The Petition Against IE6

There’s a petition that’s getting some attention in the media asking the British government to end its endorsement of Internet Explorer 6. The petition explains that IE6 is vulnerable to exploits and so encouraging users to continue using IE6 makes the users more vulnerable than if they had a more modern browser.

I’m no fan of IE, especially the broken rendering engine that has plagued the browser since its creation. Although with that said, I feel IE 8, from the a CSS and rendering engine perspective, is very nearly where it should be.

And I certainly would encourage all users to upgrade to a modern browser, be it IE 8 or Firefox or Opera or Safari or any of their countless derivatives. (I am intentionally leaving Chrome out of the list because I believe there are some deep flaws with the philosophy of its creators that doom the browser to always be problematic, but that is for another blog post.)

However I don’t agree with this petition.

The Register article states the petition’s author is the managing director of a web publishing company that recently nixed IE 6 from its support list. I’m guessing the author’s intent may not be focused solely on the safety of UK citizens, but perhaps a bit influenced by the fact that his company can not be contracted by the UK government since their company no longer supports IE6.

Perhaps I am being cynical.

The reason I do not agree with the petition is I believe any web site should be accessible in every web browser that conforms to basic HTML standards. At the end of the day a web site should work on plain text. That’s exactly what the web was made for. The whole “Rich Internet Application” junk that has spawned since is more a product of the need to “out flash” (no pun intended) the next guy. It’s the kind of design philosophy responsible for atrocities like the BLINK and MARQUEE tags.

I’m not saying that every web site should be nothing but plain text and maybe a few 8-bit images. Far from it. I’m all for incorporating new technologies, such as Flash or Javascript, to help improve the user experience. However I strongly believe that web site functionality should not rely on such technologies. You have existing standards such as the HTTP protocol’s GET and POST methods allow a web site to be interactive. If you wish to hide these operations behind some AJAX calls so users do not experience the traditional page load (because it feels more like a “real” and “interactive” computer application) that’s fine. But support for those basic methods of submitting and receiving data from your web site should still function for those who, by choice or by limitation of software, do not support HTTP/HTML extension technologies.

So I question the intent of this petition. If your web site is simply not compatible with IE6 it is because you have decided to employ newer technologies that are not compatible. You have, by choice, made your web site less accessible.

You could argue that I am contradicting myself a bit with the various CSS-based layouts I have created that, unless CSS hacks are employed, make them completely unusuable in browsers like IE6. My response is that A) part of my goal was to show people it was possible to develop web pages that DID work with older browsers while still employing newer technologies for those browsers that support it and B) I wanted to explore the limits of CSS and such exploration requires that we break older browsers if we are to find the new limits.

And every layout I do offer up for download and say “here, use it” I include vast amounts of documentation on the hacks employed, why they were employed, and I showcase that these layouts ARE compatible with the incompatible browsers. Hopefully with the work I’ve shared with my layouts I’ve been able to show at least one person that it’s really possible to make a modern web site while still being able to support older browsers; I think it’s a very important lesson for any web developer to learn. And it’s a lesson I think the author of this petition and those that have signed it need to learn.


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