Usage of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6 (IE 6) Web browser in the United States and Europe has fallen below the 5 percent mark for the first time. Yet developers wish it would just go away.
According to Web analytics company StatCounter, the month of May marked the first time Microsoft's IE 6 browser share dipped below 5 percent to 4.7 percent. StatCounter's research arm, StatCounter Global Stats reported that IE 6 usage was 11.5 percent only 12 months ago.
However, although more than a few corporate IT organizations still standardize on IE 6, new versions of IE -- including a preview of the upcoming IE 9, as well as Opera, Firefox and Google's Chrome have pulled users away from IE 6. And industry support for the browser has been eroding. For instance, Google Reader, YouTube, Google Docs and Google Sites do not support IE 6. And Microsoft itself has seen the prudence of phasing out support for aging technology, as the software giant has announced that IE 9 will not run on Windows XP.
"At these levels, Web developers now have valid justification not to support IE 6 in the future," commented Aodhan Cullen, CEO of StatCounter, in a statement. "A number of sites including YouTube are already understood to have withdrawn support for IE 6. IE 6 has been a bit of a pain for many Web developers and designers who have often had to recode their site to get it to work. There are also security implications in its continued usage."
Asked if Microsoft were able to suddenly pull the plug on IE 6 what the outcome might be, Crockford said, "Microsoft does not have a plug to pull. IE 6 is out there and has been out there a long time. Microsoft shipped IE 7 and IE 8, and yet IE 6 still lives."
"The benefit to developers would be a huge," he said. "A big fraction of the daily pain experienced by Web developers is a direct consequence of supporting IE 6. Freed of that requirement, they could produce better websites more quickly."
Ben Galbraith, a Web developer who is co-founder of Ajaxian.com and co-director of developer relations at Palm, said, "The demise of IE 6 is obviously good for everyone in the Web ecosystem, from users to developers to Microsoft itself. The concrete benefit to developers is losing the expense of designing and implementing for IE 6 compatibility, a significant burden if simultaneously trying to take advantage of modern Web features present in other, newer browsers."
Mik Kersten, creator and lead developer of the Eclipse Mylyn project and CEO of Tasktop Technologies, added: "Due to its lack of support of modern Web standards and the constant need to work around its limitations, IE 6 is now equated with a wasteful tax on Web developers' productivity. Web developers are already voting with their feet by phasing out support for IE 6 in countless Web applications, and having applications pop up ominous warnings of reduced functionality and security problems. With usage falling below the 5 percent mark, the time has come to put the last nail in the IE 6 coffin."
Indeed, "IE 6's sub 5 percent drop is good news for everybody, Microsoft included," said Andrew Brust, a Microsoft regional director and chief of new technology at twentysix New York. "Putting security aside, the biggest issue with IE 6 is that it's a 9-year-old browser still in circulation, and it renders things differently from other browsers. Inside corporations, where custom applications still exist that rely on IE 6's rendering peculiarities, the old browser has stubbornly hung on. Effectively, Microsoft is a victim of its own success. Netscape/Mozilla didn't have that success and Opera certainly didn't either, so they don't fall victim. Safari came around in 2003, and Chrome hasn't even been here two years. As with many things, Microsoft's challenge to innovate is more complex than its competitors."
Nonetheless, Brust added, "having to write special rendering code for IE 6 makes for a ton of extra work for developers and thus sullies the entire IE offering. This translates to bad PR for Microsoft. That's why they want IE 6 gone as much as everyone else does. That said, they can't kill it and spite their customers who developed against it."
Meanwhile, StatCounter Global Stats reports that IE 8 U.S. usage increased to 30.5 percent in May from 8.5 percent in the same month last year. IE 7 is currently at 16.6 percent in the United States.
Meanwhile, IE 6 continues to enjoy a healthy share of the market in other geographies. "If your target market is Asia then IE 6 still has 20.8 percent usage. IE 8 has only just overtaken it in Asia," Cullen said. Africa also continues to have high levels of usage of IE 6.
The data is based on an analysis of 15 billion page views for May 2010 collected from the StatCounter network of over three million Websites.
For individual country analysis go to: http://gs.statcounter.com/#browser_version-ww-monthly-200905-201005. Further information on the StatCounter analysis is available at: http://gs.statcounter.com/faq.