Browser Compatibility and the Legacy of Internet Explorer 6

December 31, 2010 — Internet Explorer 6 has been a foe of developers and users from it's inception. IE6 widely criticized for its security issues and lack of support for modern web standards. So why does this 10 year old browser still have a 12% global market share.

To IE or not to ie - That is the question

The question of internet explorer 6's popularity has eluded developers and spurred numerous debates whether developers should still be supporting IE6. The general consensus is that when the global average is 12%, every website should be function properly in IE6 or at least degrade gracefully. By development the standards we follow here is that you should only make a website IE6 compliant when your target market requires it.

Target markets should be considered not only on age, gender and occupation but regional use. For example the popularity of Internet Explorer in Asia is widely divergent from the rest of the world. This preference for IE isn't always by choice however. In 1999 the South Korean government passed a law that required all shoppers identities for online transaction to be verified by ActiveX controls. Since this policy was terminated in June of 2010 there has been a significant increase in alternate browser usage.

Theories behind Internet Explorer 6's Popularity

So the larger question remains. With all the other versions of Internet Explorer available, why does IE6 still have a 12% ( estimated 200-300 million) market share? This most predominate answer to this question is a combination of baby boomer who have a reluctance to do anything to their computer for fear they may break something and corporations who's internal applications will not run properly on other browsers simply because they were developed specifically for IE6.

corporate baby Boomers

Both theories are certainly valid, but a long way from accounting for 200-300 million users. Without delving into detailed statistics we will use the United States as point in case. The United States has roughly 270 million internet users. Of those 270 million, roughly 22% are over over the age of 55. If we make the grand assumption that 20% of this age group are using IE6 then this would account for a mere 12 million users.

If we take a look at corporations we will see a much larger user base. it's estimated that nearly 6% of corporations in the United States are locked into some kind of IE6 specific application. With roughly 100 million people employed in the corporate sector, we can assume nearly 6 million are using IE6. Using these high estimates the average is roughly 5% (the accepted average in the United States is 3%), well below the global estimate of 12%. So we have to look to Asia to find our answer.

The Chinese Connection

Asia accounts for 48% of internet users worldwide with China leading the way with nearly half of the Asian user base. In China Internet Explorer enjoys a 90% market share. This popularity, similar to South Korea is driven more by necessity rather than choice. Most Chinese web development companies freely choose to build websites with ActiveX technology if only to embed Adobe Flash. Why is that you ask? Well that's an entirely different article.

So now that we understand the popularity of Internet Explorer in China, lets delve into how it relates to IE6. Internet Explorer 6 accounts for 35% of browsers in China. That's nearly 158 million internet users surfing on IE6. So the question still remains. Why is it still so popular? Technically, it's not. It all comes down to pirated versions of XP SP3. Without official estimates, but living and working in China it could be reasonably assumed that 90% of computers in China are running pirated versions of XP. Why buy the real thing for $100 when you can pick up a copy for $1.

Users running the cracked version of XP are told not to update their system. This includes security patches, server packs etc.. otherwise the cracked version of XP will no longer function. Starting with XP SP2, IE6 was bundled in the Windows software package and for fear of crashing their system most Chinese prefer to not upgrade their Browser.

It's Time To Let IE6 Go The Way Of Framed Websites

Unless you are a developer design websites for the Chinese market, it is best to design and integrate functionality that will produce the highest return on investment. If this means it won't be IE6 compatible I wouldn't suggest losing sleep over it. We routinely introduce a light box in both Chinese and English that that encourages individuals to upgrade either their version of Internet Explorer or better yet to download a version of Firefox or Chrome.

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