Wednesday, 12 August 2009

IE6 No More

Mashable reported today that the campaign to kill off IE6 reached a new level as Google's Orkut social platform (the largest in Brazil) announced plans to stop supporting the browser. On the face of it this might look like Google having another pop at its biggest rival, particularly in the face of Bing's takeover of Yahoo search last week. But the recommended alternatives are not just Chrome - Firefox, Safari and for that matter IE8 are also suggested as upgrades. This isn't really about Chrome at all (although the implications for advertising are related to it, which I'll speculate vaguely about later on) - it's about the future of websites themselves.

IE6 dates back to 2001: if you can't remember exactly what websites involved in those days, here's an example of the BBC's home page from January 2001:
and this was the sort of site it was designed to browse. Even if internet connections had been up to it, web designers would still have been limited by the fact that 95% of interent access was through IE6 at its peak. This was after Netscape had been seen off, and well before the days of Firefox. So although 20% of internet users are still using this technology, it was designed for a bygone age. The world wide web was 18 last week, and this is the equivalent of asking a ten year old to graft like an adult.

Now up till recently that has only been a problem for the coders who had to shoehorn state of the art websites into IE6's limited abilities. It is becoming a problem for everyone who wants a genuinely useable internet. HTML 5 is capable of providing audio and video files that interact (ie edit and change) in real time on a web page. It removes the distinction between desktop applications and websites, enables dragging and dropping from web to desktop and back, and is built on the basis of complete location awareness. It removes the need for Flash and Adobe Air (the heavy duty code that PCs can run but mobiles can't) so blurs the boundary between mobile and pc screen. In short it enables all the things that are going to make the web a whole lot more useful. And it won't work with IE6.

So for Google, for whom interactive audio-visual (YouTube) and drag & drop functionality (Google Wave) are key to future innovation, HTML 5 is a pre-requisite. This is great news for everyone, because the main problem with changing browsing behaviour is that most people don't care about all the stuff I'm talking about. Or at least they won't until it is developed and ready to use. But if they are threatened with losing access to YouTube (or potentially Facebook) if they don't upgrade, then they will soon work out how easy upgrading is.

To be fair, Microsoft agree that they would love people to upgrade, but that they won't phase out support for the browser, which was the standard in Windows XP. On their IEBlog the view is:

"Dropping support for IE6 is not an option because we committed to supporting the IE included with Windows for the lifespan of the product, and we keep our commitments."

So (partly based on the failure of Windows Vista to tempt people away from XP) they seem happy to let other people put a range of non-IE options in front of them. And to bring this back to advertising, that opens up some interesting questions about Firefox uptake. Chrome and IE8 are based on being ad-friendly: Google and Microsoft have the world's largest ad revenues to support. Firefox on the other hand offers the opportunity to block all online advertising (although it too makes most of its income through a revenue-share deal with Google for search ads). Only a fraction of FF users (9m, or 3%, of the 300m users of Firefox) block ads. But then, back in 2005 only 3% of internet users ran Firefox. Now it is 23%.

Of course on the other hand maybe sites running on HTML 5 will carry interactive applications and realtime audiovisual narrative that people won't want to block. Let's hope we get the chance to find out soon


Tess Alps said...

Ah, I see you have a very nice blog already, Graeme. Looking forward to reading you have a go at 'consumer'.
The only time 'consumer' has irritated me was when Ofcom used it, as in 'the citizen/consumer' in their PSB review. They believed the term covered all the aspects of human beings that were affected by PSB, from their cultural to their commercial needs. I always thought "Where's the soul bit gone, man?" Yes, I am a tree-hugger.

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