Users running older versions of IE 5.5, which shipped with Windows Me, must upgrade to the latest browser release.
Ironically, IE 5.01 SP2 is still available as it is primarily used by businesses running Windows 2000. Because business customers are less prone to upgrade, Microsoft tends to offer such fixes longer than it does for consumer customers.
Microsoft did not give a specific reason as to the timing of the removal, but a Redmond spokesperson told BetaNews that IE 5.5 SP2 had gone into the extended stage of its lifecycle. Microsoft’s Support Lifecycle defines how long a product will be supported after its release.
“Availability for IE versions in extended support will end in the extended support phase. This ensures that customers have sufficient support timelines available after upgrading their browser version,” the spokesperson said.
The decision did not sit well with Microsoft’s support staff, which had been using the older browser as an upgrade path for users still running IE 4.
According to reports, upgrading directly to Internet Explorer 6 from IE 4 has a tendency to cause errors on older operating systems such as Windows 98. By first upgrading to IE 5.5, most problems are eliminated.
Sources tell BetaNews that Microsoft support representatives were left out of the loop and received no advanced warning that version 5.5 would be pulled.
Support technicians have resorted to having customers download a CNET-branded version of IE 5.5 that is still available.
Following inquiries from BetaNews, Microsoft posted a notice on the Internet Explorer Web site attributing the removal of IE 5.5 to its lifecycle. Microsoft says it will continue to offer security hotfixes for current IE 5.5 SP2 users until the end of the year.
“Naturally, Microsoft wants to ensure that customers have the best possible user experience,” the company told BetaNews. “And Internet Explorer 6.0 SP1 is the best browser in terms of stability, security, and reliability.”