Facebook ends IE6 support, why you should too

Facebook is ending support for IE6 in its chat function

Facebook announced that it is ending support for Internet Explorer 6. Granted, it is only pulling the plug on IE6 in its chat function, but the move by Facebook is the latest effort to shift away from the outdated browser that refuses to die. Facebook's decision illustrates once again why organizations that still rely on IE6 should consider upgrading (finally).

A Facebook Blog post describes the issue behind the decision "Many of you have told us that sometimes your Chat session comes and goes or even stops completely. We're working hard to end those interruptions so that your experience is stable and consistent."

The blog post goes on to explain "The biggest improvements come from changes that aren't supported on older web browsers. After evaluating the alternatives, we've decided to make rapid improvements and provide the best Chat experience possible, which means we will no longer support Internet Explorer 6 browsers."

I don't expect that compatibility with Facebook Chat will be a compelling reason for IT admins to follow suit and drop the venerable Web browser, but the underlying reasons behind the Facebook decision are worth exploration. The bottom line is that many of the Web technologies used today are simply not supported on a browser that was created almost a decade ago and is two--going on three--generations out of date.

Internet Explorer 8 has only been available about 18 months, and it has already emerged as the number one browser in the world in terms of market share. Not only is it the leading browser, but its rate of growth continues to outpace competing browsers as well. Sadly, Internet Explorer 6 remains as the number two browser, but thankfully it is in decline.

For many IT admins, the inability to use cool new bells and whistles on the Web is also not a very compelling argument for change. In fact, it might be a justification for keeping IE6.

The primary concern with IE6, though, isn't compatibility with Web 2.0--it's security on an increasingly insecure Web where attackers have determined that the browser is often the weakest link and the easiest point of entry into the network. Internet Explorer 6 was designed a decade ago, and it was designed to protect against decade-old security concerns.

IE6 is missing key security controls like DEP (Data Execution Prevention) and PMIE (Protected Mode IE) that make it more difficult for attackers to exploit memory corruption vulnerabilities, and limit what an attacker can access or exploit even if they gain control of the IE process.

Microsoft is getting ready to launch the public beta of the next-generation browser--Internet Explorer 9--on the same day that Facebook will officially end support for IE6 in its chat function. It seems like the perfect time to re-examine the pros and cons of staying on IE6 and seriously consider upgrading to a more current browser.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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