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Some Things Should Change – Why IE6 is holding the internet back.

We ate last night in China-Town in London in The New World, a restaurant that I first went to over 20 years ago. To be honest it hadn’t really changed at all. In fact I ‘m not certain it had even been decorated but that was what I wanted, the food was enjoyable and the service friendly.

When I was first there I was a student. At college we used very early Apple Macs in the labs and the adventurous were word processing their work. There were no mobile phones, no internet, and no email. The Photographer’s Gallery (where I am now) was near Leicester Square, whereas it is now just off Oxford Street.

Walking round London some things change a lot but others seem not to at all. Earlier I had a double expresso in The Bar Italia in Soho. The Gaggia machine was ‘old school’, hand pulled, refreshingly quiet whilst still making exceptional coffee. On the large screen TV, Murray was getting through to the semi-finals in the Australian Open much to the enjoyment of the Italian and Eastern European staff. Take the screen out and the setting would have been difficult to date, maybe the clothes would give the game away.

Some things change, some things stay the same, some things should change, but stay the same.

We Are The People Who Try

I am just coming out of a intense week or so of website building. The customer wanted something a bit different, saw the way the Apple presents previews of images and said I want that. I now know how to make that happen on a website. As Fahti the swimmer says, “we are the people who try”. I can’t think of a period of my life when I have done so much learning, independent learning, the ultimate aim of the education system. The information is out there, accessible (subject to cautious analysing and filtration of course). There is a huge generosity of spirit too, with people wanting to share ideas and knowledge. This is a good thing (I think) but very different to twenty years ago.

The other day I spoke to someone who only recently learnt how to cut and paste on her computer. This may seem strange but she has always used Macs where there is a long history of drag and drop. She has always just pulled what she wanted from one document and dragged it straight on to another. Macs have always had a very visual appeal, there is a strong visual metaphor and I suspect that for this reason they appeal to very different people. I am always surprised when I hear people complain about how difficult macs are to get to grips with, for me at least they seem very intuitive. However when I attended a night class that used the Windows platform I felt like a complete and utter numpty. Whatever though the Mac Vs PC seems to get to peoples’ core.

In my house now I regularly have a number of computers, currently a Mac G3(BW) desktop, a G3 Pismo PowerBook, a G4(DA), a G4 MacMini (my FTP server) and a Unibody MacBook Pro. This tally sometimes swells when two other current MacBooks come to visit as well as my son’s Toshiba PC. Apart from the G3 they all work, the only reason the G3 doesn’t is because I sold the processor. Oh there is one more, maybe the most important, I have an old Dell laptop, with a German keyboard.

So they all work, the ten year old Pismo is used by the children, it’s rather slow now but hey? But what of the Dell, what’s that all about?

Well, I use it to test websites (to destruction). You see, it is old and slow, but uses the much loathed IE6 browser. IE6 is still used by around 10% of users but unfortunately it is no longer compliant with current web standards. This means that in order to get a website to work on this browser designers will have to design in a number of hacks and workarounds. This invariably means that a compromise has to be made either to the visual appeal or the functionality and yes I realise that these two should be inherently linked. So, when it is testing time, yes it is lovely to see how good the site looks on the Mac but unfortunately much as I love them the truth is that Safari accounts for 3.4% of the (browser) market, and as such the hopeless old IE6 with all of its failings will be the window that three times more people will use.

The good news is that 46% of people will use Firefox which is a pretty good browser. Increasingly design companies are dropping support for non-complient browsers. You can get a WordPress plugin to display a large gaudy banner if the viewer is using IE6. Somewhat devilishly this plugin can be set to crash IE6 although I haven’t felt the need to be so annoying on this site.

Some grow old gracefully and get a bit slower with age whereas others get really a little too grumpy for words.

A couple of days after this post the BBC reported that “Google has begun to phase out support for Internet Explorer 6, the browser identified as the weak link in a cyber attack on the search engine.” (more)

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