Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bad dog, IE6. Bad dog!

I try to make this blog work for everyone – that’s why I have the font-size changer in the right hand column, so that everyone can read it despite my somewhat outrĂ© choice of white on black. And that’s why I was disturbed to find that Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 doesn’t render it properly.

On the right is what this blog looks like in IE6. Two things are wrong. The white background around the green Adium logo shouldn’t be there – that background is set as transparent. IE6’s forerunner, IE5, gets that one wrong as well. It’s ugly, but I can live with that problem.

The really, really annoying thing as far as I’m concerned is that the right hand column displays below the main column, so most people will never see it. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It’s telling that only IE6 of the 50-odd browsers I tested using got this wrong. IE6 is old, and home users will probably have upgraded by now (hint), but many are stuck with IE6 at their workplaces, where IT departments like to control desktop configurations and need a very good reason to change versions. And the statistics for this blog show that IE6 makes up only about 2.5% of visitors, but that might be because the site is barely usable in IE6.

This must be an example of IE not following standards. Lots of websites have separate code – effectively separate web pages – for IE browsers so that their pages render the same way on IE as they do on other browsers.

I’m left wondering why IE was so non-compliant for so long. I’d like to find an explanation besides incompetence or hubris in assuming it could ignore standards and force the web to its bidding. To its credit, Microsoft realises it has a problem in this area and the latest IE8 beta makes a real effort to be more standards-compliant. That leads to other problems for sites with IE-specific code, but let’s not go there now.

In the meantime, I’m faced with trying to debug this thing for an old browser on a platform I don’t own, or just giving in and accepting that some people won’t be able to read it even if they want to. Sigh.

posted by colin at 8:24 am  


  1. Hello Colin,

    For years (i.e. since it came out, about 7 years ago, I think), Micrsoft’s Internet Explorer has been a source of frustration for web developers worldwide. Web developers have published LOTS of pages helping other developers circumvent the multitude of inadequacies and proprietary quirks it foisted on the unsuspecting web user. This site is a great example:
    A google for “ie6 css problems” returns 715,000 results. My colleagues and I often discuss sending an invoice to Microsoft rather than forcing our web site customers to bear the cost of working around those IE6 problems, which can sometimes double the time required to create website. I wouldn’t be surprised if the international cost borne by businesses and organisations who, due to its lingering marketshare, still have to accommodate the fundamental brokenness of MS IE6, is in the tens or hundreds of billions of dollars. To their credit, Facebook have recently announced that their new site engine will no longer support IE6, as doing so would have meant too big a compromise on their ability to offer innovative functionality.

    The fact the some businesses and organisations still use IE6 is inexcusable given the multitude of better options that are freely available (both free of cost, and free of the proprietary rubbish). Those who still cling to IE6 are simply demonstrating their lack of savvy. In most cases, their internal business systems (e.g. intranets) were built with dependencies on IE6-specific technologies (like Microsoft’s proprietary security nightmare: “ActiveX”). They are all shining examples of the foolishness of betting on the consistency of proprietary technologies, and the utter folly of equating “big corporation” with “long term stability”.

    Comment by Dave Lane — 13 September 2008 @ 12:38 pm

  2. I remember my first non-trivial exercise in dynamic HTML, doing a photo-cropping function for a client’s web site. After one day, I got the code working fine in both Firefox and Konqueror (apart from the latter’s lack of support of transparency). I then had to spend another day (50% of the development time) putting in deliberately WRONG numbers just to get things looking right in IE6.

    My verdict is, it’s not worth supporting any more. Those organizations that prevent their users from running any other browser probably also restrict the kinds of sites they’re allowed to visit any way, so I wouldn’t worry about it.

    Comment by Lawrence D'Oliveiro — 17 September 2008 @ 12:47 pm

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