As happens every spring, it’s a good time to get rid of the junk in the closet and make some room for the new junk. Browsers can be updated and cleaned up. Cookies can be deleted (and just maybe, your privacy restored). Desktops can be cleaned up (i.e., backed up).
Even the grand old man of the web world, Internet Explorer 6, is finally getting a big push out the door: its one-time proud creator, Microsoft, has pushed the countdown towards its eventual extinguishing. Finally, we may be able to stop worrying about a ten-year-old web browser and worry instead about the different devices users and customers are visiting your site with.
Google has, in just over two years, released a full 10 versions of its web browser Chrome; Microsoft has itself just this week released a preview of Internet Explorer 10, a milestone on a seventeen-year journey. HTML is itself going through a lot of changes after a rather fallow period, with HTML5, CSS3, AJAX and web apps all the rage.
In fact, this advancing advancement in technology is a change in direction as well as an acceleration: much of what is driving HTML, the backbone of web display technology, is an understanding of how people are actually using the web today, not a top-down direction of how some developers think people should use the web (see the derailment of XHMTL 2). Jerks forward are being smoothed out, as browsers get updated much more rapidly to account for all these changes – technical and user changes.
Keep an eye on the browser versions as seen here:
Like a bear waking up after a long hibernation, the last two years have seen a lot of innovation in browsers matched by the web itself. Many of your favourite websites not only didn’t exist, the very concept of them didn’t exist when Internet Explorer 6 was first released back in 2001. No WordPress (2003), Facebook (2004), no Youtube (2005), no Twitter (2006).
Obsolescence is a part of the web, of course, and just as no one today uses Alta-Vista, Magellan or All-the-Web to search the web (hands up if you even remember these), there’s still a lot of attachment to older browsers. Perversely, IE6 has become the new Netscape 4, the browser it decimated, as the new browser that just won’t die, much as even Microsoft tries.
Quagmires – like claiming in court that the browser was a part of the operating system, and so IE6 can’t be dropped until Windows XP is end-of-lifed in 2014 – are slowing Microsoft somewhat, while other browser makers have been considerably more agile, even while following roughly the same browser-in-the-OS model. Recall, if you will, that Apple pretty much does the same thing with Safari: versions tend to be tied to versions of the Mac OS, and support for older versions is dropped pretty quickly, and no one complains too much about this1.
Sadly, as much as you might want to spruce things up a bit and leap into using the latest and greatest, the real question is where your users are, and what kind of compromises you’re able to make in balancing a user base at least somewhat hibernating with IE6 (or 7, frankly) with a demand for the kinds of web experiences modern sites can offer.
Tellingly, IE6 was dealt a more serious blow when Facebook dropped support for it than from pretty much all of Microsoft’s warnings that IE6 is insecure and out of date.
Unless you have a very clear reason for supporting IE6 (or, again, 7, frankly), the advantages of dropping support for them and using only modern browsers are enormous. Very innovative typography (not something IE was ever known for) became a central point in Microsoft’s marketing for IE9, as seen at the Lost World's Fairs site. Web applications that make extensive use of fast, responsive database work2 are just the kinds of websites we’re using more and more of, and even older, content-driven websites are converting to this model3. (XML_HTTP_REQUEST, the method that makes these sites work and the “X” in AJAX, perhaps ironically, was first introduced by Microsoft all the way back in IE5.)
Yellowing paper and yellowing browsers, this is the season to recycle them. Zero-in now on where your users are going, not where they were and start getting ready for a sunny summer.
- And we won't even discuss the mobile versions in iOS for which there is exactly no upgrade path beyond the OS, which is, from a developer’s point of view, exactly great: if you run iOS 4 on your iPhone or iPad, you have exactly the same browser as everyone else running iOS 4 ↩
- As seen in the “new twitter” and almost any site that gives you lots of “hash bangs” [“#!”’s] in the address bar ↩
- For reasons too extensive to go into here (ask, though, and we can tell you) ↩