Explorer 5 and 6 Windows

Last major update: 7 November 2003. Tested versions: 5.01, 5.5 SP 2 and 6.02

When it was released in 1999, Explorer 5.0 Windows was the best available browser, Unfortunately since that time it hasn't been significantly updated (5.5 and 6.0 only offer incremental updates), and nowadays it's distinctly behind the competition in CSS support (though not in W3C DOM support).

Multiple Explorers on one computer.

Automatic updates

Please be aware that Internet Explorer updates itself. This can lead to strange situations where a piece of code suddenly doesn't work any more. I myself noticed this first when I wrote a popup script that tried to access a page from another server. First it didn't work, a few months later it did. Very weird, and I'd already told a client that it didn't work. I had to revise my assessment in a hurry.

I found actual proof when I tested my old JavaScript Section in Explorer 4 on Mac for the very first time (5 hadn't been released yet). The blocks in my navigation weren't blocks at all, they were just as wide as the text and not one pixel wider. I tried to modify the style sheet to get nice blocks, but after an hour I gave up in disgust.

Two months later I again looked at my site in the very same Explorer 4 on Mac: all of a sudden my navigation blocks were real blocks, spanning the entire frame. This led me to conclude that Microsoft had updated Explorer automatically. Since this was on Mac, I was prepared to believe that it happened on MS's own Windows, too.

Explorer 5.0

When it appeared Explorer 5.0 was a good browser. It had few of Explorer 4's failures in CSS support and supported many more declarations. It has some failures of its own in the new Version 5 features, but it supports all Version 4 stuff excellently. It is also much faster than Explorer 4.

Explorer 5 again has better JavaScript than Explorer 4, and better JavaScript Error Messages, too. Even now the messages are vague, but the line numbers mentioned in the messages generally coincide with reality, which for a Microsoft browser is a really major upgrade.

Explorer 5 supports two DOM's: document.all for backward compatibility with Explorer 4 (people code for this DOM) and the W3C DOM for newer functionality.


There's also an Explorer 5 for Solaris that roughly behaves as Explorer 5 on Windows (including VBScript support), except that it's a bit buggy. After a while it may crash on anything.

Recently Microsoft has decided to discontinue Explorer for Unix.

Explorer 5.5

Then came Explorer 5.5, which offered some incremental CSS updates. It supports borders, margins and paddings on inline elements, and a few extra's like :first-line and :first-letter.

Bug: When the cache is full you can't View Source any more. Solution: empty the cache.

In one case it's worse than Explorer 5.0: cross-frame security is compromised.

Explorer 6

When Explorer 6 came around I was very disappointed, for several excellent reasons.


First of all, Explorer 6 reacts to DOCTYPEs by adjusting his HTML parsing. Not bad, you'd say, but the problem is that the 'standards compliant' parsing is too different from the usual parsing. Besides, all other browser vendors also have a 'standards compliant' mode, which, needless to say, is somewhat different from Microsoft's.

Things that go wrong if you use a 'strict doctype':

On the other hand, white-space: pre is supported only when you use a doctype. This is so completely ridiculous that it defies explanation.

You can also start the HTML page with

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="iso-8859-1"?>

This line declares the file to be XML 1.0 (which is true for all valid (X)HTML documents). If you place your doctype on the next line, you’ve declared your doctype in a perfectly standards compatible way.

However, IE6 expects a doctype to be the very first line in the file. So when you start with the XML declaration the browser doesn’t find a doctype on the first line and doesn’t switch to compatibility mode. File still valid, but no more nasty IE6 'features'.

Other bugs