Robert Beerworth | 3/07/2012
There have been a few articles recently arguing that websites and web developers should simply drop support for older versions of the Internet Explorer browser, even including up to Version 8.
To put that in context, we are currently at Version 9 of Internet Explorer, albeit with Internet Explorer 10 being launched in a few months with Windows 8.
So dropping support for Version 8 is a big call given it was the default browser just over a year ago.
Depending on who you are and what you do, you may or may not know much about Internet Explorer other than it is a web browser.
If you know more than this, you’ll almost invariably know that it is a terrible browser and has been really since the beginning.
The standout remains Internet Explorer 6 (launched in 2001 and still with around 6% worldwide browser share) which is a truly horrendous browser, both from the perspective of those that used the browser as well those that had to develop websites compatible with it.
Even Microsoft has a website
counting down to its extinction. It’s just that bad.
The point of this blog is not to go into why Internet Explorer 6 (and other versions of Internet Explorer) were terrible browser however. There are plenty of blogs out there to do that.
The point of this blog is instead to question whether your business or brand should continue to support older versions of Internet Explorer.
Pros and cons either way though there’s a chance your web developer is already recommending dropping support or doing in on your behalf, though without giving you all the details you need to make a balanced decision.
Is support for Internet Explorer hard, expensive or all of the above?
At face value, browsers all look the same.
Task and URL bar at the top, notifications down below and a big rectangle through which you see web pages.
Though whilst browsers might all look the same, they’re all completely different underneath.
Not just from version to version, though from vendor to vendor: e.g. Firefox, Safari. Opera and Chrome.
New versions are released as standards and technologies evolve, whilst each vendor has their own unique ways and strengths around how they develop their browser.
Modern browsers such as Firefox and Chrome are regularly updated (and update often without you knowing) and so you’re always browsing with the latest and greatest.
Older versions of Internet Explorer aren’t like that and weren’t like that. Moving from IE6 to IE7 was not an automated download and patch. You had to consciously update your version of Internet Explorer and of course, that meant know that you could and should.
Worse, versions were few and far away save for the occasions Hotpatch. It took five years between IE6 and IE7 and 3 between IE7 and IE8.
That’s not a lot of innovation in an Internet innovating constantly.
So, not only was Internet Explorer a terrible browser up until very recently, it was no small effort to upgrade, often worsened by corporate IT teams who refused to upgrade the versions of Internet Explorer across their businesses for fears of compatibility issues and security.
The challenge for you and your web developer is that older versions of Internet Explorer are still very much used and in the instance of IE8, it was the browser initially shipped with Windows 7 and so still has reasonable market share.
The web is advancing very quickly, and supporting older versions of Internet Explorer comes with some serious downsides.
It makes web development more expensive.
It makes some features and functions almost impossible to deliver.
It limits what you can do and the advantage you can take from better, more modern technologies supported by modern browsers.
By-and-large, as a web development firm, we stopped supporting Internet Explorer 6 some time back. The fallout from no longer supporting a tiny percentage of our client’s users (i.e. their customers) was arrested by the reduced cost and improved use of technology across their websites.
But not supporting Internet Explorer 8?
Wow… that’s a different story.
Dropping Support for Internet Explorer 8 has ramifications as at July 2012
Of total market share, Internet Explorer still commands around a fifth to a half of all browsers, depending on whose stats you rely on.
Internet Explorer 8 is at least half of this which makes it a big browser.
For many people, they have no choice except to use Internet Explorer 8. The IT department at work has it locked down.
These people still shop and book flights and add pins to Pinterest during their lunchbreaks. It’s just that they use Internet Explorer (8) to do it.
Last week, Kogan amusingly came out and said that anyone using Internet Explorer 7 on his website would need to pay a tax in order to cover his increased costs at supporting them.
This is by no means the first time websites and website owners have taken pot-shots at other browsers and usually Internet Explorer.
Though the noise is growing and growing and after IE6, even IT departments are a little faster to move nowdays.
But dropping supporting for IE8? That sure will inconvenience a lot of people, some or many of whom may be your users and customers.
Based on an announcement a few days ago, it seems making the ‘drop IE8 support’ decision might not even now be yours to make.
that they’re forking their development and whilst they will have a new version of their library supporting older versions of IE, their even newer and better library will not.
They rightly point out that some websites don’t have the choice, though JQuery’s actions will no doubt catalyse many a conversation between the client and the web developer.
Dumb calls will no doubt be made, and a lot of IE users pissed off. I say this because web developers often drive the online destinies of their clients and if they make the call, clients might not know or know better. Or have a choice.
I mean, however many businesses read their stats and are inquisitive enough about the browser market to put 2 + 2 together.
My take is that if IE Internet Explorer is more than 10% of your traffic, you’re stuck supporting IE. As I look at some of our more mainstream clients, they’re at over 40%.
Unfortunately, as much as every single web developer in the world would love to bury Internet Explorer, we can’t ignore the slowly dying zombie of the Internet.
At least not yet.
Sorry, though carry on as you were and let’s talk in 6 months.
Interested in learning more?
Wiliam is a leading supplier of web solutions and can provide expert advice to assist your business or organisation online.