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IE 6: Patch Tuesday won't be the same without you

Key Web sites pulling support for buggy browser

Go into the closet and get out your best dark suit, then polish your best black dress shoes. You're going to a funeral.

The funeral is for Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6, the once popular but now faded and buggy nine year old web browser that is expected to ascend into browser heaven sometime in March -- if certain Web sites have their way.

Watch a slideshow of other deaths in the IT industry.

The team of doctors deciding to take IE 6 off browser life support includes Google, which discovered that one of the ways hackers in China broke into its network last December, and read the Gmail files of Chinese dissidents, was through a vulnerability in IE 6 browsers. Had they been upgraded to the current IE 8 browser, the burglars would not have gotten in, said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Network Security.

Google said it's going to start scaling back support after March 1, which means its Google Docs, Google Sites and Gmail programs won't work well in an IE 6 window. A web design firm in Denver said it will hold a mock funeral for IE 6 on March 4.

Also saying goodbye to IE 6 is You Tube, which will pull its support March 13. You'll have to go elsewhere to see the latest dog riding a skateboard or politician putting his foot in his mouth videos. Scores of other sites, including JustinTV, Weebly and Reddit, have joined the "It's time to let go" movement through such sites as End6.org and IE6NoMore.com.

Unable to lose hope, however, is Microsoft, which said it will continue to support it until April of 2014. Users who want to try everything to keep IE 6 alive need to download Service Pack 3 by July 2010 to get continued support, a Microsoft spokesperson told me today.

In a blog post last summer that followed a Digg.com missive about blocking IE 6 (which was reported on by Network World), Dean Hachamovitch, manager of the IE team at Microsoft, said they always encourage end users to upgrade to the latest version of their software, but that it can be easier said than done on some business IT networks.

"For these folks, the cost of the software isn’t just the purchase price, but the cost of deploying, maintaining, and making sure it works with their IT infrastructure," he wrote.

But even if it's hard for Microsoft and some of its enterprise customers to let go, the passing of IE 6 is still inevitable.

And it looks like funeral goers will not need to bring handkerchiefs because it doesn't seem like many tears will be shed for IE 6. Still it's a sad end to a browser that entered the world on Aug. 27, 2001, during those heady, optimistic and hopeful days when the World Trade Center's twin towers were still standing, Democrats grudgingly accepted George W. Bush as their president and Microsoft owned the browser market.

Updated per comment by 'barlowb' below: According to NetMarketShare, all flavors of IE hold 62% marketshare, with Firefox at about 25% and Chrome at 5%. (Safari, Opera and others hold the rest). But when it comes to looking at IE 6's share alone, a good metric is the one published by w3schools.com, which breaks down IE's share by version.  Its stats measure the browsers used to access its site (not the whole 'net), but close enough -- it hosts one of the largest Web developer site on the 'net.

At its peak in November 2003, IE 6 enjoyed market share of 71.2 percent, and together with IE 5 held close to 90 percent of the market of visitors to the Web site w3schools.com, which tracks such stats. As of last month, however, IE 6 held only 10.2 percent of the browser market, and even with its successors IE 7 and IE 8 added in, Internet Explorer holds only a 36.2 percent share, second to the 46.3 percent share held by the free and open source startup Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser.

And over those years, IE 6's health has declined. Nine IE 6 advisories were issued in 2009, according to the patch management company Secunia. So far in 2010, there have already been two. Since 2003, Secunia has recorded 144 patches issued identifying 185 vulnerabilities. IE 6 has been patched up so often that, if it were a car, it would be a rust bucket made of more bondo than sheetmetal.

So we gather together to say good bye to IE 6. It's been a fun ride, with more good times than bad -- think about all the places we went together on the Web -- but it's time for it to go.

Besides, there's a shiny new IE 9 in the offing to make us forget all about IE 6.

Goodbye IE 6. Patch Tuesday won't be the same without you.

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