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.
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.
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.
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. :)
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.