IE6 isn’t on the ballot: Will March 1 Windows update kick IE6 out for good?

By Scott M. Fulton, III, Betanews

A screenshot of the first public beta of Microsoft's browser ballot for European Windows users.One of the more obvious, but little mentioned, facts about the upcoming Windows Web browser “choice screen,” to be rolled out to European users via Windows Update March 1, is the absence of one very important choice: sticking with the old version of Microsoft Internet Explorer they may currently be using.

The “choice screen,” as the European Commission now refers to it, will only be displayed for users who have IE7 or IE6 as their default Web browser. While they may choose Internet Explorer from this ballot, it explicitly offers version the latest version 8. The only upgrade procrastination option the ballot gives, based on snapshots of the first public beta, is a button in the lower left corner marked, “Select Later.” The next time the user boots her computer, the choice screen reappears.

Over the past few years, one of Web developers’ chief complaints is that IE6 was simultaneously one of the most successfully deployed, and least standards compliant, browsers ever made. Efforts at convincing users to willingly upgrade to a version that Web servers no longer have to “talk down to,” have only seen success in recent months. The latest live running tally from NetApplications shows usage share for IE6 finally having dropped below that of IE8, though with as many as one fifth of the world’s browsers that interact with servers NetApplications tracks, announcing themselves as IE6.

If fewer of the world’s browsers were IE6, the argument goes, developers would have fewer excuses to delay adoption of methods created long ago to render pages, such as CSS and AJAX.

But legitimate — or at least, legitimate sounding — reasons may exist why businesses have chosen not to upgrade beyond IE6. Prior to last year’s Windows Update-based IE8 push, which was classified by Microsoft as “Important,” one of the most urgently asked questions among IT department workers was, “How can we block it?” That prompted Microsoft to release an IE8 blocker toolkit in December 2008, to help administrators prevent users on their networks from installing IE8 without their guidance — or simply to keep users from changing their systems.

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The fascinating reasons why some of the world’s businesses have been unable — not even unwilling, just unable — to upgrade even to IE7, was the subject of an IT Expert Voice investigation published Saturday by my friend and colleague, Esther Schindler.

While simple procrastination was the reason many small businesses avoid upgrading, according to independent consultants Esther spoke with, many larger enterprises have been stuck not only with IE6 but with Windows XP and/or Windows 2000, mainly because the Web applications upon which their businesses depend, have not been upgraded and perhaps may never be upgraded. In some cases, Web apps such as Siebel CRM (distributed by Oracle) began supporting IE7 in early 2008. That may very well have been when Siebel’s clients began the migration process, but the actual software-changing element of that process for one client Esther spoke with, is only beginning now.

Another problem she encountered among enterprise-level IT is the lack of backward compatibility in Web apps that have been upgraded for IE7 and IE8 — an absolute necessity for organizations whose business, ironically, is to help other clients manage their systems. As one IT chief named John told Esther, “For example, SAP’s own portal site doesn’t work right in IE8. So if we roll out Windows 7, our developers won’t be able to request developer keys etc. and so won’t be able to work…I’m sure time will resolve these issues but in the meantime we are stuck on XP and IE6/7.”

For European enterprises, that logjam will not be broken by the rollout of the choice screen, which will not break Siebel’s or Lotus’ or SAP’s dependence on older browsers. So admins may end up deploying the methodologies offered by that IE8 Blocker Toolkit, to postpone inopportune progress once again.

Copyright Betanews, Inc. 2010

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