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.
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/