Google Helps Web, Drops Support for Old Browsers

| Analysis

In a gift to Web designers and website publishers everywhere, Google announced Friday that it was dropping support for old (and now-outdated) versions of the four biggest browsers, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Mozilla-based Firefox, Apple’s Safari, and Google’s own Chrome. Citing the need to implement new features based on HTML 5, the company said it will stop supporting those older browsers as of August 1st in its Google Apps services.

Old Timey Browsers

In a blog post, the company wrote “As of August 1st, we will discontinue support for the following browsers and their predecessors: Firefox 3.5, Internet Explorer 7, and Safari 3. In these older browsers you may have trouble using certain features in Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs and Google Sites, and eventually these apps may stop working entirely.”

This is a big gift to designers and publishers everywhere, because Google’s clout will be a great excuse for them (including companies like The Mac Observer, Inc.) to stop worry about these older browsers, too. The removal of several generations of older browsers from the list of those browsers means lower development and support costs, but will also give a boost to general progress in website features.

This is also good for Internet security as a whole because many of these older browsers are no longer supported by their own makers, and have not been patched with the latest and greatest security patches. Accelerating their disappearance will be good for everyone.

On the other hand, users with older computers that can’t support newer versions of these browsers will be left behind. This may only be restricted to Google Apps for now, but it will not take long for the majority of professionally produced websites and other Web content to follow Google’s lead and cease supporting those browsers, too.

Be that as it may, the vast majority of computer hardware that has been sold in the last 4-5 years (and maybe longer) will support browser versions newer than the generations being left behind, so if you can, upgrade yours today.

In the meanwhile, we offer thanks to Google for kicking off this process.

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12 Comments Leave Your Own

ilikeimac

I infer from this that they already stopped supporting IE6, which is still standard at my place of employment :-( and apparently quite popular in China on pirated copies of Windows.

Fortunately our IT department tolerates Firefox, but I’ve been wrist-slapped before for installing Google Chrome. We’re just too heavily invested in internal web apps that only work on IE6. Sad.

http://www.theie6countdown.com/default.aspx

archimedes

Instead of breaking a web site for old browsers, and either having it malfunction or display a “shame on you for running an old browser” message, a more user-friendly approach is to provide a simple HTML version which will work for older Macs, PCs and mobile devices.

This may not be practical for some complex web applications like Google docs, but it’s not that hard to do for regular content-based web sites.

For example, Gmail supports a basic HTML version, which I’ve found to be extremely useful when I’m stuck somewhere with nothing but an old PC in a library or internet caf?, or when I’m on a lousy wired or wireless connection that slows bandwidth/latency-sensitive AJAX apps to a crawl. Or when regular Gmail just isn’t working for some unknown reason.

There are lots of old machines out there which can’t always easily be upgraded to the latest and greatest thing, and it’s nice for them to remain useful. There are also lots of mobile (and other) devices that can’t actually run Safari, FireFox, Chrome or Opera, but still have vendor-supplied browsers, and it’s nice to be able to use them for something.

Supporting a basic HTML version of your site (rather than complicated JavaScript and Flash apps) also makes it easier for assistive technologies and better for search engines, internet archives like archive.org, and offline reading.

Tiger

I’m curious why they supported IE6 for so long, or any business has for that matter.

It was released now TEN years ago this August. And to borrow a quote about it:

“This version of Internet Explorer is widely derided for its security issues and lack of support for modern web standards, making frequent appearances in “worst tech products of all time” lists, with some publications labeling it as the “least secure software on the planet.”

And yet another:

The security advisory site Secunia reported an outstanding 24 unpatched vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer 6 as of February 9, 2010. These vulnerabilities, which include several “moderately critical” ratings, amount to 17% of the total 144 security risks listed on the website as of February 11, 2010.

YIKES!!!!!!!!!

ilikeimac

a more user-friendly approach is to provide a simple HTML version

Note that Google is only dropping support for these browsers in Google Apps. This means their basic search engine features will still work fine in old browsers. What they’re dropping is reams and reams of special code that only exists to pander to the quirks and incompatibilities of particular browsers. Highly interactive applications like GMail are much more difficult to support on old browsers than static HTML content, or the relatively simple Google search results page (though it gets less simple all the time).

Sure this will leave some internet users out in the cold, but in the majority of cases it will simply push users to make a upgrade that is free and will improve their overall security and browsing experience. My 10-year old Mac can run Safari 5, and not a lot of people are still relying on hardware older than that.

Jamie

I’ll say, given that at the time, it was the browser that banks and other companies with our most sensitive info insisted we use to access their online services. Seriously: how the heck did we manage to do anything when Microsoft were on top?

I saw today that IE has dropped to a mere 54% in browser share - not too to go until it passes the tipping point from which there is no return. wink

Dorje Sylas

I infer from this that they already stopped supporting IE6, which is still standard at my place of employment and apparently quite popular in China on pirated copies of Windows.

Fortunately our IT department tolerates Firefox, but I?ve been wrist-slapped before for installing Google Chrome. We?re just too heavily invested in internal web apps that only work on IE6. Sad.

Similar boat at my worksite. Our primary approved browser is Firefox 3.5. However have a number of temperamental and mission critical web applications that only like to work in Firefox 3.5.3 (ya that temperamental).

What this is really going to mean for the end user is the need to keep two or more web browsers. One for legacy web apps that can’t or won’t be updated, and one for the internet.

xmattingly

I infer from this that they already stopped supporting IE6, which is still standard at my place of employment

Yep, you’re working at a corporation. smile

It goes without saying that Google’s move against old browsers is a business decision, but I still think it’s great that they’re giving this a push. It’s better for all of us.

And I’m glad I got into web development long after WebKit took off; much fewer migraines that way. The biz I work for is kind of a cool situation; we’ll a small development team of four people, all using different browsers (by personal choice). The back end developers use Firefox and a newer version of Explorer, and the front end guys (my boss and myself) use Chrome and Safari respectively. smile

Lee Dronick

Not being more than an occasional WIndows user and not working in a “corporation” I am not understanding the problem. Some business have apps that only run under IE6 or a specific browser as in the case of Dorje and Firefox 3.5. Yet the workers may still need to access websites that require or work best with a newer browser. Can not they run two browsers simultaneously?

xmattingly

Can not they run two browsers simultaneously?

You would think so, but it depends on their IT’s guidelines. The majority of IT departments are responsible for supporting the hardware and software running on machines, and many don’t want to allow software that is outside of their limited training.

I worked at a major corporation that will remain nameless here in St. Louis, and according to their IT we were not allowed to download any software, regardless of how well a piece of freeware might improve workflow, the fact that they couldn’t support our Adobe software for lack of training, and that I was running a Mac. There was an approval process for any sort of modifications that had to be submitted to IT, which could take a few weeks or more, if you got a response from someone in the IT department at all.

Even so, I think ilikeimac’s IT department frowning on running a super fast, clean browser is pretty absurd.

ibuck

xmattingly: many IT depts “don?t want to allow software that is outside of their limited training.”

Lack of training is a problem that afflicts too many IT staff members, and their in-depth knowledge is too often only in their specialized area of IT expertise.

xmattingly

Well, on the one hand there’s only so much one IT person can be expected to effectively support, but on the other it’s this group of people - not the investment in software and equipment - that is largely responsible for corporations being locked in to remaining as PC environments.

I’ve known many IT people who openly despised Macs. Because they didn’t understand them, didn’t want to learn anything about them, required virtually none of their support, and frankly knew that any office that switched to that platform meant that they were out of a job. So lack of training - definitely, and I blame that directly on IT staffers’ own lack of initiative.

archimedes

Highly interactive applications like GMail are much more difficult to support on old browsers than static HTML content, or the relatively simple Google search results page (though it gets less simple all the time).

Gmail provides the option of a basic HTML view, which is very useful for older browsers, slower machines (including handhelds, netbooks, etc.), and slow internet connections.

The basic HTML view can also potentially reduce power consumption and metered data usage on smart phones.

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