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%.