Not unlike a few years ago when browser badges
ignorantly proudly infiltrated our websites, Web designers and developers loudly proclaim their love and hatred for IE6. Today, however, we have a much more agressive movement: the IE Deathmarch. Not that this is necessarily a bad idea, but let's face it, as much as we should be pushing for it's retirement, we should be thanking IE6.
This IE Deathmarch is nothing new. Designers and developers have been clamouring for IE6 to go the way of the dodo bird for years now. What's different is the tone and spotlight attention that's been directed at leaving IE6 behind.
37signals and MobileMe (perviously .Mac) are two leading entities in our industry to publicly decree they will no longer support IE6, a fairly serious blow to the browser's users, but a massive win for standardistas and evolutionists.
A Little History
IE6 was introduced to the world on August 27, 2001 by Microsoft in time for its Windows XP operating system. Its dominance in the browser market peaked at nearly 90% just a few years after its release, but quickly lost its place as the number 1 browser when IE7 and Firefox came into the mix. However, it's important to remember that many systems still run IE6, especially in business or personal environements that have no intention of upgrading.
Many people, like today, criticized IE6 for its lack of support with emerging and even standardized technologies and langauges. More importantly, the security and performance of IE6 has been a key argument for using alternatives ever since its release. Today, we have the same criticism, but it has become more agressive and angry without much room for thoughtful solutions. With so many people not interested in leaving the browser, it's often difficult for some Web designers to deal with the aged browser.
Back to the Now
Today, we have feature rich Web apps that push the boundaries of browsers, redefining them to serve as a bridge between the physical computers in front of you and the rest of the Web.
Applications like Gmail, MobileMe, 280slides, and more continue to push the old desktop workspace to the Web. With so many start-ups looking to the Web for these kinds of applications, we need browsers capable of doing so.
Without browsers like Firefox and Safari, we wouldn't have the movement for a better Web that we do today. In fact, without IE6, we might not even have those browsers at our disposal. IE6 was the catalyst for pushing forward the Web standards movement, bringing competition to the browser market, and for better experiences on the Web.
Why We Should Thank IE6
Let's look at a handful of the ways IE6 has actually proven helpful for us as designers. Without IE6:
- We wouldn't have IE7. IE7, though comparable to Firefox and Safari, still lacks the forward thinking of its competitors. However, it is a huge improvement over IE6, one that we wouldn't have if IE6 weren't the terrible success it was for all these years.
- Microsoft might not have faced antitrust charges. The landmark antitrust case for Microsoft focused on its bundling of IE6 with Windows to win the browser wars. With the scrutiny they faced in the lawsuit, the public was awakened to Microsoft's shifty business tactics and support grew for better alternative browsers.
- Firefox might not exist today. In 1998, Netscape founded Mozilla to work independently from their team to develop a suite of applicatons, including a new browser. Once AOL pulled its support, the Mozilla Foundation was born to continue to push forward. From that, Firefox was born. Without IE6, Netscape may not have thrown its support behind Mozilla to compete with Microsoft.
- We might still be stuck with Netscape instead of Mozilla. Thinking about the previous point, if we didn't have Firefox, might we still have Netscape to worry about? Would Netscape have pushed forward with the Mozilla project if IE6 wasn't winning the browser wars?
- We wouldn't have anyone to hate on. This is just one for fun, but let's face it, if we didn't have such a lemon of a browser as IE6, someone else would take the heat for being a less than ideal browser. By taking the heat for so much, IE7, Firefox, Safari, Opera, and more are able to continue moving forward.
- The Web standards movement wouldn't be as strong. IE6 was probably the single greatest catalyst for advancing Web standards. It's lack of support for CSS2 and more led designers to steer clear of the browser and focus on pushing forward with Firefox, Safari, and Opera. Without it, we wouldn't have had such an advocacy for standardized support in browsers by people like Zeldman and Meyer.
- We might not have browsers that continue to innovate and update beyond the W3C. We all know that the W3C, the representative body that helps standardize the Web languages we know and love, is slow to make good on promises and changes. The engines behind Safari and Mozilla (WebKit and Gecko, respectively) continue to innovate with their own CSS3 and HTML5 support.
So thank you, IE6, for all you've allowed us to do because of your shortcomings and amazingly buggy behavior. Thanks for leading us away from a monopolistic, short-sighted future on the Web and towards and open, innovative, thriving Web experience. Cheers!
Share your experiences with IE6 below. What do you think would've happened had IE6 never existed?