Time to die, but Microsoft can’t kill Internet Explorer 6

After all the fuss about the Chinese Google-hack being blamed on Internet Explorer 6 it seems to be everyone’s favourite target at the moment. Fair enough the decade-old browser is long overdue for retirement having been replaced by a whole generation of faster better featured and more secure products.

Yet it is still a popular browser with Internet Explorer 8 only having just crept ahead according to NetMarketShare out there in the real world where people are more worried about flu viruses than the data-stealing type. 20% of the world’s internet users are still using IE6 for reasons known only to them — though we’d wager a lot of older PCs in developing countries along with lazy IT departments in big corporations are largely to blame for this residual figure.

As we recently reported Google is now putting the screws on IE6 and is planning to phase out support for the browser by removing it from Google Docs supported list on March 1st. Today Google went a bit further announcing it will discontinue IE6 support for Gmail and Google Calendar later this year. The money quote from their email: ” Later in 2010 we will start to phase out support for these browsers
for Google Mail and Google Calendar. “

Even Microsoft itself is using this strategy as a carrot to get users and companies to move away from IE6; the upcoming web versions of its Office 2010 apps (that can run in a browser) will support only IE7 upwards (including Firefox 3.5 and Safari 4) — IE6 users won’t be able to access the apps properly.

In the UK the government has started instructing its public service departments to stop using the decrepit browser.

While the recent urgent fix from Microsoft may have fixed the holes it still leaves a very old piece of software running on a lot of systems that increasingly isn’t up to the job of providing adequate security and displaying websites built using modern web standards.

We do have to give some credit to Microsoft for having the balls to come out and say “Stop using IE6 IE7 NOW” recently in a press release in response to the armada of hacking attacks eminating from China.

But Microsoft says it can’t formally withdraw support for the browser because in the midst of malcontent about Windows Vista it agreed to keep supporting Windows XP for another five years — until April 8 2014. Unfortunately IE6 shipped as the default browser with Windows XP so Microsoft is compelled to keep propping it up with patches and fixes for years to come.

On Microsoft’s IEblog Microsoft engineer Dean Hachamovitch explained:

The engineering point of view on IE6 starts as an operating systems
supplier. Dropping support for IE6 is not an option because we committed
to supporting the IE included with Windows for the lifespan
of the product. We keep our commitments. Many people expect what they
originally got with their operating system to keep working whatever
release cadence particular subsystems have.

In some places this is due to compatibility reasons for old internal apps that were built around Internet Explorer 6-specific code but most places have little reason to be using it other than the lethargy of the people who control the system images running on PCs — or who lack the will to make a convincing argument to senior management that the cost of rolling out IE8 or another browser is worth the reduced security risk.

One positive factoid according to the Netmarketshare stats above is that Google Chrome is the fastest growing browser so perhaps more companies will consider this regularly updated and improved product (now at version 4) for its staff rather than just clinging to IE.

Note — the kookie “Die IE6 DIE!” image on this article is a badge produced by Zazzle.co.uk. If you really want to show your hatred for IE6 you might want to order one.

With additional reporting by Dan Warne