Page last updated at 19:00 GMT, Thursday, 13 August 2009 20:00 UK

Microsoft backs long life for IE6

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

ie6nomore
IE6 is still used by nearly 20% of users

Microsoft has underlined support for its Internet Explorer 6 web browser, despite acknowledging its flaws.

The software giant said it would support IE6 until 2014 - four years beyond the original deadline.

Critics - some of which have started an online campaign - want the eight-year-old browser mothballed because they claim it slows the online experience.

"Friends do not let friends use IE6," said Amy Barzdukas, Microsoft's general manager for Internet Explorer.

"If you are in my social set and I have been to your house for dinner, you are not using IE6," she said. "But it is much more complicated when you move into a business setting."

"It's hard to be cavalier in this economy and say 'oh it's been around for so long they need to upgrade,'" Ms Barzdukas told journalists in San Francisco..

Web monitoring firms estimate that 15-20% of people still use IE6 to browse the web.

Enough is enough

Among those speaking out against IE6 is a group of more than 70 developers who have banded together to form a project called ie6nomore.

"Enough is enough," they implore on their website.

Justin.tv
Justin.tv says its amazed at how the anti IE6 campaign has taken off

"Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 was released in late 2001. For its time, it was a decent browser, but in 2009, it is still in use by a significant portion of the web population, and its time is now up."

"Web developers hate IE6," said Evan Solomon of Justin.tv, one of the backers of the campaign.

"We are passionate because we run a website and something like 10% of our users use IE6, but our web designers and developers have to spend a lot of time debugging for the platform.

"The other issue for us is that we have launched an API to let people build applications and while our goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to do this, IE6 is a barrier," Mr Solomon told BBC News.

In a blog post in response to such campaigns, the software giant said that while this issue is a simple one for technology enthusiasts, "the choice to upgrade software on a PC belongs to the person responsible for the PC".

"Many PCs don't belong to individual enthusiasts, but to organisations. The backdrop might be a factory floor or hospital ward or school lab or government organisation, each with its own business applications," wrote Dean Hachamovitch, general manager for the browser group.

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

"Best experience"

Despite the renewed commitment, Microsoft said it would prefer people to move to IE8, which it says comes with improved functionality and security.

IE8 Web Slice
IE8 has been downloaded roughly 250,000 times since its March release

"We want people to have the best experience they can have on Microsoft software," said Ms Barzdukas.

"If people get frustrated with that experience and they say 'Microsoft stinks and IE stinks' and they're basing that on technology that was designed nearly a decade ago, well yeah that is concerning."

Industry watchers believe, that despite Microsoft's backing, IE6's days are numbered.

"IE6 will just die away anyway," said Harry McCracken, editor and founder of tech news site Technologizer.

"I only have around 7% of people who visit my site using IE6 and it will just dwindle away no matter what anyone does," he said.

Threat

Microsoft's touting of IE8 comes as browser competition intensifies.

The most immediate threat to Microsoft's 68% market share comes in the shape of Mozilla's Firefox - used by 22% of browsers.

Firefox 1billion
Firefox, introduced in 2004, recently claimed its one billionth download

"The competition Microsoft has to worry about right now is Firefox. Not just from a market share perspective but from an innovation perspective because their plug-ins work really well," Ronald Gruia, a principal analyst with Frost & Sullivan told BBC News.

"In the future they have to look out for Google with its Chrome browser," he said. "The main concern there for Microsoft is the rise in cloud computing and software as a service. Google is becoming very effective at delivering applications in the cloud and therefore poses a huge threat to Microsoft."

"This is the best time to be a browser user because there is so much choice," agreed Mr McCracken.

"Almost anyone on the planet who uses the web uses Google and that gives them a powerful way to market Chrome. They started with the browser and now they have the Chrome operating system as an even more direct attack on Microsoft's core business.

"My guess is Mozilla is what it is and that battle is, in some way, over. Chrome doesn't have a huge market share at the moment, but if I was Microsoft I would be worried about Google making Chrome really big." said Mr McCracken.

Such issues did not seem to trouble Ms Barzdukas.

"IE is still the most broadly used browser in the world. We are focused and we are here to play."

"Clearly Google is a very strong technology company with a number of offerings across the internet space but beyond that, I don't have a comment on them as a browser vendor in particular," stated Ms Barzdukas.



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