Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 Support Continues, Despite Calls for Phase-Out

Microsoft will continue to support Internet Explorer 6 through April 2014, despite some calls to phase out the 8-year-old browser. Although a significant percentage of people continue to use IE 6, that number has been dropping as more users adopt either Internet Explorer 8 or a rival browser such as Mozilla Firefox.

The online community has been debating whether sites should continue to support Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6, with some IT administrators and security experts publicly asking whether now is the time to think about shutting down the 8-year-old browser.

The newest flurry of debate erupted after Digg, a content-sharing Website, suggested in July that it could stop supporting IE 6 "soon." While this decision was prompted by practical factors, namely the amount of time that Digg's engineers spent supporting IE 6-related site activity, it led the administrators to issue a survey on why 10 percent of its users continued to use the aged browser.

The survey suggested that, of the Digg community using IE 6, most declined to upgrade either because they had no administrator access on their PCs or else because "someone at work says I can't."

Other online sites and groups picked up the thread; for example, Twibbon started a small "IE 6 Must Die" chain. YouTube has also asked IE 6 users to upgrade.

Despite the online back-and-forth, Microsoft seems determined to continue to support the browser until April 2014-perhaps a smart move on the company's part, considering that IE 6 shipped along with Windows XP, and a lot of users seem unwilling to give up XP for another operating system.

"We committed to supporting the IE included with Windows for the lifespan of the product," Dean Hachamovitch, a member of Microsoft's Internet Explorer team, wrote in an Aug. 10 post on Microsoft's official Internet Explorer blog. "As engineers, we want people to upgrade to the latest version. We make it as easy as possible for them to upgrade. Ultimately, the choice to upgrade belongs to the person responsible for the PC."

Hachamovitch added, "Looking back at the post on Digg, it's not just IT professionals. Some of the 'regular people' surveyed there were not interested in upgrading."

Despite some users' reluctance to part with IE 6, there has been a slow but steady migration to Internet Explorer 8.

Microsoft's share of the browser market fell in 2008. According to StatCounter, the global market share of IE 7 fell from 43.45 percent in May 2009 to 33.75 percent in June and 30.61 percent in July. IE 6 fell from 11.47 percent in May to 8.74 percent at the beginning of July.

During that period, IE 8 climbed from 8.5 percent in May to 15.4 percent in July. Mozilla Firefox 3.0's portion of the market had reached 27.73 percent by July, while other browsers-including Firefox 2.0, Apple Safari and Google Chrome-saw their market shares at somewhere between 0.04 and 2 percent.

Ray Valdes, an analyst with Gartner, told eWEEK at the time of the StatCounter report that "both" the adoption of IE 8 and the rise of "alternative browsers" such as Firefox were leading to the decline in IE 6 and IE 7 usage. For certain sites and online communities, it seems that the decline can't happen fast enough.