Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Death to IE 6

April 2009

By Mike Gould

Every once in a while it is the duty of all good villagers to pick up torches and pitchforks, and run the bastards out of town. This includes you, good citizens of the Internet, so heed my call to end the evil that is Internet Explorer 6 once and for all.

Internet Explorer (IE) is the web browser that was unleashed upon an unsuspecting PC community some 7 years ago by our evil overlord, Microsoft (MS). It is unsafe, disrespectful of standards, and a major pain in the mouse for web workers everywhere. It has been dying a festering death ever since better browsers like FireFox and even IE 7 (and Safari on the Mac side) came out, but needs to be put out of its misery ASAP.

But First, A Word From the Department of History
In the beginning, around 1993, on a Friday, Mosaic was released to the wild. This is generally regarded as the first browser; a piece of application software that allows the user to explore the wonder that is the World Wide Web. And we loaded it up and it was good; it allowed us to visit the approximately 200 web sites that were out there at the time.

MS, caught up in its usual far-reaching vision, pooh-poohed the entire concept and turned its massive back. Then in 1994, a new challenger arose: Netscape. It had the audacity to actually try to sell itself ($30, as I recall. Around $900 in 2009 dollars, give or take a derivative...) and it was good. Now we could surf (a new terminology at the time) the several thousand sites out there (including the one I built for the UM School of Music, where I was working as the computer guy at the time). The 'net grew and grew, and it was good.

War is Hell
Then the slumbering giant awoke, and in 1995, MS released Internet Explorer 1.0. As usual, being late to the party, IE 1 was pretty crappy. It established a pattern of pretty crappy browsers from Microsoft, and touched off the browser wars. IE 3 saw parity with Netscape, and by the end of the decade, IE was the most-used browser on the planet. And it was bad.

For those of you young enough not to remember the Browser Wars, rejoice. For the rest of us grizzled veterans, it was, well, sub-optimal. The problem was that there was a conflict between the stated aim of the Web: "Everything should be equally open to everyone, we are all one, let's share and play together" and the unstated but obvious aims of Microsoft: "Let's own everything and make everybody use only our toys, and figure out a way to make money with every mouse click".

What happened is that MS decided to implement its own vision of how browsers should interpret web code (HTML), and Netscape and the other two or three browsers out there built their software to decode HTML just differently enough that sites looked different depending on which browser was in use at the time. It got so bad that web designers had to pretty much design and code two different versions of every page.

Monopolies Are Not Good
Why not just develop for IE? Because IE was a crappy browser and got a lot of the basic design elements wrong. It was inconsistent, only worked properly (sort of) in Windows, and had the usual MS aroma about it.

And a wailing and gnashing of teeth arose in the web community and Something Had To Be Done. So a guy named Jeffrey Zeldman (Saint Jeff, to us web wonks) put together a little organization called WASP: the Web Standards Project. Its goal was to fulfill the web's aim of universal accessibility by forcing the combatants to the table to hammer out a set of guidelines that everyone designing pages would follow. And it worked, sort of.

Like the Korean War, the browser battle never really ended, it just entered a period of entente: MS agreed to abide by international web standards as little as possible. IE 6 was the first stab at this, and while an improvement over previous versions, still got enough wrong to inspire a groundswell of protest and a plethora of sites across the web detailing how to fix the myriad things wrong with it.

We web workers no longer have to design two versions of everything; we install patches. The procedure these days is to design to standards, and then go back and add code that makes IE 6 behave itself in company.

Lucky Number 7
Then IE 7 came out, and half those fixes broke. MS has a habit of breaking things with new releases, and this was no different. I ran into this with a site I designed for the Ross School of Business, whereby a fix jiggered for 6 ran afoul of 7 and had to be re-jiggered (twice - once for 6 and once for 7).

Anyway, IE 7, standards-challenged though it may be, is ever so much better than IE 6, and the whole world should immediately update to it RIGHT NOW if you haven't already. It should also be pointed out that IE 6 has a number fairly serious security flaws; IE 7, while not perfect, is much safer. Which brings me back to my original theme: Death To IE 6. There are still enough IE6 users out there to really annoy those of us who work the web. Their breed is dying, but not fast enough. And as long as there are IE 6 users, web workers have to try to accommodate them.

I would really appreciate it if each and everyone of you would immediately write all your family, friends and relatives (and strangers, if you know any) and remind them that using obsolete browsers is bad for the Internet, the economy, and the mental health of all. (I assume that because you are reading this, you upgraded years ago, or better yet, use FireFox or Safari, and I salute you.)

Mike Gould, is a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Consulting/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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