I just read a great article over at LifeHacker which has me very hopeful about the immediate future of the web.  Google will be halting support for Internet Explorer 6 when using their venerable Google Apps platform.

I can’t tell you how happy I am that this has happened.  As a web designer, IE6 (and Microsoft in general) has had the effect of slowing the progress of the internet as a medium.  If Microsoft had allowed Windows 2000 to upgrade Internet Explorer to version 7+, then much of this would be irrelevant as most organizations which had invested in ActiveX-based intranet applications would be able to simply upgrade and move on with their lives.  If everyone can upgrade simultaneously, then an in-house developer can make all the changes to their code as needed, and it should work fairly well across all the machines in that organization.

What happened instead was that organizations were forced to either upgrade the operating systems across all their computers to XP or higher, or suffer horrible feature and support fragmentation nightmares based on different behavior in different browser versions.  Or for folks who didn’t know that there were newer versions of IE, they didn’t get to play until they shelled out money for an OS upgrade, or their machine died forcing a replacement.

Now, being who I am, I would recommend that everyone use Firefox, Safari, or Chrome, and be done with it.  Microsoft has not shown itself until very recently to be interested in playing ball with regards to web standards.  From a business perspective, they have seen that fragmentation as a way of keeping customers reliant upon their version of a specification.  If they can keep that stranglehold, then customers would have to buy the latest version of Windows in order to stay in the game, which is good for Microsoft.  This strategy actually worked pretty well for them for many years.  But there was a side-effect which has not been so good for their business.

Do you need to support IE6?  Well as a web developer, that means I have to rebuild much of your website so that the remaining 18% of web users who haven’t upgraded can still see your site in a way that isn’t hideously different from what you expected.  …so that’ll cost you more.

But there’s more to it than just an increase of cost.  Unless the person or company who is purchasing the construction of a website is comfortable having multiple versions of their website (one that works in IE, and one that works with everything else), web designers had to build a site which was hobbled in it’s appearance and capabilities.

If the goal of the internet is to bring people together, to build a digital/meta medium for business transactions, informational exchange, collaboration, and expression, then which do you think is a better choice?  A browser which adheres (as well as can be done given the pace of technology) to a common set of rules, is well documented, and can be run on multiple platforms be it a traditional computer, mobile device, or whatever else you can think of, or a browser which operates on one operating system, uses it’s own proprietary conventions, is poorly documented (if one excludes the work done by the developer community at large to map out bugs & work-arounds that Microsoft would not) and can only be used in environments which Microsoft allows you to operate in?

Firefox is not a perfect browser, nor is Safari, nor is Chrome.  Safari does not work all that well on Windows, and not at all on Linux.  Firefox is coming along for mobile devices but is not quite ready.  Neither Safari, nor Chrome are extensible in the way that Firefox is.  But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter, because they all are competing to better support and extend the w3c standards for web design.

I may as a developer have to make a tweak here and there to accommodate differences between browsers, but I don’t have to fundamentally rebuild the layout the way one has to do to support IE6.

This is where Google comes in.

Now, I have my problems with Google.  They are not the perfect company that their branding suggests, but they do a good job at disrupting aspects of the technology landscape which have been stagnant.  By dropping support for IE6, they have drawn a line in the sand making the last hold-outs on IE6 upgrade or switch platforms.  Truthfully, that may be painful for a lot of businesses who haven’t needed to upgrade for quite some time, but they are now working towards dropping support for IE6 on YouTube which will likely be IE6’s true death knell.

Now to be fair, Microsoft’s latest version of IE (version 8) has come a long way towards the w3c web standards model, but they are playing catch-up, and do not seem to be keeping pace very well.  It does not support HTML5 (the latest and greatest HTML specification), CSS3 (which could give websites the lustre of magazines and print while enhancing the advantages of the web medium), or SVG (which would largely –though not entirely so save your flames, wipe out the advantages of Flash as a web medium).

If IE6 can finally be ignored as a supported platform, the speed and impact of the latest innovations to the web could alter the way we interact online, and could fundamentally change the devices we use to do it.

Don’t believe me?  Here are some examples of what’s coming (of course you’ll need Firefox 3.5+, Safari 4+, Opera 9.2+, or Chrome to view these):

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One Comment

  1. Posted February 15, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Permalink


    The future is mobile devices so the browsers that work correctly is extremely important. IE8 still has many problems including the fact that there are two versions of the sucker. One that is really IE7 in disguise. It will be years before all browsers will support HTML 5 correctly.

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