IE 8 is the new IE 6

Again: IE 8 is the new IE 6, following in the grand tradition of boat-anchor browsers. Who remembers NN 4.x’s endless death dirge? This isn’t about one browser or one version of one browser; it’s about rate of progress.

I keep talking about the structural, economic causes that keep the web the way it is, and folks keep misunderestimating me — some seemingly willfully.

Why, for a decade of experience, can we not seem to see the IE 8 zombie coming? It’s not like it’s going to be some big surprise that unless we do something different, we’ll still be supporting it in 2015. That’s right: in 2015, you’ll still be thinking about a browser that doesn’t support <canvas> or <video> and doesn’t even have a JITing JS engine.

Yes, things will get marginally better when we can drop IE 6 & 7 support, but think about the new features that will be in Chrome, Safari, Firefox and IE 9+ for the years that it takes to retire Windows XP. Remember, IE 9+ won’t be available on XP. Those features — more importantly, the rate they’re being introduced at — are going to continue to make IE 8 look as plodding as IE 6 does to modern eyes. So why don’t we see it coming? Why isn’t this the topic of ALA and Ajaxian articles? Why isn’t this the burning question at web conferences? Every MSFT rep and booth person should be asked the question: what are they doing about IE 8?

More to the point, as a web developer, what are you doing about IE 8?

Me, I’m developing for the future exclusively and asking users of legacy browsers to adopt a modern browser or install Chrome Frame. It’s an uphill battle from here, but nobody is going to bend this curve but us.

41 Comments

  1. Posted October 11, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Over a year and a half ago I was lamenting on the release of of IE8:
    http://nathanhammond.com/why-release-ie8

    I asked this of some people at MSFT at the time and never got any response.

  2. Posted October 11, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    > “Me, I’m developing for the future exclusively and asking users of legacy browsers to adopt a modern browser”

    Let us know how that goes.

  3. Posted October 11, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    (Specifically, the “asking users of legacy browsers to adopt a modern browser” part. The other part would be interesting too though.)

  4. Greg Hinch
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Actually I believe IE 8 will not hang around like 6 has. Ever since 7, MS has made the upgrade process much simpler, to the point where I often go by the mantra “if a person can get IE 7, they are a few clicks from the latest IE”.

    The big problem we face with 6 is the corporate IT infrastructure that is built around 6 (admittedly I work a lot on B2B apps where this is most prevalent). You’ve got huge corporate environments that are and will be running XP well into this next decade. Even worse, a lot of legacy corporate intranet software (think SAP) was built utilizing the JScript APIs that only exist in IE6 (ironically the first place AJAX and web 2.0ishness showed up!). These companies spent millions of dollars having these systems designed, built, installed, and maintained, and likely they plan on keeping them in place for quite a while. That means if you want to build anything that could be usable in a corporate environment, you’re going to have to have a solution for IE6.

    I would bet that 6 will likely outlast 8, 9, 10, and beyond.

  5. Dirk Pranke
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    What makes you think that IE6 isn’t the new IE6?

    In other words, what makes you think that people will ever move from IE6/7 to 8 (and not IE 9+ or a non-IE browser)?

  6. Posted October 11, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Greg: I’d agree but for the huge swath of XP users on IE 8. For them, 8 is the end of the line. There will be no IE 9 in their future. Your comment raises an even gloomier scneario: a mish-mash of 6, 7, and 8 all hanging on to ~5%, keeping us on the hook to support them unless we do something different.

    Dirk: I don’t think folks will move from 6 to 8. Instead, I think there’s a huge fixed-base of XP IE 8 users for whom 8 is the end of the line. For them, moving forward will mean either a new OS license (spendy), a different browser (possibly spendy), or Chrome Frame.

  7. Posted October 11, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    people are starving. as developers, this is your problem. deal with it. i should read blogs written by starving people.

  8. Posted October 11, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Alex, it’s going to take more than a great technology (GCF) and a lot of pushy developers. Google is going to have to push GCF into the corporation as deeply as Silverlight and Flash, and developers need to see Google making the effort to do that. I don’t see that. I see this great technology and an open source spirit, and Google “marketing”. And developers could try to take the lead on this and a year from now Google pulls the plug, a la Wave.

    We recently just made a product decision not to use GCF, because we’d be hanging waaaay out there with our Fortune 500/IE6-moving-to-IE8 customers. Silverlight is no problem for them — already deployed. Why fight to get GCF deployed? So we continue to use the old reliable: dojo, dijit, and dojox.gfx :) :) (Which we love. Thank you. Don’t get so down on it, it’s a fantastic legacy.)

  9. BradfordW
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    I’m more than happy to force them into using the Chrome Frame. And if they don’t have the privileges to install it, I probably don’t want those types of users in my application (please see your administrator).

  10. Posted October 11, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    “Why isn’t this the topic of ALA and Ajaxian articles? Why isn’t this the burning question at web conferences?”

    A comment like this makes me wonder if you’ve been following what the folks of ALA promote pretty heavily: Progressive Enhancement.

    At An Event Apart (the conference put on by the ALA folks), they talk about and SHOW the differences between browsers. They help designers/developers understand that not every browser has to see (CSS) or experience (CSS transforms/animations or JS) a website in precisely the same way. There is a difference between a design element that is “mission critical” and that which is simply charming or a nicety.

    I think if you really embraced the concept of “developing for the future” as you proclaim above, then you wouldn’t be so bent out of shape when decrepit browsers handle things, well, decrepitly. You would just accept things as they are and move on.

  11. Third Grade Teacher
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Could you bother to spell check?

  12. M
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    @BradfordW I think you have a point though. Employees “in the enterprise” are often not even allowed to use many mainstream websites. If you are stuck on IE6 and don’t have the permission to upgrade, you probably aren’t encouraged or even allowed to browse modern websites.

  13. Posted October 11, 2010 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    Is it possible to summarize this post by the sentence: “IE8 is a debugged IE6″ ?

  14. Posted October 11, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Bridget: Nothing I’m advocating replaces the role of (small “s”) semantic markup and well-structured CSS. Instead, it simply argues that we should be lumping IE < 9 into the down-rev bucket and styling/coding for that reality. Folks who want to live in a future where the web is still a competitive platform can happily have it both ways. What they can’t have, though, is the libraries, reset frameworks, techniques, and infrastructure finely tuned to limping along on architectural decisions anchored in a web of yester-year.

    We’re carrying a lot more baggage than we admit.

  15. Posted October 11, 2010 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    I think you make a fair point about the legacy of Windows XP, but I don’t see why Chrome Frame is an easier sell than Chrome proper.

    At the point that I’m not relying on IE6 to render my intranet correctly, why would I want to use two browsers instead of just one?

  16. James Hughes
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    So basically you are saying there will always be a browser that isn’t as good/great as others? Surely that is ALWAYS going to be the case.

    In fact when you look at IE9 compared to the latest Chrome/FF/Opera/Safari you’ll see that it is by far the weakest of the lot but yet we will still have to support it. Is IE9 not the new IE6 (for the HTML5 generation)?

  17. ljf
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    if you make sites for kids, or those in none 1st world countries, then ever site you build has to be usable in ie6 – its a challenge, but not impossible. where I work we just have to public the masses first.

  18. Posted October 12, 2010 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    James: You’re right; there will always be differences. The size of the differences is meaningful, though, as is the rate of progress. If you think about this as a snapshot in time, it’s always hopeless. If you take a related-rates approach, there’s room for improvement and clearly room for improving the *rate* of improvement. That’s what we’re up to with GCF.

    Also, GCF works in IE 9 ;-)

  19. mrtom
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 1:18 am | Permalink

    The real issue for me isn’t so much that corporations tied themselves to IE6, or even that Microsoft broke the APIs sufficiently such that people can’t upgrade away from IE6 easily. It’s that Microsoft made IE such a core part of Windows that they can’t (or won’t) let you have multiple versions of the browser on the same machine.

    If they could lift that restriction it would be trivial to have a prism-a-like (http://prism.mozillalabs.com/) app that wraps IE6 and any legacy applications that require IE6 could just be launched as an app. Your users wouldn’t have to remember to open the app in IE6, it would Just Work.

    In essence, that’s what GCF does anyway – although by tackling the problem in reverse. Let the users click the internet icon and not worry about which rendering engine gets picked.

  20. Posted October 12, 2010 at 2:15 am | Permalink

    I totally agree – i blogged about this myself when the IE9 beta came out – http://blog.caplin.com/2010/09/16/will-ie9-save-us-from-ie6/

    The main problem is the lack of XP support, that is what is going to keep people on (at least) IE8

  21. Sudhir
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 4:14 am | Permalink

    Way to go :D – Its exactly what I’m doing on mapfaire.com. Quite frankly developing is a lot easier and faster anyway, and dropping IE lets you do a lot more.

  22. Posted October 12, 2010 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    The problem about people and corporations that choose to stay with IE6 is their problem alone. They made the unfortunate decision that mires them in that sticky tar pit and they have to live with it. Like all IE users, they mostly realize they can’t use most features of the modern web and are used to it or, at least, aren’t aware of what they are missing. Some dumb down their sites to accomodate them. Like Alex, I prefer to be current and give IE users what they can handle. They won’t miss anything anyway.

  23. durkin
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 4:29 am | Permalink

    Me, I’m developing in Flash and Silverlight. They’re both fine in IE6, 7, 8, 9, Opera, FireFox, Chrome, Safari etc…

  24. Harleqin
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 4:46 am | Permalink

    The problem with IE6 is not the missing functionality, it is the bugs.

    You need to build sites in such a way that they degrade gracefully when modern functionality is not available, and you need to build a browser in such a way that it behaves properly when confronted with functions it cannot provide.

    However, this graceful degrading should be possible in a generic way—for any old browser. Having to add special code to a site for a single browser is just not worth the developer time.

    So, you should not complain about missing functionality, you should only complain about bugs that break the generic degrading behaviour.

  25. Posted October 12, 2010 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    I wonder if Microsoft will succumb and provide possibly an IE9-Lite upgrade for XP users. If not, they’re losing a large market share (I assume don’t have the stats) of users that would upgrade their browser but have no intention of upgrading their system just for an upgraded browser.

  26. Kenneth
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    I’ve just finished working with the UK Government.
    In my department IE6 was required because of a contracted intranet product. It is clear that with upcoming budget cuts, upgrading away will not be easy.

    The problem I faced was explaining the problem with IE6 to the IT support team. While GCF is a clear win for developers, I need the marketing muscle from Google to help me persuade department chiefs that installing this plugin will be a benefit, and a free benefit.

    Can Google provide some contacts and some resources (powerpoint decks, videos) to help us make the case? You don’t need to tell us developers; we’re already sold.

  27. Posted October 12, 2010 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    One bright spot in this is that a shim for the canvas tag was created for IE a while back using Silverlight. Maybe some other HTML5 elements can be shimmed in using other means.

  28. Posted October 12, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    “Bridget: Nothing I’m advocating replaces the role of (small “s”) semantic markup and well-structured CSS. Instead, it simply argues that we should be lumping IE < 9 into the down-rev bucket and styling/coding for that reality. "

    Then why ask the question about why this isn't at the forefront of ALA articles and Ajaxian? They already DO lump those into the down-rev bucket. It seems like you want to argue as if you are the only voice crying out in the night, but you really aren't. It's just that others aren't crying…they're simply addressing the state of affairs in the most logical way possible and moving on.

    "Folks who want to live in a future where the web is still a competitive platform can happily have it both ways. What they can’t have, though, is the libraries, reset frameworks, techniques, and infrastructure finely tuned to limping along on architectural decisions anchored in a web of yester-year.

    We’re carrying a lot more baggage than we admit."

    ***And we always will.*** That's the thing you need to accept in order to move on.

    Mobile is quickly becoming "the way of the future". That may or may not leave the desktop browser (all brands) in the dust someday. Or, it might not. I can't predict such things.

    Regardless, we will continually have to deal with browsers having implemented different parts of a spec – not all having the same features – especially now that W3C recommendations and the items within them are modularized. This is a fact of life.

    Browsers will be different from one another. Maybe forever. But rather than trying to build "different sites" to accommodate those differences (like in the old days), browser makers (through the W3C) are at least making an attempt to address fallback plans for degradation.

  29. jim pallett
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    good luck with that

    i mean it’s a great theory…only support modern browsers… but your site needs to be DAMNED good to make your users finish their browsing session, close everything, upgrade, reboot, and then come back to you…just to see your content. They’re much MUCH more likely to just move on.

    hey – it’s only YOUR sites your hurting, no skin off my back.

    i totally agree with everything else you’re saying- but don’t forget many MANY people don’t have a choice of the browser on the system they use to surf the web, or don’t understand HOW to upgrade it…good luck. That’s not – realistically – an attitude that the industry as a whole can adopt, and i can guarantee that every single one of our clients would be going APESHIT if we behaved like that.

  30. Posted October 12, 2010 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Hey Bridget,

    I don’t buy the argument that the current table stakes for starting a web project are a given. The huge costs associated with all of those tools, both in latency and complexity, aren’t fixed features of the landscape. A world where browsers move faster allows those costs to come down over time and gives us a way to spend that complexity/latency budget on new things.

    Anyhow, I think we’re just violently agreeing on the rest — save the part where you imply that I’m just a whiner ;-)

    Regards

  31. Posted October 12, 2010 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    I too blogged on how “IE8 is little more than several years of bug fixes layered on top of IE4.”

    http://clubajax.org/the-internet-explorer-five-step-recovery-program/

    The key to watch isn’t so much IE, but support for XP, which seems to have entered its 30th milestone. Once XP is not supported, anybody still using IE6 can be safely ignored, and the upgrade from XP will get more swift.

    IE8 will be painful yes, and 5 more years seems like a long time, but it’s no where near as painful as the full decade of support for IE6.

    And BTW, I’m doing some intranet work that supports IE8, FF, WebKit – and I was pleasantly surprised how much easier it is to dev to IE8 than IE7. No rounded corners, but not too bad.

  32. Posted October 12, 2010 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Very good article – thank you for writing it. One minor correction though, I believe it’s dirge: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/dirge

  33. Posted October 12, 2010 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Imply that you’re a whiner? LOL I thought I was being more declarative than that. ;)

    “I don’t buy the argument that the current table stakes for starting a web project are a given.”

    But they are. The current stakes just change when the current time is replaced by a more recent current time. (Meaning, yesterday’s current stakes are not the same as today’s current stakes).

    “The huge costs associated with all of those tools, both in latency and complexity, aren’t fixed features of the landscape.”

    Which is the crux of my argument, really. Webkit (and it’s variants), Gecko, Presto, Trident, etc keep churning out newer versions of their browser, which change the landscape repeatedly. However, none of those browser engines works exactly the same nor implements the same set of features. And, they likelihood that they ever will seems less crucial to me with each passing year I’m in this business.

    With that in mind, it seems pointless now to rail on Microsoft for being so far behind the curve. And believe me, I was a huge participant in IE6&7 bashing. Now…meh. I don’t like those browsers any more than I did before. I have simply accepted that there will always be a myriad of features that are and are not implemented across the browser landscape. That includes IE8 and IE9 as well as other browsers.

    “A world where browsers move faster allows those costs to come down over time and gives us a way to spend that complexity/latency budget on new things.”

    This concept, if the standard web user cares (not a savvy geek type) may very well play out in a “survival of the fittest” for all browsers. That’s the nature of evolution and the web is in a huge upheaval of evolution. This is a snapshot in time of the process.

    The biggest unknown at this time is: do users care about the “cool new” stuff? If they do, then they will do what is necessary to make it happen. (corporate environments excluded)

  34. Oscar Franzén
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    The biggest problem with IE 6 is large corporations. They can’t upgrade and as it is not their choice you can’t force them. You can always force home users to upgrade to be able to use your service. (Facebook blocking IE 6 and provding good instructions for upgrading?)

    One solution is that MS releases a version of IE (9? 10?) that has a compability mode where it behaves like IE6. The IE 6 sites can provide info that it needs IE 6, or if the browser finds an old API. For all other pages it uses the latest and greates rendering engine.

  35. Posted October 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Bridget: difference in amount can be difference in kind. This sort of thing mostly shows up when you’re pushing the platform to the limits (which are the sorts of apps I prefer to work on). Saying that they’ll always be different is silent on the magnitude, which really does matter.

    Anyhow, why do we count on users making a conscious choice to upgrade their browser to get a better set of deployed renderers, anyway?

    Anthony: fixed.

  36. Posted October 12, 2010 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Sadly I think you’re right about this. As you said IE9 won’t run on XP and a lot of people, and companies, are holding on to that OS.

    Thankfully though it looks like IE6 is finally really dying.

  37. Dirk Pranke
    Posted October 12, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Alex: it’s possible there’s a “huge swath” of users locked into IE8 on XP, but I don’t know. I personally would’ve guessed that most XP users are on either IE6 or 7, and if they can switch off of one of those two versions, they can move to FF as likely as IE8.

    But, that’s conjecture on my part. I haven’t seen any public stats to point things one way or another; have you?

  38. Mark Birenbaum
    Posted October 13, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    IT departments are still ahead of web developers.

    I still see plenty of new web apps that use unpleasant pre-css formatting stuff like font tags, and various html4 table formatting stuff.

    A minority of pages even validate.

    It’s no surprise the IT departments are loathe to upgrade when the apps they have to support are such a house of cards.

  39. Posted October 13, 2010 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    I saw it coming, I believe you
    http://twitter.com/msaspence/statuses/24795762128

    I do think its part and parcel of what we do, as annoying as it is I think we need to just suck it up and support older browsers when it makes sense to do so. Encouraging people to upgrade is one thing, but if a significant number of users are on IE8 then just saying sorry please come back with another browser is shooting yourself in the foot. If IE8 is anything like ie6 the stragglers wont be people who dont WANT to upgrade, but people who CANT because they are on work managed machines or use systems that only support ie8.

  40. stephband
    Posted November 15, 2010 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I work at a place where we, too, have dropped IE8 and below from our support. It’s a great feeling of freedom, and yes, even privelege, when most frontenders are stuck hacking IE6, to be able to work solely to the standards. What made it all possible was Chrome Frame. Thank you!

  41. Nathan Moos
    Posted January 1, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    Statistics (according to StatCounter GS):
    WinXP users: 45% of all computer users.
    ——————————————–
    That’s who Microsoft is ignoring with IE9.
    ——————————————–
    IE8: 30.71%
    Old IE: 14.65%
    ——————————————–
    1/3 of IE users are using an outdated version of their browser! IE users need to have some way of being updated regularly because this is insecure and holds back the Web.
    ——————————————–
    No version of Chrome below 8.0 is even on the charts, placing it in the “other” category at 4%. Less than 4% of Chrome users are out-of-date. This shows why HTML5/CSS3 is able to be pushed to Chrome users.
    ——————————————–
    Chrome 8: 14.1%
    ——————————————–
    More people use outdated IEs than Chrome! That is how bad the situation with IE is.
    Solution: Kill IE. Refuse to use it and try to convince others that it is the wrong choice. It is insecure and refuses to keep you up-to-date on its own. Windows architecture is to blame for this as well.

3 Trackbacks

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