September 15, 2010, 5:01 PM — Microsoft's latest strike in the browser war, today's beta release of Internet Explorer 9, is designed primarily to take back market share lost to newer competitors Firefox and Google Chrome.
But Microsoft is also fighting a battle against its own technology, namely Internet Explorer 6. IE6 has been declared dead many times, but it's still the browser of choice for many users and businesses despite obvious security flaws in the 9-year-old program. Microsoft itself has urged users to dump IE6.
The kill IE6 campaign is definitely making progress. North American usage has dropped from 9.33% to just 4.17% in the last year, while nearly 50% of Web surfers use either IE7 or IE8, according to StatCounter.
But getting rid of that last 4% will be difficult because many businesses have mission-critical applications that run exclusively on IE6, analysts say. Gartner analyst Ray Valdes says one financial services company he's spoken with has a custom-built application handling millions of dollars of transactions, and it only runs on IE6.
"They're scared to touch it because it works fine, and it's millions of dollars of transactions," Valdes said in an interview Tuesday.
It's an internal application, but its presence means that "employees are forced to use IE6 for all their Web activity," he says.Other businesses are running old versions of applications that were designed for IE6 and haven't upgraded to versions compatible with newer browsers, perhaps because they don't want to pay the vendor an extra fee.
The presence of more security in versions 7 and 8 of Internet Explorer "broke compatibility with some applications," IDC analyst Al Gillen says. Even though IE7 has been on the market for four years, support for IE6 still "comes up as a regular requirement for customers, believe it or not," Gillen says.
"That's one of those cases where you might want to say to the customer 'why don't you get to the newer browser and fix the applications so you don't have the security issues,'" Gillen continued.
Compatibility modes in Internet Explorer 8 allow backward compatibility for Web applications that were not designed for the latest browser, but "there are some applications that will only work on the real IE6 and not within the compatibility mode," Valdes says.
Gillen doubts IE9 alone is enough to end the reign of IE6.