Microsoft yesterday responded to critics who have called for the death of Internet Explorer 6 (IE6), saying "dropping support is not an option" for the eight-year-old browser.
While acknowledging that Microsoft is eager for users to upgrade to a new version of IE, Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of the browser group, said the decision is out of its hands. "The choice to upgrade software on a PC belongs to the person responsible for the PC," said Hachamovitch.
And Microsoft has no intention of putting IE6 to sleep before its already-scheduled 2014 termination. "Dropping support for IE6 is not an option because we committed to supporting the IE included with Windows for the lifespan of the product," Hachamovitch said, referring to Windows XP, the operating system that included IE6 when the former shipped in October 2001.
Microsoft has set the kill date for IE6 as April 8, 2014, when it wraps up all support for Windows XP.
Rather than call out the entire anti-IE6 campaign, Hachamovitch acknowledged the blog post by Digg that cited a survey of its users and concluded it would soon curtail support for the ancient browser. Hachamovitch stressed the positives in Digg's survey. "Seventeen percent of respondents indicated that they 'don't feel a need to upgrade,'" Hachamovitch said.
According to the July 10 post by Digg, more than two-thirds of IE6 users polled said they couldn't change their browser because of work restrictions.
Hachamovitch admitted that business IE6 lock-in prevents many users from upgrading. "Many PCs don't belong to individual enthusiasts, but to organizations," he said in an entry to the IE blog late Monday. "The people in these organizations [who are] responsible for these machines decide what to do with them. These people are professionally responsible for keeping tens or hundreds or thousands of PCs working on budget."
Users and Web developers have been aggressively demanding that IE6 die for some time, but the movement has picked up momentum as large sites, including Facebook, Google's YouTube and Digg either urged their customers to upgrade or said they would stop supporting the browser. An "IE6 Must Die" petition on Twitter has collected more than 12,000 signatures.
Last week, a California site builder added its voice to the campaign, leading nearly 40 Web sites that represent 30 million monthly visitors to ask users to leave the old browser behind.
"As engineers, we want people to upgrade to the latest version," countered Hachamovitch. "We make it as easy as possible for them to upgrade, [but] ultimately the choice to upgrade belongs to the person responsible for the PC."
Hachamovitch's reasoning -- that corporate IT administrators should make the decisions on browser choice -- didn't sit well with everyone.
"As a Web developer, I know firsthand that IE6 (both in terms of script interpretation and HTML rendering) functions in a way thoroughly inconsistent with other browsers (including later versions of IE), meaning that adding IE6 support to a Web site can add days, if not weeks, to the development time of a Web application," said a user identified as "Dan" in comments appended to Hachamovitch's blog.
"Personally, I believe that the best solution would be for a large portion of Internet sites to cease support for IE6, which would 'encourage' users to upgrade," Dan said. "Unfortunately, that's not going to happen yet."
Hachamovitch also cited examples of Microsoft's determination to let users choose their browser, including the decision it announced last month to change IE8's setup. According to documents filed last week with the federal judge who oversees Microsoft's 2002 antitrust settlement, however, that move was made under pressure from federal and state officials.
Microsoft plans to modify IE8's setup later today, when it issues its monthly security updates.