'Kill IE6' campaign gains force; 30M Web users get switch pitch

'You are using an outdated browser' offer follows similar moves by Facebook, YouTube

The campaign to kill Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) gathered steam this week when a California site builder led nearly 40 Web start-ups to urge their users to ditch Microsoft's eight-year-old browser.

Microsoft acknowledged it's pushing IE6 users to upgrade to the newer IE8, but again promised it would support the creaky browser until April 2014.

The anti-IE6 move followed reports last month that Google's YouTube was doing the same, that Digg would soon curtail support for the ancient browser and a petition on Twitter collected nearly 10,000 signatures supporting the effort. Facebook has been prompting IE6 users to swap out their browsers since February 2009.

"Developers can't wait until IE6 is gone," said David Rusenko, the CEO of Weebly, the San Francisco Web site creation and hosting company that's leading the newest campaign. Weebly has more then 2.2 million users, said Rusenko, and used connections with the venture capitalists who funded the firm to reach out to the 38 sites that have joined its campaign.

Weebly has shared HTML code that displays a message to IE6 users telling them: "You are using an outdated browser. For a better experience using this site, please upgrade to a modern web browser."

"IE6 adds about 50 per cent more development work," Rusenko said, when asked about the push to get users to dump the old browser. "It's holding the Web back."

His argument isn't new. Although talk about dropping IE6 has been circulating for at least two years, last month it gained momentum when the news aggregator Digg admitted it would block IE6 users from some activities, such as commenting. Also in July, reports surfaced the Google's YouTube would soon stop supporting IE6, and was encouraging users to upgrade to Chrome, IE8 or Mozilla's Firefox 3.5.

An "IE6 Must Die" petition on Twitter, meanwhile, has collected more than 9,500 proponents.

"We're not discarding IE6 users," Rusenko said, when asked how sites could give up that user base, which by recent estimates accounts for more than 27 per cent of the browser market. "We're just showing them a message telling them that they're running an out-of-date browser."

Weebly fields complaints daily from users who ask why one of its sites runs slowly. "'It's because you're running IE6,' we tell them," Rusenko said. " From our perspective, IE6 has to go."

Rusenko also had an answer ready for critics who contend that many IE6 users can't switch browsers because they're locked into the application at work. According to a survey conducted by Digg, for example, three out of every four IE6 users say that they can't drop the browser due to a workplace or technical reason.

"Even with that, we're getting support from all kinds of sites that are trying to get users to bring this to the attention of their [corporate] IT department," said Rusenko. "In IT, IE6 is like a running joke, so maybe this will make it a priority for IT to update their employees' browser."

Weebly's campaign against IE6 isn't trivial: Rusenko claimed that the sites that have signed up to use the anti-IE6 code represent 30 million monthly visitors.

Nor is the effort a crusade against Microsoft. "This isn't an anti-IE campaign, but it is an anti-IE6 campaign," Rusenko said. "It's clearly the worst browser out there. But Microsoft's made a ton of progress with IE8."

Even Microsoft tacitly agrees. The company has been pitching IE8 upgrades to IE6 and IE7 users on the consumer side since late April, and plans to promote the upgrade to corporate users on Aug. 25.

But Rusenko isn't naive; he recognizes that the anti-IE6 campaign will be long and hard. "Realistically, this is a long haul battle," he said. "It will be an ongoing type of fight."

Microsoft reacted to the anti-IE6 grassroots movement by implicitly acknowledging that IE6 was obsolete. "Microsoft has consistently recommended that consumers upgrade to the latest version of our browser," said a company spokeswoman."

But that doesn't mean Microsoft's ready to throw in the IE6 towel. As it has said repeatedly, it again today promised that it would support the aged browser for years. "While we recommend Internet Explorer 8 to all customers, we understand we have a number of corporate customers for whom broad deployment of new technologies across their desktops requires more planning," the spokeswoman added in an e-mail.

Microsoft has set the kill date for IE6 as April 8, 2014, when it wraps up support of Windows XP.

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

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