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Edited by Sam Marshall, Tuesday, 7 Feb 2012, 18:32

Important note: This is just my personal opinion as a developer. Nothing in here relates in any way to the Open University's official position on any of these matters!

Internet Explorer 6. Three words that strike fear into the spine of any web developer.

As part of our move to the new Moodle 2-based system for some of our module websites, we agreed - well in advance - that we would no longer support IE 6. Google dropped support in 2010, Microsoft run a website encouraging people to stop using it... it's game over.

Why did we drop it? Well, anyone reading this who isn't a web developer might not be aware, but IE6 isn't just equivalent to any other old browser version you might encounter, like say Firefox 3.6 or something. IE6 behaves radically worse than every other browser in terms mainly of its CSS (layout) and JavaScript (interactive) support. If you want things to work in IE6, you have to do a significant amount of extra work in testing and coding workarounds to all the problems. We would rather spend our development time improving the system for 98.5% of users, not fixing problems for 1.5%.

So, we don't support IE6. That means not only do we not test with it, but if anyone reports problems we don't fix the problems, just tell them to use a different browser. And because we developed a new theme without supporting IE6 from the very start (unlikely our previous system, where we fully supported IE6 at the time our theme was originally implemented), it was likely there would in fact be problems.

Turns out that in fact, the main portion of the page doesn't display at all in IE6. It's blank. Oh well, whatever. We don't support it, right? Not a problem.

Until last week when everything hit the fan. Specifically, it turns out that certain government institutions are currently still using IE6, and preventing their staff from installing other browsers. And those staff often don't have the opportunity to simply study at home instead.

Which institutions?

The ones with guns.


I could wear a bullet-proof jacket, but that wouldn't solve the real problem. Which is, we don't want to support IE6, because it costs a lot of developer time. We can't very well sort of half support it; if we support it then that means we have to test everything in IE6 because it's not like any other browser (we don't test everything in Opera either, but that usually just works) - most things probably won't work and will need workarounds. We'd lose all the benefit of ditching support.

But then I had an idea. I suggested it to my bosses and they were okay with it, so we went ahead.

IE6 is a disability. These students are being forced to use an ancient browser; it's kind of like they're being forced to walk down the street blindfolded.

We support blind users. Why not support IE6 the same way?

There's no problem with IE6 as a basic HTML browser. If your website has no style and no interactive features it will work fine. Coincidentally, this is roughly the same way that blind users (through screen readers) experience the internet. So we've already made our sites work if you don't 'see' the styles or the interactive features.

So if you're using IE6 and you look at our new module web sites system (not this one), you'll now see a totally plain screen - we've stripped out all the styles and interactive scripts. It's just like the experience you get with a screen reader - complete with skip links. Not exactly pretty (and we still don't officially support IE6), but you can access all, or nearly all, of the content.

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Because I did this at a theme level, it should apply in general. We don't need to test in IE6 - if we build a new feature, as long as it works with JavaScript turned off and no styles (which it ought to, for accessibility) then it should be fine in IE6 too.

That's all. I thought this might be interesting for other people struggling with IE6 issues. There was an embarrassing/amusing screw-up when we deployed this change, but this post is already long enough so I think I'll leave it out. smile

PS To avoid confusion, I should make clear: there are many OU websites which still fully support IE6. This post is only about the new system for module websites, which doesn't.

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Believe it or not, this 'oil painting' is a photograph.  February 2018

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Speaking as a technical writer, I love this workaround smile Of course, it relies on already having an accessible version on the site, and sadly accessibility is last on many IT companies' radar.


Hello, A very good summary and I love the workaround. We have problems with IE6 because the forces not updating their browser due to security aspects in other browsers. Have you come across any modules which are vulnerable to not work in this no style no javascript? For instance scorm or workshop modules?

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Thanks Claire. We use the SCORM and workshop modules either not at all, or very rarely. SCORM definitely would not work without JavaScript, it's a fundamental part of it. Workshop maybe doesn't, although I think it should be possible for it to do so.

Of the modules that we use a lot, I think the only one we know for sure doesn't work is quiz when you use certain question types (drag/drop). Imo this kind of sucks and it should provide a non-JS alternative but oh well. smile There might be other minor things that don't work.

For Moodle sites which use SCORM (or some other module which strongly requires JS) heavily this approach probably wouldn't work.






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Come on Sam fess up. You know you want to tell us smile There was an embarrassing/amusing screw-up ....

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Oh all right. It's not really THAT amusing, but basically, when we first implemented this change, I used a standard Moodle feature to determine whether the user was on IE6, and I didn't think to examine the code for how this works.

Turns out it didn't.


Basically it detected IE6 okay but about 1.5% of our IE7 and IE8 users have a weird 'user agent' string, and it was treating those people as if they were IE6 too. We got a bunch of irate calls and had to pull the change in a hurry, before fixing it and putting it back a couple of days later.

I did submit the fix to core moodle too, so hopefully nobody else will have this problem in future.