Friendly anti-IE6 warning messages

.Nets anti-IE6 campaign logo

.Net's anti-IE6 campaign logo

Update March 2011: in the two years since I first wrote this post – which has had tends of thousands of hits from around the globe – IE6 usage has declined to the point where Microsoft now has a formal campaign celebrating its own product’s demise. I am pleased to see that their suggested messages to IE6 users follow the polite route of explanation I suggested in this blog post.  The heart of the matter still stands, though – many people simply do not understand what a browser is, much less what cross-browser issues are.  I recently had a frustrating situation with a client who asked for several advanced effects which were not cross-browser compatible; ironically, they could not see the effects they requested on their ageing laptop.  When I explained the situation, the client replied “what’s a browser?”  Rather than listen to my explanation, they took their business to another designer.  Educate and encourage, but tread carefully when it comes to IE6 and browsers; defending web standards can cost you more than you think.

I have mixed feelings about the numerous campaigns against Internet Explorer 6, that glitchy dinosaur which is the bane of web designers of all stripes, mainly because I can’t see any campaign that is about the end user and not the designer.  (.net’s campaign page is a good and balanced start.) Many of the campaigns encourage designers to lecture ordinary web users about web standards and browser compatibility, which makes no sense at all to any of them, and also risks casting web designers in a bad light as pushy snobs.  I know for a fact that a lot of UK ISPs delivered IE6 with their installation packages and a frightening number of everyday web users still use it as a result because they just don’t understand what a browser is.  That doesn’t make them stupid or easy targets for web standard snobbery, or even worse, outright abuse (link NSFW).  It just means they need a little extra help.  Many crusaders just don’t seem to understand that the people who are still using IE6 are the ones with the least computer savvy and sophistication; and yet they are being castigated not on their own level, but with all the standard-hacking superiority that web geeks can muster.

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That opinion still didn’t stop me from wailing out loud this week when I was doing a pre-launch scan of a client site on Browsercam and saw that, sure enough, in IE6 the navigation bar was reduced to a vertical incoherent jumble.  I swore out loud long ago to stop coding sites for IE6 (following a lot of swearing out loud at IE6 full stop) and was determined not to spend any billable client time on it.  But I still had to find some way to address the incompatibility, and cover my behind as a designer as well!

Voila this IE6 warning message plugin for WordPress.  If the end user is on IE6, a discreet yellow warning message appears at the top of the screen advising them to upgrade.  Links are provided to browser upgrades as well.  The default warning message, unfortunately, personified my problem with anti-IE6 campaigns:

You are using Internet Explorer version 6.0 or lower. Due to security issues and lack of support for Web Standards it is highly recommended that you upgrade to a modern browser

Scare tactics and geek snobbery, oh dear.  So I changed the warning message to a more user friendly one:

You are using Internet Explorer 6.0 or older to view the web.  IE6 is an eight year old piece of software which does not display modern web sites properly.  Please upgrade to a newer browser to fully enjoy the web.

Will it have an impact?  I can only hope so.  Helping people to understand the problem and how to eliminate it has to be more productive than moaning about CSS hacks or shouting abuse.  If you still don’t understand why, read my last comment.

If you’re not using WordPress there is a similar standalone script at http://code.google.com/p/ie6-upgrade-warning/

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15 thoughts on “Friendly anti-IE6 warning messages

  1. Nice article – I’ve added the same to my non-business-blog (I’d still prefer to not add it to the company blog – it’s still dead easy to lose potential clients!) and will see how it goes.

    Oh, and I’ve copied your text rather than the snotty one – hope you don’t mind!

  2. Very much agree with that approach. I think you’re right that designers’ hate for IE6 is spilling through into the way they address support and advice for clients. Of course it’s right to explain the weaknesses and disadvantages of IE6, but addressing it in a way which doesn’t tacity criticize the IE6 user is definitely the best way to go.

  3. I think I’ve benefited greatly from having a mother-in-law who takes a genuine interest in my business despite being a “woman of a certain age” who is totally computer illiterate. When we’re talking, I have to figure out how to explain things like accessibility and RSS feeds to her in a way that even she can understand without patronising her. It gives me empathy for people who (gasp shock) do not live and breathe the internet 24/7.

  4. I’m worried about the impact of designers dropping IE6 support because many people don’t actually have a choice about which browser they use… we have IE6 at work, the PCs are locked down so you can’t upgrade yourself, and there are no plans to roll-out an upgrade anytime soon (will probably be years)!

  5. I know what you mean. I had the experience of not being able to open a simple PDF because the office computer had a five year old version of Adobe, and in order to upgrade you had to get an electronic approval ticket from your manager and forward it to the outsourced IT department in Bangalore. I concluded that companies like that just aren’t worth working for.

    In a situation like yours, where your work is largely internal for a workplace still using 6.0, by all means design for 6.0.

  6. Workplaces that have IE6 on their machines and don’t let users install anything else are not a problem, as IE6 is actually perfectly easy to design for. The problem has always been building a site that’ll work on IE6 as well as other browsers. Take the other browsers out of the equation, and problem solved.

    On the main point, of geek snobbery, I think Web-design has simply been infected by the same annoying attitude that permeates all IT departments. Plenty of pages out there containing lists of the most annoying stupid things that IT support have to deal with from bloody ignorant end users. These idiots never seem to understand that the only reason they even have jobs is the very ignorance they keep insulting. What most of the world’s IT departments need is to be managed by an excellent customer service manager who knows nothing about IT.

    Your message is about right, Heather, though I personally would add a note that upgrading should only take a few minutes. People are likely to have had some experience of nightmarish installations, so might well respond to any mention of upgrading with “Avoid! Avoid!”

  7. Is the plugin active on this page? Didn’t get a discreet message! Didn’t get any message! Using IE 6.0.2900 :)

  8. Thanks for your input. Though I did get an audible laugh out of those IE6 splash pages, I, certainly like the ideas for the WP plug-in.

  9. I don’t think you should dismiss warning about security as ‘scare tactics’, it’s a very insecure browser and is targeted by cybercriminals because of that. It’s a very real issue especially for business. If your IT department isn’t keeping your system secure by installing regular update they need firing, after all, isn’t this what they’re getting paid for?

  10. Hello

    Whilst I do value your opinion in being helpful, ie

    > Helping people to understand the problem…

    I do not believe that the average person actually cares one way or another, are they going to appreciate your helpful advice?

    Honestly, I don’t think so – sometimes, you do need to ram a message down people’s throat, just to get the blighters to sit up and pay attention – awaken them from their daily online slumber if you will? A polite (politically correct?) message just doesn’t cut it I’m afraid!

    Besides, the first message isn’t too far from the truth, nor is it over the top – people do need to be made aware of the problem of IE6. Apart from that point, good articles abound on your site.

  11. Your job as a web designer is to meet your clients’ needs. Not to vent your spleen, show off yo mad skillz, or ram your personal opinions down your clients’ customers’ throats.

    If you view your clients’ customers as “blighters” who need to be awakened from their “slumber”, you are in the wrong profession.

  12. Its time to put IE6(The Ancient bowser). Pls suggest to your friends and family members to stop using this obsolete browser :)

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