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Petition urges U.K. government to dump IE 6

There's a cost for organizations to upgrade browsers, but there's a cost for living with a 2001-era browser, too, petition organizer says.

It's time for the United Kingdom government to scrap Internet Explorer 6, upgrading away from the browser introduced in 2001 and the problems it brings now, according to a petition submitted Monday.

"We the undersigned petition the prime minister to encourage government departments to upgrade away from Internet Explorer 6," according to the petition, submitted by Dan Frydman, a managing director of online publishing contractor Inigo. As of Monday afternoon PST, a few others had signed it; only British citizens or residents may.

"The German and French governments have started to encourage people to upgrade away from the browser Internet Explorer 6. IE 6 has some security flaws that leave users vulnerable. These two governments have let their populations know that an upgrade will keep them safer online," the petition said. "We should follow them. When the U.K. government does this, most of Europe will follow. That will create some pressure on the US to do so, too."

In an interview, Frydman said the chief difficulty with supporting IE 6 is one of extra work--making sure additions needed to make a site work with later versions of IE or other browsers don't break the IE 6 support, for example. In addition, it's not up to modern graphical Ajax interfaces that require faster JavaScript performance.

Plenty of tech companies, most notably Microsoft itself, are urging an upgrade from IE 6. The browser was introduced in 2001, just as Microsoft had definitively won the first browser wars and just before Windows XP was introduced. Since then, IE 6 has been succeeded by IE 7 and IE 8, with IE 9 in the works. In the meantime, Firefox has grown to account for nearly a quarter of Web usage, and Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome account for nearly another 10 percent.

Google, which was victim of a partially successful IE 6-based attack that led to the possibility of withdrawing from China, is a loud advocate of a modern Web programming foundation. In addition, it's got taxing Web applications, and last week announced it will phase out IE 6 support on Google Docs.

Why ditch IE 6? Security is one big reason, but another is support for newer Web design technologies that let Web developers do more with sites and maintain sites more easily. Performance is another: newer browsers are much better at running Web-based JavaScript programs that handle everything from governing minor aspects of a page to full-on applications and graphical interfaces.

Frydman recognizes it's not always easy for organizations to upgrade to a newer browser. However, there's a cost to staying with IE 6, too, he said, pointing out that some U.K. government browser users can't use some parts of the government's own site because the older browser isn't up to the task. Because of the development difficulties, his firm now will charge extra for IE 6 work.

"If someone wants to be old-fashioned and reckons all their customers or stakeholders are too, then they need to pay for the extra time it takes to make their site IE 6-compatible," Frydman said. "With Microsoft themselves saying [IE 6] end of life has been put back...to July 4, 2014, it was time to make a stand."