To Hell With Bad Browsers — the sequel

Almost exactly eight years ago, Jeffrey Zeldman wrote To Hell With Bad Browsers, in which he implored web developers to start ignoring Netscape 4 because its standard support sucked majorly. Yesterday several large Norwegian sites placed a warning against IE6 on their pages.

Web developers from all over the world are following this initiative with interest. To Hell With Bad Browsers is obviously in for a remake.

Just now I added an IE6 warning to QuirksMode.org (not that my visitors need any; this site probably has the most browser-savvy audience in the world). I also wrote an upgrade page that attempts to explain the problem and its solution to end users.

I’ll probably work on this page some more; I wrote the text quickly and it can probably use some light editing, or maybe the insertion of an extra paragraph about security.

I’d like to call upon all my readers to think about following the example set by the Norwegians. True, we web developers are mainly preaching to the choir, but somebody has to start.

So add that conditional comment to your site and outline the possibilities. If you wish you can use my upgrade page to gently explain what’s going on, but you can also write one yourself, of course.

Conditional comments and Ajax

Incidentally, I discovered that you can also add conditional comments to your pages later on; they don’t have to be available when the page is being rendered. That doesn’t hugely surprise me, but it’s always good to know that what should work in theory actually does work in practice.

I added this to my header.txt file, which is included by Ajax on every page:

<!--[if lte IE 6]>
  <p class="ie6"><strong>IE6?</strong> Really? Isn’t it time to <a href="/upgrade.html">upgrade to a better browser</a>?
  (Unless you&#8217;re here for testing purposes, of course.)</p>
<![endif]-->

The conditional comment is parsed and obeyed when I set my header’s innerHTML to the HTML contained in header.txt

Good to know.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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1 Posted by Xavez on 20 February 2009 | Permalink

Hehe, I've been nudging people to switch by means of conditional comments since 2007. I even got an angry e-mail from a certain person, claiming that I was deceiving his sister, who apparently totally freaked out when she saw the message. Because "IE6 is safe as a rock!" Makes you wonder if it is our job to educate or even inform the people that don't feel the need to switch at all. I strongly believe it is our duty :) (good gracious that sounds awful)

2 Posted by Chris Bloom on 20 February 2009 | Permalink

My personal rule of thumb has been to support the latest 2 releases of each major browser. That's it. For the most part, that's pretty easy to do: Firefox 2 and 3 were similar enough. Ditto for Safari and Opera.

IE is tricky though, or it will be come IE8. Since most corporations don't use Window's auto-update feature, many users are still running XP with the original IE6 install. I doubt many of these users will ever see IE7, let alone IE8, unless Windows 7 has greater acceptance in the business realm than its predecessor, Vista, did. So as big of a pain in the ass as IE6 is to support, it will not be going away anytime soon.

And although Firefox has made minor inroads in business networks, the unfortunate reality is that a large percentage of business software is still IE only. (Business software development cycles are typically so long they are at least a version or more behind come launch time. For example, one of Siemens Medical Systems flagship Intranet products, with a multi-million dollar price tag, is strictly IE, and only guaranteed with IE6!!)

IE6 has a tail longer than IE5.5 had. Honestly, you're probably better off warning against IE8 what with the latest gossip on the compat. mode quagmire.

3 Posted by Matt Robin on 20 February 2009 | Permalink

My post on the 26th January (albeit about the 'myth' of web design perfection) made calls for IE6 Support to come to a close. Link: http://www.mattrobin.com/article/64/myth-web-design-perfection

So, when I saw the news about the Norwegian sites yesterday, and some 'colourful' remarks about IE6 made to me today, I thought 'right - time to do something a bit more obvious'...here's the image I posted to Flickr earlier: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattrobin/3295452080/

I hope that adds some extra fuel to the fire (so to speak!)

4 Posted by Lea Verou on 20 February 2009 | Permalink

I completely agree. I can't understand designers and developers that frown upon such practices (in Greece we have many of them). What harm will a small notice do? The site will still be USABLE in IE6, just not as pretty. One can even take all the care and employ all the necessary hacks to make the site look as close as possible in IE6 and still display the small notice for the greater good and a better future. Nobody would mind in that case. Not even the clients!

5 Posted by Note on 20 February 2009 | Permalink

I'm not sure if you know this, but on FF3.0.6 on Mac, your quoted Ajax code bleeds past the text and gets covered by the sidebar.

6 Posted by Rob on 20 February 2009 | Permalink

I have the same issue with your blockquote in Chrome.

7 Posted by Nathan on 21 February 2009 | Permalink

Yes. On IE8 in standards mode and quirks mode, your AJAX quote is messed up.

To Hell With Bad Websites!

8 Posted by carolgibson on 21 February 2009 | Permalink

I've been having trouble with IE6,too.

9 Posted by Erica Miles on 21 February 2009 | Permalink

The problem with this attitude is that it's most likely discriminatory to those people that aren't able to upgrade or change their browser. It's not a matter of choice for some people.

You might be a technical illiterate living alone. You might be using library equipment. You might be using an old pda. There are many potential scenarios, far more common than you think, in which you cannot use another browser. Many time I have been required to use temporary machines while on contract where the only available browser was IE6 and I have not been able to install anything else.

It might not be easy or convenient for web developers to continue IE6 support, but it's reality. If you find it's such a burden, then implement some server side sniffing and direct them to a more accessible version of your content. Don't pretend to me that this is hard, all it requires is cleaner seperation of content and a few minutes additional coding.

It's just laziness to lock people out needlessly.

10 Posted by Dan on 21 February 2009 | Permalink

Obviously, we all want IE6 to die soon, but this all sounds a bit 1999 to me; perhaps we should add "site best viewed in Firefox" or "Looks like your using IE6, click here to upgrade to Firefox" to our sites.

Is accessibility only for the tech elitists? It seems many of the people willing to cast stones at IE6 users are also known advocates for accessibility. To outcast IE6 users [for most sites] is probably alienating more people than not properly coding by general accessibility guidelines.

I guess if you can afford to piss off the IE6 users, this is ok. Or, perhaps those which are taking a stand against IE6 will be awarded for doing so, but this seems unlikely in most cases.

Good luck to those who join this effort, I do hope it works! I'll be cheering from the sidelines.

11 Posted by Sean Gates on 22 February 2009 | Permalink

With our site -- http://www.turnitupmedia.com -- we made the decision to block IE6 altogether. There are too many quirks to deal with. Also, if enough sites do it, companies and users will be forced to finally get rid of a bad browser.

12 Posted by Sander Aarts on 22 February 2009 | Permalink

@Erica Miles:
Having different, browser specific, versions of a website is pretty old school practice (even older than IE6).

Showing some visitors a banner telling them they use an old browser is not like refusing them access. It's like warning them that they might not experience the site to the full extend. That may sound a bit like the old "Best viewed in..."-days. The difference though is that modern websites are build with web standards in mind and not just a particular browser version. Cause that's what got us into this mess in the first place.

Blocking browsers is just wrong in my opinion and certainly not in line with the idea behind web standards. I don't see any problem in telling people they're missing out on the progessive enhanced parts though.

13 Posted by Lea Verou on 22 February 2009 | Permalink

@Dan and Erica: Nobody said that the site shouldn't be accessible in IE6! It should definately be usable in it, it just might not be as pretty.
Also I believe that even if someone takes all the appropriate time to fully support IE6, it would still be good to add a tiny notice to help the greater good. In that latter case, no harm would be done, nobody would be annoyed, nobody would leave the site. In the worst case scenario, they would just dismiss it as a strange kind of advertisement.

14 Posted by Lea Verou on 22 February 2009 | Permalink

@PPK: I just opened this page with IE6 (via IETester), out of curiosity about the look of the warning. What I saw was that the whole header is missing, not only the warning! Thought I should let you know. :)

By the way, I loved your upgrade page. I had written a similar one in greek, but I didn't think to describe the installation process, I thought that the browsers' sites would handle that task properly. However, I guess its better if you show them how simple it is, it might convince them to actually perform the darn update.

15 Posted by prisca on 22 February 2009 | Permalink

So we're here again, the seemingly endless debate...
I do think people need to be made aware of the modern browsers. After all, if you're not that techie or savvy - how would you know...!?

There are different options - I personally really like the approach Andy Clarke (http://stuffandnonsense.co.uk ) is taking by serving up a black&white version of the site to IE6 users with a message explaining. Does not make the site inaccessible - but might make people aware - while the design still looks good, even though it's stripped of colour.

16 Posted by nico on 22 February 2009 | Permalink

Same problem with the code in FF 3.0.6, under Linux.

Solvable by fixing the width and using overflow: auto. Not pretty, though.

17 Posted by cheapRoc on 23 February 2009 | Permalink

I'm not dropping IE6 support entirely, but in fact still providing a means to educate and inform my users of alternative browsers or upgrade pathes. Though, my notice will give a warning in which I explain that I cannot vouche for the entire websites usability being optimal.

18 Posted by Mustafa Hajjar on 23 February 2009 | Permalink

i have 5 websites (vb forums) in arabic language , till this date more than 86.6 % (Jan 2009 google analytics ) of my visitors still using ie6 :-(
and i was nudging my visitors to start using firefox all the time, but still noone is listening yet, most of them are using my sites from thier universitys which they still using restricted system and they can not upgrade or install any software on the computers overthere!!!!!

19 Posted by Bart on 23 February 2009 | Permalink

The way I see it, there are 3 levels of websites here. Each requires different considerations.

1) Large corporate websites. I work for one of these. We have millions of users with ~25% still on IE6. Most of those are corporate users who pay big $$ to us. As such, I actually have to advocate that we continue supporting IE6 fully. No degraded experience. The flip side to this though is that most corporate sites are not going to actually NEED to do anything IE6 doesn't support.

2) Small companies and semi-public sites. Public blog sites or small companies with a more limited (but still significant user base) can afford to drop IE6 and use more advanced interfaces. These are the best places for upgrade advocacy to start. Smaller audience, but more likely to be responsive.

3) Truly personal sites. Those you make for yourself or maybe a group of friends/small community that has no real public interest/value. I am in the process of making one of these. I refuse to look at the site in ANY version of IE. I don't care if it works or not. IE8 is still basically a 5yr old browser. Until MS gets serious about IE instead of the babysteps of 7&8, I'm not going to support MS on any personal site. I recommend others do the same.

20 Posted by BARTdG on 24 February 2009 | Permalink

@Bart: I work for a small company and although I am not responsible for our website, I keep insisting on IE6-support. The trouble is that our (potential) clients are big companies which I am sure are not going to upgrade untill maybe Windows 7. I don't think its's advisable for us to stop supporting IE6. I wouldn't even consider adding a warning like PPK's.

On my personal website, I will add it, of course. Not that I've got many visitors, but it's just my small contribution to a great cause.

21 Posted by Bart on 24 February 2009 | Permalink

@BARTdG: If your company's target audience still shows significant numbers of IE6 users, then by all means, do what is best for your business. I did not mean to imply that smaller companies must drop support. I meant that smaller companies are more likely to have the option to drop IE6.

Larger corporations are likely to have a target audience of "everyone" and thus need to be more conservative in their design/functionality in order to appeal to the widest possible audience.

Smaller companies are more likely to have a niche market that is more flexible and to have the ability/need to push the limits of technology (where IE6 becomes an anvil in the swimming pool). It should always be evaluated for each company or websites individual needs/audience. I don't think anybody would say different.

I think the general consensus is, drop IE6 (or all IE) if it is viable for the website in question. Let's take what we can get for now and let the snowball effect take it from there.

22 Posted by Nicholas Shanks on 27 February 2009 | Permalink

I think the solution for corporations that need IE6 for the foreseeable future is to deploy 2 browsers: Intranet Explorer 6 (shortcurt renamed thus) and FF/Opera/Chrome for internet browsing.

@Bart Would you consider adding a 50% opaque line at the bottom of every page on your big corporate website targeting the network admins of your clients, saying something to the effect of "Network admins: Internet Explorer 6 may not be fully supported in the future. Please migrate your installation to IE7 or 8, or provide an additional, alternative browser to your user base."

You're not promising anything, but you might cajole the Board into telling their network admins to do what you say :)

23 Posted by Rafael on 1 March 2009 | Permalink

@ Sean Gates:

Not only does your "IE is blocked" message have an extraneous apostrophe, it's suggesting that "FireFox" (sic) is the only alternative.

And, of course, you're driving people away. My work, for example, refuses to allow anything other than IE6 at the moment. That means I wouldn't be able to access your site at all.

Saying "sorry, we don't support IE6" is just as bad as the sites that "require IE". At the very least serve a non-CSS, non-JavaScript version.

And how do IE's security flaws affect you? They only affect the user!

24 Posted by seo tech on 5 March 2009 | Permalink

Haha, love the idea!

25 Posted by mcgrew on 7 March 2009 | Permalink

@Sean Gates
No, IE6's security threats don't affect me, but its bad CSS and JS support do affect me and my employer. It's not a question of being lazy, but a question of resources.

The project I work for recently dropped support for IE6 on a large ajax application because it simply wasn't worth the resource investment. Basically I posed the question, "I can get this app to work in IE6, but it may take up to several weeks of my time, as IE6 has horrid javascript support, useless error messages, and no good debugger. This will not only delay the release date, but cost thousands of dollars worth of my time to do so. Do you want to support IE6?"

26 Posted by Sandra Mello on 8 March 2009 | Permalink

Is it true that people who have "borrowed" copies of Windows are not able to upgrade to newer versions of IE? And users of old PCs may only be able to upgrade to old versions of Mozilla. Chris, Erica, and Sander make excellent points on accessibility and limitations to upgrading.

Why not sugar instead of a nudge to upgrade? Nudging can easily become intrusive (popups), offensive, and repetitive? How many of you remember getting warnings that you "had best" use IE when using Opera or Mozilla browsers? Of course, I have no idea how to make sugar.

Many visitors just want to get in and out quickly and may not even care about the 'look'. If they do want to upgrade, PPK's page gives an excellent guiding hand (although it may leave people with old pc's in the cold).

27 Posted by Pavel on 12 March 2009 | Permalink

"Unless you are here for testing purposes, of course..."

that is funny. I was!

28 Posted by Axel Berger on 16 March 2009 | Permalink

> Many visitors just want to get in and out quickly and may not even care about the 'look'. If they do want to upgrade, PPK's page gives an excellent guiding hand (although it may leave people with old pc's in the cold).

Exactly. In all but one of my installed browsers I have specified "ignore colours, ignore font and size, no scripts", and at least 90 % of all sites become far more legible and useable that way. I also refuse a "modern" OS that will actively install all its viruses all by itself when freshly installed and connected to the net and insist on having to install all of them manually myself - at which task I have so far failed abysmally in spite of eschwing all kinds of firewalls and virus scanners.

I don't care the least bit about all that razzamatazz and overhead and good old VT100 BBSs would suit me fine if they were still around.

And I'm very quick to oblige when I feel a company does not want my custom.

29 Posted by Stefan van Zanden on 20 March 2009 | Permalink

I really like the suggestion of uniting all and place messages like this on our webpages, I have implemented the same method now on my website and will be doing this on newly made websites asswel (and sponsored websites will get it defeneatly).

Also Internet Explorer 8 has just been released so It would be nice to show the warning also for these users.

@PPK
One thing I don't get is that you use Ajax to put the conditional html into your webpage, the thing I don't get is that I have been to your talk about unobtrusive Javascript last year on the pfcongrez. And this inspired me to take in account users not having javascript enabled.
So just wondering why you did it using javascript? :-)

Here is a post on my blog about the slightly different method I used: http://blog.svzsolutions.nl/2009/03/20/how-i-warn-my-visitors-still-using-internet-explorer-6-7/


A general thanks for your great work though with your website :-)