Tired of waiting for action and anxious to block security hacks against government Web sites, a Web designer in Edinburgh, Scotland, has started an online petition to request that the UK government stop using Internet Explorer 6 (IE6).
The petition is short and to the point. It urges U.K. government offices to leave Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) eight-year-old browser behind and move up to either IE7 or, even better, to the much more recent IE8.
“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to encourage government departments to upgrade away from Internet Explorer 6,” it said. The petition was filed by Dan Frydman, managing director of Scottish Web consultancy Inigo Media Ltd., and has a year to gather signatures.
Filed Monday, Feb. 1 and running until Feb 1, 2011, the petition already had garnered 4,262 electronic signaturesafter being online for only two days. All a petition has to gather are 500 signatures to ensure that it is sent to the Prime Minister’s office for consideration, according to a FAQ on the petition site.
IE6 is not only old, it’s also less secure than later versions of IE, and less secure than newer and more competitive third-party browsers, including Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera. The aging browser — a veritable antique by technology standards — was implicated as the main avenue for hackers to attack Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Chinaand, reportedly, about 20 other corporate Web sites last month.
Even though Microsoft quickly patched the zero-day vulnerability, the attacks triggered some national governments to recommend that their users move off of IE6.”The German and French governments have started to encourage people to upgrade away from the browser Internet Explorer 6 (IE6),” according to explanatory text accompanying the petition.
Microsoft itself would like to get users to quit using IE6, even though it has committed to supporting that version until April 2014. Additionally, the company admitted last August that too many customers are still using IE6for it to simply pull the plug now.
“Internet Explorer 8 offers improvements in speed, security and reliability as well as new features designed for the way people use the Web,” a Microsoft spokesperson told InternetNews.comin an e-mail. “While we recommend Internet Explorer 8 to all customers, we understand we have a number of corporate customers for whom broad deployment of new technologies across their desktops requires more planning.”
IE6 initially came out with Windows XP when it was introduced in late 2001, and besides XP’s long-running popularity, many customers built Web sites that took advantage of non-standard tweaks Microsoft had made in the browser. As Microsoft released IE7 and, last year, IE8, the company upgraded its support for Web standards, making many of the old tweaks obsolete, but still used.
Last March, Microsoft released IE8 and, since then, the new browser has been on the upswing with users.
Tuesday, Microsoft announced in a blog post that, according to Web analytics firm Net Applications, IE8 has become the most popular version of Internet Explorer with a market share of 26.5 percent at the end of January.
That compares to 20 percent for IE6, which slipped from 34.38 percent at the time of Internet Explorer 8’s launch.
However, while IE6 use is falling sharply and IE8 usage is on the rise, it will still take time for remaining IE6 users to upgrade or to migrate to another browser, if ever. Petitions like Frydman’s may help — but only time will tell.
Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.