I managed to connect with the tech coordinator of an area school district recently to chat about the procedures by which education technology is approved, purchased, and incorporated on the district level. I had plenty to learn, but amongst the many questions I had scrawled on my notepad, there was one I was dying to ask more than any other.
“Why,” I asked, “have you chosen Internet Explorer version 6 as your district-wide browser?” In fact, I had discovered this only a week ago, just days before I was to demo Lingt to a group of language teachers for the first time. Morbidly curious, I downloaded IE6 and opened the Lingt Editor only to find our carefully-crafted user interface carved and rearranged on the screen like a Picasso.
Allow me to describe a web developer’s frustration with Internet Explorer 6 in a way that I think is intuitive to everyone. Imagine you are a painter and you spend countless hours painstakingly perfecting your masterpiece:
Nice work. Looks good.
Now, imagine you want to admire your work through the lenses of various pairs of glasses. You put on the first pair and see:
You remove those and try on a second pair. You gaze upon your painting again:
Perfect. We put on a dusty third pair expecting to delight in our masterpiece a final time. But, to our horror, we gaze through the lenses to find this:
What happened!? Oh well – we’ll bury these glasses in the backyard and never speak of them again. They were five years old anyway. Except 20% of art lovers out there are still walking around with these stuck to their face.
If you haven’t guessed, the third pair of glasses represent Internet Explorer 6, with little hyperbole. (The first two pairs represent virtually any modern browser available today.) It takes considerable effort by the developer community to accommodate IE6′s lack of compliance to web standards. Basically, the code that generates the look and function of a website is read, interpreted, and ultimately displayed differently by various browsers (IE, Safari, Firefox). Fortunately, there’s a published and widely accepted spec for how this should be done so that there is consistency between them all. Internet Explorer apparently did not get that memo. The faster people abandon this antiquated browser, the faster developers can create great web applications that work well for everyone. Besides, it takes just minutes to upgrade to Internet Explorer 7. Even better, just use Firefox.
So, how did the district’s tech coordinator reply? Why in the world hadn’t the district upgraded from a five-year-old browser that has haunted us ever since we wrote our first webpage? I expected something to do with compatibility with existing network software, but it wasn’t even that. Quite simply:
“Nobody has ever recommended or required an upgrade.”
Well, consider this my recommendation. We continue to attempt support for Internet Explorer 6 since we are likely to encounter other districts still using the old beast, but it does add a substantial burden to development time we could otherwise spend building awesome new features.
This post was meant as a light-hearted and playful glimpse into a small part of the tension created when MIT geeks develop technology for institutions that have much higher priorities than upgrading their browsers. Nonetheless, we think the benefit of keeping browser technology up to date is mutual and real. Support educational web developers – just say no to Internet Explorer 6.