It’s the 20th March 2009 and yesterday Microsoft released the latest version of its web browser Internet Explorer 8. For website developers, when Microsoft releases a new web browser this can bring great joy but also great pain because often the new version fixes all the annoying problems with the old one but creates a whole new minefield that developers have to pick our way through. You see, Microsoft’s web browser is by far the most popular of all web browsers, roughly 80% of all internet users use Internet Explorer, however just because a new version is released it doesn’t mean that all of these millions of people immediately upgrade, in fact, very few of them do.
Microsoft last released an updated version of their browser in 2006 and after more than 2 years there are still roughly 30% of IE users on version 6. You might be wondering why this is a problem, well technology always moves forward and that is very true of the tools that web developers use to build websites. In the time since IE 6 was released the tools we use have improved drastically, but they can only be used if the majority of internet users have the capability to view a website when built with them. There are ways to build websites with the latest technology and still have them work with older browsers like IE6 but this requires a lot more work from the website developer. So when all of these millions of Internet Explorer users chose not up upgrade to version 7 in 2006 it gave the developer a massive headache.
Roll on two years and another new version of Internet Explorer, and situation could soon get much better or much worse. You see, Internet Explorer 8 is an improvement on version 7 and a massive improvement on version 6 but it doesn’t really matter if many people don’t upgrade. In fact if people don’t upgrade then it makes the situation much harder to manage than before because this time we have three versions of Internet Explorer rather than two to design for.
What worries web developers the most about all this is that the people that chose not to upgrade their web browser in 2006 for whatever reason, are also likely to decide not to again, so while the percentage of IE6 and IE7 users will go down and the percentage of IE8 users will go up, it will probably be several years before website developers can finally forget about having to design websites for the old dragon that is Internet Explorer 6.