The Internet Explorer 6 Debate

We have been having a few debates recently at Strawberrysoup which mainly focus around cross browser interoperability and if the websites we create should support the archaic Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.

Bring Down IE6As every web developer and designer knows, the main problem that we face every day when developing websites is how they look over the many different browsers – Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Camino, Flock, Opera – the list goes on.

At Strawberrysoup, we build each website by testing in Firefox 3 (our favourite due to it’s standards compliance) and then tweak the site for the remaining browsers. As always, Internet Explorer 6 is the problem child, and can typically add 5% onto a budget due to the time taken to debug and fix.

We find that the difficultly arises when a designer creates a beautiful, usable and technologically advanced website for a client. It gets signed off and  when the developers try and fit/translate this design for a browser that is 10 years old – it just doesn’t happen.

One of the problems that we face when trying to justify this problem is the statistics. IE6 still has a market share of about 11% now (according to http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp)  – but the good news is that this share of the market is reducing each month (it was 18% in January 2009). Microsoft’s forced IE7 and IE8 update has further reduced this share, but so has the increased exposure of Firefox (47%) and the more and more people using Google’s Chrome (8.5%) and Apple’s Safari (4%).

We work with a wide range of clients, some small businesses but increasingly we are working with larger companies and local councils. Local councils especially seem to use older browsers and they are unfortunately stuck with the cost of company wide system or browser update restricting their end users having the latest versions of software (even if the actual browser upgrade would be free.)

A good analogy would be the same as ordering Sky HD, being excited about the stunning picture quality and then realising that your 14” portable TV doesn’t support most of the features so you end up with the basic cut down version – its disappointing to say the least.

There is no doubt that other web design agencies in a similar predicament. We have heard that some have opted at the original spec stage, to mention that the site will have all of the bells and whistles on for Firefox, IE7, Safari and that IE6 will be supported, but only to a limited extent as even Microsoft has ended support for their legacy browser. They also mention other browsers such as Camino or Flock will be supported at an additional charge.

It seems that many agencies/freelancers are stuck in this dilemma for the near future – should we continue to support IE6 as much as possible (with CSS hacks and alike) or should we offer clients a cut down version of the originally signed off design? I suppose the answer to this question depends on budget, timeframes and the target market.

For more information on the browser dilemma, why not visit http://www.bringdownie6.com.