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Google Will Stop Supporting Older Browsers

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Google has announced they will stop supporting older and less secure browsers like IE6, Firefox 2.x, Chrome 3 or Safari 2 starting with Google Docs and Google Sites editor from March 1st, 2010.

Google Apps administrators have received an email informing that Google intends to phase out support for several browsers. While many have seen this move as addressing IE6, it actually has to do with all older browsers. The supported browsers will be IE 7+, Firefox 3+, Safari 3+, and Chrome 4+. The change will be introduced by informing users having older browsers and visiting Google Docs or Sites that their browsers are no longer supported and “after that point, certain functionality within these applications may have higher latency and may not work correctly in these older browsers.” Later this year GMail and Google Calendar will be added to the list of applications not supporting older browsers. That does not mean the users will be met with just a warning message. They will be able to view the pages but won’t be able to edit them, according to a Google spokesperson.

There are an estimated 146 million users of GMail, according to Comscore, placing the Google email service in the third spot after Hotmail and Yahoo. While there are less than 1% of users using older versions of Firefox or Chrome, globally there are still 20% IE6 users, and IE6 accounts for 60% of all enterprise browsers.As a result, this move will likely have an impact, especially on some enterprises which will be forced to ditch IE6 or give up on u Google websites.

Other companies have already taken action regarding IE6. 37signals, a web-based software company started to phase out IE6 in 2008.  Also, Youtube dropped IE6 support in 2009. I Dropped IE6 site contains a list of 787 (so far) companies which renounced supporting IE6.

Digg considered dropping IE6 support but discovered that most people accessing their site with IE6 were doing it from work, so they concluded: “Giving them a message saying, “Hey! Upgrade!” in this case is not only pointless; it’s sadistic”. Similarly, here at InfoQ, our browser-tracking statistics indicate that 41% of the Internet Explorer browsers which view the site are IE6 (with IE7 and IE8 claiming 27% of the visits each).

Microsoft has recommended its users to upgrade to newer versions of its browsers but it does not want to force companies to do so. Dean Hachamovitch, Manager of the IE team, presented Microsoft’s reasons for not terminating IE6:

The choice to upgrade software on a PC belongs to the person responsible for the PC.

Many PCs don’t belong to individual enthusiasts, but to organizations. The people in these organizations responsible for these machines decide what to do with them. These people are professionally responsible for keeping tens or hundreds or thousands of PCs working on budget… For these folks, the cost of the software isn’t just the purchase price, but the cost of deploying, maintaining, and making sure it works with their IT infrastructure.

Dropping support for IE6 is not an option because we committed to supporting the IE included with Windows for the lifespan of the product. We keep our commitments.

Several campaigns have been carried out lately in an attempt to convince web sites to stop supporting IE6. Google’s move will probably be followed by many smaller companies which will probably feel more confident in dropping support for older browsers.

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