Internet Explorer 6 Usage Plummets...Finally

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Internet Explorer 6 was originally released in the summer of 2001. At the time, it was a significant step forward for Microsoft and helped to establish Internet Explorer as a dominant force in Web browsers. The venerable browser has put up a good fight, but new usage statistics suggest it may finally be on its proverbial death bed.

Almost a decade and two major browser revisions after its launch, Internet Explorer 6 is almost universally criticized for its incompatibility with Web standards and its poor browser security. Despite the criticism, though, IE6 has refused to die. In fact, broken down by version, Internet Explorer 6 is still the number three browser, and has more market share than Internet Explorer 7.

Internet Explorer 7 has been around since the fall of 2006, and Internet Explorer 8 is approaching its second birthday, with Internet Explorer 9 in public beta and expected to be officially released sometime in the next year. Never mind any of the other improvements and features of these subsequent browsers, the security controls alone should be all the justification that organizations need to abandon IE6 and upgrade to IE8.

Apparently, all of the lobbying and anti-IE6 campaigns, combined with persistent prodding from Microsoft is finally paying off. Roger Capriotti, Director of Product Marketing for Internet Explorer, states in an Exploring IE blog post, "In the last six months, IE6 usage is now declining faster among enterprises than it is among worldwide consumers. We believe this reflects how organizations are recognizing the need to migrate to a modern browser."

Microsoft, with the help of Net Applications, has dug beneath the standard browser market share tracking to examine browser usage by organizations as opposed to individual consumers, and the results are encouraging. Small and medium businesses are leading the IE6 exodus, but overall only about 12 percent of browser usage in organizations--regardless of size--comes from IE6.

Many jump to the conclusion that Internet Explorer usage is directly linked with the market share of Microsoft Windows. The implication of that assumption being that IE6 is primarily still popular because Windows XP is still a dominant operating system. Capriotti explains, though, "While XP usage contributes to IE6 usage, the vast majority of commercial XP machines have already upgraded to IE7 or IE8. Less than 20 percent of web browsing on commercial XP machines comes from IE6."

One of the main reasons that organizations have been reluctant to upgrade from IE6 to IE8 is that they have nearly a decade of investment and development of custom business-critical applications that are designed to work with IE6. Migrating the browser requires also testing and updating those applications, which number in the thousands for some customers.

The reality of making the switch is not nearly as daunting as the apprehension would suggest, though. I spoke with Roger Capriotti and he told me that he hears regularly from customers that the process turned out to be much easier than had been anticipated, and that upgrading also provided an opportunity to inventory the apps that are out there and eliminate those that aren't even used any more.

There are two ways for IT admins to approach the browser upgrade. One is to put it off and just migrate by attrition when moving from Windows XP to Windows 7. IE8 is the default browser in Windows 7 already, so no additional effort would be required. For organizations planning to switch to Windows 7 in the near future, this might be the way to go.

However, switching everything at once--which might also include a hardware refresh--introduces a wide variety of variables simultaneously. If there are any issues with critical Web apps, troubleshooting will be more complicated. Organizations that are heavily invested in IE6 apps should consider upgrading the browser independently to focus specifically on the browser and minimize the number of moving parts involved.

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