IE6 past its expiration date, says Microsoft

Like nine-year-old milk, aged browser is spoiled, company argues

Microsoft is urging users to dump the aged Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) with a campaign that claims the browser is past its expiration date.

The latest push to convince users to quit IE6 equated the browser to a nine-year-old carton of milk. IE6 debuted in August 2001.

"You wouldn't drink 9-year-old milk," reads a milk carton pictured on a page hosted by Microsoft's Australian division . "So why use a 9-year-old browser?"

The campaign, which was first reported by Australian blogger Long Zheng , touts IE8 as the replacement for IE6, and cites company-funded research that claimed IE8's malware-blocking tools caught 85% of the malicious sites the browser faces. Microsoft has sponsored several such studies , all conducted by NSS Labs.

IE6 has had its share of security problems. Late last year, for example, hackers used a vulnerability in the browser to steal confidential information from Google and scores of other major technology companies.

It's also gotten the cold shoulder from several prominent Web sites and services. Google's Gmail and YouTube, Facebook and Digg have all announced that they will no longer support IE6. Last March, a Denver design firm hosted a mock funeral for the browser; Microsoft sent a floral arrangement with a card reading, "Thanks for the good times."

Microsoft has been begging users to leave IE6 for almost a year. Last August, the company's general manager for Internet Explorer noted that, "Friends don't let friends use IE6" as she made her plea to users.

Whether users listened or because millions have moved to Windows 7 , which includes IE8, the percentage of people running IE6 has plummeted since August 2009. According to data from Web metrics company NetApplications, IE6 has fallen from a usage share of 25.3% to 17.6% in the last nine months, a drop of nearly eight percentage points, representing a decline of 30%.

However, Microsoft's newest pitch is misleading, since IE6 true expiration date is April 8, 2014, when it finally retires the almost-as-old Windows XP . After that date, Microsoft will not release security updates for IE6 or Windows XP.

People still using IE6 must upgrade to Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) to continue to receive patches after July 13, 2010.

IE8 will be Microsoft's final browser for Windows XP customers, as the company will not support XP with IE9, the next-generation browser that is in the early stages of development.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld . Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com .

Read more about browsers in Computerworld's Browsers Knowledge Center.

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