The IE6 mess is Microsoft’s own doing

Microsoft is begging people to get rid of IE6. I saw this week that they’ve managed to get its market share down to 12 percent, but that’s still a long way from their goal of 1 percent.

I’m surprised they’ve managed to get it that low. And I don’t feel sorry for them. Not in the least.

The web was supposed to be a platform-agnostic, browser-agnostic way to share information. Then Microsoft did everything it could to hijack that, by adding nonstandard tags and a whole proprietary scripting language and carpet-bombing the world with development tools that used those proprietary lock-ins in an effort to turn the Web into just another Windows application.

And for a while, it worked.

As alternative browsers gained acceptance, the web as a whole moved away from Microsoft’s proprietary lock-ins just about as quickly as it had adopted them. This is the world most pundits see. There is no compelling reason to use IE6 on the Web, because there are much faster, more feature complete, more secure browsers available than IE6.

But corporate intranets did become a cesspool of lock-in. Whether it was apps designed in house or apps that they purchased, many of them used proprietary, Microsoft-developed extensions. And many of those extensions break under any browser newer than IE6.

You should see the hoops that were necessary to jump through to get Microsoft Project Server 2003 to work with IE7. It was something like a six-step process, and none of the steps were obvious. And this was to get two Microsoft products to talk!

The solution, of course, is to upgrade to a newer version of Project Server. That works, though it’s neither free nor easy.

But what if the application is something that was developed in-house a decade ago, by developers who are no longer with the company?

What if the application is discontinued, or the company that made it went out of business, and there’s no upgrade path?

Businesses are reluctant to throw away software that they’re still using. Considerable money went into procuring or developing it, deploying it, and training the users on it. They’re reluctant to get rid of something just because Microsoft deprecated the technology it was built on. Especially when Microsoft was cheerleading that proprietary technology several years ago and convinced them to buy in.

That’s why I’m surprised that IE6’s market share is down to 12 percent. Of course, that doesn’t count the number of people who are still using IE6 exclusively to access corporate intranets. I’ve had people connect to Citrix servers to run IE6 just so they could access stuff on the corporate intranet that wouldn’t work any other way. There’s no way for anyone to know how often stuff like that is going on.

So if I feel no more sorry for Microsoft than I feel for Muammar Gaddafi, that’s why.

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