IE6 still popular in Federal Government


news The outdated version 6 of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser is still mandated and/or supported by seven Federal Government agencies, according to a new survey of the Canberra public sector’s browser preferences, in a further indication that legacy versions of key software platforms continue to be maintained by the Government.

Internet Explorer 6 was first released in August 2001, and shipped with Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system, which continues to be popular within major and minor organisations as a stable desktop platform of choice globally. However, Microsoft considers the browser deprecated and unsupported, and has long been conducting a campaign to shift its users globally off the software. A number of modern features — such as fast Javascipt, support for tabbed browsing, protection against Internet malware, memory protection, granular privacy controls and more — are missing from IE6, and the browser also does not render many modern web sites correctly.

“Friends don’t let friends use Internet Explorer 6,” Microsoft’s “Internet Explorer 6 Countdown website states. “And neither should acquaintances. 10 years ago a browser was born. Its name was Internet Explorer 6. Now that we’re in 2012, in an era of modern web standards, it’s time to say goodbye. This website is dedicated to watching Internet Explorer 6 usage drop to less than 1% worldwide, so more websites can choose to drop support for Internet Explorer 6, saving hours of work for web developers.” Microsoft has also set up a distinct set of case studies and resources to assist corporations from migrating to more modern browsers.

However, in a wide-ranging survey conducted recently, the eGov AU blog operated by Craig Thomler, the Australian managing director of Delib, which provides digital democracy solutions, seven distinct Federal Government departments and agencies revealed they were still mandating and/or supporting Internet Explorer 6.

The majority of agencies polled by Thomler, 49, noted that they supported version 8 of Internet Explorer, with smaller proportions supporting the more modern Internet Explorer 9 (21) and IE7 (13). In addition, a number of agencies noted that they also supported Mozilla’s Firefox browser, with between 8 and 13 agencies noting support for versions from 4 to 10. About a dozen also supported Google’s Chrome, while Apple’s Safari was by far the most popular option behind Internet Explorer, with 31 agencies supporting version 5 of Safari and 4 supporting version 4.

Thomler viewed the results as being broadly positive for the Federal Government.

“While a few agencies (including some very large ones) still lag back on Internet Explorer 6 or 7, most are using acceptably modern web browsers, even providing a choice in many cases – which helps compensate for some of the minor niggles in some browser versions,” he noted in a blog post about the web browser results.

The agencies which noted they were still supporting IE6, according to the survey results, were the National Film & Sound Archive, the National Native Title Tribunal, the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, the Department of Health and Ageing, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, AusAID, and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. However, some agencies — such as the Department of Immigration and Citizenship — a major agency — declined to comment on the issue.

One department known to have only recently upgraded to IE7 — which is itself deprecated, having first been released in October 2006 — is the Department of Defence, which confirmed in July 2010 that it would upgrade its 90,000 desktop PCs from version 6 to version 7 of IE. That news came shrtly after a major private sector organisation — the Commonwealth Bank — confirmed in February 2010 that it was upgrading staff machines to support IE7.

I view the widespread support for more up to date Microsoft browsers and the moderate support (at least on paper) for alternative browsers such as Safari and Firefox within the Federal Government as an overwhelmingly positive development; it had previously been believed that there was very little support for modern browsers within the Federal Government. I am actually surprised that official support for IE6 is as small as it is.

However, clearly there is also more work to be done here; and I hope the IT managers and chief information officers at the various departments and agencies quoted in this article note that they are running an extremely outdated browser. Modern browsers make for happier and more secure users in government departments. Let’s hope Thomler’s survey spurs some of these departments into action.

To my mind, I would like to see some more positive action on behalf of Federal Government IT departments. Rather than merely, for example, offering support for the use of alternative browsers such as Firefox and Chrome, why not encourage users to use these browsers? I have found personally that my productivity has increased exponentially over the past few decade as I have deployed first Firefox, and then switched to Chrome. You can just have so many more windows open with so many more tabs with Chrome than you can with any other browser — and more tabs equals more information density. Throw in a second or even third monitor, and any information worker (which there are a lot of in the Federal Government) is going to be just that little bit more productive.

This isn’t rocket science; these are factors of workplace productivity which are well understood in the IT sector by now. Better equipment (and it’s cheap, by the way) equals fitter, happier and more productive workers. It should be an easy sell.


      • It may have been worth it to download the web developer VHD from the Microsoft website and run IE6 in a virtual machine and render that page: I remember it being obviously incorrect, mostly due to the use of alpha-channel PNGs.

        • The activation for Windows on those VHD images has already expired so they are no longer usable. I’ve only tested the XP image, but I imagine the others would be similar.

  1. The agencies which noted they were still supporting IE6, according to the survey results, were….the Department of Health and Ageing….

    ROFL! Why doesn’t this surprise me…..and people wonder why e-Health is struggling for organisation….

  2. I’ll tell you why they don’t want to push for people to use alternate browsers. A little thing called Group Policy(You may have heard of it ;P ) and the fact that out of the box you can lock down IE with it.

    • Dammit. I hadn’t finished.

      Someone was working on GP for Firefox but then Mozilla decided they needed to release a new version every other month or so, so the developer gave up on it. Can’t say I blame him.

      • IE 7, 8, 9 and 10 all obey IE group policy.
        Google Chrome on Windows supports and enforces AD group policy, and has policy options available for Mac and Linux. Search for the details, you’ll find it.

        • I’m not defending them using IE6. I’m aware that all versions of IE obey GP.

          I wasn’t aware that Chrome supports GP. Thanks for the tip.

          But overall, the reason that Government IT departments stick with IE is because it’s just easier.

    • That doesn’t stop them upgrading to a newer IE version. Unless their web apps are so horrible to be usable only in IE6.

      • Tom, I’m guessing that’s it actually – crappy old web apps that won’t survive the upgrade.

  3. Department of Immigration and Citizenship: “It’s a secwet”. Which translates to “Given our track record over the last decade, we prefer not to speak to anyone about anything unless we absolutely have to”.

  4. This is pretty scary! You would think that from a security perspective alone it would be mandatory to keep reasonably up to date.

    We recently participated in a federal government tender that had IE6 support as a requirement. Several vendors questioned that and sensibly it was removed.

    Its worth noting – these days the performance of Javascript is very important in many of the more modern user interfaces. Its worth understanding the relative performance of Javascript across all of these browser and versions when deciding which browser to standardize on. – this is a 2 year old benchmark – which shows the relative performance of some of the older browsers. As you can see – there is a very big difference.

  5. In the NSW Government where I worked until recently, there were quite a few web-based custom apps that were developed 10 years ago. Some of these break in IE7 and above, so they just have to keep clinging to good ol’ IE6.

    Why don’t they update the custom apps, you may ask? Because their IT development budget has been slashed to basically nil. And some agencies I know have blown millions on some big IT projects that never reached production. So definitely no new money there.

    Before the last state election, it got so bad with IE6 that we couldn’t even view the Liberal Party website to review their policy announcements – the site just point-blank refused to display, giving a message to upgrade! Needless to say, we all had to get our jobs done regardless, and so installed Chrome (against strict IT policies).

  6. The problem is that Microsoft conned people into using ActiveX and then dropped support. Too many developers foolishly wrote applications in ActiveX and the cost of upgrading is too high. Unfortunately some have repeated the mistake with Silverlight, but hopefully CIOs have learnt from this and choose standards based solutions.

  7. Governments (state/federal) outsourced IT functions a long time ago, these companies sold the government (managers who have no IT background) on custom developed applications instead of “off the shelf” products, not to mention what they developed tended to be sloppy at best. Managers were happy as they were invited to nice lunches, fancy Christmas events and generally moved on before anyone worked out what happened.

    When you have multiple custom core applications that require upgrading to be compatible with new browsers or even operating systems it tends to cost a crap load of money. This usually ends up in a nasty cycle where the software is always out of date or in an unsupported state, meanwhile the outsourcing company no longer has any SLA’s applied as they are unable to support that has no product support, of course they still get paid and in most cases paid even more due to the risk of something going wrong.

    But don’t worry everyone, SaaS is here to save the day! it’s just a shame we can’t hold the people responsible (financially) for the stupid decisions they make.

  8. “However, in a wide-ranging survey conducted recently, the eGov AU blog operated by Craig Thomler, the Australian managing director of Delib, which provides digital democracy solutions, seven distinct Federal Government departments and agencies revealed they were still mandating and/or supporting Internet Explorer 6.”

    I’d like to see people getting kicked for just plain dumb-fuckness, a) partly for supporting anything microsoft windblows, and b) using buggy crapware that came out of Affrika with the neanderthals..

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