Disclaimer: I have been invited by Microsoft’s digital agency to postulate statements about Internet Explorer 8, post them on my blog and get a discussion happening. This is the first of these posts.
Disclaimer: I am currently doing paid work for a subsidiary of Microsoft. This was not the case when I wrote this post.
Microsoft’s new browser has been eagerly awaited by many. Most hopes were centered around Internet Explorer finally catching up to the rest of the browser world in terms of standards compliance. See, IE7 finally introduced tabbed browsing, but failed the Acid2 test as abysmally as did IE6. So the hopes for IE8 were palpable.
Why IE6 needs to die
The Acid tests are a series of pages which test the adherence of browsers to web standards. There are now three of these tests and they validate a browser’s handling of various technologies used for modern web applications.
Why is this important?
When browser makers ignore web standards, both builders and users of the web suffer. The former because rather than concentrate on functionality and benefits they have to find workarounds to deal with the various browsers’ quirks, effectively building the site multiple times. The latter because sites and online applications break.
The Acid2 test has been around for more than four years now. As of today, the latest versions of all major browsers pass that test.
Acid3 specifically tests scripting and AJAX-related functionality, so the higher a browser’s score, the better it is equipped to handle today’s web interactions. While still lagging behind Safari and Firefox, IE8 seems to be catching up.
Internet Explorer 6 however, still used by 20%-35% of web users, is continuing to be the bane of every web developer’s existence, so the sooner we can get rid of it, the better.
How can IE8 replace IE6?
So replacing IE6, a horrid old piece of broken code, with IE8, a relatively modern browser on the right development track, is a good thing. But how is it going to happen?
1. Users buy a new computer with IE8 preinstalled
This will happen eventually, but bear in mind that computers purchased as late as October 2006 still shipped with IE6. Some of these purchasers are likely to hold on to these machines for many more years.
2. Windows Update will nudge users into upgrading to IE8
Windows Update has begun to automatically request users to accept an upgrade. Unfortunately, this is opt-in and not very convincing for non-technical users. I can foresee many answering this dialog in the negative.
3. Users actively and manually download and install IE8
This is something only more advanced computer users would do and, in all likeliness, already have. If they haven’t already defected to Firefox or Chrome, that is.
So how can we finally dump IE6 on the rubbish tip of browser history?
Yahoo! and eBay
Shortly after the release of Internet Explorer 8, both Yahoo! and eBay have made available branded versions of the browser bundled with specific enhancements aimed at users of their respective sites.
Both eBay and Yahoo! reach deep into pockets of non-technical web users who are unlikely to upgrade their own browser and by offering them a better way to manage their Yahoo! email or their eBay buying and selling compel them to go with IE8.
Is this going to be enough to finally push IE6 over the edge? Or is Kate Carruthers right and it is really the corporates who are holding back the elimination of IE6?