The topic of site support for IE6 has had a lot of discussion on the web recently as a result of a post on the Digg blog. Why would anyone run an eight-year old browser? Should sites continue to support it? What more can anyone do to get IE6 users to upgrade?
For technology enthusiasts, this topic seems simple. Enthusiasts install new (often unfinished or “beta”) software all the time. Scores of posts on this site and others describe specific benefits of upgrading. As a browser supplier, we want people to switch to the latest version of IE for security, performance, interoperability, and more. So, if all of the “individual enthusiasts” want Windows XP machines upgraded from IE6, and the supplier of IE6 wants them upgraded, what’s the issue?
The choice to upgrade software on a PC belongs to the person responsible for the PC.
Many PCs don’t belong to individual enthusiasts, but to organizations. The people in these organizations responsible for these machines decide what to do with them. These people are professionally responsible for keeping tens or hundreds or thousands of PCs working on budget. The backdrop might be a factory floor or hospital ward or school lab or government organization, each with its own business applications. For these folks, the cost of the software isn’t just the purchase price, but the cost of deploying, maintaining, and making sure it works with their IT infrastructure. (Look for “nothing is free” here.) They balance their personal enthusiasm for upgrading PCs with their accountability to many other priorities their organizations have. As much as they (or site developers, or Microsoft or anyone else) want them to move to IE8 now, they see the PC software image as one part of a larger IT picture with its own cadence.
Looking back at the post on Digg, it’s not just IT professionals. Some of the ‘regular people’ surveyed there were not interested in upgrading. Seventeen percent of respondents to the Digg IE6 survey indicated that they “don’t feel a need to upgrade.” Separately, a letter to a popular personal technology columnist last week asked if people will somehow be forced to upgrade from their current client software if it already meets their needs.
The engineering point of view on IE6 starts as an operating systems supplier. Dropping support for IE6 is not an option because we committed to supporting the IE included with Windows for the lifespan of the product. We keep our commitments. Many people expect what they originally got with their operating system to keep working whatever release cadence particular subsystems have.
As engineers, we want people to upgrade to the latest version. We make it as easy as possible for them to upgrade. Ultimately, the choice to upgrade belongs to the person responsible for the PC.
We’ve blogged before about keeping users in control of their PCs, usually in the context of respecting user choice of search settings or browser defaults. We’ll continue to strongly encourage Windows users to upgrade to the latest IE. We will also continue to respect their choice, because their browser is their choice.