IE6 – it’s not dead yet

There’s been a lot of talk recently about finally dropping support for old internet browsers, specifically Internet Explorer 6, by website designers and the technical media:

http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/07/09/old-browsers-are-holding-back-the-web/

As an aside Smashing Magazine have also done a good job of explaining why you should upgrade:

http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/07/10/dear-web-user-please-upgrade-your-browser/

Some web sites have even taken stronger steps such as imposing their own tax on purchases made in older browsers, though it could be argued that this is more about PR:

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2405813,00.asp
http://www.kogan.com/au/blog/new-internet-explorer-7-tax/

It’s easy to blame the user for not keeping up to date, and as a fellow developer I can understand the frustrations. However a recent trip to a hospital in Barcelona gave me a new real world insight from a user’s perspective.

Before I had kids I don’t think I’d been to hospital for at least 20 years, but now I’m thinking that we should be getting a loyalty card.

This time we were on holiday when my son, Henry, had his two front (milk) teeth knocked out while messing about with his brother – so a trip to Hospital del Mar (not quite as nice as it sounds) was in order.

As a software developer I see computers and software differently to normal people. Much the same way that a builder or an architect looks at a house, or an artist at a painting, I “see” behind the screen to the structure behind it. I have an insider’s view.

The first problem was registering with the hospital’s system. They had automated the place using SAP and it took 20 minutes to get us signed in. The receptionist let us know her frustration with it – usability was obviously not a priority.

Lesson 1
We all need to up our game when it comes to the user’s experience. It is the software developer’s dilemma:

“If we get it right then you won’t even notice it, it will be so smooth, when we get it wrong we’ll be the root of your bad day”

As I’ve alluded to before on this blog, software can do great things – it should also do it well.

Once we got to see a doctor (they arranged for an English speaking doctor btw – nice touch) Henry had to have an X-ray. When the image was ready the doctor whipped out her Samsung Galaxy Ace and she looked up the X-ray in a chat message from the radiologist. She then entered the number into SAP which opened up an old version of Java to display the image.

Finally as we were waiting, someone wheeled in a very expensive looking custom PC on a trolley. Well not just on a trolley, it was the trolley. It was running Windows XP.

Lesson 2
It’s not the users fault that they are using old software, if they even know anything about it. They have to do the best that they can with the tools that they have been given. That might even mean using their own devices to make life easier. Internet Explorer 6 on the PC, iPads and Samsung Galaxy S III’s – all in the same workplace. It might not even to be possible to upgrade the software – that PC on a trolley wasn’t cheap and it will be around for a while yet I’m sure.

The person sitting in front of the computer has little influence over what is on it – even if they wanted to.

This shows in our own browser statistics too:

90% of our users (that login) are using Internet Explorer and 5% are still using IE 6.

On average, Internet Explorer has a global share of only 32% and Internet Explorer 6 only 0.5% so our audience is somewhat specialised. This is as you would expect, our product is used by enterprise customers. We can’t and don’t ignore these users.

Source http://gs.statcounter.com/#browser_version_partially_combined-ww-monthly-201207-201207-bar.

What to do
So this is what we will do:

  • We will be doing our bit to see if we can persuade our clients to upgrade from IE 6 to something more modern.
  • We will make sure that IE 6 works as well as the newer browsers.

That’s not going to stop us producing a great user experience but as far as the desktop browser version of our application is concerned, HTML 5 will be a distant dream. On mobile devices it’s a different story of course.

We have to work with what you guys are using…and hopefully you won’t notice, you will just have a great day…

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2 thoughts on “IE6 – it’s not dead yet

  1. You’re right Steve. It’s not the users that are at fault, but you are at least right in suggesting that as a supplier you should try to prompt customers to do the right thing and upgrade.

    But where legacy browsers are stuck in place it’s usually because someone at some point strayed from the standards (which MS encouraged a lot back in the days of IEs 5 & 6) in coding bespoke tools. But that was so long ago – what have the IT teams at these companies been doing in the intervening 3 iterations of IE that they haven’t sought to make the most of the advances and get these things out of the way?

    Your point about the operating system is fair, but it does overlook that point that in the Internet era the beauty of web apps is that, in the main, they can be device agnostic. I’m all for the death of IE 5 & 6 but MS will have to wrestle my copy of XP from my stiff, cold fingers…

    1. Thanks Dan.

      Thankfully I think we’re over the ‘Designed for IE 6’ days.

      I suspect that we’re in the mopping up phase, ie IT not getting round to all the PC’s; Training departments holding onto the last remaining hand me down PC’s.

      We are certainly seeing a downward trend, IE 6 use fell 10% alone last month.

      IE 8 is the best you can get on Windows XP (from Microsoft).

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