Microsoft sympathizes with people pushing what it calls the "Die IE6, Die" campaign, but argued today that it simply can't put a stake in the old browser's heart.
"Friends don't let friends use IE6," said Amy Bazdukas, Microsoft's general manager for Internet Explorer (IE). That sentiment, however, only applies to some people using Windows and the eight-year-old browser -- mainly consumers. "It's certainly part of our approach to consumers to get them to upgrade to IE8," Bazdukas said.
But while she agreed that consumers should ditch IE6, and understood the motivation behind the growing chorus of Web sites calling for an end to the browser, Bazdukas said Microsoft couldn't give the same advice to businesses. "With our business customers, it's more complex," she argued.
"For them, deploying a browser is very like much like deploying an operating system across multiple desktops. So it's not a surprise that IE6 is still being used."
Not that Microsoft's entirely happy with that. "IE6 use is higher than we like," Bazdukas admitted. "Most of that is from the business installations, that's where we see most of the trailing installations of IE6."
According to the most recent data from California-based Web metrics company Net Applications, 27.2 per cent of all Internet users are still running IE6, making it the most popular version of IE.
By comparison, IE7 accounted for 23.1 per cent of all browsers in action last month, while the newest edition, IE8, had a usage share of 12.5 per cent.
In other words, IE6 accounts for approximately 40 per cent of all instances of Internet Explorer worldwide, beating both IE7 (34 per cent) and IE8 (19 per cent) in "IE market share."
Bazdukas also attributed some of IE6's popularity to Windows' high piracy rates in countries like China and India. "There's a reluctance [among people using counterfeit Windows] to use Automatic Updates," she said, calling out China in particular.
"Rather than download updates, often the solution to problems is to re-image the machine using the pirated, pre-XP SP2 counterfeit. That also helps to drive the persistence of IE6."
"I think Microsoft would like to have people upgrade from IE6," said Ray Valdes, an analyst with Gartner. "But the situation is, it's surprisingly difficult to get enterprises to upgrade. Many companies have old software that depends on IE6, and that software is not upgradable because they have no budget or the developer is not around anymore, or the in-house developer left."
Like Bazdukas, Valdes thinks IE6 is ancient history. "I've recommended to clients for the last two years that they get off IE6," Valdes said. "Almost anywhere else is a better place to be."
Bazdukas reiterated what several other Microsoft managers have recently said, that the company is committed to supporting IE6 until April 8, 2014, which is when all support for Windows XP, the operating system IE6 is tied to, will end.
That practice of supporting a browser for 10 years -- the same length of time as the version of Windows it debuted with -- won't change, Bazdukas said when asked whether Microsoft would consider separating browser and OS support.
"We won't ask our enterprise customers to shift lifecycles [like that] because the OS and the browser, in their deployment, are so closely linked," said Bazdukas. "It would put a burden on our customers if the browser was not aligned with how they want to manage their desktops."
Microsoft really doesn't have a choice, echoed Valdes, because of decisions it made nearly a decade ago. "IE6's popularity is an unintended consequence of Microsoft having 95 per cent of the browser market in 2001," he said. "Now it's just an albatross around their neck."
According to Bedecks, Microsoft has no plans to divorce IE8 from its long-term support, which will play out on the same schedule as Windows 7. That means IE8 will be supported until at least 2019.
"IE8 still ships with Windows 7, even though it can be turned off," Bazdukas said, referring to the so-called "kill switch" that Microsoft added to Windows 7 that lets users disable the browser. "And even in the European Union, we will ship IE8 with Windows 7."
Late last month, Microsoft reversed course and said it would ship IE8 as part of Windows 7 to customers in the EU, but would add a "ballot screen" to the new OS that prompts users to select their preferred browser from a list that is to include IE, Mozilla's Firefox, Google's Chrome, Apple's Safari and Opera Software's Opera.
It's unlikely that the problem of getting people to drop IE6 will pop up again when Microsoft's newer browsers, IE7 and IE8, reach the same place in their life cycles, said Valdes.
According to Gartner, relatively few enterprises bothered to upgrade to IE7 since that browser was tied to Windows Vista, the 2007 OS that most businesses shunned.
And Microsoft's increased attention to Web standards in IE8 -- compared to IE6, anyway, which ignored numerous standards -- means it will be easier down the road for companies to upgrade from the application.
"People learned their lesson with IE6," Valdes said. "They're gun-shy about hitching their wagon to a non-compliant browser."
Users and Web developers have been aggressively demanding that IE6 die for months, but the movement has picked up momentum as large sites, including Facebook, Google's YouTube and Digg, either urged their customers to upgrade or said they would stop supporting the browser.
Meanwhile, an "IE6 Must Die" petition on Twitter has collected nearly 13,000 signatures.
Two weeks ago, a California site builder added its voice to the movement, leading nearly 40 Web sites that represent 30 million monthly visitors to ask users to leave the old browser behind.
Bazdukas's comments about IE6 were in line with those of other Microsoft executives recently. Last week, for example, Dean Hachamovitch, also a general manager in the IE group, said "Dropping support for IE6 is not an option." Like Bazdukas, Hachamovitch cited enterprise use as the reason.