I installed Windows 98 a week ago. You're probably wondering why in the world I would do this. Or maybe you're thinking that I did it in order to test something in IE5. I did not.
But I did have a very good reason for installing Windows 98: Comcast was scheduled to come and install high-speed internet.
I always hate this process because the tech insists that he has to install software on my computer in order to get the Internet up and running (complete crap). And inevitably, it's some sort of annoying Comcast branded version of Internet Explorer that somehow manages to seep into the very core of Windows and muck up every application that I care about.
But I have this old laptop computer that weighs about 138 lbs, has a cracked case, a broken USB port, and overheats all the time, so I have it propped up with little foam legs that I taped to the bottom of it using double-sided tape.
Previously, it was running Ubuntu, but I figured installing Windows 98 on it would be perfect for when the Comcast guy came. He could install all the crapware he wanted to on that computer, and I wouldn't care because that computer was going right back into box in the garage where I probably wouldn't use it again until the next time I needed Comcast to install Internet.
So anyway, I got Windows 98 installed (strangely, the Internet was working even before the Comcast guy came, but only for an hour or so), so I promptly fired up IE (version 5 is what ships with Windows 98) in order to go to Windows Update, because you know... after 10 years, I figured there was probably one or two security updates to install.
Not sure why I didn't realize this would be the case, but as soon as I went to Windows Update, I was greeted with a message telling me that Windows 98 is no longer supported and no updates would be available.
Well, no, not really crap -- what do I care? This computer's only purpose was to be mucked up by the Comcast guy anyway.
But, it did make me realize that anyone who is still using Windows 98 today and who (for whatever reason) doesn't have IE6 installed (unlikely I know, but still...) would never even be able to install it.
So this got me thinking... what is today's support for IE5.x like? I know standardistas are always barking about how we should be supporting as many browers as possible, and IE5 is often mentioned in the same breath. I've also heard that IE5.x still holds roughly 2% of the market share. But I wanted to know, in real, practical terms: Is there any point in still supporting this dinosaur?
My answer is an emphatic no!
Virtually every major web site I visited had multiple scripting errors. And I'm not just talking smaller, unknown sites either. These were major sites: Mozilla.com, and Yahoo Mail, just to name a couple.
After mere minutes of browsing, I was convinced that IE5 is dead. Or at the very least, practical support for it is dead.
This isn't really news to me. IE5 has been dead to me, personally, for a long time. Despite what standardistas would have you believe, supporting archaric browsers with poor scripting capabilities does not "move the web forward."
On the contrary, if we continue to put in the extra effort required to support low-grade browsers, what motivation will users of such browsers have to upgrade?
I would argue that we're actually doing a disservice by continue to support low-grade browers.
But I don't necessarily consider text based browsers or screen readers to be "low-grade" or "incapable" pieces of software. IE5 is a whole different beast. It wears the facade of a modern, capable browser when in reality, it is anything but. Screen readers and text based browsers aren't that hard to accomodate, but IE5 is just a royal pain in the butt.
Furthermore, users of IE5 don't fall into that previously mentioned group of users who "have no other choice." If you're voluntarily using IE5, it's most likely not because you have some disability (other than perhaps, being too stupid to upgrade your browser).
No, users of IE5 should not be accomodated in my opinion. It doesn't help the web. It doesn't help me (as a web designer), and it certainily doesn't help them.
What will help users of IE5 is a little browser education. Maybe the latest version of IE isn't avaiable on the version of Windows they're running, but there are plenty of good, viable, alternatives, and those alternatives are what will help users of IE5, and ultimately the web.
Finally, my feelings on IE6 are pretty much the same as that of IE5, though we're not quite there with IE6 -- no one is going to argue that point, as IE6 still has significant market share.
However, (and this is a big however), IE6 should not have significant market share for much longer. As web developers, we need to see to it that it doesn't. I'm talking another year, maybe a year and half, tops, and then, SLAM! The door on support for IE6 needs to be shut. Some will call me crazy and say I'm being too extreme, but I don't think so.
We can't keep supporting these low-grade browsers if we expect to move the web in a positive direction. We're reaching the limit on how far modern web apps can go if we're forced to make them work with ancient and incapable browsers.
For IE5, the time has come and gone. For IE6, its days are numbered. Get ready to dump it. Get ready to party, because it will be a happy day when IE6 is no more, and I believe that day is (or can be, at least) closer than most of us think.