.

One particularly impressive security feature though was the clear plastic sheath that the Opera umbrella came in.  It keeps your umbrella safe and secure when not being used.

Open Source

As an open-source product you are welcome to take the code of Mozilla Firefox and redevelop it.  While the brolly is available to anyone within the Web Team we discourage any modifications to the overall structure, and as far as I’m aware there are currently no official add-ons for the brolly.

Opera is not an open-source product, which is reflected in our need to go directly to Opera to obtain it on request.  Although, as I understand it, 3rd parties such as Oxfam may be able to sign up to distribute copies.

Conclusion

Other than the fact that I clearly have too much time on my hands during the lunch hour, I’d say that the Firefox umbrella is probably the one you want if you need to stay dry (in all sorts of weather), although it is more cumbersome. Perhaps, a bit like Firefox Portable.

The Opera umbrella on the other hand is wonderfully compact, so you can take it anywhere you want … a bit like their Opera Mini and Mobile browsers.