Tuesday 24 June 2008

Browser Support: Why "Internet Explorer 6" Really Is A Typo

(Experienced Web developers know that the correct name for the program is Microsoft Internet Exploder — especially for version 6.)

Case in point: I was browsing the daringfireball.net RSS feed and came across an article on the 37signals blog talking about Apple's new MobileMe service dropping support for IE6. The blog is mostly geared towards 37signals' current and potential clients who, if not Web developers themselves are at least familiar with the major technical issues involved. Not surprisingly, virtually every one of the 65 comments left between 9 and 13 June was enthusiastic in support for the move; not because the commenters necessarily favor Apple (though, clearly, many do), but because anybody who's ever cared about Web standards knows that IE6 is an antediluvian, defiantly defective middle finger thrust violently up the nostril of the Web development community; the technological equivalent of the Chevrolet Corvair: unsafe at any speed.

The degree to which this is true, and to which this truth continues to plague the Web developer and user communities, were brought into sharp focus by three of the comments on the post. The first, from 37signals' Jason Fried, estimates that 38% of their total traffic is IE, of which 31% is IE 6.0 (giving a grand total of 11.8% of total traffic — not huge, but significant).  The second is from Josh Nichols, who points out that Microsoft published a patch to solve the problem with IE6 in January, 2007; he notes, however, that an unknowable number of users may not have applied that patch. Finally, Michael Geary points out that later versions of Internet Explorer (version 7 and possibly the now-in-beta Version 8) also have the problem of not being able to "set cookies for a 2×2 domain, i.e. a two-letter second level domain in a two-letter top level domain with no further subdomain below that," (including his own mg.to blog domain). The fact that relatively few domains fall into that category can be argued to be part of the problem; users running IE, particularly an out-of-date version of IE, are likely to be less experienced, less able to recognize and solve the problem correctly, than to blame it on "something wrong with the Internet". For those people and companies who've paid for those perfectly legitimate domains, the negligence and/or incompetence of the browser supplier and/or user mean that they're not getting their money's worth.  And ICANN, the bureaucracy "managing" the domain-name system, is now "fast-tracking" a proposal to increase the number of top-level domain names (TLDs) used. (In time-honored ICANN custom, the press release is dated 22 June 2008 and "welcome[s]" "Public Comments" "by 23 June 2008." Nothing like transparency and responsiveness in governance, eh?

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