Chances are that, if you know anybody involved in web development, design or usability, you will already be aware of this but I’m still amazed by how many aren’t. The biggest threat that the Social Web faces today isn’t authoritarian governments, lack of broadband availability or even piracy or hackers. This pervasive threat actually comes from the company that, more likely than not and in one way or another, you are reading this blog courtesy of.
That’s right, the single biggest threat faced today by the Social Web is – dun, dun, duunnnnnnnn – Internet Explorer 6. This isn’t a hatchet job and I’m not a hater of Micro$oft by any means which, given the fact that I own a machine running Windows Vista, surprises even me sometimes. Even Microsoft themselves would suggest you download the later versions of IE and they made the thing! So, it’s probably best then, that I explain what I mean when I say it’s the Osama Bin Laden of browsers. IE6 was first shipped in August 2001, yes that’s before most of us even knew who Bin Laden was, which by anyone’s reckoning is nearly a full eight and a half years ago. Now, I am not a neophile, my car is older than that and – I’ll be honest with you here – so are some of my clothes but just imagine how long a time that is in the world of the internet.
Back in 2001 you could almost name your price for any business with a domain name attached to it, almost nobody used google, we were all allowed to download anything we wanted from Napster for free and without fear of legal recourse from our ISPs and the closest thing to the Social Web were sites like FARK, Slashdot and technology like ICQ and MSN Messenger. It’s safe to say that nowadays the web is a very, very different place. So why, even now when the web has moved on immeasurably, do roughly 20% of users still browse the web using IE6? I guess the short answer would be the good old fashioned combination of laziness/ignorance. It’s actually different in some Third World countries where web usage is more likely to be via mobile web where it’s actually factory shipped but lets skip over that, it’s fairly safe to say that you aren’t very likely to be reading this from Thailand. So, in an effort to spread the word, here’s why you should upgrade post-post-post-haste if you are using IE6.
Aesthetically IE6 is awful, without getting too technical, it’s not really designed to interpret web pages made in the last few years. You know all of those lovely drop shadows, rounded corners, shaded edges and layers? No? Well you must be using IE6. It doesn’t even support CSS2! Good designers will factor in workarounds for sites to look passable in IE6 but even the best will sometimes spend hours cursing it, going grey and grinding their teeth. They shouldn’t be doing this though, it’s a waste of everyone’s time that they have to, good designers should be doing better designs and not enslaving themselves to a technology that, if it were on TV would be in black and white.
An interesting thing has begun to happen around the web, if you use IE6 then some sites will actually implore you to switch or upgrade your browser. Others on the other hand just plain wont work. Twitter, for instance, began doing so around the middle of last year and I virtually jumped out of my chair when they did. Youtube followed suit not long after, and much more brutally too. This isn’t sniffy high mindedness on their part though, it’s for a perfectly valid reason. A lot of the applications that now drive the Social Web actually struggle to work with IE6. Again, without getting too technical, and to use the simplest analogy to hand, it’s like running a car on unleaded petrol when it doesn’t have a catalytic converter. Sure it might work but you’ll be in for a bumpy ride and you’ll more than likely break down pretty quickly. What’s more, you’ll get where you are going terribly slowly.
If the last two didn’t get you switching then this one will. “As of January 10, 2009, security advisory site Secunia reports 142 vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer 6, 22 of which are unpatched”. Tossing aside the likelihood that, if you are still using IE6, you will more than likely have not updated your security patches for it, that is still 22 security flaws in your browser. 22 Separate ways which nasties can still infiltrate your personal data and do beastly things to all your lovely data. I just hope you don’t bank with it.
So there you have it, switch if you can. If you are in a company using ie6, which my last company were up until last year, picket the IT department, send them this link. If you know someone who uses it shun them like a leper. It’s for the good of the Social Web remember, the less time spent on catering on nearly decade old technology the quicker progress will be.
Bin IE666 people, you know it makes sense.