Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why the Hate on Internet Explorer 6?

A Great article of Chris Fullman

Over the past 2 days, the internet has been abuzz over Google’s long-rumored internet browser coming to light. Called Google Chrome (Beta!), the browser aims to significantly speed up browsing sessions and web applications using multiple threads (think of these as individual messengers instead of one very overwhelmed, underpaid messenger).

Of course, such talk immediately drew comments from developers and internet enthusiasts alike: the (second) web browser war is in full swing. Like the first war in the 90’s between Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer, comparisons were being brought back into blog posts and Twitter/FriendFeed.

As I’ve noticed in the discussion, developers’ hate for one particular browser was obvious: Internet Explorer 6; and as I’ve noted in the past, very publicly I might add, I’m not a fan of such criticism.

Let’s face the facts: When Internet Explorer 6 was first launched, Windows XP was just getting ready to go on sale. The September 11 attacks hadn’t taken place yet and the world was vastly different. Microsoft was riding high off of polishing their lead in the browser (cold) war, and sadly decided to take a backseat in development for a bit. At the time, Internet Explorer was among Netscape and Opera, as well as the (then publicly perceived bloatware) Mozilla Suite. Simply
put, there weren’t many alternate options.

When Firefox came around, the first public beta hit the internet some 3 years later. Those 3 years, development-wise, is a very long time, giving any team ample time to check off items on a list of improvements, new features and competitive options Internet Explorer hadn’t introduced or resolved yet. When Firefox was fully launched, it had a large community of developers
behind it, and a grassroots marketing push to get it to be the de facto replacement for the aging Internet Explorer platform. Toe-to-toe, Firefox 1.0 was a very different internet browser than Internet Explorer, even if both were released at the same time.

I, as a developer, understand the frustrations most of us face when we have to continually support Internet Explorer 6. I, along with the rest of us, can’t wait until Internet Explorer 8 is released and being pushed out to the masses via pre-installation and update services. But
there is still something about Internet Explorer that allowed the internet to reach critical mass with the general population. Internet Explorer 6, as flawed as it is, gave much more flexibility to
developers and users alike, to experience new functionality and allowed a
number of groundbreaking web applications to reach a larger audience.

While I fully support the efforts like “Save the Developers” and the campaign to replace Internet Explorer 6 with IE 7 or even Firefox, I can’t hold Internet Explorer 6 on the same pedestal as Firefox 1.0. I certainly understand and appreciate the differences in features, standards support and overall community support between the two.

And while I wish things were different, I can’t hold the developers of Internet Explorer 6 at fault either. After all, most employees can only do what they’re told, especially when they have other goals and projects in the pipeline.

Internet Explorer 6 was even listed by PC World as being among the “25 Worst Tech Products of All Time.” Hindsight is a terrible scale to measure by, and in this case, hindsight unfortunately takes the spotlight in criticism against an internet browser.

So I ask again: looking at the facts, knowing that Internet Explorer 6 is now 7 years old and is somehow continually being compared to even modern-day browsers, why should Internet Explorer 6 get as much hate from the community as it does?

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