Give it up for the most successful browser of all time -- IE 6

With the incredible spate of sites celebrating the actual death, near death or desired death of Internet Explorer 6, I thought a little counterpoint was in order.

Don't get me wrong. I've developed (and occasionally still develop) websites that had to look good on modern web browsers... and Internet Explorer 6, and invariably the part that just wasn't any fun was making it look good... on Internet Explorer 6. Its bugs and their workarounds are so legendary that they have their own names: the Peekaboo bug, the Holly hack and the box model bug, which has its own Wikipedia article. Internet Explorer 6 may be one of the best-understood pieces of closed-source software in history, by virtue of the sheer number of people who had to divine its exact behavior to get their work done.

But let's hop in our time machine and take a trip back to 2001, when Internet Explorer 6 was first released. Some of us may even remember that magical, far-off time in the past, though if you're anything like me, not well. Netscape was already dead with the release of Internet Explorer 5.5 when Microsoft cemented its dominance with IE 6—the resurrection of the Netscape line in the form of Mozilla and (much later) Firefox was slow and painful, and for years it was essentially a non-entity. Back in those days, it was Netscape which was the albatross around people's necks: Navigator 4 died a lot more quickly than Internet Explorer 6 did, but it still stuck around for long enough to make it a serious liability. You don't hear people talk about that much more, do you?

When Internet Explorer 6 was released, it was the most advanced browser on the planet. Not only that—it strived for standards compliance. What we know now (and deride) as "quirks mode" was Internet Explorer 6's attempt to maintain compatibility with Internet Explorer 5.5 while leaving room to improve IE's adherence to the standards. The irony is so thick you can cut it. It was the end of the Browser Wars, of MARQUEE and BLINK and the endless parade of proprietary incompatibilities touted as innovations, and as the Way of the Standards was settling in, IE 6 was at the forefront. And then... nothing happened.

The forefront didn't need to go anywhere anymore, and stopped moving. Internet Explorer 6 stood as the lone survivor of an era as the dotcom bubble collapsed around it. The Internet ceased to be hip and cool for a long time, and its front-end calmly matured into the familiar web we use every day for the most mundane tasks. (Remember the magical ring of the "World-Wide Web", watching sites from the other side of the world trickle to your screen from your 28k8 modem? It seems more like the 1950s rather than the 1990s, doesn't it?)

Internet Explorer's crime was not that it was a technical failure, but that it failed to mature along with its times. If Microsoft hadn't rested on its laurels and continued development, nobody would be heaping scorn on Internet Explorer 6—it would be fondly remembered as a milestone, not a millstone. Internet Explorer 6's peculiarities were never meant to stick around and torment developers for as long as they did, and if its creators can be blamed for anything, it's not convincing their bosses that, having won the Browser Wars, Microsoft should have taken an active lead in developing the web. Isn't that a scary thought, though? Makes you wonder whether having to support IE 6 was really all that bad, considering the possible alternative of a fully monopolized web.

So here's to you, Internet Explorer 6. Maybe you won't be missed, but we still had some good times together. Be grateful for your place in history, even if they cast you as the villain of the piece—you'll be all the more memorable for it.

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