LAB IMPRESSIONS

For whom does the bell toll? It tolls for thee, IE6

But is the old browser's funeral premature?

Internet Explorer 6 has died, and I wasn’t even invited to the funeral. Apparently, some people are so mad that IE6 is still being heavily used -- while they wish otherwise -- that they are trying to usher things along by holding a funeral for the old guy. You can sign a funeral guest book and leave a comment of your memories with the browser.

According to the funeral site, Internet Explorer 6 died in a workplace accident: “Internet Explorer Six, resident of the interwebs for over 8 years, died the morning of March 1, 2010 in Mountain View, California, as a result of a workplace injury sustained at the headquarters of Google, Inc. Internet Explorer Six, known to friends and family as ‘IE6,’ is survived by son Internet Explorer Seven, and grand-daughter Internet Explorer Eight.”

The reference to the injury was an acknowledgment of Google phasing out IE6 and dropping support for it, as noted in its company blog.

The funeral, which was held in Denver on March 4, was sponsored by a design firm called Aten Design Group. It featured a real coffin holding a “body” with the IE6 logo as its head. Mourners were encouraged to wear suitable funeral attire and share memories of their beloved browser.

All fun and games aside, and kudos to Aten for a publicity stunt that attracted national news teams such as CNN, the IE6 factor is an important one. I can see why a design firm would want to pretend that IE6 no longer exists. Every time they, or anyone else on the Web, need to create a new page, IE6 users have to be taken into account. That means HTML, CSS, JavaScript and .asp-based pages have to accommodate both the newest browsers and the older ones. That juggling act is getting harder and harder to accomplish, as the new browsers can use many advanced features on Web pages that the old ones can’t comprehend. And that’s why there’s so much animosity against a browser.

Despite the funeral, and other groups devoted to the destruction of IE6, it maintains a healthy market share. According to NetMarketShare, a company that conducts analytics research, IE6 still rules 19 percent of the market, second only to IE8, with 22 percent ,and ahead of Firefox, Chrome and even IE7. With numbers like that, calling IE6 dead might be more wishful thinking than anything else.

I was a reporter for GCN in the early days of browsers. Back then, it was actually a news story to look at the NASA home page with Internet Explorer and then Netscape and note the differences, a piece I wrote. But browser companies at the time made a sincere effort to try to match up what wusers saw on the screen with one another.

Remember that the original idea for the Web was that it was supposed to be a platform-neutral media that anyone could access regardless of their computer system. But it  takes only one person to break a treaty, and companies started falling all over themselves to create browsers with “exclusive” features. They stayed close to the baseline, all things considered, but no longer would there be a cooperative effort to maintain the same display for everyone.

Developers, for the most part, were caught in the middle of the wars, forced to program sites to work with multiple browsers. The current trend in browser upgrades is being pushed more by the desire for dynamic content than any real competition. But all those new bells and whistles are scary for government and corporate clients, who would prefer to give workers the bare bones they need to get their jobs done, without worrying about possible security or compatibility problems with new software. Hence, the IE6 market share remains solid, and probably will continue to be so until the computers running it wear out and are eventually replaced.

IE6 could probably take a cue from Mark Twain. Given that many of you may be reading this with an IE6 browser, I would have to say that the reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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