Monday, August 17, 2009

Internet Explorer 6 - Where you can get in trouble for SUPPORTING your product

OK, we all know that Microsoft is an evil empire (and that Apple is perfect).

Seriously, think about this - if Microsoft were to release a product and then suddenly cease support for it, people would be all up in arms about Microsoft's terrible corporate attitude.

But what happens when Microsoft continues to support a product that they released several years ago? Well, people are all up in arms about Microsoft's terrible corporate attitude.

Notice the wording that Duncan Riley uses in this post:

Microsoft’s Dean Hachamovitch, the General Manager of the Internet Explorer team said in a post that dropping support for IE6 isn’t an option, because Microsoft has “committed to supporting the IE included with Windows [XP] for the lifespan of the product.” Hachamovitch justification is that Microsoft still supports Windows XP, and IE6 is the standard browser on (presumably) an XP install that doesn’t run full service packs.

Now in the statement above Riley is simply reporting, but his view - which is not unique to Riley himself - is shown later in the post.

I understand the reasoning, but don’t respect the call. We wouldn’t let people drive a car if it were known to be defective, we’d recall the car and upgrade the defective parts. IE6 is a defective part that offers unsafe browsing and poor standards support, and it can and should be considered differently to XP support. Microsoft can continue to support XP and not IE6, and if corporate users don’t upgrade, then they assume the risks going forward.

Riley's solution?

[M]ake the upgrade of IE part of the XP patch process....

Well...let me word this properly...I am familiar with a Fortune 500 company that, as of April 6, 2009, still insisted that IE6 was the default web browser for corporate use. Forget Firefox, forget IE7...IE6 was the default web browser. And, while I have no detailed knowledge of the internal workings of that Fortune 500 company's IT department, I think I have a pretty good idea of how they would respond if Microsoft told them, "By the way, the next monthly upgrade will include IE7."

I bet you that the Fortune 500 company would respond as follows:

"Fine. We won't take the next monthly upgrade then."

You have to remember that before a large company can accept any piece of software, it needs to make sure that software works well with every other piece of software that is approved for use within the company. While that's not much of an issue for personal users, it can be a big issue for Fortune 500 companies with homegrown web applications and other nice little corporate gotchas.

As you may know, I've talked about this in the past in this blog. See my post from April 6, 2009 for my perspective on the matter. My post was written in response to one that was written from a developer's perspective; see Jake Kuramoto's post, also from April 6, 2009.

But let's go back to Riley's post, based upon Microsoft's statements about support. The operative policy, which applies to all "Business and Developer" products, reads (in part) as follows:

Microsoft will offer a minimum of 10 years of support for Business and Developer products. Mainstream Support for Business and Developer products will be provided for 5 years or for 2 years after the successor product (N+1) is released, whichever is longer. Microsoft will also provide Extended Support for the 5 years following Mainstream support or for 2 years after the second successor product (N+2) is released, whichever is longer. Finally, most Business and Developer products will receive at least 10 years of online self-help support.

Now there's also a statement for consumer products, but for the purposes of a Fortune 500 company, Internet Explorer 6 is a business product. When a business selects a product, it needs to ensure that product support will be available for the long haul, and that is the service that Microsoft is providing to these businesses. It would take an extraordinary circumstance for Microsoft to abrogate its (admittedly non-binding) agreement with businesses and cease Internet Explorer 6 support early. And while developers and security experts will emphatically state that Internet Explorer 6 is, in Riley's words, "a defective part that offers unsafe browsing and poor standards support," businesses aren't going to buy that argument.

A defective part? For Microsoft to even admit something like that would be to expose itself to millions of dollars in lawsuits.

Unsafe browsing? Hey, Internet Explorer 6 is only provided to our employees for corporate purposes. If they start going to those weirdo sites like BitTorrent and eBay...well, we can't be responsible for the consequences.

Poor standards support? Who cares? The only standards that matter here at WidgetCorp at the WidgetCorp Approved Standards for Computer Use. And according to those standards, IE6 *is* the standard, and things that don't play well with IE6 are not approved.

So, while it's nice to imagine that Microsoft could just push IE7 out to its corporate users, the reality is that some corporate users aren't ready to take IE7 yet. And unless stockholder activists successfully get companies to adopt binding resolutions to ban IE6 use (a fairly unlikely event), there isn't a thing that anyone can do about it. Throwing up "your browser sucks" messages is not going to cause a public firm's CIO to suddenly change course.
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