The albatross of the internet: Internet Explorer. Short and simple: WordPress is planning to drop support for the… let’s say controversial… dumpster fire of a browser by the end of 2021. WordPress still runs a large percentage of the web, and this change could very likely thunk the final flaming arrow in IE’s funeral raft.
If you rely on WordPress to keep your business online, you likely have some questions. Lucky for you, I might have a few answers.
Does WordPress Need to Drop IE11?
Yes. I cannot bring to mind a single person that didn’t want to stop thinking about IE11, specifically 3+ years ago. Additionally, Supporting IE11 adds baggage. For WordPress, removing support scripts shaves kilobytes off the overall system, and in a business where bytes and milliseconds matter, that’s a big deal.
IE11 can be a beast to test and maintaining progressive enhancement for features takes time. Dropping IE11 gives that time back to developers and maintainers, where they could make better use of it (like spending more time on writing lean code for modern browsers).
Why is WordPress Dropping Support for IE11 Now?
Other than the easy answer that this is “overdue,” global usage of IE hit an all-time low, dipping down below 1% as of Feb 2021.
More importantly, the developer of IE11 is sunsetting the product altogether. In addition to the global usage dip, Microsoft announced the official end of life support for IE11 in November 2020. No more updates. The roadmap ends on August 17th, 2021 with IE11 support ending for MS365. From the standpoint of features, IE11 has been frozen since its replacement Microsoft Edge was released in 2015. However, the browser has been receiving critical bug fixes and security updates from time to time. Come August of 2021 even the bug and security updates stop. There will be no ongoing open-source support (or interest). No updates. It’s dead. So, there is no reason to continue supporting it.
When Does WordPress Plan to Drop IE11 Support?
After the initial proposal to stop support was met with a resounding yes from the community, the plan has progressed to remove the supporting code for IE11 in either 5.8 (late spring / summer) or 5.9 (late summer / fall) of 2021. As of writing this, the conversation has gotten a bit quiet, so 5.9 seems the likely target. Making the change on 5.9 would also place the end of support around the final destination in Microsoft’s Roadmap.
If you are eager to leave Internet Explorer behind, keep your site(s) updated and by the end of the year you can stop thinking about it.
How to Accommodate Your Potential IE11 User Base
Is a large portion of your user base reliant on Internet Explorer? Likely not. But I am always ready to be surprised. If a nervous tension is rising in your body as you read this, then it’s a good idea to check browser stats. To understand how many of your users may be impacted, take a look at your traffic by browser in Google Analytics.
In this example from Google Analytics, we can see that internet explorer traffic is still fairly high on the list for this brand, but can’t compare with the numbers in the four main browsers within the market.
If your Internet Explorer base is important but you want to stop support, the best thing to do is control the message. IE11 is easy to detect, mostly due to the number of features it can’t support. If you can detect that something isn’t available then redirect the user to language that explains that their browser is no longer supported. Then, supply them with other means to reach out to your company in the meantime and point them towards a site like Browse Happy for upgrade suggestions.
IE and Website Accessibility
While the response to dropping IE11 support was extremely positive, a consistent concern around IE11’s role in web accessibility threaded through the comments. Yes, IE11 has been a concern in that regard for many years, so let’s dig in just a little bit on this. Bear with me for a moment, we are going on a tangent but I promise it is applicable to truly understanding any arguments you may hear or read about IE11’s role in web accessibility .
Certain assistive technologies (AT) have relied on IE11’s presence in Windows. The concern around AT compatibility focuses more on how compatible a piece of software is with MS Edge (Internet Explorer’s replacement). JAWS, NVDA, and Dragon’s NaturallySpeaking are all compatible with Chrome and Firefox. Anecdotally, it appears that if there is an issue, JAWS is a primary source. JAWS supports Chrome and Firefox, but even its own FAQ for the software cites that “Support for Microsoft Edge is continuing to improve as well.” This does not mean that JAWS only requires IE11, it just means that a user that is only using Microsoft browsers may find themselves pushed towards using IE11 for a better experience than MS Edge. If this section piques your interest and you would like some detailed information, I recommend taking a scroll through Webaim’s screen reader survey results.
Before we exit this tangent, I have one last resource to point out. Early this year, a company named Hassell Inclusion in the UK published an article detailing their opinion that sites should continue to support IE11. The article focuses on the needs of sites complying with UK accessibility standards but all the same is an interesting, be it long, read.
Tangent concluded that yes, there will be some long tail concerns around accessibility until IE11 is well and truly forgotten. However, the user numbers are low and there are accessible alternatives. For you, I say you are good to stop supporting IE11 without much worry around excluding users with accessibility needs. If you take the recommendation I outlined earlier and include a no-support view for your IE11 users, make sure that it is WCAG compliant and supports IE11 enough to guide your legacy users to modern alternatives.
So Long IE11, Farewell
I’m not alone, but if you are walking away from this asking “what’s the big deal?” I can answer that. Internet Explorer has been a part of a very specific conversation around support on the web for over two decades now. The internet is better, lighter without it.
So rejoice, and if you need to, nudge your users to move to a different browser. Now we prepare for the next fight: dropping support for Edge Legacy.