The mystery of Microsoft

When it was released 10 years ago, IE6 was the most sophisticated browser on the market. Now it lingers like a nasty fart in a crowded lift, embarrassing its producer Microsoft so much that it sent flowers to a mock-funeral for IE6 and now has released, asking developers to market IE9 by adding a browser upgrade link on their sites.

Two years ago, I wrote about IE8 in a ZDNet article:

If Microsoft is serious about wishing to persuade users and corporates to upgrade, it should address the reasons why people have not yet upgraded.

It could, for example, encourage systems administrators to upgrade corporate networks by officially announcing that IE6 has reached the end of its life and stop supporting it, and back-port IE8 to run on Windows 2000 so users of that operating system have an upgrade path.

But IE9 is only available for Windows 7 and Windows Vista users—so users of Windows XP, the most-used operating system in the world, cannot leave IE6 for IE9.

If Opera can make Opera 11, with its superb support for modern standards, work on Windows 2000 and above, why can’t Microsoft make Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 work on Microsoft Windows XP and Microsoft Windows 2000?

That would significantly help them towards their goal of watching “Internet Explorer 6 usage drop to less than 1% worldwide”.

I really can’t think of a reason why they don’t backport it – can you?

Other cleverer people’s opinions

35 Responses to “ The mystery of Microsoft ”

Comment by Stu Robson

@Ryan, the one Bruce is discussing is an official Microsoft website not a 3rd party one like the one you’ve mentioned.

@Bruce, I wholeheartedly agree with this post. It’s like Microsoft are actually subconsciously trying to get you to upgrade two products (one of which costs). I would have thought the best way for them to move forward is to create a ‘local only’ version of IE6 so companies can still run there ‘non-broken’ software.

Because let’s face it. An enterprise would not upgrade something that is working and has been working for 10 years as it’ll continue to work tomorrow.

But the other issue is Microsofts use of figures yes 12% of the world use IE but that’s a heck of a lot of computers still. Bearing in mind the next big super power of China has a 34% use of the product. It’s still going to be around.

The best thing I think we can do, is be ‘hardboiled’ about it in terms of designing websites and the like. Give IE6 a basic stylesheet. Then check to see how many users who visit use IE6 and you could adjust your design accordingly.

Comment by James

Hardboiled is a great philosophy but it’s still difficult to implement such drastic measures in the real world when you deal with less technically savvy clients day to day.

When you have such examples as being driven by decision makers in big, high revenue companies, you’ll find it next to impossible to push “hard boiled” in this sort of environment.


Comment by Stu Robson

@James I think we’re loosely agreeing. But I feel it’d be better for the cllient, in terms of costs, to see if IE6 is a heavily used browser on there site. Obviously the big boys would need it regardless but in saying that 37signals (albeit a niche company) have just dropped IE6 support 🙂

Comment by Russ

One of the major probs I have with IE is the uprgade method, on my work PC I have to download a new executable to upgrade, which gets blocked by the company firewall. However Firefox updates get around this nicely. Most of these users on IE6 are probably stuck behind corporate firewalls. I work for a large financial site, Microsoft actively approached us about a year ago to start sniffing for IE6 and advising customers to upgrade. But its the people who can’t do anything about it who are stuck waiting for their systems admin guys to update their computers…

Comment by patrick h. lauke

I’ll hazard a guess and say that IE9 needs to hook into OS-specific bits and bobs (technical term) only present in Vista and 7 (such as the windows media framework or whatever it’s called)…which on XP and below simply aren’t there. That’s simply the way MS designs their software, hooking into the stuff that they know for a fact they’ve already shoved into the OS…it’s not decoupled. Don’t get me wrong, Apple likely do the same with Safari/OS X…I’d actually be interested to hear if it’s possible, on an old OS X install, to still get the latest Safari running without upgrading to Lion or Puma or Pussycat or whatever…

Comment by kimblim

I don’t think that Microsoft needs to support Win2k or WinXp with IE9 – users of XP can run IE8, and that is fine with me. At some point they’ll upgrade their OS and get a new browser as well.

Comment by Matt Wilcox

They can’t backport IE cost-effectively, would be my guess.

The problem with IE is that they bake so much of it into the OS itself, it is part of the Windows Shell and not really a stand-alone application. It’s one reason why you can’t easily unistall the thing:

Even when you do only the executable is removed, the dependencies remain because they’re part of Windows. IE9 will require different dependencies than XP has. In order to backport they’d need to do some pretty large changes to the OS itself. You’ve also got to remember that IE9 is hardware accelerated, with a lot of tie-in to Direct X – so, is Direct X 11 available on XP?

Comment by Matt Wilcox

Similarly, this is why you can’t have different version of IE installed on the same machine. They’re not stand-along programs, they’re part of the OS.

Comment by Tim

I’ll be adding the ie6countdown banner to one of my sites but will link it to a randomly selected non-M$ browser download site. I’m happy to see the back of IE6 but I’m not going to help M$ promote newer versions of their own browser, if those versions can’t at least be installed on W2K.

Comment by Adam Bankin

“But IE9 is only available for Windows 7 and Windows Vista users—so users of Windows XP, the most-used operating system in the world, cannot leave IE6 for IE9…

“I really can’t think of a reason why they don’t backport it – can you?”

They can leave IE6 for IE8 and if they haven’t already, they’re probably not going to.

Comment by bruce


-before IE9’s beta, you could install it alongside IE8 (I did). So it’s not completely tied into the o/s at a rendering engine level.


“They can leave IE6 for IE8 and if they haven’t already, they’re probably not going to.” – so we agree, don’t we? My argument is that nearly everyone who can migrate has already. The rest don’t care, or would like to migrate but can’t because they’re on old machines, which is why MS should backport IE9 to Win 2K, XP so those people can migrate.

But Microsoft claims to want to phase out IE6, but chooses not to backport IE9. I wonder why that would be?

Comment by Jens

“I really can’t think of a reason why they don’t backport it – can you?”

Yes of course. If I put on a Microsoft hat I want my users to buy my new products, not keep on using my old ones. MS could spend dev effort to both backport IE8/9 to Win2K etc., and to create IE9 for Win XP, but that’s not in their commercial interest.

Companies with IE6-specific apps are trapped. The only answer is to stop developing any custom apps for IE only and use open standard-based browsers.

Comment by Bruce

Jens: are you implying that the noise about killing IE6 from Microsoft is just a PR stunt, and that actually they deliberately choose not to backport IE9 to old versions of Windows to expedite movement away from IE6, even though they could do it if they wanted, and that they do this because they want to force people to buy Windows 7?

I’m shocked at that kind of cynicism. Shocked, I tell you. I need a lie down.

Comment by Dominic Pettifer

I thought the reason they can’t/won’t backport is because of hardware acceleration in Windows XP. In Vista/7 MS introduced a new graphics display driver model that made hardware rendering more consistent. Though it’s true Firefox 4 has hardware rendering in Windows XP, I hear it’s unreliable, and that Mozilla had to set up a graphics driver ‘blacklist’ to deal with display rendering bugs in that browser in XP (

Though I believe MS could back-port IE9 to XP/2000, I believe it’s not exactly a trivial thing to do.

Comment by Adam Bankin

The more I think about it, the more I believe it’s a ploy to push Win 7.

I’m trying to imagine the user journey of this and seems like old school Microsoft.

Their conditional comment content will ONLY be seen in IE6 right? So an IE6 user sees the upgrade link, follows it and then gets told “You need Vista or Win 7”.

IE6 does not run on any OS that can install IE9.

The only people who can see the link have OSs that can’t install IE9.


Comment by Natalia Ventre

I suppose Microsoft can make Internet Explorer 8 or 9 run on older versions of Windows, as web designers /developers can make a site look pretty good and work on Internet Explorer 6, but as we all know it’s hard work and a waste of time.

Regarding the upgrade message, it doesn’t make sense for Microsoft to recommend downloading Firefox, Opera or Chrome, so they just says “upgrade IE”. I don’t think they have an agenda, in fact I think they’re trying to do something good.

Comment by Trygve Lie

I think we all agree that older browser, whatever vendor, should be upgraded much faster than they are today. And yes; IE6 are a really bad.

In my country (Norway) the IE6 traffic have the last years mainly been coming from big corporations. I think its definitely they which are not upgrading due to many factors. One example is that IE6 is very memory efficient in a virtualization environment. This might be due to its close coupling with the underlaying OS. In a remote desktop / virtual environment saving memory are a huge factor. IE7 and IE8 are real memory hugs. For bigger corporations this is money. Will a backport of IE9 to Win200 and XP be more memory efficient? Sadly; I doubt it…

MS might have painted themselves into a corner by pushing proprietary features into IE6. I think a lot of LOB (line-of-business) applications found these proprietary features appealing when they started adding web interfaces to their systems back in the days. I think software developed outside MS are forcing MS to still support IE6. SAP are one example. Last week I did a session on HTML5 at a company which have a seven year deal with SAP. This deal forces them to still be at IE6 and they will until 2014. I really feel sorry for them.

One solution for migrating away from IE6 for these companies can be to follow MS own plans for migrating away from older IE versions. Companies with IE6 depending web applications can look at MS’s MED-V solution which virtualize IE6 (and IE7):

BTW: Reading the MS migration white papers give a tiny insight into why there might be a separation among Win 2000 / XP and Win Vista / 7. I think fundamental architecture in the operation systems are the key factors here.

Comment by colmjude

You make a very good point. With Opera 11 working on Windows 2000 they have no excuse really.

I think the key to cleansing the earth of IE6 is getting the enterprises involved and getting their sys admins to make the changes. The amount of people still running IE6 at my place of work is depressing.

Comment by Kevin Sweeney

Definitely have to agree with you on this, Bruce. I wasn’t really satisfied with any of the excuses that the IE team gave to us at SXSW. Since the majority of their user base *is* still on XP, do you feel this is partially related to their excuse of having to keep their enterprise-level customers happy? Or even buy that explanation for that matter?

Comment by xxdesmus

No excuses — people need to get off Windows XP. That being said, then this entire BS point about IE9 not supporting Windows XP is moot.

You’ve had 10 years on Windows XP — upgrade or get left behind, but you’re certainly not going to hold up progress for the rest of us.

Comment by kasakka

I think it’s good that MS didn’t bother making IE9 compatible with old crap like XP or 2000. They’ve supported software that’s way old for too long. At some point you just have to start using modern stuff and let the old rubbish rot.

However, MS should offer an alternative. A version of IE6 that runs as its separate app (entirely possible, see IETester), without messing with virtualization, and an upgrade to IE8 would’ve helped us web developers tremendously without breaking those old web apps many companies use.

PS. Latest Safari version runs fine at least on OSX 10.5. Can’t say if it works on older than that. And yes, it is somewhat hooked to the system since the Webkit rendering engine is available for lots of things in OSX just like IE components are in Windows.

Comment by Abhishek

A person who hasn’t cared to upgrade their web browser for 10 years, or use a good alternative, a person who hasn’t upgraded their operating system for a while. Microsoft’s not that wrong in not supporting that operating system.

On my machine with Tiger, I would love a way to get the latest version of Safari or Firefox. But we need 10.5 for anything useful. Here one could argue that, people are smart to upgrade their OS thereby not turning up on that chart of old web browsers.

Let’s blame the users this time, Microsoft’s actually doing good for a change.

Comment by tg

If you have read the Wikileaks us cables, China: those Corporate still stuck/refused to upgrade, their system should get more invasions from the internet spy army hired by CCP (Chinese Community Party) so that they can wake up all at once.

My take is, more companies’ systems got hacked than the public known because they probably wouldn’t dare to let their shareholders know.

Just saying!

Comment by Joe

The entire problem would be solved if individuals and businesses spent some money and purchased a Mac.

Comment by SWL-Projekt » Missing the point with

[…] Alas, the implementation of the “nag bar” is riddled with mistakes. They’ve done the right thing in wrapping the code in a conditional comment (a technology that is still Microsoft’s finest moment in web development when it comes to IE) but there are many issues with it (as also pointed out by Steve Webster, Mike Davies and Bruce Lawson): […]

Comment by Ian P

The whole reason for this ‘drop IE6’ can be summed up thus: “Please buy Windows 7”. Nothing else matters to them.

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