End of an Era: Microsoft Sunsetting Older Versions of IE

Death of IE

“Beginning January 12, 2016, only the most current version of Internet Explorer available for a supported operating system will receive technical supports and security updates.”

When it was posted to Microsoft.com, this news came with little fanfare, because developers everywhere had long been expecting such an announcement. While most developers would admit to being happy about the change, several questions remain for site owners. Chief among them is: “what does this mean for me, and should I still support Microsoft’s older browsers?”

First, let’s look at the context for Microsoft’s decision. With browsers such as Firefox and Chrome, updates and support are constantly being pushed to users, most of the time without them even knowing it. Thanks to the updates, these browsers provide security against malware and other malicious attacks, keeping users safer while sharing personal information over the Web. The updates also provide bug fixes, a critical factor in the user experience. With IE, the browser was tied to the user’s operating system, meaning those who didn’t upgrade their OS or buy a new computer every couple of years were potentially leaving themselves vulnerable to attacks. It should be noted that IE 11 and Edge will auto-update, bringing them up to speed with Chrome and Firefox.

It is true that discontinuing support for older browser types could decrease development time, allowing for more focus on the end-user experience. Developers have long used time-consuming workarounds to make a site play nicely with old browsers.

“The salient way to think about it is this,” said Noble Studios Lead Developer Sterling Hamilton. “We’re leaving the Dark Age of Web development and are now entering the Golden Age. Browsers are a primary concern but no longer a major obstacle for progress.”

On the other hand, it would be shortsighted to consider this the end of the road for all older browsers. Why? Web users are not a monolithic, young group. They encompass all ages, backgrounds and levels of comfort with technology.

Keep this these two points in mind going forward:

The user comes first. While developing for older versions of IE might be a headache full of workarounds for the developer, it’s crucial not to progress so quickly that some users are left in the dust. To be certain, the market for these browsers is declining, but it hasn’t completely disappeared.

Your site might still benefit from supporting older browsers. Owners of certain types of sites (including anything government- or healthcare-related) will want to avoid moving too quickly, especially if its users are working with proprietary software that only works with older versions of IE. Also, consider the relative age of your user. Not everyone is upgrading to the latest and greatest device and browser every 18 months.

The short answer to all of this is, “know your audience.” Some sites will do well to be the standard bearers for progress and all things forward thinking, while others need to tread more cautiously, slowly implementing changes over time. As a StackExchange user said the last time Microsoft cut support for older browsers, “Making the user come to you is poor UX.” Site owners can’t go wrong if they take that advice to heart.