22nd Jan, 2010

China’s Strange Fixation on IE6

In recent days, a wave of warnings from industry (Google, among others) and governments (from Germany to Australia and others) on the vulnerabilities of IE6 has resulted in a rush for users to download Firefox (www.mozilla.com), the primary alternative browser to IE. On a worldwide level, IE6 (released in 2001) is just one major variant of the IE browser family, and has been steadily replaced by the newer IE7 and IE8.

The scene in China is markedly different. Tons of websites, including commonly used ones, have been constructed and tested to work with IE6 only, without consideration of web standard (W3C), non-IE browsers (Firefox), or non-Windows platforms (Linux). This proliferation of non-standard websites is partly the result of ignorance. Remember the recent Green Dam fiasco? Green Dam was designed to block undesirable websites, but it only works if you access the web with IE. If you use Firefox, Green Dam has no effect. Another reason is financial. Contractors in China who produce websites for a living charge extra if you ask for a website that is W3C compliant or that is friendly to non-IE and non-Windows machines. Since most Chinese users use IE (NetApplications puts Firefox market share in China at 8% at the end of 2009) or an IE-clone such as 360 or Maxthon (more on that later), it seems that there is no reason to pay extra.

As a result, the Internet in China is stuck in an IE6 tar pit. Exhibit A is really ironic. Recall the latest push to have all website owners in China to register? Well, the registration website at MIIT (the ministry in charge) is IE6 only. Without IE6, you cannot file your registration information. (See reportage at http://www.donews.com/Content/200912/841eaefc655a401e9636a2603333ae6d.shtm) It would be amusing to see how MIIT responds to the latest scare over IE6 security problems. And I have not talked much about all the very publicized government push to procure Linux desktop machines for government workers, and the inability of these workers to access many of their own websites.

It is well known that online banking in China is strictly a Windows and IE6 love affair. Even open-source companies such as Sun Microsystems and Red Hat must stock their finance office in Beijing with Windows PCs; otherwise no work can be done through any of the major Chinese banks (see more at http://www.zeuux.org/philosophy/open-letter-to-cmb.cn.html). But this love affair with IE6 goes beyond these and into the arbitrary territory. In October of 2009, the province of Inner Mongolia issued a new directive that exams for accounting certificates will now be conducted entirely paperless. The exam environment is speced out clearly (http://www.esnai.com/exam/showdoc.asp?NewsID=48294&uchecked=true) – Windows 2000/2003 servers on the backend, and Windows XP Professional and IE6 on the exam PCs. You wonder what sort of accounting exam this is, because it also requires that the PCs are dual-core and have at least 1G memory. The exam system even requires 3721, the most notorious and (widely accepted as the) “original” viral software that helped shape the China Internet industry into its lawless state today.

Now let us return to the topic of IE clones. An IE clone is a software that wraps something around the IE core and declares itself a browser. Some clones offer additional functionalities while others make you question their existence.  No matter. There are about 35 IE clones that the local research company iResearch has been tracking. TT (an offshoot of QQ the popular IM software), 360 (a self-claimed “secure browser”), and Maxthon (the original successful IE clone) each take a large share of the browser market. Why so many companies do browsers? For one thing, it is cheap to do an IE clone. It has been estimated that you need about 5 people, roughly the same number of people to start a mobile phone company in southern China (if you buy ready-made components from MTK and just slap a case on it). Furthermore, you can be really lazy if you want – one very notable IE clone here simply appropriated the IE icon for its own use. (As far as I know, Microsoft has not sued.) However, the IE clone world is not all scenic, because the IE core is not open or transparent, so the wrapping around is by trial and error, and often produces problems such as sudden death. Worse, someone else (Microsoft) owns the underbelly and can do unexpected things. When IE8 came out in early 2009, there was a major crisis because the clones stopped working when users upgraded to IE8, and of course thousands of major websites suddenly became useless (http://ent.sina.com.cn/c/2009-02-20/11472383794.shtml). But that has not deterred the clone makers. After the recent Google bombshell, one of the clones shamelessly proclaimed that because IE is insecure people should use their browser instead. Sure looks like that these guys are banking on the ignorance of the Internet users in China.

In most parts of the world, the Internet has helped alleviate ignorance. That has not happened in China, yet; not to a satisfyingly significant degree, at least. This is rather depressing as John Steinbeck wrote in The Pearl – “ignorance leads to subjugation and oppression.”


Fully agree with “巴别塔上的雇工” on why Chinese users are still using IE6:

“The IE6 love-affair is mostly due to dominant piracy market share of Windows XP whose default browser is IE6.”

The “IE6 Fixation” has very little to do with “ignorance” (quoting the author), but rather with users being locked in and unaware of the alternatives. The tech savvy crowd, also in China, has no issue updating to a better browser, with the new Firefox China Edition of course being an excellent alternative.

On the developer side; naturally it makes sense to develop for the largest possible market and focus on IE6 compatibility only.

The countries’ developers not building accessible (using web standards) websites however, has very little to do with costs, as the author claims, but rather with the education and training of engineering talent in China, which is still very much in a development phase and uses outdated development methodologies. Luckily things change fast in China and I would not be surprised to see the next generation of engineers being very standards savvy.

Using web standards actually saves costs, as it ensures future browser compatibility and requires less time to maintain.

It surprises me a bit open source solutions doesn´t seem to have got a foothold in China. Firefox is a much better browser than Internet Explorer. Let´s hope they discover it soon.

Today (2/3) I received the notice from Google that they will stop supporting IE6 this year.

“In order to continue to improve our products and deliver more sophisticated features and performance, we are harnessing some of the latest improvements in web browser technology. This includes faster JavaScript processing and new standards like HTML5. As a result, over the course of 2010, we will be phasing out support for Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 as well as other older browsers that are not supported by their own manufacturers.

We plan to begin phasing out support of these older browsers on the Google Docs suite and the Google Sites editor on March 1, 2010. After that point, certain functionality within these applications may have higher latency and may not work correctly in these older browsers. Later in 2010, we will start to phase out support for these browsers for Google Mail and Google Calendar.

Google Apps will continue to support Internet Explorer 7.0 and above, Firefox 3.0 and above, Google Chrome 4.0 and above, and Safari 3.0 and above.

Starting this week, users on these older browsers will see a message in Google Docs and the Google Sites editor explaining this change and asking them to upgrade their browser. We will also alert you again closer to March 1 to remind you of this change.”

Yes. Starting this week, users on these older browsers will see a message in Google Docs and the Google Sites

[...] See Mozilla blog: “China’s Strange Fixation on IE6” [...]

[...] See Mozilla blog: “China’s Strange Fixation on IE6” [...]

[...] de pe blogul Mozilla aici. Browsere     | ADD COMMENTS You can leave a response, or trackback [...]

[...] Mozilla中国负责人、谋智网络董事长兼CEO宫力在官方博客上描述了中国对IE奇怪而固执的热爱。宫博士称,中国的在线银行都严重依赖于Windows和IE6,甚至开源企业如Sun Microsystems和Red Hat中国分公司的金融部门都必须部署Windows PC,否则就干不成事。IE和IE克隆软件(研究公司iResearch跟踪到中国有35款以IE为核心的修改软件,如Tencent Traveler、360 Safe Browser、Maxthon 等),它们统治着中国的浏览器市场。Google被攻击事件与IE6的Zero Day漏洞有关,法国德国都建议居民不要用IE,但在中国,似乎没人在意。宫力认为出现这种现象是源自于“无知”。但有博客表达了异议,认为“IE6在中国的统治地位,很大程度上是因为Windows XP太成功了,中国大量的PC上安装的都是盗版Windows XP,而Windows XP上的预装浏览器就是IE6”。 [...]

I have found that most of the time, firefox is much more effective than any other internet browser. It is much faster and allows you to open documents easily.

China is doing some strange stuff with the internet there. I know Google and China have a really rocky relationship and China keeps wanting censorship. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.

China and mozilla? That looks more the place at the end of goonies. Chunk needs to buy hgc.

I’ve always used FireFox; it’s more customizable and user friendly in my opinion. And yes, the safety issue was in the back of my mind too. I’m surprised some people still use IE.

QUTOTE Thijs: “The “IE6 Fixation” has very little to do with “ignorance” (quoting the author), but rather with users being locked in and unaware of the alternatives. ”

Are you aware of the definition of ignorance…?

QUTOTE Thijs: “The countries’ developers not building accessible (using web standards) websites however, has very little to do with costs, as the author claims, but rather with the education and training of engineering talent in China”

Hence, REAL developers that can develop to international standards COST MORE.

Mozilla is a great choice, yes Chrome has its moments, and really is a better SI, but I have become accustomed to Mozilla. China seems like they are still on the edge of technology, they are definitely not being left behind.

This is so bizarre. Firefox is so much better than anything Microsoft can produce, and it is free to use…

I think Firefox is better than IE, but at china IE 6 love affairs due to dominant piracy market share..

So Google and firefox is difficulty to use at china

Very interesting post, you make some very good points, thanks for the information

I think Firefox is better than Internet Explorer.

I use Mozila Firefox and Google chrome.

I guess someone has to use it so why not China? It is strange however that they seem to be the only ones using it. http://www.memphisplasticsurgery.com/plastic-surgery/cosmetic-surgery/body/liposuction

I bought an awesome used chrome truck. It was cheap and the customer service was great. If I was ever to buy another truck, I would buy used.

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