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Microsoft: Friends Don't Let Friends Run IE6

After repeated attempts to encourage users to stop using Internet Explorer 6 (IE6), with mixed results, Microsoft is trying again with a campaign to lower use of IE6 down to 1 percent worldwide -- just as the company is poised to release IE9.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) this week launched a new website, entitled The Internet Explorer 6 Countdown, in order to implore Web users and developers to encourage everyone they know to get off of IE6.

Microsoft introduced IE6 in late 2001. It was extremely popular, partly because it came with Windows XP, which until the launch of Windows 7 was by far the most popular version of Windows in history.

The catch was that IE6 was not as standards-compliant as later versions of IE and, as new versions came along with better compatibility with the Web, older applications built to function best on IE6 became increasingly incompatible with newer, more standardized versions.

That backfired when, in the wake of customer dissatisfaction with Windows Vista, many individuals and companies decided to standardize on IE6.

While Microsoft hasn't said when IE9 is due for release, it is currently in the final testing stage -- referred to as a "release candidate" -- before general availability, and many observers expect that announcement any day, perhaps as soon as next week.

Meanwhile, use of IE6 has declined sharply in the recent past.

According to Web analytics tracking firm Net Applications, IE6's global market share fell from 18.4 percent to 11.3 percent in the past year. That's still slightly more than one in 10, though -- inarguably a significant number.

In comparison, IE8, which was released two years ago, now has grown to have a 35 percent user share as of February.

Part of the reason that Microsoft is so desperate to get users onto a "modern" browser is that users still running IE6 cannot migrate to Windows 7, which is holding up the transition and, as far as stockholders see it, leaving money on the table.

One of the problems that Microsoft faces, however, is the remaining popularity of XP.

XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) has already exited mainstream technical support, but extended support is scheduled to run until April 2014. Extended support for SP2 -- by far the most popular service pack -- expired last summer.

Despite the urgency to migrate users to newer versions of IE, however, some companies would love to have Microsoft's problem. By the beginning of the new year, the company had already logged sales of 300 million licenses for Windows 7.

However, the company still has to hope that IE9 will help turn around IE's precipitous decline.

Currently, according to Net Applications, Firefox 3.6 is in second place with 17.8 percent share, and in the past several years IE's hold on the market for browsers has slid from above 90 percent to 56.7 percent in February.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.