Taking Stock of the Impending Death of IE8 (Hopefully)

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I’m finally feeling like in most cases, we can leave IE8 behind on most projects. Officially support for Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) ends when support for its parent product ends. What is the parent product? In this case, since IE8 was the base browser for Windows 7, that’s the parent product. That means that security updates for IE8 will continue until 2020. For front-end developers, that means dealing with IE8 quirks for another six years. But is it realistic to imagine IE8 in widespread use for another six years. A few things have happened or will happen in 2014 that will significantly reduce IE8 penetration.

By the end of 2013, global usage of IE8 had fallen to 6.8 percent. That seems like a small number, but what is 6.8% of your business worth? If you’re a small business, it may in fact not be worth the extra development costs for IE8, which can be substantial. Among other things, it will make it much harder to create a site that works well with mobile, in particular Apple products. For example, IE8 doesn’t suppport HTML5 video, but depends instead on Flash. Apple does not allow Flash on their iPhones and iPads and depends instead on HTML5. Supporting both IE8 and Apple products is a major pain in the butt for the front-end developer, which means a major cost. It is not uncommon for developers to double cost estimates if IE7 is involved. Developing for IE8 hasn’t been that bad, but as technology leaves it behind, it is becoming a major cost in and of itself.

  1. End of life for Windows XP comes in April 2014. Windows XP is IE8’s main lifeline because IE8 is the most recent version of IE that you can install on Windows XP. At this point, the main XP users are corporate users who are stuck with whatever version their IT department foists on them. Any of these computers that touch credit card info, health data or financial data will have to be updated or they will be out of compliance with PCI-DSS (credit cards), HIPAA (health) and Sarbanes-Oxley (financial). So we can expect to see a wave of upgrades from XP to other operating systems as the April deadline approaches. Still, it remains to be seen whether corporate environments without compliance requirements will upgrade. If they don’t, we’re stuck with IE8.
    1a. The Windows 7 issue. Windows 7 shipped with IE8, which is the last version of IE not to autoupdate. So anyone who bought Windows 7 and turned off updates will also be stuck on IE8. In most cases, they can be forced to update though, since there’s no reason they can’t be running more recent versions of IE and, as of IE10, IE is actually just fine to work with from a front-end developer perspective (actually IE9 is fine, but IE10 is pretty much a standards-compliant browser).
  2. April 8, 2014 will also mark the date that Microsoft Office 365 will stop supporting IE8. There’s probably almost no overlap here. People who are using IE8 acquired their computers before Office 365 existed, so they already have their office software and it’s a safe bet that if they haven’t upgraded their browser, they’re still running the same office software they had back in 2003.

3. Google stopped supporting IE8 way back in November of 2012.

3a. One of the best solutions for government and corporate intranet users stuck on IE8 has been Chrome Frame which essentially injects a Chrome browser rendering agent into an Internet Explorer. It works for IE6-9 on Windows XP SP2, Vista and Win7. But alas, support for Chrome Frame ended in January 2014.

  1. JQuery, the most popular Javascript library on the web is baked into many sites. It is a core component of WordPress (whch runs close to 20% of all sites on the web), Drupal and many other basic web tools. As of JQuery 2.0, there is no support for IE8.
  • Drupal 8 has dropped support for IE6-8. Drupal is one of the most popular CMS and in it’s Drupal 7 flavor runs such sites as Whitehouse.gov, Weather.com and Economist.com. Granted these sites are on D7, but out of the box, D8 will not fully support IE8.

  • WordPress.com simply recommends against IE altogether.

  • In February 2013, 37 Signals decided to drop support for Basecamp, their popular online collaboration tool. They do support using Basecamp either with a modern browser or with IE6-8 using Chrome Frame. But as I mentioned above, Google has dropped support for Chrome Frame.

  • The two most popular front-end frameworks, Bootstrap and Foundation, power a lot of the web now. Bootstrap supports IE8, but warns that that means the site will be functional, but may not look the same. I’ve dealt with a lot of issues with clients using Bootstrap who insist that it look the same in IE8, which often requires a fair bit of extra code just to handle IE8. Meanwhile, I prefer the other big player, Foundation, which simply doesn’t support IE8 as of Foundation 4 (Foundation 5 is the current release as of this writing). There are things you can do to add IE8 support to Foundation, but the official recommendation is that you stick to Foundation 3.2.

  • I expect these trends to accelerate once April comes and both Microsoft and third-party vendors like antivirus software companies stop supporting Windows XP entirely. iPutting it all together, I feel comfortable recommending to most people building a website today, it is far wiser to spend time and money on a good mobile experience. Barring having a lot of money to build a site that will work on modern mobile devices, Blackberries, IE8, and Netscape Navigator, it feels like we’ve finally reached the point for most people who don’t have massive volume, where money spent on IE8 support is a poor investment.

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