Microsoft has never said that they would drop support for Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) after the release of Windows XP Service Pack 3. However, I've often wondered if it would be to Microsoft's advantage, as well as beneficial to their customers, if they did drop the IE6 support. With Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) now the status quo for most non-Enterprise users of Windows and IE8 development underway, what better opportunity is there to end support for IE6 than now?
There is no question that Microsoft is supporting IE6 in the next service pack. Jane Maliouta, Microsoft's Deployment Project Manager for IE8, addressed IE6 support with XP SP3 in an IEBlog post on IE and Windows XP SP3.
XPSP3 will continue to ship with IE6 and contains a roll-up of the latest security updates for IE6. If you are still running Internet Explorer 6, then XPSP3 will be offered to you via Windows Update as a high priority update. You can safely install XPSP3 and will have an updated version of IE6 with all your personal preferences, such as home pages and favorites, still intact.
So the question remains, just how long does Microsoft plan to support this 7 year old browser? From as near as I can tell, support for Internet Explorer 6 is tied to the life cycle of the Windows XP operating system. Mainstream support for Windows XP is currently dated to end in April 14, 2009. So that means Internet Explorer 6 will have been on the desktop for more than eight years! While enterprises may take comfort that product support for Windows XP and IE6 has lasted so long, consumers and the rest of the world have since moved on with the changing world.
Microsoft spent much of this decade convincing consumers, developers and enterprises that they didn't really need to look beyond Windows and Internet Explorer for their desktop solution. While most companies recognized that there were advantages to using non-Microsoft products, they feared what the consequences would be if they moved in a direction away Windows and IE6. I bring up the past, because in many ways it is the very reason Windows users have yet to install IE7 on their desktop.
While Microsoft's campaign of Microsoft-only solutions may have persuaded customers to using their products, I'll argue that the same tactics also bred complacency. Windows users were taught to keep the blinders on and believe that all they needed was the Windows XP and IE6 that came pre-installed on their PCs. I think now though, Microsoft is paying the price for the successful campaign. If Microsoft can't get most of its users to accept the need to upgrade from IE6 to IE7 browser, then what hope do they have that Windows XP users will ever make the move to Windows Vista?