And the truth (or at least, an attempt at redressing the balance)

Why Microsoft will never regain developers’ trust

In honour of the 10 year anniversary of Internet Explorer 6, Microsoft is promoting a new site they’ve called IE6 Countdown which lets them highlight the largest culprits still using the crippled software (step forward, China and South Korea) and suggest reasons for upgrading.

As a web developer IE6 is one of my biggest enemies: its mystifying existence a decade after its release means we still have to spend hours finding ways around its arcane and arrogant rendering engine. When I first heard Microsoft were promoting people moving away from IE6 and were finally formally acknowledging that their product was a pile of old toss, I was quite impressed. Microsoft, the aging dinosaur of the technology world, in danger of being swept away (if not already swept away) by the innovation of their competitors, were admitting their flaws and trying to move on.

But not quite.

At my former workplace we were stuck with IE6 even as recently as last year (and, to my knowledge, today in 2011 too). The computers there ran Windows 2000 and due to the cost of upgrading and the low turnover of the company, upgrading was not an option. In a pre-Windows XP world, IE6 was as good as it got. Now, luckily for us, Firefox (and other browsers) ran quite happily on these prehistoric machines, meaning we could browse the internet with something approaching web standards.

It was with this scenario in mind when I clicked on the ‘Why move off Internet Explorer 6‘ link on Microsoft’s site. There, in a handy bulleted list titled ‘What about corporate users’, Microsoft acknowledges the challenges faced by businesses technically incapable of upgrading:

Some users report that they use Internet Explorer 6 because they have to for work. We understand that IT organizations may have unique considerations, so we’ve put together these resources to help:

These three sentences, taken together, summarise everything that is wrong with Microsoft’s cynical approach to the open web and the pursuit of web standards. While creating a flashy website illustrating the market share of their browser and listing reasons for its unpopularity, they have the cheek to recommend upgrade routes for businesses stuck using the software. The sheer arrogance here of assuming that past-it businesses like my former workplace are unaware of their outdated software is mindblowing. These people know they’re using technology that’s old – the clue is in the name ‘Windows 2000’. If an upgrade was an option they’d already have taken it, and for other reasons besides IE8 and its “Web Slices” (whatever they are).

No, the real solution here for these troubled businesses is to install a working browser that will run on what they have now. If Microsoft had acknowledged in that brief bulleted list the existence of, say, Firefox, Opera, or even Chrome, and suggested installing one of these alternatives, this could have demonstrated that they really did hold the best interests of the internet at heart, rather than cynically trying to milk a few more software licenses out of their poor web browser’s extended death. I’m not naive enough to think that Microsoft would recommend a competitors’ software over a (paid) upgrade to more Microsoft products, but they could have at least made mention on the list of the possibility of an alternative browser.

As long as Microsoft continue to invent their own proprietary “standards” and features and usher users toward them, even while highlighting the inadequacies of their previous offerings, they will never be part of an open web that promotes usability, accessibility and standards.