The IE6 Petition, UK Government and Developers

The UK Government has posted a response to the petition I started back in January.  You can read the full text here:

If you’re here, you’ve probably read it and are curious or a bit miffed.  I’m writing this as there is no mechanism for reply on the above site.

It’s the cost, stupid
With a massive budget deficit additional spending on upgrading browsers as opposed to building schools is not a vote winner, it never will be – or not in large enough quantities to make it worth doing.  Keep your job, or let other people in the office have IE8.  Get real.

What I was looking for was a recommendation to upgrade away from IE6.  A recommendation isn’t hard, it’s cheap and easy and isn’t an admission of guilt.  It puts the onus on the government departments to modernise, to innovate and to take care of their own.

Realism vs optimism
There’s not a chance that we can always get what we want.  Sometimes we just need to get what we can.  Recommending the move would have been great.  Not recommending it is short-sighted and diminishes ambition just at the time when we need it.

Mixed messages? Sure.

There’s not much we can do now and I’m sorry to sound defeatist, but in the short term that’s it.  Realism tells me that this is all based on cost, not on security or whether the government wants to make web designers or developers happy.

  • Is it realistic to ask the government to do good things? Yes.
  • Is it realistic for the government to do them? Probably not.

People, what now?
So, if you want to lobby your MP on this, go ahead.  They work for you.

If you work in a government department that still uses IE6, you can approach your IT department and talk to them about finding out when they plan to upgrade you.  Leaving you in 2000 isn’t a credible option.

In Scotland the whole public sector is upgrading to IE7, which is better.  Well done to them.

A colleague suggested that the application of Big Society to this would be guerilla browser upgrading at night in government offices.  Nice idea, perhaps some IT companies will donate their services.  If you’re that altruistic about it, you’re more generous than me!

Designers and developers, what now?
I think we have to look seriously about development for old browsers and put IE6 firmly into the has been category.  If Microsoft are going to support it until 2014 then it’s going to be in use for a fair chunk of time yet.

Our strategy at Inigo is to charge more for IE6 development.  Fortunately it’s not been a big requirement recently, but we’ll be asked to do it and we’ll need to be tough on it.  If it means we lose work, so be it.

In design, tell your client that you’ll be designing for IE7 & IE8 and that they shouldn’t assume that all design features will run in IE6.  Rounded corners and transparencies won’t transfer as you’re having to get ready for new technologies coming down the pipe.  You will still have to make the site work – but you can charge more for it.  Charge for your time.  I believe it’s acceptable.

So, it’s disappointing, but life goes on.  Every public sector organisation (and private sector for that matter) that upgrades away from IE6 is a small victory.

The funeral for IE6 has been held, unfortunately there are lots of zombies still out there.

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29 Responses to “The IE6 Petition, UK Government and Developers”

  1. Janny November 14, 2010 at 4:09 pm #

    I’ll be pulling the plug on IE6 rather soon, I will be supporting it slightly moving forward but not to the extent I am at the moment.

    If a client requests Full IE6 Support then we will start charging extra days on top of the product cost.


  2. Ian August 5, 2010 at 7:07 pm #

    They won’t spend money upgrading IE6, let’s save it to build schools, etc.
    But they would happily spend millions refurbish offices when the current ones are fine, or lots of other wasteful activities.

    Why not try to get a whole bunch of high profile websites to detect IE6 and just show the message:
    “This website cannot be viewed in IE6, upgrade your browser to view this site”.
    Initially it will cause frustration, but with enough ‘spin’ it could be seen as forcing progress.

    It wouldn’t be popular, but it would be putting a line in the sand and saying ‘this is enough’.

  3. JulesLt August 3, 2010 at 6:52 pm #

    My fiance works in an entirely new public sector organisation – so theoretically no system legacy – but of course the need to integrate with existing systems, and ability to recycle old licences, means they have an infrastructure of machines based around Win2K, Office 97 and IE6.

    Having come from a private sector firm that at least used Office 2003 and XP, she finds it very frustrating (diary coordination is far harder for starters). That is before you start on the poor quality of systems for things like travel booking (the corporate arm of The Trainline, or at least their public sector portal, lags years behind the consumer site in terms of usability).

    Add to that slow systems and they are probably wasting hours of productivity to poor IT systems.

    It seems this government believes that efficiency comes from making cuts, not investment. Which isn’t to say the last lot were much better (throwing millions at grand systems) – but I suspect there are good savings to be had from someone doing a time-and-motion study on usage of existing systems.

    (The justification for moving off IE6 in this respect is that it should lower future development costs. Then again, if you are intending to move a lot of public sector service provision into private sector contracts, you are probably not going to care about future development)

  4. Andrew MacCormack August 3, 2010 at 6:50 am #

    Most guerillas (and gorillas) already use a modern browser anyway…. 🙂

  5. oliver stieber August 2, 2010 at 2:12 pm #

    The COST issue, Well it’s two fold.

    Migrating the actual ‘brower’ isn’t the real cost, the bowser alone can be tested in isolation.

    The REAL COST, is all those piece of … so call software houses or whoever that have written the software for IE6 only, because it would cost more to make it work on other browsers or write to design patterns that would allow the UI to be upgraded without going through masses of code. Why would they do that, because of the piece of … government agencies that go for the lowest cost ‘piece of …’ development that they can buy in the name of cost cutting.

    So what’s the second part of the cost?

    Well now that they have this, they are now, via third parties, locked into Microsoft IE6 and can’t migrate to something which may well be much cheaper (e.g. more secure. standards based, easier to migrate from and upgrade, possibly no per unit software costs etc…) like a Unix based OS.

  6. Simon August 2, 2010 at 12:44 pm #

    You mention guerilla browser upgrading, but I suspect (given the radical changes in UI between IE 6 and later versions) this would not go unnoticed by end users.

    Perhaps a more stealthy alternative would be to install Chrome Frame, the open source project sponsored by Google. Indeed perhaps we need a follow up petition, urging the Government to at least consider the installation of Chrome Frame as an intermediate (transitional) solution? The guarantee of CF on every browser would free future government web applications from the burden of IE 6 compatibility, while not affecting backwards compatibility with existing IE 6 apps. It would also mean existing users could continue to use the familiar IE 6 user interface. And it would provide a gentle route for legacy apps to be moved over, one by one, to modern standards.

    Of course CF doesn’t address IE 6’s security shortcomings, but I guess you can’t have everything. 🙁

  7. Carson August 2, 2010 at 3:29 am #

    The approach we’ve taken at the web dev agencies I’ve worked for sounds the same as yours: ask the client if they REALLY want the site to be “perfect” on IE6, or whether they’ll settle for “working”, and if they want “perfect”, charge extra. In my experience, the companies that are willing to pay extra to make it identical in IE6 are the ones that are still stuck using IE6 themselves. 🙂

  8. Jonathan Stilts August 2, 2010 at 2:39 am #

    The governments response mentions Microsoft’s regular security updates as a reason for sticking with IE6, and specifically states:

    “It is not straightforward for HMG departments to upgrade IE versions on their systems. Upgrading these systems to IE8 can be a very large operation, taking weeks to test and roll out to all users.”

    However, as Microsoft’s support for Windows XP (and therefore IE6) will end 8 April 2014, surely it makes sense to begin the “not straightforward” process of upgrading to IE8 (which will also run on Windows Vista and Windows 7) as soon as possible if it will take “weeks to test and roll out”. Time is not on the governments side – in theory they may still be the incumbent government until 11 June 2015, 14 months after IE6 and XP are due to become unsupported.

  9. John August 1, 2010 at 7:37 pm #

    Detect the visitor’s user agent string, it it is IE6 redirect them to a page saying ‘sorry your browser is not supported, please upgrade’.

    If enough sites and some high profile ones do this, we can fix this problem ourselves by forcing change.

    The idiot and his dog will keep on using iE6 for the next decade, if left to it. Aside from the security aspects, as a developer IE6 makes me cry often. I hate MS for heaping such rubbish on the world.

  10. Dan August 1, 2010 at 4:58 pm #

    Hi Adam, yes for some organisations it is cheaper to add a bit more development – after all it’s mainly CSS and XHTML that we’re talking about here for presentation.

    Where the government’s logic falls down is when we start looking at what can be done with more up to date browsers.

    One of the biggest savings in time is usability. Increases in productivity should be a big draw to more up to date browsers as well as the move into Cloud computing.

  11. Adam August 1, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    Hi, Firstly props for setting up this petition. Even if this response was the predictable outcome, its nice to see somebody challenging the powers that be on an issue that, for most of of the rest of world, is a bit of a no-brainer.

    Charging for IE6 compatibility I feel is completely appropriate and what would be really nice would be if those involved in developing for government websites were similarly explicit in detailing what the extra costs are for developers when having to ensure IE6 compatibility. Perhaps then they would start to realise that not upgrading is actually the more costly option in the long run.

  12. Dan August 1, 2010 at 11:45 am #

    Hi Justin, we’re trying to be part of the solution and do help advise clients on upgrading – particularly if their IT departments allow it. Often the IT departments aren’t anti-upgrade but are having to stretch the resources they already have. Where IT departments are planning to move from XP or Windows 2000 to Windows 7, there are obviously advantages to moving to IE8. Windows 8 will bring IE9, so we move on again.

  13. opensourceftw August 1, 2010 at 9:51 am #

    As to guerrilla updates, why not just switch them all over to Firefox?

  14. joepublic August 1, 2010 at 7:07 am #

    how did the govt estimate the cost of staying with ie6 in terms of increased website downtime, security breaches, e-vandalism, and what is that estimate?

  15. Justin Case July 31, 2010 at 10:03 pm #

    “Nice idea, perhaps some IT companies will donate their services. If you’re that altruistic about it, you’re more generous than me!”

    Thats why you are part of the problem. (not meant in an offensive way) Generosity might be one of the most effective ways to get out of the current predicament, in a very real and practical way.

    IE6 has collectively cost us billions by now. Has this epic vendor-lock-in taught us anything? Microsoft can still sell their locked-down software and platforms like there’s no tomorrow, while refusing to play fair and square in a standards game. Quite the contrary, activities to rectify the situation are time and again subverted and torpedoed by shady tactics and downright corruption. We get, at best, second grade software forced down our throats, and when you get down to it it’s based on PR-conformant lies and heavy-handed interventions. But at least someones pockets have been lined nicely.

    Quite depressing to see an upgrade to IE7 branded as an improvement, when all it does is to set us up for another round of this insanity a few years down the line.

    Major thumbs up for setting up the petition and confronting government, though. I hope your petition gets swept on the desk of somebody recently hit by an outbreakofcommonsense.

  16. Your Name July 31, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

    WE could always have another go by supporting public workers in their request and asking Osborne to use open source to save money

  17. daveSpod July 31, 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    The thing about all this is that behind it are a handful of developers trying to push a bunch of souped-up html and css code that isn’t wanted or needed on the web.

    The cost of indulging this limited group would add up to millions and perhaps billions when one looks at the economy as a whole.

    It’s quite likely that the British Govt are well aware of this and certainly they know how to deal with the shrill voices of small interest groups and pressure groups trying it on.

    From Wikipedia –
    For most businesses and organizations, the likely survival of IE6 means that support for the way it renders content is an important part of their approach to the web, whatever the impact on transient technologies and standards.

  18. Barbara July 31, 2010 at 3:44 pm #

    Supporting IE6 takes up more time than writing the original app, often because the fixes break what was working fine in other browsers. It’s not worth it.

    If they really believe their systems are so secure because they’re fully patched, then they should have no issue with someone bringing in a laptop with a later version, and if the apps they use work fine, upgrading the browser on their desktop.

    The truth is that this would “not be acceptable” because they know that their claims of fully patched systems being secure is an outright lie.

    Never trust someone who lies to you in writing. They’ve already shown they can’t be trusted, and that they think you’re stupid. The proper response is to call them a very competent liar to their face, and ask who is responsible for making the bad decisions (designing for IE6 instead of writing to web standards) that resulted in this situation in the first place, and whether a good public sacking is in order.

  19. Richard Clinker July 31, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    Excellently put. As suggested, I will forward this to my MP. I’m afraid this has made the new government look rather stupid in the eyes of the international IT industry.

  20. Rex July 31, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    Not upgrading from IE6 is an open invitation to the BadGuys(tm) to launch attacks on the government. — That is the short of it.

    It seems to me that the UK government’s decision to consciously leave an open channel for attack against the nation’s IT infrastructure is treason. There’s no other way to describe it. Do they still hang traitors in the UK?

  21. Annoyed reader July 31, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

    Hello Dan, would you mind removing the page scrolling script from your page and just let browsers do their job? I personally don’t want to scroll the whole page when I press the down arrow, that’s what page down was invented for. And the script is broken in Opera. Thanks 🙂

  22. Chris July 31, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

    As a developer, I understand your position, but frankly it’s a bit elitist to think government is going to spend money on IT support that isn’t actually necessary. We technologists tend to wonder how anyone uses a computer without the absolute latest and greatest everything on it, but in reality, upgrading is a massive pain in the rear, and therefore expensive. I’d much rather see the money spent in other sectors that actually have a short term need. Technologists often lose sight of the notion that the government is spending OUR money, and they have a responsibility to strictly prioritize that spending on things their constituents want. If you want them to upgrade their browsers, you have to make it economically feasible for them to do it. As you’ve now suggested, the way to do this is not through petitions, but to just stop supporting IE6. They’ll upgrade quick enough when they can’t get their software to work anymore.

  23. Blas July 31, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    Possibly keeping IE6 is cheaper in the short term, but I don’t think decisions of the public sector had to have only the next quarter in mind.

    Keeping IE6 makes other systems department costs arise in a continuous basis such as maintenance, update, execution, time, energy, hardware… due to all that measures such as firewalls and malware scanning software. Not to mention software development costs which I’m sure as you are more than considerable (technically and psychologically).

  24. Rory July 31, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    I wonder why we have these people pushing for advanced javascript browsers that bring bloat, intrusive advertising and other malware to government PCs. Like that Firefox browser, full of unknown functionalities and dangerous third party plugins. Whoever wants to bring those risky browsers to the government should rethink his involvement.

  25. Bob Mottram July 31, 2010 at 10:08 am #

    This is the first really incompetent decision by the new coalition government. I’ve been involved in IT for a long time, and if I were a government adviser there’s no way that I’d be suggesting that they maintain use of IE6, and I’d be urging them to move away from using that as a high priority. Upgrading to some other version of IE or some other browser does not involve high cost. Simply emailing people a link to download a new browser, perhaps with some brief instructions to install it would be sufficient.

    Maintaining use of IE6 puts public servants and public data at extremely serious risk of compromise (not merely exposure but also alteration or deletion). This point cannot be emphasized strongly enough.

  26. Dan July 30, 2010 at 5:47 pm #

    Thanks guys, charging more for IE6 development helps for where we’re at. However I do acknowledge that some people can’t find solutions around this. Companies and government departments are often tied in to proprietary IT solutions that can only be accessed with IE6 or they just won’t work.

    I feel for them, I really do. However it’s no reason to stop people from having more modern browsers on their systems. It’s not far fetched to launch IE6 in a virtual client and run IE8 for everything else.

    Anyway, the main point isn’t actually the technology or any kind of IE hatred. The whole issue is to get the government to recommend a way forward, not to stay with what’s easy, cheap and (often) nasty.

  27. Bill Roberts July 30, 2010 at 1:25 pm #

    Think of all the productive economic growth the development community could be creating if it didn’t have to waste all that time getting their websites and apps to work on IE6! There are real costs of not upgrading. On our app, we decided life was too short and chose not to support IE6. I’m sure others have taken the same approach – so another cost to government IE6 laggards is that the newest developments are not available to them. And what about the loss of morale of the civil servants doomed to work with it?

    The list could go on!

  28. Shaun Bent July 30, 2010 at 1:23 pm #

    Your article makes some very good points which I agree with, especially the part on charging more for IE6 development. It is often the case that you will spend large amounts of time fixing the numerous bugs so why not charge for it.

    On your point about cost, surely if they do not recommend this now and encourage departments to upgrade, then the cost is only going to increase in future as IE6 users will get left further behind as newer technology are released.




  1. IE6 is Dead | Dan Frydman - March 5, 2011

    […] Just over a year ago I petitioned Gordon Brown and the government via the Number 10 website to get the UK government to encourage departments to upgrade away from IE6. Not long after the election of the coalition HMG responded saying no – it was too expensive. Read more about that here. […]

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