What the End of Life for Internet Explorer Means for Your Website

Microsoft is dropping support for older browsers, should you do so as well?

A gravestone with the Internet Explorer logo on it
Its the end of life for older versions of Internet Exploer.

On Tuesday, January 12th an event that many web professionals have dreamed about for years will finally become a reality – older versions of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser will officially be given “end of life” status by the company.

While this move is certainly a positive step forward on a number of levels, it does not immediately mean that these outdated web browsers will no longer be a factor to be considered in website design and development.

What Does “End of Life” Mean?

When Microsoft says that these outdated browsers, specifically IE versions 8, 9, and 10, will be given an “end of life” status, it means that no more updates will be released for them in the future. This includes security patches, exposing people who continue to use these outdated browsers to possible attacks and other security exploits in the future.

What “end of life” does not mean is that these browsers will simply no longer work. If someone has an older version of IE installed on their computer, they will still be able to use that browser to access the Web. Unlike many modern browsers today, including Chrome, Firefox, and even current versions of Microsoft’s browser (both IE11 and Microsoft Edge), these antiqued versions of IE do not include an “auto-update” feature that can automatically upgrade them to the latest version. This means that once someone has installed an old version of IE on their computer (or more likely, they have an older computer that already came with that version pre-installed), they can use it indefinitely unless they make a manual change to a new browser.

Update Prompts

To help push people to abandon these no longer supported versions of IE, Microsoft’s final patch for these browsers will include a “nag” that will prompt those users to upgrade to a newer version of the software. Both Internet Explorer 11 and the company’s newly released Edge browser will continue to receive support and updates.

Reality Check

While it is encouraging to see that Microsoft is thinking to the future with their browsers, all of these efforts do not mean that all people will upgrade and move away from these old browsers which have caused so many headaches for web designers and developers.

Nag windows can be ignored or even disabled entirely, so if someone is intent on using an older browser that is subject to security exploits and which does not fully support “the web standards that power today’s websites and services,” they can absolutely still do so. While these changes will undoubtedly have an impact and push many people away from IE 8, 9, and 10, believing that after January 12th we will never have to contend with these browsers again in our website testing and support is wishful thinking.

Do You Still Need to Support Older Versions of IE?

This is million dollar question – with the “end of life” for these older versions of IE, do you still need to support and test for them on websites? The answer is “it depends on the website.”

Different websites have different audiences, and those audiences will have different characteristics, including which web browsers they favor. I remember working with a high-end real estate company a few years ago.

When I reviewed their website analytics, I was shocked by the number of visitors who used Internet Explorer. It was more than double the percentage of visitors that I saw on the others sites I was working on at the time. As I am sure you can imagine, those IE usage numbers absolutely had an impact on how we developed and tested that website.

As move forward into a world where IE 8, 9, and 10 are no longer supported by Microsoft, we must be mindful that we do not also drop support for these browsers in such a way that it will lead to a poor experience for a website’s visitors. If the analytics data for a website shows that there is still a number of visitors using older versions of IE, then “end of life” or not, you should be testing against those browsers if you want those visitors to get a useable experience.

In Closing

Outdated web browsers have long been a headache for web professionals, forcing us to use polyfills and workarounds in order to provide a somewhat consistent user experience to visitors. This reality will not change simply because Microsoft is dropping support for some of their older products. Yes, we will eventually not have to worry about IE 8, 9 , and 10, just like we no longer have to contend with even older versions of that browser, but unless your analytics data tells you that your site is receiving no visitors on those older browsers, it should continue to be business as usual for the sites you design and develop and how you test them in old editions of IE.

If you want to know which browser you are currently using, you can visit WhatsMyBrowser.org to get this information.