Recently, there have been some news stories floating about regarding the security of Internet Explorer (and version 6 particularly).

Internet Explorer 6 was released in 2001, which makes it practically an antique in computing terms.  In its day it was fine (and an improvement on both its predecessors and the competitors of the day).

However, as technology has moved on, IE6 has not aged well – the increasing sophistication of security threats over the last decade have highlighted IE6’s limitations and vulnerabilities.

IE6 also has more than a few..er…idiosyncrasies…that web-designers are forced to address when writing new web-sites (otherwise the web-sites just don’t work properly).  Most web-sites are therefore more complex than they really need to be, which annoys the web-site owners and adds to their costs.

Recently, there has been a groundswell of support for eliminating it completely.  Both Google and YouTube have announced they are not going to pander to IE6’s funny little ways in future.  I can’t say I blame them.  (Actually, AccountingWEB itself doesn’t seem to play that well with IE6 any more).

Why didn’t Microsoft do anything?

They did.  They regularly issued patches and updates, and (belatedly) re-started their development efforts to produce Internet Explorer versions 7 and 8, both of which are dramatically better than IE6.

Of course, life is never that simple, and there are far too many people out there who failed to apply the patches and updates that would have kept them safe.

Microsoft even created a website to track the declining usage of IE6 and encourage users to switch.

http://www.ie6countdown.com

Do I have IE6?

Open the’Help’ menu in Internet Explorer and select ‘About Internet Explorer’ – The version will be shown there.

If I do…should I panic?

No.  In a business environment, your systems should already be behind a nice firewall, which helps hugely.  You should also have Internet-usage policies to ensure your staff aren’t visiting the dodgier corners of the Internet using office PCs (No, not just porn, but also sites offering pirated music or videos, or free software, games, etc)

As a business, your choices are not as simple as they are for a consumer – you may have applications that rely on Internet Explorer to work properly (any Intranet element that uses ‘ActiveX’ for example will only work in IE – MYOB/CCH’s Singleview is a case in point).  If you are a SharePoint user, then again IE remains the best option (although with a bit of fiddling, Firefox can be made to behave with SharePoint).

I have Windows 95/98/2000 – I can’t use IE8

Your IT systems need upgrading…badly.  If you approached cars like this, you’d be driving a Morris Marina and wondering why you were the only one in your street still struggling to start your car on a cold morning.

Should I upgrade?

My STRONG recommendation is to upgrade to Internet Explorer 8.  Earlier versions are significantly less secure, and many of the problems encountered and reported in the press would NOT have happened if users had done this.

IE8 even has a ‘Compatibility View’ that makes it behave like earlier versions (in a good way…not by reopening the security holes!).  So if you find a web-site that demands IE6 to work (very unlikely), then you can still access it.

www.microsoft.com/uk/ie

I would, however, advise that you verify you can access any on-line banking services you normally use.   For some reason, several banks’ sites seem to demand IE6 (something I can only put down to sheer laziness – there are no possible security arguments).

Should I switch to something else?

Well, that’s clearly an option, there is MUCH more competition that there used to be.  (Firefox, Opera, Chrome, and so on).  They are all faster and more standards-compliant than Internet Explorer 8, although I class some of this as being in the ‘Top Gear’ mould of comparing lap times of the latest supercars – something most mere mortals can safely ignore for any practical purpose.

In a business environment, however, you need to ensure that everything works, and IE for all its faults, is the baseline that most software companies will work to.   I’d stick to IE.

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