Internet Explorer 6 and the Universal Stylesheet

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Anyone who has done any website development in the last decade knows the web developers worst enemy.  It’s a browser plagued by security Issues, compatibility problems, poor build efficiency, and slow render times.  It’s a browser that came out 9 years ago but just hasn’t fully gone away.  Yes, you guessed it, it’s Internet Explorer 6.  In this article I will present all the problems and some real solutions for the browser that just won’t die, so that my fellow web developers can present a convincing argument to rid ourselves of the IE6 dependencies once and for all.  By using Google Chrome Frame, serving the Universal Stylesheet, and setting client expectations we can get some real solutions together for moving the web forward.

The Problems
Compatibility
Web Development is surging forward at an incredibly rapid pace.  With the emergence of CSS3 and HTML5 a lot of common older front-end issues have been solved.  Chrome, FireFox, and Internet Explorer are all working to ensure the best compatibility with what the W3C has put forth.  So where is IE6 in all of this?  Nowhere.  There is no support for CSS3 and HTML5, and why should there be?  Microsoft built this browser in 2001, NINE years ago, (thats 200 in internet years.)  So to experience the web as best as we can, we have to move forward.
My old web app only works in IE6
Wow, so you haven’t done any new development in 9 years to correct this?  Yikes first of all.  Statistics show that IE6 usage is higher during the week than the weekend.  Which points to employers still forcing IE6 browser usage on employees.
Efficiency
Time spent for (IE7, IE8, IE9, FF, Chrome, and Mobile) = Time spent for IE6.
Given any web project, it takes a front-end web developer the same amount of time to develop a site for IE7, IE8, IE9, FF, Chrome, and Mobile as it does for JUST IE6.  This is because of the number of incompatibility issues, hacks, wrangling and just general lack of support that IE6 has.  This creates a huge waste of time for all companies attempting to make things look identical in this browser.  It’s time to get rid of this, so we can take the web forward.
Speed
IE6’s rendering engine is so incredibly slow that even the Google Chrome Frame plugin layer, running on top of IE6 executes the loading of the page faster than IE6’s native rendering engine.  This problem is exacerbated further by companies trying to make advanced web techniques work in this ancient rendering engine.

The Solutions
Google Chrome Frame
This doesn’t solve everything, but it is very important that IT professionals take the time to understand how this works, because it is a very mis-understood piece of software.  The only time this plugin runs, is if the website you are browsing has the appropriate meta information that tells the plugin to launch.  So it is a perfect scenario if you are an IT person and you have to have your users running IE6 still.  This is because a user on your network running IE6 will run in IE6 mode until they go to a site that says “launch chrome frame” at which point it will switch over to a much better browser with standards support that doesn’t suffer from all the problems listed above.
Serve the Universal Stylesheet
Andy Clarke has come up with a great solution for IE6’s problems: the Universal Stylesheet.  The universal stylesheet applies a simplified layer to the content so that IE6 renders content quickly.  It slims down the page significantly and allows for pure content.  This works under the principal that content is king and that by allowing for just pure content makes the browsing experience faster and gets the user to where they need to go quick.  In fact, on the sites where I have served the Universal Stylesheet the bounce rate of IE6 vs other browsers has been only a nominal +5% differential.  Andy Clarke’s universal stylesheet info can be found here: For a beautiful web.
Set Client Expectations
Make sure that your client knows up-front that IE6 will not look the same as modern “Grade A” browsers.  It’s a good idea to build this into the contract.  In all cases where I have said this, clients have been ok with this.  If a discussion ensues then I hope that the points I have brought up here help to relay the problems and solutions.  Make sure they understand that IE6’s browser share is low and rapidly decreasing.  IE6 makes up 6% of web traffic.  Over the past year IE6’s browser share has dropped over 40% and continues to fall.

To all website clients out there; Google, Amazon, YouTube, Facebook, have all dropped support in different areas of their systems for IE6.  IE6 is dying, few people use it anymore and fewer still will use it next month.  More and more people are shifting to modern browsers and mobile options with excellent web standards support.  As web developers we are focusing on the now and on the future for you.  Let us do that, and put the past behind us.

To my fellow web developers; It’s time to stand up and rid ourselves of this browser.  This article outlines the necessary steps going forward for how, learn the techniques and use them, lets take the web forward and make our departments and jobs more efficient.


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