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Why IE6 is the Greatest Browser Ever Made

How would you react if I told you that I had released a piece of software on August 27, 2001 that was deemed (at the time) to be of high standards and quality by its users and reviewers, and that, although it is unstable and buggy by today’s standards, currently holds a 25% market share (2nd only to its successor)*, despite similar competitive releases by other companies?

You would probably immediately conclude that this piece of software was/is a huge success. But once I told you that I was talking about Internet Explorer Version 6, you would immediately conclude that I was out of my mind (as you already concluded when you saw the headline for this article).

But let’s be honest with ourselves. Success is not necessarily dependent on quality and feature-richness. IE6 has done exactly what Microsoft intended for it to do: Help users browse the internet with minimal supervision via a clean, easy-to-use interface.

Web developers need to face up to the fact that the average web user today wants to read, shop, and browse. And all of that can be done quite easily without Firefox, Opera, Safari, or even IE7. The overused motto “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” certainly applies here — and this is especially true when you factor in Microsoft’s poor history when it comes to software upgrades. People know that Microsoft has a habit of releasing unnecessarily complicated and bloated software upgrades, so why should the users bother to upgrade a perfectly functional browser?

I know what you’re thinking: It’s not perfectly functional! It’s buggy, it does not adhere to standards, it doesn’t display web pages properly… I could go on. But that is evident from the perspective of a web developer, not a novice computer user that has no clue what CSS stands for. And 98% of the time, the user is not even going to notice the bugs and incompatibility issues. Even if IE6 crashes twice a day (which is probably a very high estimate), that still would not be enough reason to upgrade if the only thing you use a browser for is reading email, facebooking, and shopping online.

And if you still don’t believe that IE6 is the greatest browser ever made, go back and read the first release of  Designing With Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman. At the time that book was released, IE6 was viewed as the most standards-compliant browser, and Zeldman talks about it throughout the book.

I don’t like IE6 — I never use it, except to ensure cross-browser compatibility for sites I code — and I think anyone who uses it should upgrade immediately, or else switch to Firefox (any version). But my opinion means nothing to Microsoft, and it certainly means nothing to the facts of the past 7 years, in which IE6 has virtually dominated the Web Browser market despite incredible amounts of competition, and constant (often web developer-biased) criticism.

* Note: I made an error, which I’ve corrected. IE6 holds about 25%, and IE7 is at around 50%.

18 Responses

  1. Gordon:

    That’s like saying MacDonalds is the greatest eating experience in the world because they have more stores than anyone else.

  2. Ben R:

    I think you should define the difference between “greatest” and “most successful”, as the two are not necessarily synonymous. After all, the “greatness” of something is totally subjective, while success can be measured objectively.

  3. You say “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” then proceed to list its flaws. Surely then it was broken?

    But in all honesty, I don’t think IE6 is *that* bad. A good developer won’t struggle too much with it, and 99% of all bugs are known, and hacks documented so it’s not as big a problem as people constantly make out…

    Harry

  4. I agree with you, not in so many words but I believe you are right about facing the fact IE6 is holding a large share online. “success is not necessarily dependent on quality and feature-richness.” it’s true, majority of people online are not tech savvy, just use what they have.

    I see all this designers/developers you say “no longer need to design for Ie6″ and that those who do should just move on which just make me think, if clients uses Ie6 then how will you complete a project. Ie6 is a horrible browser by current standards, but it’s here and not going away any time soon.

    you wrote an excellent post :-)

  5. seriously i dont belong the era ie6 belongs to…can live in past too

  6. but in same way its right though

  7. Anthony Bruno:

    IE6 is still successful because people dont know how to upgrade.

  8. Ray:

    These are great observations. Web developers have a tendency to think that upgrades should immediately be adopted by all users, but the fact is, most people don’t really notice the difference.
    You should check out the discussion here:
    http://www.usabilitypost.com/post/14-drop-ie6-support-give-people-a-reason-to-upgrade

  9. Nacho:

    People who are not constantly surfing use IE6.
    They use it because they have old machines that have it, and they actually think it’s the only software to view web pages.
    I use IE6 too, when I code websites, and you never get a message concerning that there are actually 2 newer versions of the software.

    So, people use it because they are not well informed. If someone would show them a good browser, and compare it to IE6, they would always switch to the better one.

    And that is a personal experience.
    Nearly all the people I know now use Firefox, and deleted IE6. And they have no regrets :)

  10. There is no doubt that that IE6 was extremely successful. Probably more successful than any browser will ever be again, but the title Greatest Browser Ever Made is very subjective. In the wake of IE’s success Microsoft sat on its hands and allowed other Browser developers to introduce new and better products, and that is how Microsoft went from virtually 100% of the browser market down to almost 50%.

    Of course the average person is happy with what they have until they are introduced to something better. People currently still using IE6 where probably happy sending postal mail until they where introduced to email, and I’m sure similar examples can be applied to other advances in technology.

    Pre-IE6 browsers where perfectly capable of allowing web users to read, shop, browse, and email as well, but as underlying web standards and technology change and advance, so must the web browser, or be left to antiquate, and what is apparent to the web developer will inevitably be apparent to the web user, so consequently you have IE7 and IE8. I can agree that IE6 was the Greatest Browser of its time, but its time has passed.

  11. Good article! from the perspective of a web developer. :)

  12. You make some interesting observations, but I don’t get the central gist of the post — are you informing developers that they need to make their work IE6-compatible?

  13. Matthew:

    In its hayday yes. It did was it needed to do. But now the fact is it won’t die. And it needs to. :D

  14. Thank you to all for your comments. A few replies:

    @Gordon: IE6 doesn’t clog your arteries or give you cancer. :0)

    @Ben R: I almost changed the title from “greatest” but I really wanted to grab everyone’s attention, so I left the title slightly embellished.

    @Harry Roberts: When I said “if it ain’t broke…” I meant from the perspective of the user, not the developer. That’s the problem with developers, they often fail to see things through the user’s eyes. I know IE6 is “broke”, but the average user doesn’t.

    @Barney: No, I wasn’t trying to talk about compatibility, I was simply helping developers accept that IE6, all things considered, really is a very successful browser (Microsoft’s anti-competitive tactics aside).

    Thanks to the others for the positive comments!

  15. Sure, I liked IE6 in its prime. What developer didn’t? Sure, it had its place in history. And its place would have been been held in high regard, but as the years pass, it still holds too large of a marketshare. It is not like browser software is expensive to replace.. It marketshare is only due to ignorance. It came from an era when the content of pc could be backed up multiple times on DVD.

    The horse and buggy had there place, too. They just no longer belong on the fast-lane on the interstate!

  16. Shoghon:

    Wow.
    Didn’t MS ‘win’ its marketshare because it (decided later in a courts around the world) illegally developed a monopoly by bundling IE6 and making it part of its OS?

    Of course it was buggy by today’s standards because…well there was no competition and MS likes to make the rules.

    Now that many of us in the dev world care about standards, why should we think about this old browser?

  17. @Shoghon: Who ever said success was dependent on following rules/laws? :-)

  18. I had no idea that IE 6 still had such a large userbase. I still have a DOS point of sale system running in my retail business so I guess if it ain’t broke…

    Rick

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